nl en

`Ulamâ’ in the Modern Muslim World


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Middle Eastern Studies, to the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research) or another relevant MA. Students should have had approximately 30 EC worth of courses in Islamic studies at BA level. Students who are interested in taking this course, but who do not fullfil these requirements are requested to contact dr. N.J.G. Kaptein or drs. N.A.N.M. van Os.


This seminar will deal with the present day role of the class of scholars, who represent and continue traditional Islamic scholarship, called the `ulamâ’. The underlying question is what their position and relevance is in contemporary societies, which do no longer adhere to a purely religious worldview.

For the theoretical background parts of the book by Muhammad Qasim Zaman will be studied, entitled The ulama in contemporary Islam: custodians of change, Princeton: 2002.

In the remainder of the seminar we will deal with the opinions of `ulamâ’, as expressed in fatwa’s. Three countries, each with their own social and political dynamics, will be dealt with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia,

1. Introductory meeting. Distribution of the presentations.

  1. Muhammad Qasim Zaman, Introduction, Chapters I and II

  2. Muhammad Qasim Zaman, Chapters III and IV

  3. Muhammad Qasim Zaman, Chapters V, VI and Epilogue

  4. ‘The concept of fatwa’
    Literature: K. Masud, B. Messick and D. Powers, ‘Muftis, Fatwas, and Islamic Legal Interpretation’, in idem (eds.), Islamic legal interpretation: muftis and their fatwas, Harvard University Press, 1996, pp. 3-32; Tyan, E., ‘fatwâ’, in: The Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition, Leiden: Brill, 1965, Vol. ii, p. 866; M. Khalid Masud a.o., ‘Fatwâ’, in: John L. Esposito (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Modern Islamic World, Oxford University Press, 1995, Vol. 2, pp. 8-17.

  5. Egypt
    Literature: Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen, Defining Islam for the Egyptian state: muftis and fatwas of the Dār al-Ifta, Leiden 1997, chapter IX, ‘The Dâr al-Iftâ’ Today […]”, pp. 251-295.

  6. Egypt: case study
    Literature: Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen, o.c., pp. 335-374 (fatwas on insurance).

  7. Saudi Arabia
    Literature: Muhammad Al Atawneh, Wahhâbî Islam Facing the challenges of Modernity: Dâr al-Iftâ in the Modern Saudi State, Leiden 2010, chapters One and Two, Background and the Dâr al-Iftâ’ today, pp. 1-34.

  8. Saudi Arabia: case studies
    Literature: Muhammad Al Atawneh, o.c., Chapter Five, The Prohibited, pp. 83-114.

  9. Indonesia
    Literature: M. Atho Mudzhar, Fatwas of The Council of Indonesian Ulama: A Study of Islamic Legal Thought in Indonesia 1975-1988, Jakarta 1993, pp. 45-68; Nico J.G. Kaptein, “The voice of the `ulamâ’: fatwas and religious authority in Indonesia”, in: Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions, No. 125 (janvier-mars) 2004, pp. 115-130 (also published on the web as Working paper: Visiting Scholars Series No.2, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, January 2004, Singapore).

  10. Indonesia: case studies
    Literature: Piers Gillespie, ‘Current issues in Indonesian Islam: analyzing the 2005 Council of Indonesian Ulama fatwa no. 7 opposing pluralism, liberalism and secularism’, Journal of Islamic Studies 18:2 (2007), pp. 202-240.

  11. Presentations of the outline of the seminar papers.

Course load

  • College: 2 contact hours per week = 13×2: 24 hours

  • Reading: 8 hours reading for ca. 11 classes: 88 hours

  • Preparing assignments for 11 classes: 22 hours

  • Preparing the presentations: 36 hours

  • Writing paper: 110 hours

  • Total study load: 280 hours (10EC)

Course objectives


Time table

For the most recent update of the timetable click here

Mode of instruction

For this seminar weekly attendance and participation is required. 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. Students who miss more than two classes for whatever reason will fail the course.

Assessment method

  1. Attendance of the meetings and active participation in the discussions – 10 %
    1. 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 via email ultimately on the day before the seminar takes place, not later than 17.30 h. – 20 %
    2. Oral introduction/presentation linked to one (or more) of the meetings – 10 %.
    3. Presentation of the outline of one’s paper in final meeting(s) – 10 %.
    4. Written paper of approximately 5000 words on a particular fatwa which has been chosen in consultation with Dr. Kaptein (various languages possible, depending on the original language of the text). 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, before the start of the next semester – 50 %

The paper should contain the following (interrelated) elements:

  • a translation of the fatwa, or – in case of a very long fatwa – a rendering of the fatwa with a translation of its key passages – section about the mufti/institution – period of time; biography/background; position with in society; affiliation(s) – typology of the fatwa and positioning within intellectual tradition – social political context of the fatwa – who is the mustafti?; when asked/given?; why asked/given?; other issues involved? – influence of the fatwa among the believers/society – conclusion


Blackboard will be used.

Reading list

  • Muhammad Qasim Zaman, The Ulama in contemporary Islam, Princeton University Press 2002

  • selected articles indicated by the professor (see list above).


Via uSis

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

Contact information

Dr. N.J.G. Kaptein


Any question related to this seminar can be addressed to:

Dr. Nico J.G. Kaptein
Department of Languages and Cultures of the Middle East
Huizinga building Doelensteeg 16 room 0.11 D
2311 VL Leiden
tel.: 071-5272419


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 accomodations 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).