Yale Law School Dean Robert Post and University President Peter Salovey announced on Thursday a $10 million donation that will create Abdallah S. Kamel Center for the Study of Islamic Law and Civilization at Yale Law School. In a statement, Salovey emphasized the “exciting new opportunities” the center will bring to Yale — research funding, visiting scholars, public lectures.
But in the days since, the donor — Saudi Arabian billionaire Abdallah S. Kamel — and the center itself have begun to draw ire.
In a recent Huffington Post article that has seen a large amount of online traffic, Omer Aziz LAW ’17 attacked Kamel’s politics and, by extension, attacked Yale for accepting what he called “oil-drenched, blood-stained money” in an email to the News.
“I have serious qualms about the source of the funding,” Aziz told the News. “Kamel and his conglomerate are tied to the Saudi Royal Family, who run the Kingdom and its 30 million inhabitants like their private property, where women are a permanent underclass, where writers are flogged in the streets, where convicts are beheaded — 100 and counting this year.”
Kamel is the chief executive of the Saudi banking and real estate conglomerate Dallah Albaraka, which was named as one of dozens of defendants in a lawsuit brought by 9/11 victims’ families. The lawsuit incriminated several “purported charities, financial institutions and other individuals who allegedly provided support and resources to Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda.”
The New York district court ruled in favor of the 76 defendants, including Dallah Albaraka, dismissing many of the suits on grounds including the lack of personal jurisdiction and foreign immunity to the suit.
Still, a suit against the company’s subsidiary, Dallah Avco, was ruled to warrant jurisdictional discovery — a stage which allows the court to determine whether or not it has jurisdiction over a particular suit. Dallah Avco formerly employed Saudi citizen Omar al-Bayoumi — who, The New Yorker reported last year, “never did any actual work” for the company during the seven years he spent in America. Bayoumi was also alleged in the court complaint to have befriended and helped fund two 9/11 hijackers, but a national investigation has since concluded he did not know the pair were al Qaeda terrorists.
“This donor and his company were thoroughly vetted, both within the law school and the Office of General Counsel of the University,” YLS professor and former dean Anthony Kronman said. “Owen Fiss and I, the co-directors, have been ensured by everyone concerned from the Office of the General Counsel of the University that we have absolutely no reason to be concerned on any score at all.”
Harvard Law School’s Islamic Legal Studies Program, which has been in place since 1991, was funded by the Saudi Royal Family. In 1993, HLS received $5 million from King Fahd of Saudi Arabia in order to establish a center devoted to the study of the Islamic legal system.
Beyond disputes over the donor himself, others simply questioned whether such an addition to YLS is even necessary. Matt Kemp LAW ’15 said that although he thinks the center will eventually garner attention and popularity, he does not remember any students expressing an explicit interest in Islamic law during his time at YLS.
However, Emory Law School Professor Abdullahi An-Na’im, who teaches Islamic law, emphasized the importance of high quality Islamic law programs in the U.S, particularly at Yale.
An-Na’im described Islamic law as a “vast and magnificent juridical tradition,” which has sustained major human civilizations for more than 1,000 years. He added that as a student and teacher of Islamic law for more than 50 years, he has been impressed by its highly sophisticated principles and techniques that remain applicable to a large range of modern legal subjects, from property and commercial law to consumer protection and conflict of laws.
He added that he has been dissatisfied with Harvard’s Islamic law program — in his opinion, it did not compel the faculty to engage in serious comparative reflection on Islamic and American law — and thus has high hopes for the one being established at YLS.
Robert Weaver LAW ’18 said he is happy to hear that YLS will spend more time emphasizing non-western legal traditions, since the focus is most typically, and understandably, on Western law.
Additionally, John Ehrett LAW ’17 said he is not fazed by the origin of the gift, noting that major donations often have questionable sources that simply are not broadly publicized.
“I’m happy that there is a consideration being paid to the intersection of Islamic law and human rights and potential ways forward, and I’m happy that there’s discussion between the West and East on these issues,” Ehrett said. “I recognize that there are difficulties on the sources of a number of donations, but nonetheless I am optimistic about this center providing useful work on law and religion.”