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Culture and Society in the Medieval Muslim World


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Middle Eastern Studies or the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research) is required. Furthermore, students should be able to use Arabic sources (minimum level: three year of education at BA-level; level B2 European Common Framework, i.e. at least 80 EC = 2240 hrs of language courses at BA level). These texts form the core of the material studied and discussed in class. When you are not a student of one of the above-mentioned MA programmes and/or if you are not certain about the sufficiency of your knowledge of Arabic, please contact the Coordinator of Studies or Dr. J. Bruning if you are interested in taking this course.


This course will examine the daily life experience of medieval Egyptians through literary and documentary sources, especially papyri and paper documents. Using original documents from the first four centuries of Islam, we will treat such topics as the theoretical framework of documentary evidence; literacy, education and scribal practices; the character and practice of Muslim rule as expressed in governmental institutions, such as the court, the law, and the bureaucracy ; the maintenance of law and order through policing, and the prison system; patronage and networks of social dependency; family relations and how these were expressed in legal, social and economic terms; economic realities and activities; religion and interreligious relations. The course has two connected goals: to deepen the student’s knowledge and experience of the social history of medieval Egypt and to familiarize him/her with the written sources of this period. These two academic goals are joined in the work with primary sources, such as coins, documents, manuscripts and inscriptions, which is central to this course.

Course objectives

The objectives of this course are:

  • to become thoroughly acquainted with the historical debate on the social history of medieval Muslim Egypt;

  • to allow students to develop a strong and detailed understanding of the pertinent primary and secondary sources;

  • to familiarize students with theoretical approaches to the theme and to become acquainted with the tools needed to understand the primary sources (coins, documents, manuscripts) relevant to the study of this period;

  • to help students develop the ability to critically assess prevailing approaches to the subjects covered;

  • to carry out a small research project on a well-defined topic, based on primary source texts;

  • to report on research findings orally (by reading a paper) and in writing, in accordance with the basic standards of historical scholarship.


The timetable is available on the university website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar
    Attendance and active participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to prepare for and attend all sessions. The conveners need to be informed without delay of any classes missed for a good reason (i.e. due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family issues, problems with residence permits, the Dutch railways in winter, etc.). In these cases it is up to the discretion of the convener(s) of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. The maximum of such absences during a semester is two. Being absent without notification and/or more than two times can result in exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

Course Load

Total course load: 280 hours

  • Contact hours: 26 hours

  • Preparation classes, presentation and writing paper: 254 hours

Assessment method


  • Oral presentation

  • Participation and performance in weekly assignments

  • Final paper (written; ca. 5,000 words)


  • Oral presentation: 20%

  • Participation and performance in weekly assignments: 20%

  • Final paper (written; ca. 5,000 words): 60%

The paper is assessed on the basis of the following criteria:

  • Demonstration of knowledge and the use of primary and secondary literature;

  • Presentation and consistency of arguments;

  • Communication: language, lay-out.
    Students will receive feed-back by e-mail.


In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of “5.50” (=6) or higher. In case of an overall mark of 5.49 or lower, students are allowed to rewrite the the final paper.

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).

This course is an integrated whole. Everything needs to be taken in the same academic year. It is not possible to transfer results to a next course.

Exam review

If a student requests in writing a review of his/her examination answer script within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will be organized.



Reading list

Students should sign up before the first class on Blackboard for this course where the reading and assignment for the first class can be found. Students should bring their completed assignment to class.


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.”. General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs



Dr. J. Bruning


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).