Religion 42 Instructor: Rick Colby
Fall 1997 Office: Gray 118 C
T-Th 10:55-12:10 Office Hours: Tues 1-4 pm
136 Social Science Email:

Course Description and Purpose

What is Islam? Is it simply a religion, or is it a culture as well? What do Muslims do? What do Muslims believe? Do all Muslims act in similar ways and believe in similar things, or are there a wide variety of beliefs and practices that can be considered characteristically "Islamic"? These questions will guide our intellectual journey this semester, as we survey small stretches of the vast territory signified by the term "Islam."

First appearing in 7th century Arabia, Islam was one aspect of a civilization that quickly spread through North Africa to Spain, and through the Middle East and Central Asia to India and later Southeast Asia. Expanding far beyond its Arabian roots, the religion of Islam has come to comprise some 20% of the world's population. In fact, it is said to be the fastest growing religion in the United States. Therefore learning about Islam is not an exercise in antiquarianism, but rather is key to a richer understanding of this country and the wider world.

This course will primarily focus upon the religious aspects of Islam and Muslim culture. Therefore we will begin our journey by questioning how one goes about studying a religion, why one would do so, and what one means by a "religion" in the first place (Part I). After surveying this theoretical path, we shall examine the historical moments that most Muslims see as the foundations of their faith: the life of the Prophet Muhammad and the revelation of the Qur'an (Part II). Next we will briefly look at some of the various Muslim responses to the Islamic message, from political movements to formulations of Islamic law and Islamic mysticism (Part III). Finally, we shall undertake group projects centered around the theme of Islam in the modern world (Part IV).

Although it will only be possible to touch the surface of many of these topics, the goal of this course is to get an idea of the depth and richness of Islamic traditions, and an idea of the many different avenues that can be explored in Islamic Studies.

Course Requirements

1) Attendance and Participation: Your attendance and participation are crucial to the success of this course, and it is important that you come to class having read the assigned material. On several occasions I will give pop quizzes during the first five minutes of class (no more than 5 quizzes over the course of the semester), and there will be no makeup quizzes. You will lose points (the equivalent of one quiz) if you are absent more than 3 times during the semester without proof of medical emergency.

2) Discussion Questions: Every THURSDAY you are required to come to class with TWO questions that the readings raised for you, questions that you would like to discuss in class. Your questions should indicate to me your serious thought over the readings. Type up your questions, and give one copy to me at the beginning of class on Thursday. No questions will receive credit after that time. They will be graded on the "check-plus (outstanding) / check (acceptable) / check-minus (unacceptable)" system.

3) Short Take-home Exams: There will be TWO short take-home exams over the course of the semester, given out on a Thursday and due the following Tuesday. They will consist of several brief identification questions, and one or two short essays (a total of 3-4 pages).

4) Final Project: I will divide you into small groups of three or more students that will meet once a week outside of class to discuss issues further, to watch films together, and to work on group projects. Once you and your group decide upon a time and place to meet, your attendance will be expected. Periodically I will come to these group meetings as well, both to answer any questions that you might have and to see how you are doing.
Working within your group, you will read and discuss ONE book that touches upon the theme of Islam in the modern world (Steven Barboza's American Jihad, Muhammad Rajab's Village Childhood, Alifa Rifaat's Distant View of a Minaret, Tayeb Salih's Wedding of Zein, or Assia Djebar's Far From Madina). For the Final Project, your group will choose a short selection from the work to assign for the rest of the class to read, will present the work to the class, and will lead class discussion that day. You will be graded on your presentation as a group.

5) Take-home Final Exam: The main component of your take-home final will be a medium-length essay (6-8 pages) dealing with the book that you read for your Final Project and its relationship to broader themes in the course. Although you are encouraged to discuss the questions with others, you will work on this essay individually, and each of you will receive your own grade. The second component of your take-home final will be a short written course evaluation. The entire Final Exam will be due in my office by 5 pm on the day during finals week that the class would normally take a written Final.

Method of Grading

Grades will be based on a ten-point scale, without a curve. For example, 97-100% is an A+, 93-96% is an A, 90-92% is an A-, 87-89% is a B+, 83-86% is a B, 80-82% is a B-, 77-79% is a C+, etc.. You will be graded in the following areas:

Attendance/Participation, Pop Quizzes: 15 %

Discussion Questions: 25 %

Short Take-home Exams (15 % each): 30 %

Group Final Project: 15 %

Take-home Final: 15 %

Required Texts

Ali, Ahmed. Al-Qur'an: A Contemporary Translation.

Arkoun, Mohammed. Rethinking Islam.

Barboza, Steven. American Jihad.

Martin, Richard. Islamic Studies: A History of Religions Approach.

Salih, Tayeb. The Wedding of Zein.

Williams, John. The Word of Islam.

In addition, the following title will be on order: Esposito, John. Islam: The Straight Path.

