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Academic Year: Fall/Winter 2014/2015

Term: 2

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Ellen Amster

Email: amstere@mcmaster.ca

Office: Chester New Hall 616

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 24144


Office Hours: By appointment.

Course Objectives:

Course Description

            What is Islam?  Who are the Sunnis, who are the Shi’ites, and what is the difference?  Why are the Qur’an and the history of the early Islamic community always coming up in modern political debates?  This course explores the relationship between religion and society in Islamic civilization and the special role of history in Islamic thought.  The course covers the period from before Islam (500 A.D.) to the fall of Baghdad to the Mongols in 1258 A.D.  The course explores how Islam became a religion and a government over a vast territory, from Asia through the Middle East and North Africa.  We will explore the relationship between the Islamic religion, government and culture.

            The time period 500A.D.-1250A.D. is often referred to as the “formative period,” because enduring elements of Islamic civilization took shape.  The course begins just before the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad and explores the creation of an Islamic community, the political expansion of Islam through conquest, and the creation of Islamic states in the Middle East, Spain and North Africa.  Special attention will be placed on the development of Islamic law, philosophy, and science.

Course Objective

            The course is designed to introduce students to early Islamic/Middle Eastern history and the texts of Islamic religion and law.  The readings are primary and secondary texts.  Primary texts are contemporary or eyewitness accounts—writings from the period itself.  Secondary readings are analytical, the writings of contemporary scholars and historians.  A secondary goal of the course is to teach students how different types of Islamic knowledge (Qur’an, hadith) work as social and textual systems.

            A History of the Muslim World to 1405 by Vernon Egger provides chronology, but most of the political history narrative will be provided in lecture.  Readings and attendance are required and essential for success in the course. 

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Required Texts:


There is a required coursepack of articles on the A2L website, for you to download.
       YOU MUST BRING READINGS WITH YOU TO CLASS on the day it is due.


The following books are required and available at the Campus Bookstore:

The Meaning of the Glorious Koran, Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall
A History of the Muslim World to 1405:  The Making of a Civilization, Vernon Egger
Muhammad:  His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, Martin Lings
An Introduction to Islam, Frederick Mathewson Denny
(If you purchase earlier editions, pay close attention to the different pagination, I have included in syllabus the names of the chapters for you to adjust accordingly).

**Readings are also available on reserve at the Reserve Desk, located in Mills Library.

Method of Assessment:


Assignments for the course and their respective weights in the total grade are as follows:

(in-class discussion, comment papers  )                                  30%    
Formal essay #1                                                                    20%
Midterm exam                                                                        20%
Take-home final examination                                                    30%


     There will be one formal essay (3-4 pages), one midterm exam, and one final paper (5 pages).  The participation grade includes five short comment papers (one page), which must be typewritten, and an in-class discussion assignment.

*All reading is required.  You must bring the readings with you to class in preparation for class discussion.
*All written work must be typed in 12 point font, double-spaced with 1 inch margins. No papers can be accepted over email.  All papers must be submitted as a hard copy (paper copy). 
*Late formal papers will be graded down.  The lateness policy is as follows:  if the essay is turned in after the due date, it will be graded down 1 letter grade.  It can be turned in up to 2 weeks after the due date.  After 2 weeks it will not be accepted at all.  Comment papers cannot be turned in late—the class period assigned, or not at all.
*For the format of your written work, consult the guidelines for writing history essays on the A2L site


            *Everyone must participate actively in tutorial and lecture.  This means you must read the material on the day it is due, bring the reading with you to class, and come prepared for discussion.  The participation grade includes attendance and a number of smaller comment papers.  They are indicated in the syllabus throughout the semester.

            *Attendance is mandatory and part of the participation grade.  To receive full credit for attendance, students can have no more than 3 unexcused absences.  After 3, absences impact the participation grade.  Punctuality is also mandatory.  Late arrivals to class are disruptive to the class and disrespectful of your fellow students.

            *Disabilities.  If you need special accommodations in order to meet any of the requirements of this course, please contact me as soon as possible.

