Why did a Saudi billionaire donate $10 million to Yale?

The Abdallah S. Kamel Center for the Study of Islamic Law and Civilization aims to become the top destination for the study of Sharia.

Michelle McLoughlin
Yale University has established the Abdallah S. Kamel Center for the Study of Islamic Law and Civilization to satisfy a growing interest at Yale and other universities in Islamic law and culture, said school officials. Yale says it hopes to become the top destination for the study of Shari`a, or Islamic law.

The chief executive of Saudi banking and real estate company Dallah Al-Baraka Group has donated $10 million towards a center for study of Islamic law at Yale Law School.

The Abdallah S. Kamel Center for the Study of Islamic Law and Civilization was established to satisfy a growing interest at Yale and other universities in Islamic law and culture, said school officials.

Yale says it hopes to become the top destination for the study of Sharia, or Islamic law, which is derived from religious doctrine.

"The contemporary challenges of Islamic law are broadly relevant to political events throughout the entire Islamic world, and those are developments that are watched by a much larger audience of people who in many cases have not much knowledge at all of the history and traditions of Islamic law," said former dean and current professor Anthony T. Kronman in a university announcement last week. Professor Kronman will co-lead the center with Professor Emeritus Owen M. Fiss.

The new center will host visiting scholars, support student travel and research, and hopes to establish a permanent position for a professor of Islamic law. It will also continue to host a lecture series on Islamic law and civilization that was launched two years ago and paid for by Mr. Kamel.

"It's the responsibility of universities to teach and instruct and that obligation applies with particular force where an issue or a subject tends to be viewed in an incomplete or inadequate or even caricatured way," Professor Kronman told the AP.

Harvard University has a similar program that was created in 1991 with support from then-King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. On its website, the Islam Legal Studies Program describes itself as  "neither a religious nor an advocacy organization, but rather aims to foster excellence in the study of Islamic law in an atmosphere of open inquiry."

Emory University also has an Islamic law program in its Center for the Study of Law and Religion. It lists the Ford Foundation as a sponsor on the project's website.

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