Watching “Sharia Business” At Close Quarter


A global mega-city with a colonial past like London is the place to study the interaction of Islamic law and the modern world. This is what I am going to do during my three months of research at the Muslim College. Some first impressions:

The Muslim College in London was created by Azhar-trained Prof. Zaki Badawi in 1984, with the view of producing new generations of British imams. The College provides post-graduate courses in Quran and Hadiths, Arabic, history, theology and shariah law. Concerned with the objective of promoting a vision of Islam that fits within the UK context, the curriculum emphasises on the areas of interpenetration between Islamic and Western civilisations by holding inter-faith activities and encouraging students to read beyond Islamic sources. The College is also home to a small shariah council that provides Islamic divorces, mediation and guidance services to the Muslim community. During my fellowship with ‘Rechtskulturen’, I will spend three months here, attending daily classes, discussing with students and scholars, trying to grasp the Islamic legal culture that has made its way in the British multicultural megalopolis, as part of its postcolonial heritage.

On my first day, I am surprised to realise that the classroom counts an equal number of male and female students. I sit next to Evelyn, a half French half Saudi, British born 23-year-old woman, who specialises in Islamic law and calls herself a ‘Muslim Wahhabi’. She wears a Saudi habaya with a matching black hijab and speaks fluent Arabic, French and English. We greet each other and she tells me in French, pointing at her outfit: ‘I wear this only to attend the courses here, not to be annoyed by the others. But the rest of the time, I dress normally, like a modern girl!’. Slightly disoriented by this first encounter, I open my notebook, ready to record my first shariah class ...

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