            *Religious observance.  Students will be allowed to complete examinations or other requirements that are missed because of religious observance.  Please contact me before you miss class/an assignment to inform me of the circumstances.

              *Avenue to Learn will be used for this course.  Students should be aware that, when you access the course, information such as first and last names, user names for McMaster email, and program affiliation may be visible to other student users.  If you have questions about this disclosure contact course instructor.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

This is a self-reporting tool for undergraduate students to report absences DUE TO MINOR MEDICAL SITUATIONS that last up to 5 days and provides the ability to request accommodation for any missed academic work. Please note, this tool cannot be used during any final examination period. You may submit a maximum of 1 Academic Work Missed request per term. It is YOUR responsibility to follow up with your Instructor immediately (NORMALLY WITHIN TWO WORKING DAYS) regarding the nature of the accommodation. If you are absent for reasons other than medical reasons, for more than 5 days, or exceed 1 request per term, you MUST visit your Associate Dean's Office/Faculty Office). You may be required to provide supporting documentation. This form should be filled out immediately when you are about to return to class after your absence.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at www.mcmaster.ca/academicintegrity

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at mcmaster.ca/msaf/. If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail sas@mcmaster.ca. For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

Schedule of Topics and Readings

Monday, January 5               Introduction to Islamic History
In-class:  Definitions of Islam, issues in Islamic history, geography.
Zayed Yasin, “My American Jihad”
Response and discussion, Daniel Pipes.

Tutorial this week—discuss these readings to prepare Comment #1: 
                         Reading (ALL Handout in class): 
Ibn Taymiyya, “The Religious and Moral Doctrine of Jihad:  Ibn Taymiyya on Jihad  (p. 43-54).
Selections from Hadith of the Prophet on Jihad.
William Chittick, “Faith and Practice of Islam:  Three Thirteenth Century Sufi Texts,” p. 1-5, 117-119, 127-129, 168-173.

Assignment for Jan. 8:      Comment paper #1:  Jihad  
Harvard student Zayed Yasin and political commentator Daniel Pipes have different definitions of the word “Jihad.” 
Zayed Yasin says it means “inner struggle.” 
Daniel Pipes says it means “holy war.”
Question:  Is Jihad inner struggle or holy war? 

For each reading—write at least 1 paragraph of comment telling us how each reading answers the question:
1. Ibn Taymiyya
2. Chittick

This is a comment paper, not a formal essay, but it must be typewritten and grammatically correct.  Due:  Jan. 8 in class.

Thursday, January 8            Byzantine and Sassanian Empires/Pre-Islamic Arabia
Reading due:                       Handout readings (Ibn Taymiyya, Chittick)
OPTIONAL:  Denny, “Pre-Islamic Arabia:  Beliefs, Values, Way of Life,” (p. 29-37).

Assignment due:                 Comment Paper #1:  Jihad

Monday, January 12             Muhammad at Mecca
Reading due:                       Lings, p. 1-9, 23-112.

Tutorial this week:    Watch film:  “The Message:  The Story of Islam”

Thursday, January 15          Muhammad at Medina:  Prophet and Statesman 
Reading due:                  Lings, p. 113-154, 172-190.

Assignment for Tutorial next week:              Comment paper #2:  Women’s History

         Question:  What are the central issues in Muslim women’s history, according to Ahmed and Keddie?  Write one paragraph for each author.

Monday, January 19             Introduction to the Qur’an  
                        **Bring the Qur’an (Pickthall translation) to Class

Reading due:             Coursepack: Leila Ahmed, p. 64-78 (“The Transitional Age,” from Women and Gender in Islam,)
Coursepack:  Nikki Keddie, “Introduction:  Deciphering Middle Eastern Women’s History,” p. 1-22.
Coursepack:  Barbara Stowasser,  “The Chapter of Mary,” from Women in the Qur’an, p. 67-82.

Tutorial this week:  Discuss readings for Jan 19
Assignment due in tutorial:               Comment paper #2.

