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`Ulamâ’ in the Modern Muslim World


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Middle Eastern Studies, to the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research) or another relevant MA. Students should have had approximately 30 EC worth of courses in Islamic studies at BA level. Students who are interested in taking this course, but who do not fulfill these requirements are requested to contact dr. N.J.G. Kaptein or the student advisor.


This seminar will deal with the present day role of the class of scholars, who represent and continue traditional Islamic scholarship, called the `ulamâ’. The underlying question is what their position and relevance is in contemporary societies, which do no longer adhere to a purely religious worldview.

For the theoretical background parts of the book by Muhammad Qasim Zaman will be studied, entitled The ulama in contemporary Islam: custodians of change, Princeton: 2002.

In the remainder of the seminar we will deal with the opinions of `ulamâ’, as expressed in fatwa’s. Three countries, each with their own social and political dynamics, will be dealt with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia,

Course objectives

The student will get insight into the religious authority and various roles of the `ulama’ in different societies, ranging from mere theocracies to more secular countries, and thus be able to assess their contribution to the complex processes of religious change in the modern Muslim world.



Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Attendance and participation are obligatory. Classes missed for a good reason (to the discretion of the convener and to be discussed BEFORE the class takes place) will have to be made up with an extra assignment. Being absent without notification can result in a lower grade or exclusion from the written paper and a failing grade for the course.

Course load

  • College: 2 contact hours per week = 13×2: 24 hours

  • Reading: 8 hours reading for ca. 11 classes: 88 hours

  • Preparing assignments for 11 classes: 22 hours

  • Preparing the presentations: 36 hours

  • Writing paper: 110 hours

  • Total study load: 280 hours (10EC)

Assessment method

  • Attendance of the meetings and active participation in the discussions – 10 %

  • Preparation of meetings, which includes the thorough reading of the literature for each meeting and the preparation of three written questions related to this literature. These questions must show that the literature for the meeting has been read; together they should not exceed 500 words. These three questions should be submitted via email ultimately on the day before the seminar takes place, not later than 17.30 h. – 20 %

  • Oral introduction/presentation linked to one (or more) of the meetings – 10 %.

  • Presentation of the outline of one’s paper in final meeting(s) – 10 %.

  • Written paper of approximately 5000 words on a particular fatwa which has been chosen in consultation with Dr. Kaptein (various languages possible, depending on the original language of the text). The draft of this paper should be submitted before the start of the holiday break (exact date announced in first class). After feed back of the professor, the final draft should be submitted, before the start of the next semester – 50 %

The paper should contain the following (interrelated) elements:

  • a translation of the fatwa, or – in case of a very long fatwa – a rendering of the fatwa with a translation of its key passages

  • section about the mufti/institution – period of time; biography/background; position with in society; affiliation(s)

  • typology of the fatwa and positioning within intellectual tradition

  • social political context of the fatwa – who is the mustafti?; when asked/given?; why asked/given?; other issues involved?

  • influence of the fatwa among the believers/society

  • conclusion

The final paper is written in two stages: a first version which will be commented on and a final version. Students who do not meet the deadline for the first version will lose the right to get comments and will only be graded based on their final version. (The paper deadline mentioned in uSis is a fictional date for administration purposes only. The actual date will be communicated by the convenor of the course.)

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher.

The course is an integrated whole. All assessment parts must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


Blackboard will be used.

Reading list

  • Muhammad Qasim Zaman, The Ulama in Contemporary Islam, Princeton University Press 2002

  • selected articles indicated by the professor (see list above).


Students are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “Act.nbr.”.

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the ‘Registration procedures for classes and examinations’ for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.

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

Contact information

Dr. N.J.G. Kaptein


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).