Clark Lombardi on Sharia Law
Date: August 28th, 2016

What is sharia law?  How can sharia law be accommodated into formal constitutions?  These questions and more are the topic of discussion with Prof. Clark Lombardi, the Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington.  Prof. Lombardi explains what sharia law is and how it compares with Western variants such as common law and canon law.  We dig into the historical development of sharia law and how, given the decentralized nature of Islam, that there were numerous interpretations.  Dealing with this diversity meant relying upon a number of scholar-jurists (fuqaha), who had organized themselves into guild-like organizations and schools, and having respect for different opinions when agreement could not be reached.  We examine how the rise of a more bureaucratized state affected the use of sharia in society, covering some of the developments in the Ottoman Empire and then the changes occurring in the post-Ottoman and post-colonial era.  With secular states coming to the rise in the post-WWII period, and then faltering in the 1970s, we begin to see the rise of more Islamist influence in government and a demand for “sharia guarantee clauses” (SGCs) written into formal constitutions, wherein secular rulers are obligated to follow the guidance of sharia.  More than merely a “bill of rights,” these SGCs were implemented to ensure government officials did not make law that would force Muslims to sin, and also served as a check to get these same rulers to act on behalf of the welfare of the community.  We discuss how such SGCs have been implemented in a number of countries.  Clark lays out three general methods: 1) political constitutionalism wherein the passage of sharia law falls largely in the hands of executives and parliaments; 2) legal constitutionalism giving courts the ability to review the adherence of legislative and executive actions to sharia law; and 3) hybrid systems that combine a bit of both.  Clark illustrates these systems by referring to various countries with special concentration in the recent Egyptian constitution.  We finish off with some of Prof. Lombardi’s ruminations on events in Turkey and how his study of sharia has affected his understanding of the legal system in the United States.  Recorded: August 11, 2016.


Clark Lombardi’s bio at the University of Washington School of Law.

Clark Lombardi’s Social Science Research Network (SSRN) page.

State Law as Islamic Law in Modern Egypt, by Clark Lombardi.

Religion and Human Security, edited by James Wellman and Clark Lombardi.

Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Law, by Clark Lombardi.


Timur Kuran on Islamic Law and Economic Development.

Paul Kubicek on Islam, Political Islam, and Democracy.

Daniel Philpott on Religious Resurgence and Democratization.

Ani Sarkissian on Politics and Religious Civil Society in Turkey.

Alessandra Gonzalez on Islamic Feminism.

Ann Wainscott on the Politics of Islam in Morocco.

Nathan Brown on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Jared Rubin on Religion and Credit Risk in the Ottoman Empire.

Karen Elliott House on Journalism and Saudi Arabia.

Matthew Derrick on the Geography of the Umma.

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