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Islamic Law and Legal Change: The Internal Critique

A lecture by Intisar Rabb, Boston College Law School

Wednesday, October 13, 2010
4:30 PM - 6:30 PM
School of Law, Room 1357
Los Angeles, CA 90095

In recent years, Muslim jurists have been debating modern legislation and implementation of classical Islamic criminal law.  The debates are the subject of much activity in the parliaments and amongst decision makers in Muslim majority countries imposing a series of harsh criminal laws, and they have resulted in new reform measures that attempt to temper the harsh policies.  The interesting feature of the debates is that they are not coming from external critics such as human rights critics and foreign policy foes.  Rather, these debates are distinctly “internal” critiques.  In examining them, I attempt to balance the types of arguments the “internal critics” raise against current criminal law regimes against critical assessments of Islamic law offered by human rights activists who argue with respect to international legal norms.  With focus on Iran and Saudi Arabia—as countries with constitutional legal systems drawing on Islamic law as the main source of law—I examine the significance of the increased attention to their criminal law regimes in recent years and the shift from external to internal critics.  The two may have similar goals, but the latter, I argue, will have more legitimacy and longevity when it comes to successful reform.

Intisar A. Rabb is a member of the law faculty at Boston College Law School, where she teaches in the areas of advanced constitutional law, criminal law, and comparative and Islamic law.  She is also a research affiliate at the Harvard Law School Islamic Legal Studies Program and a 2010 Carnegie Scholar, awarded a grant for her research on "Islamic Law and Legal Change: The Internal Critique," which examines criminal law reform in the Muslim world.  Her research in comparative law and legal history combines a policy-oriented assessment of public values with analyses of various schools of legal interpretation in different systems of law.  She is particularly interested in questions at the intersection of criminal justice, legislative policy, and judicial process in American law and in the law of the Middle East and the wider Muslim world.

Rabb received a BA with honors from Georgetown University, a JD from Yale Law School, and a PhD in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, where her dissertation--which won the Princeton Bayard and Cleveland Dodge Memorial Thesis Prize for Best PhD Dissertation--focused on the history and function of legal maxims in Islamic law.  She served as a law clerk to the Hon. Thomas L. Ambro of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, and subsequently worked with members of the bench and bar in the U.K. as a Temple Bar Scholar through the American Inns of Court.

In law school, Rabb served on the editorial boards of the Yale Journal of International Law and the Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal, as well as on the board of the Black Law Students Association; she also worked in the Criminal Defense Clinic and at the Connecticut Public Defender’s Office.  She currently serves as a Member of the Executive Committee of the Yale Law School Association and the Princeton Graduate School Leadership Council, and she remains active in the Yale Law School Middle East Legal Studies Seminar.

Rabb has traveled for research to Egypt, Iran, Syria, and elsewhere. She speaks Arabic and Persian and has reading proficiency in French, German, and Spanish.

Co-sponsored by the International Human Rights Program and the Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law, UCLA School of Law.

Cost : Free and Open to the Public

(310) 825-1455

Sponsor(s): , UCLA Law

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