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Sharia in the West


Admission requirements

This is a 12 week pilot SPOC course (Small Private Online Course) that can be taken by: – students registered with Leiden University MA’s programs (including students from other Dutch universities, and foreign students registered at Leiden University), and – non-registered foreign students who are admitted only to this course, and will follow this course online.

The course allows for a maximum of 50 students.
See below for further admission details:

Leiden registered students
The course is intended for students of the Master Theology and Religious Studies. It is also open for Master Islamic Studies and master students of other faculties. In addition to the general rules set for admission to the Master course students are expected to possess a basic knowledge of the history of Islam and in particular Islam in the West.

Non-registered foreign students
These students must have abilities and skills on a master level. Since this course encourages students to conducts research on sharia in the West, it is open only to applicants from Europe (including Russia and Ukraine), North America and Australia. Geographical extension of the course is considered for the near future.
No strict academic qualifications are required, but the applicant will be evaluated on his/her capabilities to follow and contribute to this course. The applicant is required to have the necessary academic skills, but also a sense of ingenuity and initiative in order to successfully set up and conduct the final research project.
(See below, under “Registration” for registration requirements.)


The notion and practice of Sharia in the West is entirely new and in continuous development. The topic is a complex interaction between, on the one hand, aspirations of Western Muslims to apply the rules of Islam (sharia) to their everyday lives and, on the other hand, the extent to which Western legal, political, societal and cultural systems allow for such applications. We will come across notions like minority fiqh (fiqh al-‘aqaliyat), secularism, religious law, freedom of religion, integration, radicalization, Islamophobia. The course will therefore instruct in a multidisciplinary approach, including law, anthropology, sociology and Islamic studies.

In this course we will discuss several manifestations of Sharia in the West, including dress code, family law, Islamic finance, interaction with non-Muslims. In addition, we will study Western responses like freedom of religion, secularism, Islamophobia, integration. We will do so on the basis of academic literature as well as some Western court cases, legislation and government policies in relation to Muslims and Islam in general, and Sharia in particular.

Course objectives

The students will gain insight in how European policy makers as well as the Muslim communities have been struggling to accommodate an ‘Islamic’ presence in a mostly secular European environment. The students will acquire the skills to read and discuss the documents and articles in a critical fashion, and to develop their personal views on the various topics in a well-founded and coherent manner.

The course aims to provide the students with the necessary background information and theoretical and methodological outlines needed to conduct their own research project during the course. The final work of the research project can be either in writing or in the form of a documentary.
Research project

The students are requested to conduct their own research project during class. This research can be based on written sources, as well as fieldwork. In the case of written sources one might think of the study of fatwas, media outlets, court cases, legislation or government policies. In the case of fieldwork one might think of conducting interviews with Western politicians or Muslim actors in the field of Sharia in the West, or observing sharia courts/counsels in action. In the latter case it is encouraged to make use of audiovisual methods (the requirements for academic quality of such methods will be discussed in class).

Research will be conducted in teams, with a minimum of two students per research project. This is to encourage a division of labor as well as a regional spread of research. This is where the role of non-resident foreign students becomes of importance: while the registered students in Leiden might be set to the task of studying written material, the non-resident students may conduct the underlying fieldwork in their countries. For instance, one project may cover sharia in America, with the registered students in Leiden conducting library and online research, while the non-resident students in America conduct fieldwork. Another example is a comparative project on the practices of family law conflict resolution in several countries, whereby the non-resident students in these countries compile and translate national documentation and/or conduct fieldwork by means of audio-visual recordings.

Registered students are not required to stay in Leiden to conduct their research; to the contrary, they are encouraged to conduct research in Western countries of their choice. Funds for such research abroad are limited but students will be assisted in applying for them in Leiden.

h3.Time table

The course takes 12 weeks, starting on 6 February 2014 and ending by 24 April 2014. This course is intensive, and will take at least 10 hours per week of the participant’s time.
The nine lectures take place in Den Haag on Thursdays, 17-19 hrs (GMT), and can be followed online by the non-registered students. Other interactive activities, as well as tests and assignments can be planned by the students themselves at times convenient to them, provided they fulfill the required activities and do so within the deadlines set therefore.
Leiden registered students who wish to expand this course from 5 to 10 ECTs can do so by spending extra time on their research project.

Week 1: Approaches to the notion of Sharia
Week 2: Western approaches
Week 3: Islamic responses
Week 4: Family law
Week 5: Headscarf and burka
Week 6: Citizenship and political participation
Week 7: Protection of believers or of beliefs?
Week 8: Start-up of research-projects
Week 9: Religious rituals and mosques
Week 10: Feedback on research-projects
Week 11: Radicalization & Integration
Week12: Finalizing research-projects

(A detailed program will be available in January 2014)

Mode of instruction

Online classroom
An online classroom is accessible exclusively to the students and their instructor. All participants appear with their name, country and photo. This ‘classroom’ provides the following entries:

On/offline lectures
Nine lectures, followed by discussion. The lectures will be recorded and can later be reviewed online. The discussions can be continued online (see below under ‘Discussion forum’)

Internal discussions by each of the research-project groups
The research-project groups will, from the 8th week onwards, engage in regular online meetings to coordinate and discuss their project. The instructor will at certain times be part of these meetings.

Assignments have to be made based on literature made available online to the students. Some of the assignments are multiple choice tests that can be made online. Other assignments require the students to write short essays (1-2 pages). These essays will be evaluated online by their fellow students.

Discussion forum
Students are invited to discuss any issue related to the course’s topic on the discussion forum. This may vary from questions regarding the literature or research projects, to personal experiences and observations, or opinions on issues discussed in class or noted in local news outlets.

Notice board
Students can post notifications that are considered of interest to the participants on the notice board. These may include newspaper clippings, links to short videos from YouTube or other open access sources. The notice board will also be used to exchange research items (like documentation and audio-visual recordings).

Assessment method

Both the Leiden registered and foreign students will have successfully concluded this course when they have a) attended all lectures (*), b) made all assignments, and c) finished their research project to the satisfaction of the instructor.

Only the Leiden registered students will receive a grade. Grading of the course is based on: each student’s individual input into the research project (75%) and active participation (25%).

(*) Non-registered students will attend the lectures online, either live on Thursdays or by watching the recorded lectures at times of their own choosing.


This course will not make use of Blackboard, but of the innovative platform Coursera ( Coursera is known from its massive open online courses (MOOCs) but in this particular Master course we use a SPOC: a Small Online Private Course on this platform. This means all materials and activities will be made available in a restricted area of Coursera, which is exclusively accessible to the instructor and the participants.
(To get acquainted with the online platform, you may register for free for one of the open courses at Coursera, for instance the Leiden University MOOC on Terrorism and Counterterrorism.)

Reading list

Required literature as well as a general reading list that can be used for the research projects will be made available to the students.


Leiden resident students (including students from other Dutch universities, and foreign students registered at Leiden University) apply through Usis.

The non-registered foreign students need to apply for admission by sending an application no later than 20 January 2014 to
The application should contain: – Motivation letter, explaining background, qualifications and interests of candidate (no more than one A4 page); – Curriculum with email address, academic background, working experience (no more than two A4 pages); – Copies of diplomas and course list(s).
NB: Incomplete applications will not be considered.

The student will hear within a week after his/her application whether he or she is admitted to the course. Appeal to a rejection of the application is not possible.