SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

The Muslim World: Unity in Diversity

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 2
Taught in:
Full Year


Successful completion of Introduction to Islam (or a similar level of knowledge).

This module is available as a Year 1 module to students of BA Islamic Studies.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module the student should be familiar with the spread of Islam and the Muslim Umma as a whole, taking into consideration its cultural, social, ethnic and historical diversity. Similarly, the student will be familiar with the salient features of Islamic culture and practice and their unifying factors that cause the Muslim individuals and communities to feel part of the Muslim world at large. In addition, the student will become acquainted with the Arabic/Islamic terminology that plays a significant role in the sense of unity in diversity.


A total of 22 weeks teaching with a 3 contact hours per week (2 hour lecture and 1 hour tutorial).

Scope and syllabus

This module surveys the historical and geographical spread of Islam in the Prophetic and post-Prophetic era until the modern period and from the Arabian peninsula to the rest of the world. It includes a chronological outline of the main dynasties that ruled the Muslim lands through the institution of the Caliphate, such as the Umayyads, 'Abbasids, Safavids, Moghuls and Ottomans. The module will also attempt to demonstrate that despite the various ethnic, cultural and geographical diversities of the Muslim community there are fundamental unifying factors that did not depend upon temporal political power but, rather, on the basic sense of "Umma" and social and cultural institutions and customs that stem from religious beliefs and practices, to the extent that Muslims continue to consider themselves as a singular community. As such, the module focuses on the manifestation of the Arabic language at a social level through such practices as:

  • the recitation of the Qur'an; 
  • the unifying aspects of principal rituals such as prayer and fasting; 
  • institutions within the Islamic tradition such as the Islamic law (shari'a), Sufi orders, endowments (waqf) and educational establishments (madrasa); 
  • cultural phenomena such as social manners and etiquettes, as well as the celebration of a variety of festivals.

In addition, the module aims to provide a glossary of Islamic cultural terms to enhance the understanding of this unity in diversity.

Method of assessment

One three-hour written examination (75%) taken in May/June and two essays of 2,500-3,000 words each (weighted at 12.5% each), to be submitted on day 5, last teaching week of term 1, and day 5 last teaching week of term 2.

Suggested reading

  • The Qur'an (English translation).
  • Al Faruqi, Ismail R. and al Faruqi, Lois Lamiya, The Cultural Atlas of Islam (New York: Macmillan, 1986).
  • Al-Qushayri, Muslim b. al-Hajjaj, Sahih Muslim, translated by Abdul Hamid Siddiqi (4 vols., Lahore: Muhammad Ashraf, 1972-1975).
  • rberry, Arthur John. Aspects of Islamic Civilization (London: Allen & Unwin, 1964).
  • Arberry, Arthur J., Sufism – An Account of the Mystics of Islam (London: Unwin Hyman ltd., 1979).
  • Atonius, G., The Arab Awakening (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1955).
  • Barber, Nevill, Survey of North West Africa (London: Oxford University Press, 1959).
  • Bodman, Herbert and Nayereh Tohidi, eds. Women in Muslim Societies: Diversity within Unity (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1998).
  • Bosworth, Clifford Edmund, The New Islamic Dynasties: a Chronological and Genealogical Manual (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1996).
  • Dannin, Robert. Black Pilgrimage to Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).
  • Dunn, Ross E. The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the Fourteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).
  • Eickelman, Dale and Piscatori, James eds. Muslim Travelers: Pilgrimage, Migration, and the Religious Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).
  • Esposito, John (ed.), Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Modern Islamic World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).
  • Esposito, John (ed.), Oxford History of Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)
  • Esposito, John (ed.), Oxford Dictionary of Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).
  • Fakhry, Majid, A History of Islamic Philosophy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1970).
  • Fakhry, Majid, Ethical Theories in Islam (Leiden: E.J.Brill, 1994).
  • Fakhry, Majid, Islamic Philosophy, Theology and Mysticism: a Short Introduction, (Oxford: Oneworld, 2001).
  • Fisher, W. B., The Middle East: a physical, social and regional geography (London: Methuen, 1971).
  • Gibb, Kramers, Levi-Provencal and Schacht (eds.), The Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden and London: E. J. Brill and Luzac & Co., 1960).
  • Gilsenan, Michael. Recognising Islam: an anthropologist’s introduction (London: Croom Helm, 1982).
  • Hanafi, M. A., A Survey of Muslim Institutions and Culture (Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1980).
  • Hitti, Philip, History of the Arabs (London: Macmillan, 1937).
  • Khan, Gabriel Mandel. Arabic Script: Styles, Variants, and Calligraphic Adaptations (New York: Abbeville Press Publ., 2001).
  • Khuri, Fuad I. Imams and Emirs: State, Religion and Sects in Islam (London: Saqi Books, 1990).
  • Knysh, Alexander D., Islamic Mysticism – A Short History (Leiden: Brill, 1999).
  • Lane-Pool, Stanley. Saladin: All-Powerful Sultan and the Uniter of Islam (New York: Cooper Square Press, 2002).
  • Leaman and Nasr (eds.), History of Islamic Philosophy (London: Routledge, 1996).
  • Lelyveld, David. Aligarh’s First Generation: Muslim Solidarity in British India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978).
  • Lings, Martin, The Life Muhammad: his life based on the earliest sources (London: Islamic Texts Society, 1983).
  • Madelung, Wilferd. Religious Schools and Sects in Medieval Islam (London: Variorum, 1985).
  • Makdisi, George, Religion, Law and Learning in Classical Islam (Hampshire/Brookfield: Variorum, 1991).
  • Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, Dabashi, Hamid and Nasr, Seyyed Vali Reza eds. Expectation of the Millennium: Shi‘ism in History (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989).
  • Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, Islam: Religion, History, and Civilization (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2002).
    • Islamic Spirituality I: Foundations (New York: Crossroad, 1987).
    • Islamic Spirituality II: Manifestations (New York: Crossroad, 1991).
  • Rejwan, Nissim, ed. The Many Faces of Islam: Perspectives on a Resurgent Civilization (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000).
  • Robinson, Francis, Atlas of Islamic World since 1500 (1983).
  • Schimmel, Annemarie, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill: The University of Carolina Press, 1975).
  • Sperl, Stefan and Shackle (eds.), Christopher, Qasida Poetry in Islamic Asia and Africa (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996).
  • Trimingham, J. Spencer. The Sufi Orders in Islam (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971).
  • Vertovec, Steven and Peach, Ceri eds. Islam in Europe: The Politics of Religion and Community (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1997).
  • von Grunebaum, G.E., ed. Unity and Variety in Muslim Civilization (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955).
  • Watt, W. M., The Formative Period of Islamic Thought (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 1998).
  • Wazard, Harry W, Atlas of Islamic History, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954).
  • Westerlund and Svanberg, Islam Outside the Arab World (Richmond: Curzon, 1999).
  • Wolfe, Michael, ed. One Thousand Roads to Mecca: Ten Centuries of Travelers Writing about the Muslim Pilgrimage (New York: Grove Press, 1997).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules