REL 293 Islam

The Arabic term, Islam, connotes peace and submission. As a religion, Islam describes humanity’s struggle (jihad) to rest in God’s (Allah) peace. The course will explore the sights, sounds, and social sensations that have emerged over the religion’s 1400-year history. Students will reflect on what unites and divides its 1.6 billion followers worldwide. There is no denying that the events of 9/11 have precipitated seismic interest in Islam. And out of this have emerged both praiseworthy and shameful acts. Our class will develop the intellectual tools needed to more critically frame the public discourse around Islam.

“Islam,” image by Firas, used under creative commons

Core Textbooks

Carole Hillenbrand, Introduction to Islam: Beliefs and Practices in Historical Perspective (Thames & Hudson, 2015).
An accessible reading of both history and topics pertaining to Islam.

Key Topics

The Arabian Peninsula Before Islam

The Prophet Muhammad and the Rise of Islam

The Caliphate

The Quran, Sunna, and Hadith

Sunni and Shii Distinctives


Legal and Moral Theory in Islam

Islam and Politics

Gender and Sexuality in Muslim Life

Student Scholarship

Fall 2014

As students pursued answers to their own inquiries, they grew dissatisfied with the majority of digital resources available on Islam. Many websites either suffered from dated presentations or reported dubious information. Rather than scouring the web for the perfect site, students created their own online primer to Islam. The class surveyed students, faculty, and staff about what they wanted to learn about Islam and how they wanted to learn it. The results manifested in Islam Research @EtownCollege (


The mobile-friendly website provides basic information on Islam (i.e. history, the layout of a mosque, dress, pillars of faith). Each student created a written and video book review (a la Reading Rainbow) to lead visitors to a more advanced treatment on a topics. These reviews are synced to the collections at Elizabethtown College’s High Library and are useful for research projects across the curriculum.


For their final exam, the class presented the website to the religious studies faculty, High Library staff, and Office of Community and Civic Engagement. The audience toured the website and made suggestions about wider use and improvement. One of the most exciting features to come of this is a FAQ section with written and video responses practicing Muslims and Islamic Studies scholars.


In Spring 2015, students shared this resource at the college’s Scholarship and Creative Arts Day. The site is now the cornerstone of the Islam course, updated with each offering. And with support from the Office of Community and Civic Engagement, students will be working tailoring content and presentations to enhance the work of community partners.

Fall 2015


Students in the Fall 2015 course offering were pleased to welcome Dr. Rafey Habib, M. A. R. Rafey Habib, Professor of English at Rutgers University-Camden. Professor Habib discussed the poetic features of the Qur’an and shared selections from his coming Norton translation.


The class also divided into two groups to present “Islam: Then and Now” at Hemphill Church of the Brethren. The first group focused on the history of Islam in relation to Judaism and Christianity. The second group looked at Islam in contemporary life–focusing on the role of visual culture, portrayals of Muslims in Western media, and the psychology of Islamophobia and anti-semitism. They added digital versions of their presentations on the website: The Abrahamic Religions-Then and The Abrahamic Religions-Now.

Fall 2016

For their final exam, students continued work on the Introduction to Islam. They also divided into two groups to present two separate classes at Elizabethtown Church of the Brethren. The courses were standing-room-only crowds. (I was stuck outside the rooms were so packed.) Visitors included high-schoolers, college students, and adults of all ages.

Fall 2017

In the final offering of this course at Elizabethtown College, students created companion videos for our textbook, Carole Hillenbrand’s Islam: Beliefs and Practices in Historical Perspective (Thames & Hudson 2015). You can see an example here.

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