Steve Smith (smithsg)
Christian Center 11‑‑office hours posted
Work phone 974-1334, home 354‑2290

Religious Studies 2110
Fall Semester  1425 A.H. / 2004 C.E.

Islam is the youngest of the so-called Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and in important ways is the most modern and universalistic of the three, although you wouldn’t know this from the common Western stereotype of Islam as culturally backward and ethnically rooted.  To appreciate Islam it is necessary to see how, from its point of view, revelations transmitted by Muhammad clarify the basic truth of the faith of Abraham–a truth that may have been somewhat obscured at times by unwarranted special claims made by Jews and Christians–the truth, namely, that the unique holy creator, provider, judge, and redeemer of the world, the one called God, has equipped all human beings for partnership with God and calls them to happiness in that partnership.  Islam proposes a way in which the divine purpose can be fulfilled, an enlightened charter for a universal community of peace and justice.

Like the members of any other living religious body, Muslims massively agree with each other about the basic aim of the faith but disagree in various ways about what exactly the goal looks like and how best to progress toward it.  To appreciate Islam it is necessary to understand what the most important Muslim questions, problems, and debates are.  One important Muslim issue is how to relate to Jews and Christians.

The goals of this course are

  1. To improve our acquaintance with the historical sources and the still-vital content of Muslim faith and practice.
  1. To expand our historical and theological awareness of Abrahamic religion (the Abrahamic “family” encompassing Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).
  1. To strengthen our ability to think and communicate effectively about religion           and religious issues.

Required activities will include a field trip to a local mosque for direct observation of worship and practicums in local educational settings (timing to be arranged as the semester unfolds).  The practicums qualify this course as a Service-Learning Course for the purposes of Millsaps Faith & Work Initiative programs (see more on this below).  Grading will be based on oral class participation (10%), homework and report writing (25%), the research project (25%) and midterm and final exams (20% and 20%).

Readings will be required in handouts and in these books available in the bookstore:

The Koran [the Qur’an], trans. N. J. Dawood

John L. Esposito, Islam:  The Straight Path, 3rd ed.

Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman

Naguib Mahfouz, Children of Gebelaawi

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The purpose of the Faith & Work Initiative is to promote reflection on the meaning of work choices and experiences.  Besides sponsoring the Lilly Service Interns and Lilly Fellows programs and the Meaning of Work course, the Initiative provides administrative support for service learning components in Millsaps courses.  Students wanting to find out more about resources offered by the Initiative should contact Dr. Darby Ray (raydk; 974-1337).

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P R O J E C T E D    S C H E D U L E

Note:  Reading and homework assignments will be announced in class.  Check with me about them if you miss class.

Week of

8-25    Discussion of class structure and goals.

Religion in the ancient near East.  The rise of Abrahamic traditions.

Read:  TBA

8-30    Muhammad and the Qur’an.  Basic outline of Muslim commitments.

Read:  Esposito, Chap. 1; Qur’an selections TBA

9-6 The structure of Muslim teaching.  The hadiths.  The Shari’a.

Read:  TBA

9-13    Qur’an and woman:  a case study in scriptural interpretation.

Read:  Wadud


9-20    The formation of large-scale Muslim community.  Sunnis and Shi’ites.

Read:  Esposito, Chap. 2

9-27    The Sufis.

Read:  TBA

10-4    Patterns of Islamic life.  Islam and modernity.

Read:  Esposito, Chaps. 3-4

10-11  Islam in contemporary world.

Read:  Esposito, Chap. 5


10-13, 5:00 p.m., Recital Hall:  Arvind Sharma (McGill University), “The Prospect                  of a World Community of Religions:  A Challenge to Western Religion”

10-15 evening:  beginning of RAMADAN

10-18  MIDTERM BREAK.  Islamic issues:  the just war.

10-25  Islamic issues:  the relation of reason and faith.

Read:  TBA

ViewingDestiny by Youssef Chahine

11-1    Islamic issues:  varieties of mysticism.

Read:  TBA

11-8    Islamic issues:  varieties of mysticism, cont.

Read:  TBA

11-15  Islamic issues:  social, political, and economic order.

Read:  TBA

11-22  Islam in North America.

Read:  TBA

11-24:  PROJECT DUE.


11-29  Mahfouz’s portrayals of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and modern science in Children of Gebelaawi.





Choose a project topic that intrigues you for any reason that relates to the class inquiry.  You might study a textual, theological, historical, social, or ethical problem, or the biography of a specially interesting figure, or Islamically inspired themes in literature or other arts.  You will need to get my advice on your specific topic and you must submit for my approval a 1‑page project prospectus by Sept. 18.  Here are all the project components:

THE PROSPECTUS.  Nothing elaborate‑‑just a succinct indication of the question(s) you want to tackle and the sorts of sources you think you will need to work with.

