Abdallah Kamel, chief executive of a banking and real estate company based in Saudi Arabia, donated $10 million to the Yale Law School to create a center for the study of Islamic Law and Civilization, YLS Dean Robert Post and University President Peter Salovey announced Thursday.
The center, named after the donor, will bring scholars of Islam to campus for lectures, seminar discussions, visiting professorships and fellowships. It comes three years after the beginning of a “very successful” lecture series at the law school, which Kamel also sponsored, according to Sterling professor and former Dean of Yale Law School Anthony Kronman.
Kronman, who will serve as one of the co-directors of the center, said the plan is to build up “layer by layer” over the next couple of years. The roster is already set for the continuation of the lecture series, and the center’s first resident fellow will arrive later this fall. The center will also provide support for research, and possibly even travel, Kronman said, adding that he hopes to bring in a visiting professor in the field of Islamic law within the next few years as well.
“We’re taking this step by step — it will require some time and a lot of thought to put a program this ambitious, this complex into motion,” Kronman said. “The hope is that by the end of this year, several major components of the program will be in place and others will follow in short order.”
Kronman also noted that the center will have reach far beyond just the law school, extending throughout the University to cater to any interested students. Harvard Law School has had an Islamic Legal Studies Program since 1991 — but Kronman explained that Yale is hardly playing catch up.
“Every program that is established, every initiative at the Yale Law School is undertaken with the ambition to be the very best in the world,” Kronman said. “We mean for this program to be a model in that regard as well.”
Yale Law School professor emeritus Owen Fiss, who will serve as the center’s other co-director, could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.
In a statement released on the law school website, Salovey said the opening of the center is a step forward at the law school and beyond. Yale College students interviewed who said they are interested in attending law school expressed excitement about the donation and the upcoming center. Margaret Moor ’18 said she strongly supports the purpose of the donation.
“I’m excited that Yale is taking the initiative to establish such a center and am interested to see how it develops over time,” she said. “And I think it is absolutely necessary given the changing relationship between the United States and states in the Middle East.”
Matt Kemp LAW ’15 said he thinks the center will be a great addition to the curriculum. However, he added that people he talked to during his time at the law school did not express a particular interest in Islamic law. Still, Kemp said he predicts it will increase in popularity once the center is opened.
Sarah Esty LAW ’16 said the new center seems like an exciting way for students to gain access to a wide variety of speakers, research positions and off-campus travel opportunities to learn more about a region that is critical to national security while also having a rich history of its own.
“So I think the gift couldn’t have come at a better time, and I’m excited about the opportunity to see where this goes as the center is developed,” Esty said.
Kamel has an estimated net worth of $19.8 billion.