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HY200: Topics in History: The Search for Islamic Order

Since September 11, 2001, Americans have discovered that it is not easy to speak about Muslims in general or the Islamic world as a whole. How is it that a single set of revelations passed to Muhammad in the seventh century lends itself to so many interpretations and so many purposes?  Is there an Islamic way of organizing society? Why do some Muslims insist that Islam offers a program for political action while others insist that religious belief has nothing to do with politics?

In the first block, the course examines the historical development of Islamic societies and orthodoxies. What was the nature of the Islamic state Muhammad established in Medina? How did the subsequent Arab Empires reflect and differ from that experience? In what atmosphere did scholars construct the legal system of Islam? How did the political order proposed by Shi'ism differ from that characterized by Sunnism? What was the appeal of mysticism in both the Shi'a and Sunni communities? To what extent did the Ottoman Empire, which brought together a significant portion of the Muslim world from 1300 until 1918, represent a new version of Islamic order?

The second block confronts the questions of order and disorder in the contemporary Muslim Middle East, examining the rise of the nation-state; the impact of imperialism, liberalism, and socialism; the blossoming of Islamist movements; the impact of modernism on the position of women in the Muslim world; and the relationship of Islamic doctrine to human rights, democracy, and violence. We will consider the political thought of several prominent Muslim intellectuals, including radical Islamists and liberals.

A set of linked one-block courses with a single instructor that must be taken together; separate grades will be assigned for each block.