Thursday, January 22          Women in Islamic Hist                                  
*Bring the readings for Monday, Jan 19 to class today—
(Ahmed, Keddie, Stowasser), and your Qur’an, so we can review together—and we will also discuss:
                                    Qur’an, Surah 3, (“The Family of Imran”), Verses 42-55, 72-77.
                                    Qur’an, Surah 19,  (“Mary”), Verses 16-37.  
                                    Qur’an, Sura 4, (“Women”).

Monday, January 26             Qur’an and Christians, Jews, Sabians, Zoroastrians
Reading due in class:       Qur’an, Surah 32, (“The Prostration”) verse 4-30.
                                         Qur’an, Surah 2, (“The Cow”) Verse 29-37, 122-140.
                                         Qur’an, Surah 6, (“Cattle”) Verse 83-88.
                                    Qur’an, Surah 7, (“The Heights”), Verse 103-137, 161-171.
                                    Qur’an, Surah 5, (“The Table Spread”), Verses 12-18.
                                    Qur’an, Surah 20,  (“Ta Ha”), Verses 1-99.
                                    Qur’an, Surah 19,  (“Mary”), Verses 16-37.  

Tutorial this week:  Discuss these readings--
Coursepack, “The First Encounter, Muhammad and the Jews,” from Stillman, p. 3-21.
Coursepack: Peters, p. 74-76, p. 99-106, p. 156-165, 170-171.
Lings, p. 160-162, 191-194, 229-233.
Any questions about Qur’an readings

FORMAL ESSAY #1:  Social issues in Islam 

Choose one of the following 2 questions to answer and prepare a 3-4 page essay using class readings.  For format, consult the guidelines for writing history essays on the A2L site. 

Due no later than February 5 in class, hard copy only.

QUESTION 1.  Bernard Lewis, in The Jews of Islam, writes that two stereotypes have dominated the history of non-Muslims under early Islamic rule:

The first depicts a fanatical warrior, an Arab horseman riding of out of the desert with a sword in one hand and the Qur’an in the other, offering his victims the choice between the two…The other image, almost equally preposterous, is that of an interfaith, interracial utopia, in which men and women belonging to different races, professing different creeds, lived side by side in a golden age of unbroken harmony, enjoying equality of rights and of opportunities, and toiling together for the advancement of civilization.

Lewis suggests that both images are distorted, yet both contain “some elements of truth.”

Using class readings, decide for yourself--do you agree with Lewis?  What is the place of Jews and Christians in Islam?

QUESTION 2:  Leila Ahmed, in Women and Gender in Islam, argues that Islam as a

religion empowers women.  She believes that male authorities applied Islam in the Umayyad and Abbasid periods (rulers, jurists, husbands) to take rights away from women.   

What do you think of Ahmed’s argument?  What is the place of women in Islam?  Use class readings to discuss your position.

Thursday, January 29          The Islamic Leader:  The Succession and Political Authority in Islam

Monday, February 2             The First Four Caliphs and Arab Expansion
                        Reading due:       Denny, “The Arab Conquests and Islamic Rule,”(p. 72-85).
                                                Coursepack:  al-Tabari, “The Raid Into Fars,” p. 126-150.
                                                Optional--Coursepack:  Peters, p. 120-133.

                                                Tutorial this week:
                                                Film:  “Muhammad, Legacy of a Prophet”

Thursday, February 5          Paper #1 Due in Class.  In-class writing exercise.
                                                Reading due:       No reading due.

Monday, February 9             The Umayyad Caliphate     
                                                 Reading due:       Eggers, Chapter 2, (p. 33-50).
No Tutorial This Week

Thursday, February 12        The Abbasid Caliphate—the Islamic Empire
                        Reading due:       Eggers, p. 85-94.                    

****Reading week, no class****

Monday, February 23           Hadith Literature, Jama’a al-Sunna  
Reading due:       Denny, “The Prophet’s Sunna as Preserved in the Hadith,”(p. 149-161).
Coursepack:  Mernissi, p. 49-50, 62-81 (“The Hijab, the Veil,”)

                                                Tutorial this week:
                                                Play Islamic Jeopardy:  Review and Prep for Midterm

Thursday, February 26        Islamic Law:  The Four [Sunni] Schools
Reading due:       Denny, “Law and the State in Classical Islamic Formulations,” (p. 187-197).
                            Coursepack:  Peters, p. 227-252.

