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`Ulamâ’ in the Modern Muslim World (ResMA)


Admission requirements

This course is open to students of the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research) or the MA Asian Studies (research), who have a basic knowledge about Islam and the Qur’an, preferably obtained through an academic course Introduction to Islam, and one in the Qur’an.
Students from other programmes than those mentioned above are kindly referred to the course description of the regular MA course.

Students who did not follow the relevant courses successfully, but think they might be eligible to take this course are kindly requested to contact the instructor, Dr. Nico J.G. Kaptein at least two weeks before the start of the course, to discuss their admission.


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 an introductory book will be studied, the title of which will be announced well before the start of the course.

In the remainder of the seminar we will deal with the opinions of `ulamâ’, as expressed in (translated) fatwas. Fatwas from three countries, each with their own social and political dynamics, will be dealt with, viz. 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.

Furthermore, the students will acquire the ability to present their judgments on assigned literature in writing and present academic literature critically for a professional audience.

Moreover, they will be able to lay down in sound academic writing an individually carried out research issue.


See timetable of the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research) or the timetable of the MA Asian Studies (research).

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Attendance and active participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to prepare for and attend all sessions. The convenor needs to be informed without delay of any classes missed for a good reason (i.e. due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family issues, problems with residence permits, the Dutch railways in winter, etc.). In these cases it is up to the discretion of the convener(s) of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. The maximum of such absences during a semester is two. Being absent without notification and/or more than two times can result in exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

Course Load

Total course load: 10 EC x 28 hours 280 hours
Classes (12 weeks x 2 contact hours) 24 hours
Extra contact hours ResMA students 6 hours
Reading (8 hours reading for ca. 11 classes) 88 hours
Preparing assignments for 11 classes 22 hours
Preparing the presentations 6 hours
Writing paper 134 hours

Assessment method

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). It is also unacceptable for students to reuse portions of texts they had previously authored and have already received academic credit for on this or other courses. In such cases, students are welcome to self-cite so as to minimise overlap between prior and new work.

Students must submit their assignment(s) to the blackboard through turnitin, so they can be checked for plagiarism. Submission via email is not accepted.

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
Attendance of the meetings and active participation in the discussions and oral introduction/presentation linked to one (or more) of the meetings (30-45 minutes) 20%
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 blackboard ultimately on the day before the seminar takes place, not later than 17.30 h. 30%
Presentation of the outline of one’s paper in final meeting(s) and writing of a paper of approximately 6,000 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). 50%

Final Paper
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 draft of the paper should be submitted before the start of the holiday break (exact date announced in first class). After feedback of the professor, the final draft should be submitted before the start of the next semester.

Late submissions of the final version will result in a deduction of paper grades as follows: 1-24 hrs late = -0.5; 24-48 hrs late = -1.0; 48-72 hrs late = -1.5; 72-96 hrs late = -2.0. Late papers will not be accepted more than four days after the deadline, including weekends and will be graded with 1.0.

The final mark for this course is formed by the weighted average.
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.


Only if the total weighted average is insufficient (5.49 or lower) and the insufficient grade is the result of an insufficient paper, a resit of the paper is possible (50%). In that case the convener of the course may assign a (new) topic and give a new deadline.

A resit of the other partial assessments is not possible.

Exam review

If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam/paper results, an exam/paper review will be organized.


Blackboard will be used.

Note: there is no separate Blackboard page available for this ResMa course. Please subscribe to the Blackboard page of the regular MA course.

Reading list

  • Selected books and articles indicated by the professor. All items used in the course will be available through Leiden University Library.

For the Research MA students additional readings will be determined by the convener at a later stage taking into account the students’ fields of interest. The extra sessions will be used to discuss the additional literature.


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 “USIS-Actnbr.”. More information on uSis is available in Dutch and English. You can also have a look at the FAQ.

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the webpage on course and exam enrolment for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.

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.