Building upon interdisciplinary, critical, and humanities-oriented work in law and society, this project investigates, broadly, how Americans navigate religious law in the context of an ostensibly secular state.


How do American Muslims live and experience Islamic law?


A preoccupation with one type of “fundamentalist” or “political” Islam especially in the news media and in social-science scholarship has overshadowed more humanistic work on progressive or emancipatory possibilities that can be envisaged using religious principles. Scholars studying Islamic law in particular have focused on illuminating specific institutions, such as courts, and doctrines, such as finance, and how religious values are expressed in fiqh, or jurisprudence. Other scholars have documented great flexibility in Islamic legal theory (both shari’a and fiqh) particularly in the interpretations of Islamic jurists and legal historians. More recently, scholar-activists have attempted to combine Islamic and human rights frameworks to lay the basis for an egalitarian Muslim legal system.


Although this research on Islamic law is wide-ranging, few scholars have explored the diverse ways that everyday people interpret and experience these legal prescriptions in diaspora, in lower profile forms of activism in which ordinary people engage with public issues of contestation, particularly in the United States. Thus, a gap exists for both scholars and journalists to uncover the lived experience of shari’a in the daily experiences of American Muslims who try to organize their lives around their understandings of the teachings of Islam, and how those teachings are being grasped locally, particularly in relation to transnational forms. This project aims to fill that gap by building knowledge of grassroots and diasporic formulations of Islamic law.