Information in the Degree Programme Tables may still be subject to change in response to Covid-19

University Homepage
DRPS Homepage
DRPS Search
DRPS Contact
DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Divinity : Theology and Ethics

Undergraduate Course: The Importance of Being Islamic: Explorations in Premodern Muslim Thought (THET10069)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Divinity CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course introduces students to diverse genres of premodern Muslim thought, with an emphasis on cultivating an understanding of Islam in all its diversity as a lived religion. The course title is an homage to the late Shahab Ahmed's What is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), a work whose central inquiry, on the delineation of the category of 'the Islamic', is the reoccurring concern of each individual week. Rather than engaging at length with the various critical-theoretical approaches to the subject (though there are elements of this in the first and final weeks, in extracts from Ahmed are assigned), students will engage with 'Islam' as a category of analysis through their experience of various forms of literary production, with particular attention to the so-called marginal. The emphasis throughout is on the disruption of received wisdoms on the subject. Students should be advised that the course entails the occasional discussion of material that is of a sensitive or explicit nature, including elements of sexuality.
Course description Academic description:
Shahab Ahmed has seminally argued that 'the Islamic' is best conceptualised as any attempt to seriously engage with what he terms the Text, Con-Text and Pre-Text of Revelation. The 'Text' represents the core teachings of the Islamic religious tradition as embodied in the Qur'an and the voluminous body of reports attributed to the Prophet (hadith or Sunna, more broadly). The 'Con-Text' represents the sum total of previous attempts at interpreting and embodying this material, or such aspects of its as are available to particular Muslim actors in any one context. The 'Pre-Text' constitutes the various interpretive lenses through which 'Text' is read, that is the a priori commitments Muslims bring to the interpretation of these texts, which reading is never innocent of assumptions. This course explores the usefulness of this framing through the reading of a range of literary genres, with an emphasis on typically neglected aspects of this heritage.

Syllabus/outline content:
The course begins and ends with reading from Shahab Ahmed's What is Islam? whose central concerns bookend the assigned readings. We then progress through a series of discrete but interrelated topics, starting with aspects of the numinous and moving on to the earthier, exploring the boundaries of propriety, and finally their enforcement through the suppression of various forms of vice. Students should be advised that the course entails the occasional discussion of material that is of a sensitive or explicit nature, including elements of sexuality.

Student learning experience:
There is one two-hour seminar each week. For each seminar, reading is assigned from the secondary literature (usually a broad overview of a particular theme), along with short extracts from two or three primary sources, in translation. These materials form the basis of discussion, with students presenting on individual primary sources in each week. The assessment is comprised of this presentation, a book review and an essay. The course includes some demanding material, but this will be unpacked in the course of teaching, and through classroom discussion. Students should be advised that the course includes content of a sensitive and, occasionally, sexually explicit nature.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesWe welcome enrollment by visiting students, and suggest that they contact the course organiser prior to doing so for further information on the course.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2020/21, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  None
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 11, Seminar/Tutorial Hours 11, Feedback/Feedforward Hours 2, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 172 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 90 %, Practical Exam 10 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Class presentation OR 600 word mini essay = 10%
Students are to discuss one of the primary readings for the relevant week. Presentations will be assigned no later than the second week of the course. Students are expected to use the course bibliography and online resources mentioned therein to explain the context and arguments of the source they are presenting on.

1500 word book review = 30%
The expectation for the book review is that students demonstrate their ability to summarise an argument and engage with it in proper analytical fashion, rather than providing a merely descriptive account. Disagreement with the author (properly evidenced) is especially appreciated.

3000 word essay = 60%
The longer course essay is expected to give the students an opportunity for sustained focus on a particular issue using the suggested readings (and others where appropriate). Students will construct an argument, demonstrating their ability to engage critically with the secondary literature and to form their own informed conclusions.
Feedback Students will be welcome to ask for feedback on their essay plans/drafts up to the week before the deadline.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Distinguish between different layers of Islam¿s textual heritage, and be able to comment on questions of origin and development.
  2. Apply critical historical tools to the study of Islamic intellectual history.
  3. Critically discuss the uses of studying other peoples, cultures and periods, particularly those that diverge from one¿s own.
  4. Analyse the use, adaptation and legacy of aspects of the heritage studied.
  5. Demonstrate the tremendous variety of Islam as a lived religion.
Reading List
Indicative Bibliography

Shahab Ahmed, What is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015).