The PROJECT ABSTRACT is a 2‑pp. document to be handed out to the class at the time of your ORAL REPORT that states as succinctly as possible the questions and main findings (at that point) of your project.  It also lists three or four of the most helpful sources you have found with brief comments on their nature and significance. The 10-minute ORAL REPORT on your project will be scheduled in a class in the middle part of the semester.

THE FULL PROJECT REPORT, due Nov. 25, will be somewhere between 10 and 15 pages typed.  Style guidelines will be given.  You will have a chance to revise, so don’t be shy about getting into tough issues or offering conjectures.



You and a partner will visit two educational settings outside Millsaps to share with an audience what you are learning about Islam.  You are not expected to be an authority on Islam, but you are expected to have something to say about your own learning experience so far and to stimulate other people to express their thoughts and ask questions.  A good approach would be for each of you to prepare concise remarks on (a) the general experience of being introduced to Islam, and (b) the special information and insight that you are gaining in your research project, speaking for not more than 10 minutes each.  It is very desirable, especially with younger audiences, to bring some sort of aural or visual aid (we will talk in class about possibilities).  At least for your own reference you should have a one-page, handout-like outline (we will focus on this beforehand in giving you suggestions about your presentation).   Allow plenty of time for comments and questions from your audience (we will talk in class about good strategies for promoting their participation).



For your course notebook, a loose‑leaf binder is strongly recommended.  This will allow you to incorporate the course materials that are handed out with your own writings.

You will be asked to record at least one substantial paragraph of your thoughts about each class assignment in advance of that class meeting.  Sometimes I will assign a question and sometimes I will leave the focus up to you.  I will be responding to your thoughts, and although you are never bound to speak to a particular point I raise, I do hope for a fruitful dialogue with you.  That is a sure way to make your professor happy.

You can miss three of these daily homework assignments without penalty.

Homework will be graded unsatisfactory ( – ), satisfactory ( \/ ), or very good ( + ) depending on the attentiveness and thoughtfulness it shows.


Some questions to consider

You will be observing at least one Muslim worship service this semester and writing a 1‑2 pp. account of the experience.  This fulfills one of your journal assignments.  Following are some questions you’ll want to bear in mind while observing and writing (except that you don’t have to answer all of, or only, these questions).  You may have to guess or speculate in addressing some of them.

How is sacred space marked off?  Inside these boundaries, what does the sacred landscape look like?  How do the worshipers place themselves in it, move in it?

How is sacred time defined?  What sort of flow does the service have?  Is there a climactic event in the service?  If so, how can you tell?

What are the most important objects used in the service?  What makes them important?

In what ways does the service support a purely individual religious experience?  In what ways does the service support a communal experience?  What is said or done to define the worshipers and the worshiping community?  What is said or done, if anything, to relate the worshipers to the wider world?

Does music or any other art form play a significant role?  If so, how?

What are the main uses of language?  (E.g. storytelling, praying, praising, lamenting, instructing, discussing.)

Are there any specially significant gestures made by the worshipers?

How, if at all, is the service as a whole expressive of a basic attitude or belief?



  1. Class Attendance. Being in class, being engaged with the work of the class, and behaving courteously are all expected.  One discourtesy to avoid is coming into class late.  Better late than never, definitely; but lateness counts as half an absence.

One percent of the course grade will be lost for each absence from class for any reason, beginning with the fourth absence.  (For example, someone who missed class 8 times would lose 5% of the course grade, or half a letter grade.)  The reason for this:  our in‑class inquiry is a crucial and irreplaceable part of the substance of the course.

  1. Late papers. Written assignments turned in late will lose a letter grade or equivalent.  Homework may not be turned in more than one week after its due date.  No work of any kind will be accepted after the last day of final examinations.  Exceptions to this policy will only be granted to the victims of unforeseeable and uncontrollable circumstances.
  1. Plagiarism. Using the words or ideas of others without acknowledgement‑‑that is, passing them off as your own‑‑is a fraudulent practice called plagiarism.  Plagiarized work will receive no credit and will be referred to the college Honor Council.
  1. Incompletes. An “Incomplete” grade for the course will only be given to students who, due to unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances, find themselves unable to complete course requirements during the term and can reasonably be expected to complete them within a few weeks after the term’s end.  The “Incomplete” must be requested and appropriately justified before the end of final examinations.
  1. Disabilities. Students with disabilities are encouraged to contact the instructor to discuss their individual needs for accommodations.