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Modern Muslim Qur’an Interpretation


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Middle Eastern Studies, specialisation Islamic Studies. Students who were not admitted to this MA specialisation but have a basic knowledge about Islam and the Qur’an, preferably obtained through an academic course Introduction to Islam, and one in the Qur’an and students who did not follow such courses successfully, but think they might be eligible to take this course are kindly requested to contact the instructor, Dr. Nico J.G. Kaptein, to discuss their admission.


As the foundational text of Islam, the Qur’an is central to all modern Muslim societies. Since modern Muslim societies are (and have been) confronted permanently with new challenges, the interpretation of the Qur’an is also permanently in motion. In this course we will go into a number of the most important modern Muslim interpreters of the Qur’an and thereby get insight in to the authority of the Qur’an in the modern Muslim world. After a theoretical block, we will discuss a number of thinkers, from the beginning of the 20th century onwards until today, from various parts of the Muslim world, not only from the Middle East, but also from Asia. The following thinkers will be dealt with: Muhammad Abduh, Sayyid Qutb, Fazlur Rahman, Nasr Abu Zayd, Bint al-Shati and Hamka.

Course objectives

The student will get knowledge on a number of important Muslim interpreters of the Qur’an in the modern world and get insight into the various underlying conceptions of the authority of the Qur’an which are important in contemporary debates on the position of Islam in society. At the end of the course the students will be able to follow future developments in this field independently.


See Timetable

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

The student will have to prepare weekly assignments; introduce one or more meetings and participate actively in the discussions in the weekly meetings.

Attendance and participation are obligatory. Classes missed for a good reason (to the discretion of the conveners and to be discussed BEFORE the class takes place) will have to be made up with an extra assignment. Being absent without notification can result in a lower grade or exclusion from writing the final paper for the course. Further details will be announced in Blackboard.

Course Load

  • Attendance meetings: 2 contact hours per week = 12×2: 24 hours

  • Reading and preparing assignements: 11 classes x ca. 8 hours: 88 hours

  • Preparing powerpoint presentations: 28 hours

  • Writing a final paper: 140 hours

  • Total study load: 280 hours (10EC)

Assessment method

  • Attendance of the meetings, active participation in the discussions and presentation linked to one or more of the meetings – 20 %

  • Preparation of meetings, which includes the thorough reading of the literature for each meeting and the preparation of three written questions related to this literature. These questions must show that the literature for the meeting has been read; together they should not exceed 500 words. These three questions should be submitted ultimately on the day before the seminar takes place, not later than 13.30 h. – 30 %

  • Writing final paper of approximately 5,000 words on a relevant topic which has been chosen in consultation with Dr. Kaptein. The draft of this paper should be submitted before the start of the holiday break (exact date announced in first class). After feed back of the professor, the final draft should be submitted two weeks before the start of the next semester – 50 %. Students who do not meet the deadline for the first draft will lose the right to get comments and will only be graded based on their final version. (The paper deadline mentioned in uSis is a fictional date for administration purposes only. The actual date will be communicated by the convenor of the course.)

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher.

The course is an integrated whole. All assessment parts must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


Blackboard will be used to communicate outside classes; and to submit assignments.

Reading list

Basic text: Abdullah Saeed, Interpreting the Qur’an: Towards a contemporary approach, London and New York: Routledge, 2006.

The full programme (including bibliographical references, per week) will be available before the start of the new semester.

Relevant literature will be available through the University Library.


Students are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “Act.nbr.”.

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the ‘Registration procedures for classes and examinations’ for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

(Studeren à la carte is not possible for this course.)


Dr. Nico J.G. Kaptein


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).