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COURSE NAME: "Introduction to Islam"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Spring 2019

INSTRUCTOR: Farian Sabahi
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 4:30-5:45 PM

A detailed introduction to the religion of Islam, introducing the central beliefs that have united Muslims throughout history, as well as the diversity of sects and communities that see themselves as heirs to Muhammad. The course will discuss the origins of Islam, the evolution of Muslim theology, law, and rituals, and include readings of primary sources, together with relevant secondary literature. The emphasis will be on Sunni Islamic thought, although the genesis of other Muslim communities will deserve due attention as well. Major issues in modern Islamic debate will also receive attention.

The aim of this course will be understanding the complexities of the Muslim world. This course will examine the rise of Islam, its five pillars, the split between Sunni and Shi'i Islam, civil society and its intellectuals, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Iranian Revolution of 1979, jihadism, Muslims in the West, the Arab Springs, the threat represented by the so-called Foreign Fighters, gender and Islam, religious minorities.  Major issues in modern Islamic debate will be discussed in class.


- understanding the historical context of the Revelation of the Holy Koran;

- grasping the differences within the Muslim community (umma);

- ability to analyze current issues related to Islam in Europe and events taking place in the Muslim world;

- developing verbal and writing abilities, as well as analytical and critical skills.

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
The Koran Arberry's English TranslationOxford PaperbacksISBN 13: 9780192816283  Regarding materials, a multidisciplinary approach will allow to tackle the different issues with diverse instruments (videos will be included in the teaching materials). Primary and secondary sources will be used. Week by week, materials will be given by the instructor (depending, in part, by students' backgrounds and interests).

Final paper (al least 1500 words) 30%
Final exam 30%
Attendance and class discussion 10%
Mid-term exam 30%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the cours
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.

You cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed. The final exam period runs until ____________
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


1) Issues facing Muslims Today (the Image of Islam in the West, migrations, islamophobia).


Recommended reading:

- Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong, in The Atlantic on-line, January 2002, available on-line: http://www.iefpedia.com/english/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/What-Went-Wrong.pdf

- http://www.pewforum.org/2018/10/29/eastern-and-western-europeans-differ-on-importance-of-religion-views-of-minorities-and-key-social-issues/

- Miqdaad Versi, Islamophobia is real. Stop the obsession with semantics, The Guardian, 15 May 2018: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/may/15/islamophobia-semantics-word

- Hatem Bazian, Professor Tariq Ramadan and France's Islamophobia, Daily Sabah, 15 April 2018: https://www.dailysabah.com/columns/hatem-bazian/2018/04/16/professor-tariq-ramadan-and-frances-islamophobia


2) Film – Inside Mecca (on Pilgrimage, the fifth pillar of Islam), National Geographic.


3) The 5 pillars of Islam.


Recommended reading:

-Andrew Rippin, Muslims. Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, Routledge, London, 1990, vol. 1, pp. 86-99 (chapter 7: Ritual Practice).


4) Geographies of Islam: maps from Andreas Birken, Atlas of Islam 1800-2000, Brill, Leiden, 2010.


5) Pre-Islamic Arabia.


Recommended reading:

-The Cambridge History of Islam ed. by Holt, Lambton, Lewis, vol. 1A, chapter 1 (Pre-Islamic Arabia by Irfan Shahid), pp. 3-29.


6) The Revelation of the Holy Koran. Prophet Muhammad.


Recommended readings:

-The Cambridge History of Islam, vol. 1A, chapter 2 (Muhammad by Montgomery Watt), pp. 30-56.

-Andrew Rippin, Muslims. Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, Routledge, London, 1990, vol. 1, pp. 14-29 (chapter 2: The Qur'an).


Materials in case you decide to write a paper:


Michael Cook, Muhammad, Oxford University Press, 1983.

W. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad at Mecca, Oxford University Press, 1953.

H.A.R. Gibb, Mohammedanism, Oxford University Press, 1962.

A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad. A Translation of Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, Oxford University Press, 1955.

Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A prophet for our time, Harper Collins, NY, 2007.


7) The succession to the Prophet Muhammad and the split between Sunni and Shi’i Islam.


Recommended reading:

Moojan Momen, An Introduction to Shi'i Islam, Yale University Press, 1985, pp. 11-23 (chapter 2: The Question of the Succession to Muhammad).


Further reading:

- Vali Nasr, The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future, W.W. Norton, New York, 2007.


8) Sharia law, law schools in Sunni Islam. The role of ijtihad in sex change in Iran, BBC interview with Hojatolleslam Kariminya), hisba (the case of Nasr Abu Zayd).


Recommended readings:

- Joseph Schacht, An Introduction to Islamic Law, Clarendon, Oxford, 1991, pp. 1- 5 (introduction), 10-15 (Muhammad and the Koran), 57-68 (The Later Schools of Law and Their 'Classical' Theory).

- Ibn Taymiya, Public Duties in Islam. The Institution of the Hisba, The Islamic Foundation, Leicester, Commanding Good and Forbidding Evil (chapter 6), pp. 73-81.

- OBITUARY Georges Tamer NASR HAMID ABU ZAYD, Int. J. Middle East Stud. 43 (2011), 193–195 (https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/411A97171F087B18225E90F3940ED353/S0020743810001558a.pdf/nasr-hamid-abu-zayd.pdf)


9) Today Islam. Liberal Islam.


