Sarah Islam

“Blasphemy (Sabb al-Rasūl) as a Legal Category in Islamic Law: Historical Formulations and Contemporary Applications”

ACOR-CAORC Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2022 – 2023

Princeton University
Near Eastern Studies

Sarah Islam will be completing her doctoral degree in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University in June 2022. Her research focuses on the social and intellectual history of Islamic criminal law, and on how relations between Muslims, Jews, and Christians in the medieval context affected the development of jurisprudence and legal institutional norms across all three communities, despite internal polemics often arguing otherwise. Her first book project, Blasphemy (Sabb al-Rasūl) as a Legal Category in Early and Medieval Islamic History, examines the evolution of blasphemy, specifically insulting the Prophet (sabb al-rasūl), as a legal category among capital crimes in Islamic legal history. A common view among historians has been that Muslim jurists have historically been unanimous in asserting that any individual whether Muslim or non-Muslim who insulted the Prophet was to face execution, and that not doing so would be a violation of “God’s law”. Such practices can often be observed in the context of contemporary religious fundamentalism. Sarah’s research, however, demonstrates that historical sources present a far more complex picture, one in which many Muslim thinkers in fact mounted principled and orthodox opposition to this practice. Her research demonstrates how differing schools’ interactions with non-Muslims in their regions of influence was an important variable in why each school developed vastly differing rulings on sabb. Her research has been supported by the Charlotte Newcombe Foundation, Social Science Research Council, Fulbright Program, and ACOR. Her academic work has been published by Sage, Brill, and Oxford University Presses. At ACOR, Sarah will be procuring sources at the Center for Documents and Manuscripts at the University of Jordan to complete the last three chapters of her project and revising her entire project into a book draft.

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