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Rituals and Symbols of Islam


Admission requirements

This course is only open to:

  • Students of the BA programme Midden-Oostenstudies or Religiewetenschappen

  • Students of the minor Islam: Religion and Society, who have successfully completed the propedeutic exam of an (Academic) Bachelor programme.


This course treats selected topics from the study of rituals and symbols of both Sunni and Shi’i Islam. It offers an overview of the rituals according to Islamic law and the ritual practice. Topics include: prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, sacrifice, Ashura, lifecycle rituals, spiritual practices, food and dress. A field trip to a mosque forms part of the course.

Course objectives

After successfully completing the course, the student is able:

  • to recognize how theoretical perspectives in the study of rituals shape our understanding of Islamic rituals and symbols;

  • to provide an in-depth overview of Islamic prescriptions and ritual practice of rituals and symbols discussed in class;

  • to conduct a critical literature review of a given ritual or symbol;

  • to report about it orally and in writing.


Timetable BA Midden-Oostenstudies Timetable minor Islam

Mode of instruction

Attendance and active participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to prepare for and attend all sessions. The convenors 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 140 hrs = 5 EC

  • weekly meetings 11 × 2 hrs, 22 hrs

  • field trip to mosque, 4 hrs

  • weekly reading assignments, 30 hrs

  • 10 questions and comments on readings, 5 hrs

  • 4 profiles providing an overview of the Islamic prescriptions relating to the following four rituals: prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, and marriage (maximum of two pages per ritual), 12 hrs

  • field trip journal of maximum 750 words, 7 hrs

  • presentation and final paper on one of the themes or rituals discussed in class: extra reading on ritual of one’s choice, 30 hrs; preparation for presentation, 10 hrs; final paper of 2000 words, 20 hrs.

Assessment method


  • 4 profiles providing an overview of the Islamic prescriptions relating to prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, and marriage

  • 10 Q&Cs: Questions and comments on readings

  • Field trip journal

  • Final paper


the final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average:

  • Profiles: 20%

  • Q&Cs :20%

  • Field trip journal: 10%

  • Final paper: 50%


There is no resit for the profiles, the Q&Cs and the field trip journal.

The paper is written in two stages: a first version presented in class and a final version that will be graded. Students will receive comments on the first version presented in class. Only the final version, which can be a substantially improved version of the one presented in class, will be graded.

Exam Review

If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will be organized.

Reading list

Literature for the first two sessions:

  • Heiko Henkel, “‘Between Belief and Unbelief Lies the Performance of Salāt’: Meaning and Efficacy of a Muslim Ritual”, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 11 (2005), 3, 487–507.

  • Daniel Winchester. “Embodying the Faith: Religious Practice and the Making of a Muslim Moral Habitus.” Social Forces 86 (2008), 4, 1753–1779.

A full list of weekly readings will be provided at the beginning of the course.


Students are required to register through uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. N.M. Dessing