Eastern Oregon University
College of Arts and Sciences
Course Syllabus

Number of Course: REL 322

Name of Course: Islam

Instructor: David R. Komito, Ph.D.


Course Description:    

This course will provide a general overview of the history, arts and basic tenets of Islam as well as a focused view of the early history of Islam in the Middle East, the medieval history of Islam in South Asia and contemporary movements in Islam as they impact the USA . 

In this course students will explore some of the essential characteristics of traditional Islamic cultures. An articulation of some facets of the Islamic arts (particularly architecture) and sciences is intended to create a bridge of sentiment between modern westerners and Islam  Then, upon the foundation of the arts and sciences, we turn our attention to core social values. In particular, Islam proposes that the ideal life is lived in a society which integrates Islamic values into all its elements, which contrasts radically with the contemporary western secular view that religion and state need to be kept separate.  We look at the Mughal Empire of South Asia as an expression of traditional Muslim pluralism, and contrast that with the contemporary situation of the conflicts of values between Islam and the modern West, with the popular uprisings known as “the Muslim Spring” and Turkey as a modern Islamic secular state.

Credit Hours:  5

Time and place of the course: Entirely online

Required Texts: 

John Esposito, Ph.D.; What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam; Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-515713-3.

Benazir Bhutto: Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West; Harper Perennial; Reprint Edition (December 23, 2008), ISBN 0061567590.

Selections from Bentley and Ziegler, Traditions and Encounters, available as an e-book, for purchase on a link within the Blackboard course site.  Cost is approximately $12.

All other resources and readings for this course are online, including lectures written by the instructor, instructional websites developed by PBS, visits to virtual art galleries, etc.

Prerequisites:  None

Means of Assessment and Grading:

Two on-line multiple choice exams -- 30% of course grade
Two essays -- 70% of course grade


Reading Assignments and Resources

Week 1

Basic tenets of Islam

  1. Introductory essay and perspective for reading about the basic tenets of Islam
  2. Visit this PBS site designed to accompany the program Islam: Empire of Faith (on YouTube). Surf through the various links on Faith, Culture, Innovation and Profiles of important personalities for a concise introduction to Islam and Islamic culture. You can also purchase a DVD of this program.
  3. The Quran may quite reasonably be considered the heart of Islam. Here is a complete English translation of the Quran online.
  4. Many Muslims believe that since the Quran was revealed in the Arabic language, a translation into another language is an impossibility. Implicit in this view is a corollary that the aural version of the Quran is even closer to the Source than the written version. As the Angel Gabriel said to the Prophet Muhammad, "Recite." Here is a website of Quranic recitation, along with English translations and Arabic script of the Quran. I recommend you select under Translation, at the upper right, the Eng-Pickthal-Audio. Select several Sura/Chapter in the upper left. To listen to the recitation click on the right arrow button at the bottom left. In this way you will be able to see the passages from the Quran, hear them recited and see the English translation all at the same time. If it interests you, change the name of the Reciter while listening to the same Sura and you will hear some differences in style of recitation. It is also informative to read the alternate translations. The Eng-Dr. Mohsin translation recites straight through, without English interjections.
  5. If the Quran is the heart of Islam, Allah is the heart of the Quran. The enumeration of the 99 names of Allah is a traditional attempt to point to the (otherwise incomprehensible) attributes of God. Here is an artistic enumeration.
  6. On the one hand religion is a matter of doctrine and its expression in literature, arts, etc. Images and ideas can indeed convey beliefs and Truths. But on the other hand, religion is most profoundly alive in people, and Islam is about the human relationship with God. PBS Frontline has produced this web site to accompany its program on the lives of Muslims around the world.
  7. You should be reading the Esposito book What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam this week and conclude reading it by the end of week 2.

Week 2

The early Islamic state: the Caliphate.

  1. Read "The Expansive Realm of Islam" in your e-textbook.
  2. You should conclude reading the Esposito book What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam at the end of this week.

Week 3

The foundations of Islamic culture, arts and sciences

  1. Read "India and the Indian Ocean Basin" in your e-textbook.
  2. Read "Nomadic Empires and Eurasian Integration" in your e-textbook.
  3. Read States and Societies of Sub-Saharan Africa" in your e-textbook.
  4. Introductory Essay and Perspective: Islamic Arts and Sciences
  5. The Arts, Learning, and Knowledge (a tutorial from the University of Calgary).

Week 4

Muslim science: its sources, development and influence on the west

MuslimHeritage.com is in general an excellent web site devoted to the first thousand years of the Muslim Arts and Sciences, and their influence on global civilization. From the hundreds of articles on the site, the following articles on science and mathematics are most relevant to the goals of this course. In several cases the authors of these articles have a "point" to make and can get a bit polemical, but in general the articles are based on fact. Each article listed here is a summary of a longer article linked to it. If one of these summary articles strikes your curiosity, you might wish to read the longer article which it summarizes.

