After receiving a $10 million donation from a Saudi businessman, the Yale University Law School will launch a new Islamic law center.
The funds were given by Abdallah S. Kamel, the chief executive of the Dallah Albaraka Group, a banking a real estate enterprise based in Saudi Arabia, according to a release from the law school. The law center will bear his name: the Abdallah S. Kamel Center of Islamic Law and Civilization.
The center will bring Islamic scholars to the Yale campus for public lectures, seminar discussions, visiting fellowships and visiting professorships. The center's creation comes three years after a Kamel sponsored a lecture series on campus, the Yale Daily News reported.
"The creation of this center reflects the growing interest at Yale and other academic institutions in a deeper understanding of Islamic law, history, and culture," Robert Post, Yale's law dean, said in a prepared statement. "Islamic law has a long and proud tradition, which encompasses great intellectual achievements. It is also a subject of immense contemporary importance. There is a tremendous need for an interdisciplinary center to support scholarship in the field. The Abdallah S. Kamel Center meets this need."
Post added that the center "will benefit the entire world. It will enable our students and faculty to form lasting connections with scholars and experts in the Middle East and elsewhere. It will make a vital contribution to the study of law at Yale and beyond."
Islamic law, or sharia law, is based on the teachings of the Quran and the prophet Muhammad, not on common law, case law and legislation, as is the U.S. legal system. With Muslims making up near a quarter of the world's population, some U.S. law firms have launched Sharia law prctices, but they have become controversial in the post-9/11 world. At least seven states have specifically banned the use of sharia law.
The Yale announcement appears to be similarly controversial. While the Yale Daily News quoted several law students as being in favor of the new center, those who commented on the article were largely against the idea. "Yale University is naive, misinformed [and] uneducated regarding this 'gift,'" said one reader. "The United State of America is a democracy. The United States of America does not need to be educated in Islamic law. Why didn't Yale University just say, 'thanks, no thanks'! Greed!"
Officials said the law center will not have its own building, but will be part of the existing law school facilities. It will be led by former law school dean Anthony Kronman and law school professor Owen Fiss. Long-range plans call for a tenured professorship in Islamic law. Yale is not the first law school to create an Islamic law center. In 1991, Harvard University Law School established the Islamic Legal Studies Program.
Kronman said the center will focus on the classical and historic question and problems of Islamic law, as well as the modern issues that spawn contemporary debate. "You mention Islamic law in the United States and it's a subject that sets of fireworks," Kronman said. "We don't want to keep that controversy out of the program. We want to create a forum where the controversy can be given thoughtful and responsible thought."
Kronman's interest in Islamic law dates to his time as a philosophy student at Yale University and he became interested in the Abrahamic religions—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—and their philosophies.
"To begin with, the tradition of Islamic law is an old and multi-stranded tradition in thought and practice and teaching and reflection that goes back to the period after the death of the prophet in the eighth century of the Common Era," Kronman said. "And yes, from the beginning, there has been strands within this complex world of belief that have been more fundamentalist and have urged a return to the law and the practice of the time of the prophet. There have been other traditions which have been more open-ended and flexible and creative in adapting to modern realities and I can understand why an American on the street has no familiarity with the complexity of this world without really thinking about things too much with one particular strand, which has grabbed headlines to the shock and dismay of many very intelligent and knowledgeable Muslims."
Shariah law has come to the forefront with the uprising of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL or ISIS, which follows the law to an extreme.
"How that has happened and what it means and how to understand a phenomenon like ISIS, these are all questions we will explore in the work of this center," Kronman said.