Introduction to Islamic Studies


Department of Religious Studies
University of North Carolina

Instructor: Liz Gilson
Spring 2006: Tuesday 9:00-11:50am
Office Hours: Monday 9:00-11:00am or by appointment
email: click here


Note the title of this course: “Introduction to Islamic Studies.” Let me break that down for you.

“Introduction” means that I assume you have no prior knowledge of Islam. It also means that you will be introduced to many new ideas, concepts, language, and culture, often in a very fleeting sort of way. Do not allow this to frustrate you, but rather use it as an opportunity to take many small samples from a smorgasbord and, having done this, know that you can always go back for second helpings—you will now have the tools and resources to follow your interests.

“Islamic Studies” means everything pertaining to Islam—not only its religion and theology, but also its history, language, society, thought, art, architecture, and place on the canvas of world history, both ancient and modern.


While there are no pre-requisites for this course, there are requirements concerning mind-set. I expect we will have students from a broad range of backgrounds—religious, geographical, ethnic. In a course such as this, it is easy to bring one’s baggage along—some of it may be old and trustworthy, some of it may be more recently acquired, some of it may have proved useful up till now. I urge you, however, to leave your bags at the door (as they say) and to come in prepared to learn new things and to hear others’ stories. You may be surprised!

By the end of this course you will have shattered some preconceptions, you will have opened a window onto a worldview different from your own (whether you look from the outside in, or the inside out), and you will have broadened your outlook in ways that may be eye-opening to you.

I am available during office hours or by appointment—please don’t wait until you have a big problem. Drop by to tell me about you and what your particular interests are in this course.                    


A short, one- to two-page response to your readings will be required each week. The questions will be posted on this syllabus a week in advance. The main purpose of the responses is to engage you in the readings that you will have done, and to prepare you to participate in informed discussion in the classroom. Grades will be either “A” (acceptable) or “U” (unacceptable).

Readings listed each week are to be done before the class, in order that you may write your response and actively participate in the discussion.


Geographical quiz: It is impossible, in a course of this nature, to fully grasp all the implications without at least a rudimentary picture of the lay of the land. To this end, there will be a 20-minute quiz at the beginning of the class in the third week.

Midterm: This will be 50 minutes long and will be made up of multiple choice and short identification questions. A study guide will be provided to you to help you prepare for the exam.

Final: This will be a comprehensive exam—that is to say, it will require synthesis of your work for the entire semester. The exam will consist of some short identifications, and three essays. Again, a study guide will be furnished to you, including a list of possible essay questions.


Required Texts

(FD) Frederick Mathewson DennyAn Introduction to Islam, 2nd ed. New York: Macmillan Pub. Co., 1994. 
(MH) Marshall G. S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization, Volume 1. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972.
(CE) Carl W. Ernst, Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2003.
(MS) Michael Anthony Sells, Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations (with audio CD). Ashland, OR: White Cloud Press, 1999.
Nawal El-Saadawi, Love in the Kingdom of Oil, trans. Malcolm Williams. London: Saqi, 2001.

Various articles and excerpts will be found on reserve in the library or through links given in this syllabus.

This is a "live" syllabus, in that readings and other useful information will be added as we go along. Be sure to check in to this site on a regular basis.

Selection of Web Resources

Resources on Islam
Barbara von Schlegell (University of Pennsylvania)
Comprehensive and well organized page.

Resources for Study of Islam
Alan Godlas (University of Georgia)
Resources for Studying Islam and the Diverse Perspectives of Muslims
Not quite as pretty as von Schlegell's site, but equally comprehensive. It was nominated for the 6th annual Webby awards.

More Resources on Islamic Studies
Carl Ernst (University of North Carolina)

Islamic History Sourcebook
Fordham University, New York. History and modern issues too. Contains links to articles as well as translations of primary sources.

Islamic Calendar Conversion
Hijri - Gregorian and vice versa

Three translations of the Qur'an, along with some other very good resources, including the database listed below.

Qur'anic Database
USC-MSA Compendium of Muslim Texts. Excellent search tool for the Qur'an.

Of course, this list is not exhaustive. It is given merely to give you a head start as you begin to delve into the subject.


Week 1

Lecture: Introduction to Islamic Studies
Discussion: Reading:

Week 2 

Lecture: Geography, Language, Terms, Pre-Islamic History

Week 3

This is based on the two maps of Asia and Africa/Middle East that I have provided.
The quiz will be in the form of a blank world map and a list of locations that you must fill in. Lecture: Muhammed: Life and Times
Reading: (Lighter reading assigments this week, in view of the time needed to prepare for the quiz.)

Week 4

Lecture: Early Islamic Rule

Week 5

Lecture: Religion of Islam

Week 6

Lecture: The Qur'an and the Hadith

Week 7

Lecture: Islam and the Status of Women

Week 8

Lecture: Some Contemporary Issues (I)
Reading: Browse:

Week 9

Lecture: Law and the State

Week 10

Lecture: Islam in Practice
Reading: Browse:

Week 11

Lecture: The Three Monotheistic Religions
Reading: Browse:

Week 12

Lecture: Some Contemporary Issues (II)