Islam and modernity
Religion 329
Spring 2004

By: Omid Safi

Meeting times: Monday/Wednesday 2:45-4:00
Place: Saperstein Center

Catalogue Description:

This course examines the key issues with which Muslim thinkers the modern period (defined here as the colonial and post-colonial periods) have been concerned. A significant portion of the class will be spent examining liberal Islamic thought, in the sense of intellectual responses that have taken the engagement with modernity seriously. As such, we will critically examine some Muslim responses to post-colonialism, feminist and womanist constructions, democratization of politics, pluralism, religious violence, extremism, and authoritarianism. The class will be conducted in a seminar format, and will consist of close reading and discussion of texts.

Prerequisite: None required. Students with no background in Islam will be expected to read an additional text, introducing them to the basic tenets of Islam in the first few weeks of the course.

Course Requirements:
The students’ participation, measured through in-class participation and response to readings, will comprise fully 15% of the grade. The rest will come from a 15-20 page research paper (25%), a midterm (20%) a brief final exam (20%), two brief critical papers (each 10%).    Class attendance and active participation is mandatory.   The final is an open book, take home exam, drawing upon the sources for all semester.

Students who fail to show up and contribute to class discussions can hope for no better than a D in this class.  You will be asked to turn in 1-2 page daily reflections (a.k.a. intellectual journal) on the readings. These are for my benefit, to give me a sense of how you are doing on them.  You will post them on blackboard..  You get a grade for turning them in, and for the effort you put into them.   We also use them as a resource for building further class discussion.  In each reflection, I ask you to bring up 2-3 critical questions about the reading that you can raise for discussion in the class.

There are very specific dates for your semester long research project, which will proceed in a step by step format.   Each step contributes to the 30% of your grade, meaning that missing any step will result in a significant deduction of your total grade.  Please mark these dates carefully in your calendar.

Required Texts:
1. Carl Ernst, Following Muhammad:  Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary Period
2. Eqbal Ahmad, Confronting Empire
3. Amina Wadud, Qur'an and Woman
4. Omid Safi, Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism
5. Charles Kruzman, ed., Liberal Islam
6. Moustafa Bayoumi and Andrew Rubin, The Edward Said Reader
7.Farid Esack, Qur'an, Liberation and Pluralism
8. Abdullahi an-Na'im, Toward an Islamic Reformation
9.  A. A. Sachedina, The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism


Syllabus Helps

Spring 2004


January 19 -      M      First Day: Special schedule for 20 minute meetings for all classes.  


January 21        W   Go over critical Inventory of Islam; Articles on “imperialism”, “colonialism” [you will look these up from various encyclopedias, copy them, and bring them to class.]
*Edward Said, "Islam as News" in the Edward Said Reader, pp. 169-194.
*Also, read about the 2002 Qur'an controversy at UNC

January 26      M  continued


January 28        W  The Edward Said Reader, p. xi-168; 195-242.      
Chris Hedges (Colgate grad, New York Times Writer), "A Gaza Diary", [read all 14 pages] IF that link is broken, try alternate Chris Hedges site.

February 2        M      The Edward Said Reader, p. 243-444                 

                         Articles on “modernity”, “post-modernity”, “modernization”, [you will look these up from various encyclopedias, copy them, and bring them to class.]

February 4        W      continued

February 9        M     continued


February 11      W    Amina Wadud, Qur'an and Woman.  


February 16      M     continued.

February 18      W           Carl Ernst, Following Muhammad.

                                      [By today you will discuss a potential topic for your research paper.]

February 23      M               Amina Wadud at Colgate, 27 Persson Aud., at 4:30 pm.

February 25      W            Kurzman,  Liberal Islam, p. 1-126, 139-160 

                                        any changes on topic of research papers?


March 1            M          Continued

March 2nd:  Maria Rosa Menocal lecture:  27 Persson Aud., at 4:30 pm.

March 3            W         Kurzman, Liberal Islam, 161-327.

                                     (by today, let's rethink and confirm your paper topic)

March 8            M          Continued


March 10          W          Omid Safi, Progressive Muslims   [intro, chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5]


Islam and Modernity midterm:

Use all of the books, if possible, in answering the questions.  Use in text citations (Leila Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam, p. 242) or footnotes.   typed, double spaced, use Times New Roman font size 12.  Staple the exam, put page numbers at the center bottom, and put your name and course number on top.


1)  Spend 3 pages on this question:  How does Said define the task of "criticism"?  What are the qualities that he associates with being a social critic?  In what ways do the figures that we have studied so far fit or not fit Said's criteria of being a social critic?   What does Said mean by Contrapuntal reading?   How does Amina Wadud's project meet this criteria?


