Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2010-2011 (archived)


Department: Government and International Affairs


Type Open Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Available in 2010/11 Module Cap None.


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To provide students with an advanced understanding of key concepts and theories of Muslim political thought.
  • To enable students to critically evaluate the contributions of leading Muslim and non-Muslim scholars to the field of modern Muslim political thought.
  • To enable students to reach an in-depth understanding of the relationship between classical Muslim approaches to the issue of leadership and government, and contemporary Muslim approaches to the twin issues of state and government.
  • To provide students with an advanced understanding of the centrality of the Islamic revelation to both classical and contemporary Muslim political discourse.


  • 1. Political concepts in Islamic Sources - Themes: The koran and political life at the time of the Prophet; the concept of umma and its significance for an Islamic state; the 'Constitution of Medina' and its significance for a pluralistic society.
  • 2. The Caliphate and the Arab conquests - Themes: The 'succession crisis'; the role of the caliph according to classical Sunni theories; the rise of the Shia; the expansion of the Arab/Muslim empire; the decline of the caliphate.
  • 3. State, government and political theory in the medieval Muslim world - Themes: The twin concepts of khilafa and saltana; state and government in the post-caliphal Muslim world; the political legacy of Ibn Taymiyya; the issue of ijtihad; the rise of the Shi'ite jurists.
  • 4. The emergence of modern Muslim political thought - Themes: Pre-modern revivalism and reform; the legacy of Abduh and Afghani; the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and 'Islamism'; colonisation and decolonisation; the emergence of Muslim 'fundamentalisms'.
  • 5. Islam and politics: differing interpretations of a relationship - Themes: the notion that Islam is by nature both a religion and a state; the views of ideologues such as Ali b. Abd al-Raziq and Rashid Rida, and their intellectual legacy.
  • 6. The notion of an Islamic state: the contemporary debate - Themes: The degree of consensus that exists with regard to the concept of an Islamic state; the relationship between the idea of an Islamic state, the historical caliphate and the teachings of the Koran.
  • 7. Islam, politics and modernity - Themes: The compatibility of Islam with the concept of democracy; the extent to which Muslim law is compatible with modern notions of human rights; the issue of gender; the concepts of secularism, secularization and secularity.
  • 8. The transformation of Shi'ite political thought - Themes: The ideas and theories of Ali Shariati and Ayatollah Khumayni; the concept of 'Islamic revolution'; the ideas of post-Revolution thinkers such as Soroush, Kadivar and Shabistari.
  • 9. The political roles of Islam: case studies - Iran; Sudan; Pakistan; Palestine.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • The teachings of the Koran and sunna on the twin issues of leadership and governance.
  • The nature and scope of key classical Muslim theories of state and government and their impact on contemporary Muslim political thought.
  • The views and theories of key pre-modern and contemporary Muslim reformers and revivalists vis-a-vis the centrality of Islam to political life.
  • The specific issues in the contemporary interaction between Islam and politics, including democracy, human rights, secularism, nationalism, pan-Islamism and international relations.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • To be able to explain the rationale behind the call for the return of the sharia and the re-establishment of the 'Islamic state'.
  • To develop the intellectual tools with which to appraise the relative successes and failures of modern Muslim experiments in 'Islamic statecraft', notably those of Iran, Sudan and Saudi Arabia.
  • To be able to analyse the agendas of contemporary Islamist movements and their impact on the socio-political life of the Muslim umma and the international community beyond.
  • To have the capacity to judge the extent to which pre-modern and contemporary Muslim political movements reflect the political ethos of the Prophet and/or the political theoreticians of the classical era.
Key Skills:
  • Independent learning within a defined framework of study at an advanced level.
  • Independent thought in analysing and critiquing existing scholarship on the subject area and in evaluating its contribution.
  • The ability to work to a deadline and complete written work within specified word limits.
  • Advanced essay-writing skills.
  • The ability to seek out and use relevant primary and secondary sources, including electronic and bibliographic sources.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Teaching is by seminar, which allows the students to discuss and debate the assigned topics. Guidelines will be given by the tutor. At MA level, seminars are appropriate for the students because they are from different academic backgrounds. Seminars also allow for a better exchange and flow of views and ideas.
  • Assessment is through formative presentation and discussion, as well as a summative assignment on a specific topic. Essay writing is an appropriate method with the maximum freedom for students to express their ideas and reflect what they have learnt.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 9 Weekly 2 hours 18
Preparation and Reading 132
Total 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Essays - when module taught in Michaelmas Term Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 - submitted 3 weeks before the end of Michaelmas Term 2,500 words 50%
Essay 2 - submitted at the beginning of Epiphany Term 2,500 words 50%
Component: Essay - when module taught in Epiphany Term Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay - submitted at the end of the second week of Easter Term 5,000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Individual presentation and discussion. Presentation outline (500 words).

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University