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Islamic Thought: Past and Present


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to:

  • BA students in Philosophy: Global and Comparative Philosophy, who have successfully completed their first year, and at least 10 EC’s of the mandatory components of the second year, including Language of Thought, and Concepts of Selfhood.

  • BA students in Filosofie, who have successfully completed their first year, and also completed at least 10 EC’s of the mandatory components of their second year, including Comparative Philosophy, and Analytische filosofie or Philosophy of Mind.

  • Pre-master’s students in Philosophy who are in possession of an admission statement, and for whom this course is part of their programme.


The assumed dichotomy between Islam and philosophy is a false one. The idea that one can speak of Islam, on the one hand, and philosophy, on the other, lapses into many problematic assumptions, chief among them is the tendency to lapse into crass essentialism and reductionist discourse. The same is true of philosophy.

The aim of this course is to examine and analyse medieval and modern Muslim thinking about and engagement with a range of cultural, philosophical, intellectual, religious, and political topics and themes, including gender, violence, racism, authority, human rights, reason and scripture, and social media. The course will seek to demonstrate that philosophy and philosophical thinking has permeated all aspects and facets of Islamic intellectual traditions and that medieval and modern Islamic writing is suffused with thoroughgoingly philosophical themes, ranging from Arabic and Persian literature and qurʾanic exegesis to legal studies, theology, and poetry and linguistics.

Course objectives

Students who successfully complete the course would have:

  • Understood the diversity of Islamic philosophical thinking in history and at present;

  • Acquired an understanding of Islamic attitudes towards learning, philosophy, and non religious sciences;

  • Addressed the hackneyed assumptions about the relationship between Islam and philosophy;

  • Understood use and abuse of problematic analytical categories in the study of Islamic philosophy;

  • Developed a thorough understanding of the different conceptions of philosophy in the medieval and modern Middle East;

  • Critically reflected on, distinguished between, and examined key varieties and aspects of argumentation for and against the use of philosophy in religious milieus;

  • Exhibited the analytic skills necessary to comprehend the relevance of the past to their understanding of the present, while becoming more familiar with their own assumptions and values;

  • Acquired a set of reading and discussion skills that allow them to engage texts and others in an informed and conscientious manner.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

A typical but not necessarily strict structure is follows:

  • Opportunity for questions and discussions about the previous textual segments;

  • Lecture on assigned selected readings. This will introduce the topic, offer historical context, and outline the main philosophical themes and/or arguments;

  • Discussion (sometimes in groups) of the primary text and responses to guiding questions.

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


Students will submit two essays, one to cover the material studied in the first half of the course, and another at the end of the semester to cover the second half of the material covered in the course. Your essays are expected to offer clear argument, philosophical reflections, and evidence that demonstrates knowledge of the main literature.


The final mark for the course is established by the weighted average of the subtests:

  • Midterm essay: 40%

  • Final essay: 50%

  • 12 weekly reflections: 10%


To be announced.
Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examinations cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

Students will receive one-to-one feedback on the midterm and (should they request) the final essay.

Reading list

  • Shahab Ahmad, What is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic (Princeton and Oxford, 2016).

  • Aziz al-Azmeh, Islams and Modernities (London, 1993).

  • Kecia Ali, Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminists Reflections on the Qurʾan, Hadith and Jurisprudence (Oxford, 2006).

  • Talal Asad, The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam (Washington, D.C., 1986).

  • Patricia Crone, God’s Rule: Government and Islam (New York, 2004).


Enrolment through uSis for this course is not possible. Students are requested to submit their preferences for the third-year electives by means of an online registration form. They will receive the instruction and online registration form by email (uMail account); in June for courses scheduled in semester 1, and in December for courses scheduled in semester 2. Registration in uSis will be taken care of by the Education Administration Office.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the information bar at the right hand side of the page.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc., contact the Education Administration Office Huizinga


Not applicable.