Recommended reading:

Charles Kurzman, “Introduction. Liberal Islam and Its Islamic Context”, in Kurzman (ed.), Liberal Islam. A Sourcebook, Oxford University Press, 1998, pp. 3-26.


10) Civil societies in Muslim Countries.


Recommended reading:

Mohammed Arkoun, “Locating Civil Society in Islamic Context”, in Amyn B. Sajoo (ed.), Civil Society in the Muslim World. Contemporary Perspectives, I.B. Tauris, 2002, pp. 35-60.


11) The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.


Recommended reading:

Brynjar Lia, The Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt. The Rise of an Islamic Mass Movement 1928-1942, Ithaca Press, 1998, pp. 1-43.


12) Shi'i Islam and the Iranian Revolution of 1979.


Recommended reading:

- Michael Axworthy, Revolutionary Iran, Penguin, 2014, chapters 2 and 3.


13) 9/11 and Global Jihadism.


Recommended reading:

Rudolph Peters, Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam, Markus Wiener Publishers, Princeton pp. pp. Vii-ix, 1-8 (introduction), 9-17 (The Prophet's Lesson on Conduct in War), 43-54 (The Religious and Moral Doctrine of Jihad).


14) Islam in the West. Film: Kassablanka by Guy Lee Thys.


Recommended reading:

- Patrick Haenni and Stéphane Lathion (eds.), The Swiss Minaret Ban: Islam in Question, Religioscope, Fribourg, 2011, pp. 7-9 (Switzerland without Minarets by Jean-François Mayer), 19-22 (The Minaret in the History of Islam by Rachid Benzine).


Suggested readings (for those students writing a paper on this topic):

- Stefano Allievi, Conflicts over Mosques in Europe. Policy issues and trends, NEF Initiative on Religion and Democracy in Europe, Alliance Publishing Trust, London, 2009-

- Adam Lebor, A Heart Turned East. Among the Muslims of Europe and America, Little, Brown and Company, London, 1997.

- Zareena Grewal, Islam is a Foreign Country. American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority, NY University Press, 2014.


15) Arab Springs (film: The Square) vs. the Iranian Green Wave of 2009 and more recent protests


Recommended readings:

- Asef Bayat, Why did Iran's Green Wave not feel the Arab Spring? Sadighi Annual Lectures, Amsterdam 2012.

- https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/01/iran-protest-mashaad-green-class-labor-economy/551690/


16) Foreign Fighters.


Recommended reading:

- Francesco Marone, Foreign Fighers: A Problem for Asian Countries Too, ISPI, Milan, December 2018_ https://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/foreign-fighters-problem-asian-countries-too-21723


17) Gender and Islam I: Women in the Koran.


Recommended reading:


Barbara Freyer Stowasser, Women in the Qur'an, Traditions and Interpretations, Oxford University Press, 1994, pp. 67-82 (The chapter of Mary), 85-103 (The Mothers of the Believers in the Qur'an).


18) Gender and Islam II; discriminations against women and feminisms.


Recommended reading:

Fatima Mernissi, Women's Rebellion & Islamic Memory, Zed Books, London, 1996, pp. 109-120 (chapter X: Feminity as Subversion: Reflections on the Muslim Concept of Nushuz).


Suggested readings (for those students writing papers on this topic):


- Abdullah A. An-Na'im (ed.), Islamic Family Law in a Changing World, Zed Books, London, 2002.

- Maaike Voorhoeve, Gender and Divorce Law in North Africa. Sharia, Customs and the Personal Status Code in Tunisia, I.B. Tauris, London, 2014.

-Shahla Laheri, Law of Desire. Temporary Marriage in Shi'i Iran, Syracuse University Press, 1989.


19) Papers presentation


20) Huda Shaarawi, Egypt's First Feminist.


Recommended reading:

Sania Sharawi Lanfranchi, Casting off the Veil, I.B. Tauris, London, 2012, pp. 1-58.


21) Women activists


Recommended reading:



Suggested reading on Egypt (for those students writing papers on this topic):

Wanda Krause, Civil Society and Women Activists in the Middle East. Islamic and Secular Organizations in Egypt, I.B. Tauris, London, 2012.


22) Female Genital Mutilation


Recommended reading:

- Nawal al-Saadawi, The Hidden Face of Eve. Women in the Arab World, Zed Books, London, 1980, pp 33-43 (circumcision of girls).


23) Child brides in Yemen – Khadija al-Salami (film)


Recommended reading:

Farian Sabahi, “Gender Issues after the Yemeni Spring”, in After the Yemeni Spring.  A Survey on the Transition, ed. by Anna Maria Medici, Urbino Research Team on International Relations and Human Development, Mimesis, Milan, 2012.


24) Controversial Muslim intellectuals: Tariq Ramadan, Ayaan Hirsi Ali


Articles will be provided and discussed in class.


25) The status of religious minorities in Islam (dhimmis)

I Christians


Articles will be provided and discussed in class.


26) The status of religious minorities in Islam (dhimmis)

II The Jews


Articles will be provided and discussed in class.


27) The status of religious minorities in Islam (dhimmis)

III The Bahai


Articles will be provided and discussed in class.


28) Final discussion