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Sharia in the West


Admission requirements

This is a 13 week pilot SPOC course (Small Private Online Course) that allows for a maximum of 50 students. This course can be taken by:

  • 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 at least a BA level, either in study relevant to this Master course, or with corresponding academic knowledge and skills. Very good knowledge of English (reading, writing and speaking) is required. The applicant will be selected on his/her academic qualities as well as capabilities to follow and contribute to this course. 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 and South America, and Australia. Geographical extension of the course is considered for the near future. (See further below, under “Registration” for registration requirements.) Participants who have been admitted on the basis of their application, may be removed from the course if they fail to reach the minimum required level. The instructor will give ample warning before doing so.


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.
This course combines instruction and research: it will provide the students with background information and academic tools needed to conduct their own independent research on sharia in the west, which will be completed during this course.

Active participation of the students is key to this course: they are invited to provide examples of sharia from their western countries, and to analyse them by means of discussion, essays and research (including fieldwork).

The set-up of this course is in three phases:
Weeks 1-3: Instruction in the multidisciplinary approach to this topic, including law, anthropology, sociology and Islamic studies; and introduction in notions like minority fiqh (fiqh al-‘aqaliyat), secularism, religious law, freedom of religion, integration, radicalization, Islamophobia. 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.
Weeks 4-7: Discussion of several issues, like family law, headscarf and niqab, Islamphobia, citizenship and participation, integration and radicalization.
Weeks 8-13: Research, to be conducted in groups that are internationally organized.

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 independent research. They will do so by means of 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. The research project(s) will be further introduced during the course.
Registered Leiden 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

Timetable Timetable

Mode of instruction

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’)

Nine short essays (1-2 pages). These essays will be evaluated online by their fellow students, and graded by the instructor.

Multiple Choice tests
Online multiple choice tests are a means to test the student’s understanding of the assigned literature

Online discussion forum (written)
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.

Online discussion sessions (oral)
Chaired by the instructor, groups of max 10 students will engage in discussion based on specific cases or hypotheses. 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).

The students will be coached, in groups and individually, in conducting independent research. The research product is a documentary.

Study load

App. 10-15 hrs per week during first 7 weeks (lectures, literature, essays), then app. 20-30 hrs per week in next 5 weeks (research).

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, c) participated in at least three discussion forums, d) participated in at least one online discussion session, and e) 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%).


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 24 August 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.