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Modern Thinkers and Trends in Islam


Admission requirements

The course “Islamologie;” or any other equivalent introductory level or knowledge about Islam (in agreement with the lecturer).


The overwhelming victory of Islamists after the Arab Spring raises many political and academic questions. Such Islamist movements are still riding the crest of former pan-Islamist waves, which had emerged in colonial times. Against this background in mind, the course shall focus on the contemporary religious movements in Sunni and Shi’i Islam in their social, political and historical context. Special reference will be given to Muslim thinkers within such trends as traditionalism, salafism, sufism, modernism, reformism and secularism.
In the course we shall study the interaction between the social and political aspects of such movements on the one hand, and the emergence and developments of religious ideas and institutions on the other. In addition, it examines the interpretations given by modern Muslim thinkers regarding Islamic primary sources (the Qur’an, Sunna, Islamic law, etc.) as responses to contemporary religious, cultural, social and political changes and challenges of modernity.
Questions to be raised here will be: Why did Muslims feel the necessity of re-evaluating their Islamic past and traditions in the light of modernity? How did such re-interpretations take place? Which debates did Muslim intellectuals perform regarding the western influence on the daily life of Muslims and the role of Ijtihad (independent interpretation) therein? Are there any similar challenges which Muslims in the West nowadays are still facing?

Course objectives

  • Knowledge: The course offers students knowledge of a) the history of the most prominent and authoritative Muslim figures and movements and their idea developments in modern Islamic thinking, b) a typology of modern trends (such as traditionalism, neo-traditionalism, fundamentalism, reformism, islamism or political Islam, modernism, neo-modernism, etc., c) the life and legacies of such thinkers as Rifa’a al-Tahtawi, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, Rashid Rida, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Tariq Ramadan, Sayyid Hossein Nasr and Abdel-Karim Souroush.

  • Insight: students will gain insight in the diversity of thinkers and trends, and their views regarding the confrontation of Muslims with modernity on the basis of different subjects, such as reformation of islam, the relationship with the West, the status of women in Islam, Islam and politics, etc.

  • Skills: upon the completion of the course students are expected to define and recognize the characteristics of such different typologies in Islam.


See Time table

Mode of instruction


It is expected that students should actively participate in the class

Assessment method

Written exam containing essay-questions (Dutch-speaking students can answer in Dutch)



Reading list

Capita selecta of the following:

  • Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age 1798-1939, Cambridge University Press, 1938

  • Shepard, William E., ‘Islam and Ideology: Towards a Typology’, International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 19/3 (August 1987), pp. 307-335;

  • Graham, William A., ‘Traditionalism in Islam: An essay in Interpretation’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, vol. 23/3, Religion and History (winter 1993), pp. 495-522;

  • Vakili, Valla, ‘Abdolkarim Soroush and Critical Discourse in Iran’, in John Esposito and John Voll, (eds.), The Makers of Contemporary Islam, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001 (chapter 9).


Via uSis
In addition to the registration in uSis, students are also expected to self-enroll in blackboard a few weeks before the course starts.

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

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte via:
Registration Contractonderwijs via:

Contact information

Dr. Umar Ryad + 31 (0) 71 5272568


Course language: English (or in Dutch: when all participants have a working knowledge of Dutch)

Presence is obligatory; the student can be excluded from the exam with more than 3x absence