2) Spend about 5 pages on this question:   discuss the ways that the figures featured in Liberal Islam and Carl Ernst's Following Muhammad go about their task:  How do these liberal Muslims approach the "tradition" of Islam?   What aspects of it do they highlight, what facets do they marginalize?   What particular "methodology" do they advocate in approaching the sources of Islam (Qur'an, hadith), etc.    In what ways do they specifically engage what it means to be modern?  to be Western?  to be Muslim in the modern world?   Be sure to give concrete examples.




March 13-21     Mid Term Recess


March 22          M         no class today

Optional assignment:  Laurie Goodstein talk for  CEWS, 4 pm, 105 Lawrence Hall.

March 24          W        Sa'diyya Shaikh in class, insha'allah.  
Make sure to read:  Omid Safi, Progressive Muslims;
[chapters 6, 7,8,9]

March 25th,        second Sa'diyya Shaikh lecture, 4 pm, 105 Lawrence Hall.  Attendance mandatory.


March 29          M          Continued. 
Attend Mark Levine Talk at Noon, info tba.


March 31          W          Farid Esack, Qur'an, Liberation, and Pluralism    
by today, let's hand in the annotated bibliography


April 5              M      cont.

April 6th:    Mandatory Lecture: 

"Two Contemporary Trends in Islamic Political Thought: Modernism and Fundamentalism."

                                Dr. Ahmad Moussalli, Lebanese political scientist from the American University in Beirut.
                                This is an unusual opportunity to speak directly with a prominent thinker from the Arab world about Islam, contemporary politics, and other issues.   In preparation for the Moussalli talk, read his essay in the Progressive Muslims book.

                                        Time 4:00pm-6:00pm
                                        Location 217 Lathrop Hall


April 7              W        Omid Safi, Progressive Muslims;  [chapters 10, 11, 12, 13, 14]
Note:  your research paper outline has been postponed a week.


April 12            M               continued


April 14            W              Sachedina, The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism

                                         Today, you will turn in a detailed outline for your paper.


April 19            M              Continued


April 21            W             Abdullahi an-Na'im, Toward an Islamic Reformation  
By this point, turn in the first 3 pages of your research paper.


April 26            M             Continued


April 28            W          Eqbal Ahmed, Confronting Empire

                                 Today, you'll turn in your research paper for the whole semester.


May 1 and 2      Review Period

May 3 and 4      Examination Period

May 5               Review Day

May 6 and 7      Examination Period


Brief reports: (two of them)

You are each required to turn in a report on a significant person who contributes to a negative public presentation of Islam and/or Muslims; whose political views and/or scholarship shape how Islam is presented today.  This group is a broad coalition that includes folks from diverse backgrounds, such as unrepentant Orientalists, outright Islamophobes, Neo-conservatives, Western triumphalists, Christian Pentecostals, etc.: 

Report:  3 pages.  Include: a  brief biography, intellectual history, and comments on Islam (and/or Middle East where relevant)

-1) Bernard Lewis, 2)Samuel Huntington, 3)Fareed Zakaria, 4)David Frum, 5)Paul Wolfowitz, 6) Leo Strauss, 7) William Kristol, 8) William Bennett, 9) Daniel Pipes, 10) Charles Krauthammer, 11) Alan Bloom, 12) Robert Spencer, 13) David Pryce-Jones, 14) Stephen Schwartz, 15) Bat Yeor,16) Jerry Falwell, 17)Pat Robertson, 18) Francis Fukuyaman, 19)Patricia Crone 20) Niall Ferguson 21) Robert Kagan 22) Dore Gold 23) Ibn Warraq

[*Stephen Schwartz directs his critique at the Wahhabis, and is affiliated with Sufism, but he has fully identified himself with Neo-con think tanks and political ambitions.]

You will also turn in a five page report on a major 20th century Muslim intellectual.

Five page Critical Report on important Muslim thinkers:  Brief biography, intellectual genealogy, and how they are dealing with Islam, modernity, tradition, etc.

-1 Muhammad Iqbal, 2Muhammad Abduh, 3Jamal al-Din Afghani, 4Rashid Rida, 5Ali Shari'ati, 6Khomeini, 7Mohammad Khatami,8 Sa'd al-Din Ebrahim, 9Nasr Abu Zayd, 10Mohammed Arkoun, 11 Fatima Mernissi, 12Muhammad Ashmawi, 13Rachid Ghannouchi, 14Abd al-Karim Soroush, 15Mohsen Kadivar, 16 Nurcholish Madjid, 17 Farzlur Rahman, 18 Yusuf al-Qaradawi, 19 Chandra Muzaffar, 20 Farish Noor, 21  Alija Izetbegovic, 22 Tariq Ramadan 23  Shirin Ebadi