-- ¿Ibn Taymiyyah and the Satanic Verses¿, Studia Islamica 87 (1998), pp. 67-124.

Kecia Ali, Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2010).

Ovamir Anjum, ¿Islam as a Discursive Tradition: Talal Asad and His Interlocutors¿, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 27 (2007), pp. 656-672.

Joel Blecher, Said the Prophet of God: Hadith Commentary Across a Millennium (Oakland: University of California Press, 2018).

C. E. Bosworth, The Medieval Islamic Underworld: The Ban¿ S¿s¿n in Arabic Society and Literature (Leiden: Brill, 1976).

M. M. Bravmann, ¿The Origins of the Principle of `Ismah: Mu¿ammad¿s Immunity from Sin¿, Le Muséon, 88 (1975), pp. 221-225.

Ronald Buckley, The Book of the Islamic Market Inspector (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

Norman Calder, ¿The Limits of Islamic Orthodoxy¿, in Intellectual Traditions in Islam, Farhad Daftary ed. (London: I. B. Tauris, 2000), pp. 66-85.

F. Matthew Caswell, The Slave Girls of Baghdad: The Qiy¿n in the Early Abbasid Era (London: I. B. Tauris, 2011).

Khaled El-Rouayheb, Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World, 1500-1800 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009)

Amira El-Zein, Islam, Arabs, and the Intelligent World of the Jinn (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2009).

Richard Foltz, Animals in Islamic Tradition and Muslim Cultures (Oxford: Oneworld, 2005).

Li Guo, ¿Paradise Lost: Ibn D¿niy¿l¿s Response to Baybars¿ Campaign Against Vice in Cairo¿, JAOS, 121 (2001), pp. 219-235.

Ralph Hattox, Coffee and Coffeehouses: The Origin of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1985).

Robert Irwin, ¿Ali al-Baghdadi and the Joy of Mamluk Sex¿, in The Historiography of Islamic Egypt (c. 950-1800), Hugh Kennedy ed. (Leiden: Brill, 2001), pp. 45-57.

Tazim Kassam, ¿On Being a Scholar of Islam: Risks and Responsibilities¿, in Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism, Omid Safi ed. (Oxford: Oneworld, 2003), pp. 128-144.

Phillip Kennedy, The Wine Song in Classical Arabic Poetry (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

M. J. Kister, ¿A Bag of Meat: A Study of an Early ¿ad¿th¿, SOAS Bulletin, 33 (1970), pp. 267-275.

Michael Muhammad Knight, Magic in Islam (New York: Tarcher, 2016).

Kathryn Kueny, The Rhetoric of Sobriety: Wine in Early Islam (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001)

Rudolph Peters, Crime and Punishment in Islamic Law: Theory and Practice from the Sixteenth to the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

Franz Rosenthal, The Herb: Hashish Versus Medieval Muslim Society (Leiden: Brill, 1971).

George Saliba, A History of Arabic Astronomy: Planetary Theories During the Golden Age of Islam (New York: New York University Press, 1994).

Elizabeth Sirriyeh, Dreams and Visions in the World of Islam: A History of Muslim Dreaming and Foreknowing (London: I. B. Tauris, 2015).

Zoltan Szombathy, Muj¿n: Libertinism in Medieval Muslim Society and Literature (Cambridge: Gibb Memorial Trust, 2013).
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Ability to properly contextualise historical sources.
Ability to interpret technically demanding materials from a foreign intellectual culture.
Ability to summarise arguments in the secondary literature.
Ability to produce properly referenced essays.
KeywordsIslamic thought,premodern,medieval,plurality
Course organiserDr Omar Anchassi
Tel: (0131 6) 50 8953
Course secretaryMr Jamie Smith
Tel: (0131 6)50 8913
Help & Information
Search DPTs and Courses
Degree Programmes
Browse DPTs
Humanities and Social Science
Science and Engineering
Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
Other Information
Combined Course Timetable
Important Information