  1. Muslim Scholars and Science
  2. Quran, Hadith and Knowledge
  3. Science Conflicting with religion? Not for Muslims!
  4. Contrast between Islamic and Western Science
  5. Quranic Verses on Science
  6. Islam as the Impetus of Scientific Advance
  7. Introduction to Muslim Science
  8. Misconceptions about Islamic and Greek Science
  9. The Islamic Origins of Modern Science
  10. Al-Khawarizmi (780-850 CE) and the Muslim influence on western mathematics

Week 5

Foundations of Muslim art and visits to two Islamic art collections

  1. This BBC website offers a good outline of the essentials in its Introduction to Islamic Art
  2. Introduction to Muslim Art and Ornaments is another good overview of Islamic art.
  3. Explore in depth this site, hosted by The Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The site is not only well organized into periods of art and the cultural and historical context of the art displayed, but provides a balanced introduction to Muslim aesthetics. Be sure to read the text associated with the museum's classification of the four main periods of Islamic art.
  4. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (in NYC) Islamic Art site is quite comprehensive. In fact, it is probably much more detailed than is relevant here, but is worth skimming through for its incredible richness. Come back to it if you need resources for your research.

Origins of the mosque and mausoleum/tomb architecture

More articles from MuslimHeritage.com. From the hundreds of articles on the site, the following articles on architecture are most relevant to the goals of this course and expand on some themes introduced in the previous section, especially in the virtual museums you will have visited. Remember, each article is only a summary of a larger article which you may wish to read if it interests you.

  1. A glossary of terms for Muslim Architecture
  2. A review of Mosque Architecture
  3. Architecture under Umayyad Patronage (661-750)
  4. Umayyad Mosques and Palaces
  5. The Arch --
  6. The Seljuk Minaret
  7. The Seljuk Mausoleum (which is the predecessor of Timurid and Mughal tombs).

Week 6


The Great Muslim Empires after the Mongol Conquest

  1. Read "The Islamic Empires" in your e-textbook.
  2. Background on the Mughal empire
  3. Introductory essay and perspectives on pluralism and fundamentalism in the Mughal empire

Week 7

Islamic Architecture: Diversity in Unity - or - Pluralism and Monism

  1. As a central message of Islam is the the unity of God, it should come as no surprise that all the Islamic arts are related. An obvious example is the use of calligraphy to decorate public buildings. Begin this section with a quick tour of notable Muslim monuments around the world. Note the variety and consistency of styles. You do not need to read analyses of the monuments, I'll be doing an explanation of my main concerns in my lecture on the Muslim Tomb, below.
  2. The city of Isfahan in Iran has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site because of its wealth of outstanding Islamic architecture. As the arts and architecture of the Mughal empire were to a large extent derived from medieval Turko-Iranian world (which includes not just the current Iran but also regions to the north, such as the current Uzbekistan) a virtual tour of the monuments of this city provides an important background for appreciating and understanding the arts and architecture of Muslim South Asia. This is a very imaginative site. Wander around a little, be a tourist; nothing else required. Just visit this site to familiarize yourself with a great Muslim city.
  3. The Taj Mahal. Like Humayan's tomb, which is discussed below, the Taj is a "meeting place of heaven and earth," and also signals the power of the ruler as divinely appointed to execute the laws and world view of Islam in society. The perfection of a building like the Taj, or Humayan's tomb, thus reflect the Muslim view that all the multiplicity and complexity of existence is united in the unity of God.
    • PBS Taj Mahal: Memorial to Love. In spite of its rather sentimental title this is an excellent site -- be sure to explore it thoroughly, visiting the text links at the bottom of the page as well as those accessed by this button: .
    • A multidimensional tour of the Taj Mahal If you place your mouse pointer on the moving images, press the left key and drag the mouse pointer you can move through 360 degrees of the horizontal and vertical. The ceilings and floors are as wonderful as the walls.
  4. Like a gemstone set in a ring, Mughal tombs were set in gardens, an environment symbolic of the gardens of paradise mentioned in the Quran. This site discusses Mughal gardens in Pakistan.
  5. The Muslim Tomb - The Meeting Place of Heaven and Earth

Weeks 8 & 9

The end of the muslim empires and conflict with the West

  1. Read "The End of Empire" in your e-textbook.
  2. While this PBS site Global Connections: The Middle East focuses on the last hundred years of Middle Eastern history, and Islam is more than just a Middle Eastern religion, still the site offers a good foundation for understanding the roots of many of the issues the USA will be dealing with in its relationship with Islam in general and thus is a good foundation for reading the articles in this section.

The last 20 years of the relationship of Muslim and Western states has been extremely complex, and a knowledgeable, comprehensive, open minded perspective difficult to attain. In this section we will read a number of articles and two book chapters addressing this relationship. The articles by Lewis and Huntington are important as they set the perspectives in place which have dominated American policy toward the Muslim world in this period. Alternatives were presented by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im and by Benazir Bhutto. It is quite possible that the events of 2011 -- the so-called "Arab Spring" and its consequences -- cast some doubt on all the ideas presented in readings 1 through 8, especially those associated with jihad, or possibly current events will will confirm some ideas presented here. This is anything but clear as yet. This section of readings also can be considered foundational for the readings in week 10.

