Islamic Legal Education in Nigeria and Malaysia: Challenges and Prospects

Paper presented at the 2013 CLEA Conference in Durban

Abdulmumini A Oba
Senior Lecturer
University of Ilorin, Nigeria

Nigeria and Malaysia are multi-ethnic, multi-religious, Muslim-majority federal states with mixed legal systems inherited from the colonial era. While colonialism established the common law system as the dominant legal system in both countries, their Islamic courts continue to administer some aspects of Islamic law. However, colonialism disrupted both countries’ pre-colonial Islamic legal education systems. After independence, Islamic law (al-Fiqh) was taught in Departments of Islamic Studies (and later in Faculties of Shariah) in some of their universities. Subsequently, both countries introduced combined Islamic and Common law degree programs of five years duration but their curriculums are varied. In Nigeria, three patterns are discernible: the BUK model where all the courses include both common law and Islamic law components; the Ilorin model where there are separate (and largely parallel) common law and Islamic law courses; and the UDUS model which had a strong Arabic and Islamic studies content but was discontinued shortly after it commenced due to stiff opposition from lawyers and (common) law teachers. In Malaysia, the IIUM model is the only model: the first four years is for the LLB degree program (that includes courses in Islamic law) for all law students while students interested in the Shariah degree (LLB (S)) spend another year fully devoted to the study of Islamic law. Graduates of these programs are awarded both LL.B and LL.B (S). The objectives of the combined law programs are similar: to ensure that Islamic law graduates have adequate expertise in both Islamic law and common law. The challenges are also similar: how to achieve these goals without incurring the displeasure of regulatory bodies of the legal profession and how to strike a balance between teaching Islamic law as a religious science (as done in the Faculties of Shariah) and teaching Islamic law as ‘law’ in the common law tradition of Faculties of Law. This paper examines the relative strengths and weaknesses of the four combine law degree models, the challenges and competition posed by graduates of Faculties of Shariah and makes suggestions for the way forward.

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