David Stephan Powers

Emeritus Professor


David S. Powers (Ph.D., Princeton, 1979) is a native of Cleveland, Ohio and long-suffering fan of the Cleveland Guardians . He received his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1979 and began teaching at Cornell in the same year. He currently holds positions as an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Near Eastern, an Adjunct Professor at the Cornell Law School. His courses deal with Islamic civilization, Islamic history and law, and classical Arabic texts, and his research focuses on the emergence of Islam and Islamic legal history. He is founding editor of the journal Islamic Law and Society.

Courses Taught

  • Introduction to Islamic Civilization
  • The Search for the Historical Muhammad
  • Law, Society, and Culture in the Middle East
  • Qur’an & Commentary
  • Seminar in Islamic History: The Beginning of Islam 600-750
  • Theory and Method in Near Eastern Studies
  • Islamic Law and History

Research Focus

  • Islam, Qur'an, Hadith, Law, Gender, the Maghrib



  • “Law and Sufism in the Maghrib, ca. 829/1425,” in Islam on the Margins: Studies in Memory of Michael Bonner, ed. Robert Haug and Steven Judd, 147-200, Brill, 2023.
  • “In Memorium: Aharon Layish (1933-2022),” Islamic Law and Society, 29:2 (2022), 217-220. Also published in Aharon Layish, Islamic Law, Tribal Customary Law and Waqf: Studies in the Legal History of the Modern Middle East and North Africa, Brill, 2024, xi-xiv.
  • Zayd (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014)
  • Muhammad is Not the Father of Any of Your Men: The Making of the Last Prophet (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009)
  • Law, Society, and Culture in the Maghrib, 1300-1500 (Cambridge  University Press, 2002)
  • Studies in Qur'an and Hadith: The Formation of the Islamic Law of Inheritance. University of California Press, 1986. Translated into Bahasa Indonesia as Peralihin Kekayaan dan Politk Kekuasaan: Kritik Histois Hukum Waris (LkiS, Yogyakarta, 2001)


  • “Sinless, Sonless, and Seal of Prophets: Muḥammad and Kor 33, 36-40, Revisited,” Arabica 67:4 (2020), 338-408

  • “The Qur’ān and its Legal Environment,” in Approaching Islam: Classical Categories and Modern Scholarship, ed. Majid Daneshgar and Aaron W. Hughes (2020), 9-32.

  • “Le Coran et son environnement légal,” in Le Coran des Historiens, ed. Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi and Guillaume Dye, Cerf, 2019, 615-649.
  • “Adoption,” In Oxford Bibliographies in Islamic Studies. Ed. John O. Voll. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming, April 2016
  • “From Nuzi to Medina: Q. 4:12b, Revisited,” in Structures of Power: Law and Gender across the Ancient Near East and Beyond, ed. Ilan Peled, Oriental Institute Seminars, vol. 12 (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, 2016).
  • “Inheritance.” In Oxford Bibliographies in Islamic Studies. Ed. Andrew Rippin. New York: Oxford University Press (2015).
  • “Finality of Prophecy,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Abrahamic Religions, ed. A. Silverstein and G. Stroumsa, Oxford University Press, 2015.
  • “’A Bequest May Not Exceed One-Third’: An Isnād-cum-Matn Analysis – and Beyond,” in Islamic Cultures, Islamic Contexts, edited by Behnam Sadeghi, Asad Ahmed, Robert Hoyland, and Adam Silverstein.  Leiden: Brill: 2014 (co-authored with Pavel Pavlovitch)
  • “Wael B. Hallaq on the Origins of Islamic Law: A Review Essay,” Islamic Law and Society, 17:1 (2010),
  • "Demonizing Zenobia: The Legend of al-Zabba' in Islamic Sources", in Histories of the Middle East: Studies in Middle Eastern Economy, Society, and Law in Honor of A.L. Udovitch (Brill, 2010)
  • "The Abolition of Adoption in Islam, Reconsidered," in Droit et Religions Annuaire 4 (2009-10), 97-107
  • "From the Mi`yar of al-Wansharisi to the New Mi`yar of al-Wazzani," co-authored with Etty Terem, Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 33 (2007), 235-260
  • "Law and Custom in the Maghrib, 1475-1500: On the Disinheritance of Women," in Law, Custom, and Statute in the Muslim World: Studies in Honor of Aharon Layish (E.J. Brill, 2006), 17-40.
  • "Qadis and their Courts: An Historical Survey," with M. Khalid Masud and Rudolph Peters, in Dispensing Justice in Muslim Courts: Qadis and their Courts, ed. M. Khalid Masud, Rudolph Peters, David S. Powers (E.J. Brill, 2006), 1-46.
  • "Women and Courts in the Maghrib, 1100-1500, in Dispensing Justice in Muslim Courts: Qadis and their Courts, ed. M. Khalid Masud, Rudolph Peters, David S. Powers (E.J. Brill, 2006), 383-410.
  • “Women and Divorce in the Islamic West: Three Cases,” Hawwa, vol. 1:1 (2003), 29-45.
  • "Parents and their Minor Children: Familial Politics in the Middle Maghrib in the Eighth/Fourteenth Century," Continuity and Change, August 2001, 177-200.
  • "The Islamic Family Endowment (Waqf)," Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, 32:4 (1999), 1167-90.
  • "Introduction: The Islamic Inheritance System," Islamic Law and Society, 5:3 (1998): 285-90 [theme issue]
  • "The Art of the Judicial Opinion: On Tawlij in Fifteenth-Century Tunis," Islamic Law and Society, 5:3 (1998): 359-81.

Edited Volumes

  • Islamic Ecumene: Comparing Global Muslim Societies, ed. David S. Powers and Eric Tagliacozzo (Cornell University Press, 2023)
  • Islamic Legal Thought: A Compendium of Muslim Jurists, ed. O. Arabi, D.S. Powers and S. Spectorsky (E.J. Brill, 2013)
  • Dispensing Justice in Muslim Courts: Qadi and their Courts, ed. M. Khalid Masud, Rudolph Peters, David S. Powers (E.J. Brill, 2006)
  • Islamic Legal Interpretation: Muftis and their Fatwas, ed. M. Khalid Masud, Brinkley Messick and David Powers (Harvard University Press, 1996)

Encyclopedia Entries

  • "Appeal", "Adoption", Encyclopaedia of Islam, 3nd ed.,
  • "Inheritance", "Judicial Review", "Wansharisi", Encyclopaedia of Legal History
  • "Endowments", "Inheritance", "Qadis", Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia
  • "Inheritance, Islamic", Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an, E-I (2002)
  •  “Wakf”, Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., vol. XI, 69-75
  • "Inheritance," "Endowment," and "Alms-Tax" in the Dictionary of the Middle Ages. New York: Scribners, 1983

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