Monday, March 2                 Midterm Exam in class                    

Thursday, March 5               Literature and Poetry
                        Reading due:       Coursepack:  Tales from a Thousand and One Nights, p. 46-123.

Monday, March 9                 Greek Science, Islamic Culture: The Translation Movement.
Reading due:       Coursepack: Lenn Goodman, “Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy ibn Yaqzan, a philosophical tale,” p. 95-110.
                        OPTIONAL: Dmitri Gutas, “Translation in the Service of Applied and Theoretical Knowledge,” p. 107-120.

                        No Tutorial Meeting this week

Assignment for class March 12:

Comment paper #3:  Ibn Tufayl, Philosophy

                        Prepare a one-page comment paper in response to the following question:

Question:  Ibn Yaqzan finds himself alone on an island.  How does he discover the existence of God?  Use the reading to answer the question.

Thursday, March 12             Philosophy and Tradition:  Science vs. Islam?
In Class:                Lecture/Discussion of Ibn Tufayl
Reading due:       Coursepack:  Finish Lenn Goodman, “Ibn Tufayl, Hayy Ibn Yaqzan,” p. 110-166.

                        Due in Class:        Comment paper #3:  Ibn Tufayl.

Monday, March 16               Sufism:  The Mystical Path to God
Reading due:       Coursepack:  Titus Burckhardt, “At-Tasawwuf,”  p. 15-20.
                            Coursepack: Poems by Rabia, “Doorkeeper of the Heart: Versions of Rabi’a.”

Tutorial this week:
                                               Discuss readings assigned for March 16.  Discuss comment paper #4, hand in Comment #4.

Assignment due in tutorial: Comment paper #4:  Rabi’a the Mystic

Prepare a one-page comment in response to the following question:

Question:  Read the poems of Rabi’a the Mystic.  What is your reaction?

Thursday, March 19             War with the Christians:  The First Crusades
                        Reading due:       Coursepack:  P.M. Holt, “The Near East on the Eve of the First Crusade,” “The First Crusade 1095-1099,” (p. 9-30).
Assignment for next class: Comment paper #5:  Usama ibn Munqidh
Prepare a one-page comment paper in response to the following question:

Question:  What does Muslim Usama ibn Munqidh think of the Franks (French crusaders?).  What historical factors might influence his opinions?

Monday, March 23               An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Period of the Crusades, Usama ibn Munqidh
Reading due:       Coursepack:  Usamah ibn Munqidh, An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Period of the Crusades, Memoirs of Usamah ibn Munqidh, p. 3-21, 79-94, 123-126, 143-170.

Due in class:  Comment paper #5.  We will discuss the reading in class!

Take Home Final TOPIC:  You will receive your take home final assignment today in class, which is about the Crusades.

The take home final must be turned in no later than Friday, April 10. Hard copy only, (no email submissions).

Tutorial this week

            Discuss Usama ibn Munqidh reading in detail, and your comment essay.  It is the basis of your final paper.  It is advised to bring a copy of your comment paper #5 to tutorial, for discussion.

Thursday, March 26             Saladin, Christian Occupation and Muslim Defense
Reading due:       Coursepack: Holt, “Outremer and Its People” (p. 31-37),
“Nur al-Din and the Rise of Saladin” (p. 46-52),
“The Ascendency of Saladin” (p. 53-59).

Monday, March 30     End of the Crusades, Mongol Invasion from the East
Reading due:       Coursepack: Amin Maalouf, “Invasion,” (p. 1-55).
           Tutorial this week:
            Discuss Amin Maalouf, “Invasion,” (p. 1-55).


Thursday, April 2     Discussion of all class readings about Crusades with TA in preparation for your final. 

Monday, April 6        No class meeting—work on your take-home final essay.

Friday, April 10         TAKE-HOME FINAL ASSIGNMENT is due. Hard copy only (no email submissions).  You may submit it to the History Department submissions box, 6th floor of Chester New Hall, next to the department office.