  1. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Islam dates from December 2001. Thus some of the comments in it are dated, such as "The fact that, unlike Britain and France, the United States has never directly ruled Arab peoples has...." Of course the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan have changed all of this. But the article summarizes an important theme of this section of the course: can Islam adopt western governmental principles, or is the Islamic tradition necessarily opposed to western governmental arrangements and culture?
  2. The Roots of Muslim Rage. This is a very important article by Bernard Lewis, which appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, September 1990. Note that some of its political observations are now dated because of rearrangements on the international scene.
  3. I'm Right, You're Wrong, Go to Hell: by Bernard Lewis in The Atlantic Monthly, May 2003 is in some ways a follow-up on the previous article.
  4. The Clash of Civilizations?, by Samuel P. Huntington in Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993. (PDF file requires Acrobat). Huntington's article generated considerable debate in the American international affairs community, and a considerable number of people have been persuaded of the correctness of his basic hypothesis, if not his conclusions. The article was thus very influential on American foreign policy. For more about Huntington and some context for his views, see Looking the World in the Eye, The Atlantic Monthly, December 2001.
  5. What Went Wrong?, by Bernard Lewis in The Atlantic Monthly, January 2002. Here Lewis proposes for the Islamic world precisely what Huntington asserts is not only impossible, but possibly dangerous.
  6. Lewis and Huntington paint a canvas full of conflict and seem dubious about alternatives. Jihadism and terrorism would seem to confirm the gloomy view, although recent popular revolutions in the Muslim world suggest alternative forces are at work. Even before 2011 not everyone is entirely pessimistic. Cross Meets Crescent: This interview with a former Anglican assistant bishop of Jerusalem offers some insights on the possibility of conversation between Muslims and the West. Pay particular attention to his observations about fundamentalism and the literal reading of the Quran. Also, his observations about the potential role of Muslims who do not live in Islamic countries in sorting through problems of Islam & Modernity and Islam & the West are I think particularly important. Perhaps these Muslims in the West could have an important role in mediating between the civilizations which Huntington sees as necessarily being in conflict. Cragg does not consider this conflict inevitable.
  7. Here Professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, a Muslim scholar, offers his thoughts about a potential internal development within Islam, what he calls an Islamic Counter Reformation, which might ultimately avert the most violent potential manifestations of a clash of civilizations. Dividing the Quran into the Mecca message and the Medina message, he sees a way for Islam to incorporate the best elements of Modernity. Note, however, that to do this one must consider the context of the different Quranic passages and privilege some over others. While Muslim scholars have engaged in such interpretations for centuries, one must wonder whether contemporary fundamentalists, who, following Cragg's definition, read the Quran literally, will accept this procedure.
  8. Your second course text is Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West by Benazir Bhutto. I want you to read Chapters 5 and 6 in this book. In Chapter 5 Bhutto argues against Huntington's ideas about the clash of civilizations, and, in fact, is also critical of Lewis. In Chapter 6 she reviews the ideas of quite a number of Muslims who believe Islam and the West can live in peace (and with appreciation of each other). Bhutto's is a significant voice. She was a Harvard and Oxford educated Pakistani whose father later became Prime Minister of Pakistan, as did she herself. She was assassinated in 2007.

Week 10

Revolution in the Muslim world
  1. In this week we will be reviewing "The Muslim Spring" of 2011 and its aftermath. Refer to the Blackboard course site, Week 10 for material on this subject.

General Education Category and Outcomes: Aesthetics and Humanities

  1. Learn and use the vocabulary, content, and conceptual knowledge in a variety of disciplines. (CONTENT KNOWLEDGE)
  2. Think clearly, critically, and effectively, taking into consideration purpose, audience, and occasion. (CRITICAL THINKING)
  3. An appreciation for aesthetic expressions of humanity and the ability to analyze texts. (AEH)

Additional Outcomes:

  1. Upon completion of this course students should be able to demonstrate knowledge and awareness of some of the essential characteristics and views of traditional Islamic cultures. Students who complete this course should be able to understand and articulate some of the difficulties these views are creating in the contemporary world situation, particularly vis-à-vis the modern west.  All learning outcomes will be assessed through an objective exam, an essay and graded correspondence on the course discussion board.

Statement on Academic Misconduct:
Eastern Oregon University places a high value upon the integrity of its student scholars. Any student found guilty of an act of academic misconduct (including, but not limited to, cheating, plagiarism, or theft of an examination or supplies) may be subject to having his or her grade reduced in the course in question, being placed on probation or suspended from the University, or being expelled from the University—or a combination of these.   Please see Student Handbook at: http://www.eou.edu/saffairs/handbook/honest.html

Statement on Americans with Disabilities:
If you have a documented disability or suspect that you have a learning problem and need accommodations, please contact the Disability Services Program in Loso Hall 234. Telephone: 962-3081.

Syllabus prepared: January 4, 2013