Please note that these books are available for purchase in the Textbook store (Bryan Center) as well as the Book Exchange (Downtown Durham). Also I have put one copy of each book on overnight reserve in the Divinity Library (Gray Building). In addition to these texts you will be assigned to read a number of articles, which are on reserve as well. These articles are marked in the syllabus by an asterix (*). The articles will be available in hard copy at the Divinity Library (Gray Building), at the Perkins Library, and on the Duke Online Reserve system which you can access via the Web at . If you have problems finding or accessing a reserve reading, please let me know right away by email (

Course Schedule

Note: Words in bold (for example, Read: ) indicate an assignment that should be completed by that day, and you should be ready to discuss it during that class period. Most films are available at Lilly Library (East Campus), under the number I have listed.


Tues, 9/2: Introduction to the Course

Watch in Class: "Islam: A Pictoral Essay, Part I."

Thurs, 9/4: Theories of Religion

Tues, 9/9: Constructing "Islam" and the "West"

Read: *Armstrong, "Muhammad the Enemy," 21-44; *Eliade, "The 'History of Religion' as a Branch of Knowledge," 216-232.

Watch: "We are all neighbors: Bosnia" (Lilly 3705).

Thurs, 9/11: Deconstructing "Islam" and the "West"

Read: Martin, 243-245; *Sa`id [Said], "Selections from Orientalism" ("Introduction," 1-28; "Latent and Manifest Orientalism," 201-225).


Tues, 9/16: Fourteen Centuries of Islamic History

Read: Martin, 1-38.

Watch: "Living Islam," Part 2, "The Challenges of the Past" (on reserve from UNC, this week only).

Thurs, 9/18: The Life of Muhammad

Read: Martin, 39-56; Williams, 36-41; *Lings, "Selection from Muhammad," 33-51.

Tues, 9/23: The Qur'an: Meccan Suras

Read: Martin, 141-145; al-Qur'an: sura 1, "The Prologue" (al-fatiha), p. 11; suras 96-114, i.e. "The Embryo" (al-`alaq, p. 543) until "Men" (al-nas, p. 561). Note that not all of these suras are considered "Meccan."

Thurs, 9/25: Discussion of Meccan Suras

Read: al-Qur'an: sura 53, "The Star" (al-najam, pp. 455-457); sura 55, "Ar-Rahman" (al-rahman, pp. 461-464); *Sells, "Sound, Spirit and Gender in Surat al-Qadr."

Tues, 9/30: The Qur'an: Medinan Suras

Read: al-Qur'an: sura 2, "The Cow" (al-baqara, pp. 12-50).

Watch: "The Message" (special viewing).

Thurs, 10/2: Discussion of Medinan Suras

Read: al-Qur'an: sura 4, "The Women," (al-nisa, pp. 73-96).

Tues, 10/7: Hadith and the Classical Sources

Thurs, 10/9: Questioning the Sources

Read: Williams, 56-65; *Cook, "The Sources," 61-89, *Djebar, "The Beloved Daughter," 46-76.

Tues, 10/14: FALL BREAK, no class

Read: Start reading your "group project" book.


Thurs, 10/16: Sunnism, Shi`ism, Establishing Boundaries

Read: Martin, 57-94; Williams, 170-210.

Tues, 10/21: Islamic Law and Theology

Read: Martin, 95-140.

Thurs, 10/23: Cases in Islamic Law, Discussion

Read: Williams, 66-108.

Tues, 10/28: Early Islamic Mysticism (Sufism)

Read: *Sells, "Early Islamic Mysticism," 11-69.

Watch: "Tolerance, dedicated to Mawlana"(Lilly 6328)

Thurs, 10/30: Some Famous Sufis

Read: Williams, 109-139, *Other selections, distributed in class.

Tues, 11/4: Ritual and Ethos

Read: Martin, 159-199; Salih, 1-20.

Watch: "A Door on the Sky" (Lilly 1949).

Thurs, 11/6: Discussion of Ritual and Ethos

Read: Martin, 200-241.

Tues, 11/11: Muslim Women and the Islamic Tradition

Read: Select verses from al-Qur'an; Finish reading your "group project" book, if you have not done so already.

Watch: "Women and Islam" (Lilly 4591).

Thurs, 11/13: Authority and Interpretation

Read: Arkoun, 60-63; Barboza, 26-35; Esposito, 192-218; *Mernissi, "Introduction," 1-11.


Tues, 11/18: Modern Muslim Beliefs and Practices Around the World

Watch In Class: "Islam in America."

Thurs, 11/20: Revivalist Movements
Group I assigns class readings for Dec 2.

Read: Esposito, 114-191.

Tues, 11/25: Work in Groups on Final Projects

Read: Arkoun, 6-34.

Thurs, 11/27: THANKSGIVING, no class

Tues, 12/2: Group Final Project I

Thurs, 12/4: Group Final Project II

Tues, 12/9: Group Final Project III

Thurs, 12/11: Rethinking Islam, Rethinking this Course