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Political Islam


Admission requirements

Introduction to the Study of Islam (prerequisite).


Political Islam is well known today as the label for organisations that base their ideology on Islamic principles with aims to create an ‘Islamic state’, and for militant groups that justify their actions via the precedent of jihad. The present-day activities of these movements are intensively studied and they are usually at the forefront of media coverage of Middle East politics. The debates are often polemical, invoking problematic dichotomies of “East vs. West”, Islam’s “compatabiity” with the values of the liberal nation state, and the extent to which political Islam movements represent an “authentic” Islam.
This course seeks to analyse political Islam from a different angle – studying today’s movements from the perspective of the Middle East’s varied cultural and historical traditions. Islamist groups today almost invariably claim their legitimacy from the fact that they follow deep-rooted Islamic traditions, and our questions will ask how deep rooted these traditions are, what are the historical and legal precedents for political Islamist doctrine today, and how did groups with similar platforms operate in the Middle East in the past? These past groups provide crucial background – almost entirely unknown and unstudied in present-day Western engagement with political Islam – and studying the historic groups in tandem with the moderl gives deeper perspective on how the modern groups use (and misuse) the past for their own legitimacy, how Middle Eastern peoples have responded to the platforms of political Islam through history, where, when, and how these groups met with success, and it allows us to better understand the evolution of the concepts of jihad, sectarianism, and Islamic states in Muslim societies.

Course objectives

Students will learn the following topics and develop the following skills:

  • Learn about the major groups in history which have used political Islam platforms from early Muslim-era Arabia, through medieval Iran, early modern-era West Africa and into the modern day

  • Learn the core principles which political Islamist groups have used

  • Learn the Islamic-law sources which premodern and modern-day political Islamic movements base their ideologies

  • Develop skills to critically analyse modern-day political Islam messages and compare them with previous traditions

  • Develop skills to critically analyse modern-day scholarship on polticial Islam


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

Attendance is not obligatory for lectures. The conveners do not need to be informed in case of missed classes. Information and knowledge provided in the lectures greatly contribute to the subsequent courses of the programme. In order to pass the course, students are strongly advised to attend all sessions.

Assessment method

Academic Integrity

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity.
Plagiarism will not be tolerated. It is assumed that students' work is their own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations). Students may not substantially reuse any work they have previously submitted in this or other courses. Minor overlap with previous work is allowed as long as it is duly noted in citation.
Assignment(s) must be submitted to Brightspace through Turnitin, so they can be checked for plagiarism. Submission via email is not accepted.


The course is assessed through four elements:
1) Assignment 1: ‘the Language of Political Islam’ = 10%
2) Assignment 2: ‘Sources of Political Islam’ = 10%
3) Critical Reading Report (due after exam week) = 25%
4) End of Semester Essay = 55%


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


Students will only be able to re-sit the End of Semester Essay (55%).

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Routledge Handbook of Political Islam, ed. Shahram Akbarzadeh (2011)
Islam and the Foundations of Political Power (In Translation: Modern Muslim Thinkers), Ali Abdel Razek (2013)
Milestones, Sayyid Qutb (various translations)
The Almoravid and Almohad Empires, A. Bennison (2016)
Pragmatism in the Age of Jihad: The Precolonial State of Bundu,Michael A. Gomez (1993)
Jihad in West Africa during the Age of Revolutions, Paul Lovejoy (2016).


Enrolment through My Studymap is mandatory.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: De Vrieshof.