Introduction to Islam (UT Course)


The purpose of this course is to explore the development, texts, philosophy, and history of Islam. The peoples, rituals, and structures of Islam will be analyzed using scholarly methodology, as historical phenomena, within specific socio–political contexts.

The Kaaba
Mecca, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Required Scholarly Texts

We will begin by looking at how one studies religion in a secular institution like a public university. Importantly, our focus will be on description rather than normative claims. All are welcome to study with us — though none are allowed to proselytize for, against, or condemn anyone’s religious affiliation.

After our survey on method, we will begin our study by looking at the socio-political milleu in which Islam arose. For this we will be using texts by Reza Aslan (Iran) and Tamim Ansary (Afghanistan). Special attention will be given to the Prophet Muhammad , his life, his struggle, and how the movement split after his death. Following this, we will study the Noble Qur’an itself, using the work of the University of London's M.A.S. Haleem (Egypt). Here we will engage in key topics of the Qur’an, such as the symbolism of water, war and peace, paradise, and Islamic views of God.

Major branches of Islam

  • 1.4 billion Sunni
  • 500 million Shia
  • 20 million Ahmadiyya
  • 2.7 million Ibadi

In Module III we will explore the famous Golden Age of Islam, reading Ansary and Aslan. We will survey the philosophy and politics of this amazing period, and watch how the medieval relationship between the Islamicate world and Europe unfolded. And for our final module, we will take a look at the effects that modernity has had on the Islamicate world (like colonialism, secularism, and nationalism), drawing mostly from Ansary’s Destiny Interrupted. This should give students a broad overview of the historical, theological, and political underpinnings of Islam in the modern world.

The translation of the Qur'an authorized for this course will be the one by Oxford University Press. No foreknowledge of Arabic or of Islam is required, but each week will introduce key terms transliterated from Arabic (e.g. Qur’an, Hadith, Ummah, etc.). All assignments will be in English, and will be expected to conform to university-level writing standards (English conventions, grammar, logic, no plagiarism, etc.).

Module I. The Rise of Islam

  • Week 1: Scholarship & Religion: A Primer on Method
  • Week 2: Pre-Islamic Arabia & Muhammad (Aslan ch.1-2)
  • Week 3: Jihad & the Holy City of Mecca (Aslan ch.3-4)
  • Week 4: After Muhammad (Aslan ch.5, Ansary ch.4)
  • Week 5: Islamic Law & Martyrs (Aslan ch.6-7)

Module II. The Noble Qur'an

  • Week 6: The Qur’an, its Opening, and Water (Haleem ch.1-3)
  • Week 7: Marriage, War, and Tolerance (Haleem ch.4-6)
  • Week 8: Life, Afterlife, and the Divine (Haleem ch.7-9)
  • Week 9: The Bible and the Qur’an (Haleem ch.10-11)

Module III. The Golden Age of Islam

  • Week 10: Islamic Empire: Umayyads & Abbasids (Ansary ch.5-6)
  • Week 11: Islamic Philosophy & Mysticism (Ansary ch.7, Aslan ch.8)
  • Week 12: Invasions East & West (Ansary ch.8-9)

Module IV: Islam & Modernity

  • Week 13: The Impact of Western Colonialism (Ansary ch.12, Aslan ch.9)
  • Week 14: Islamic Reform: from Wahhabism to Modernism  (Ansary ch.13-14)
  • Week 15: The Islamic World in the Twentieth Century (Ansary ch.15-17)