SOAS University of London

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

Islamic Texts

Module Code:
30 Credits
Year of study:

This module is principally designed for students with an interest in medieval Islamic thought. Its main purpose is to introduce classical texts and traditions of learning not necessarily covered in the Qur’an and Hadith module. Students read, translate and discuss examples of works from a variety of genres, diverse in form, yet all essentially concerned with the elaboration and transmission of classical Muslim scholarship’s understanding of its faith. These include seminal literary texts from disciplines such as theology, Arabic linguistic thought, jurisprudence and scriptural hermeneutics. With a concern for both context and relevance, the module aims to provide a critical gauging of the conceptual constructs and intellectual forces which profoundly shaped medieval Islamic thought. Students should emerge not only with a sound grasp of the historical contexts within which much of this literature was composed and expounded upon, but they should also develop a broader appreciation of the form, content, and significance of the discourse featured in these classical texts.


Given that this is essentially a text-based module, it is expected that students should be able to read and comprehend classical Arabic material.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • Upon the completion of this module, the student:should have developed a critical grasp of the form and content of the traditions of learning and modes of scholarship which feature in the texts studied in class
  • should be able to read, translate and competently analyse selected Arabic texts from a variety of genres, including seminal literary texts from disciplines such as theology, Arabic linguistic thought, jurisprudence and scriptural hermeneutics
  • should have acquired an awareness of the written legacy of the medieval Islamic sciences together with an understanding of the intellectual forces and factors which profoundly shaped their development
  • should have gained knowledge of the overarching theoretical constructs, concepts and paradigms which underpin the discourse of the Arabic texts studied in class
  • should have acquired an understanding of the academic frameworks and methodological issues which feature in the analysis and treatment of classical Islamic literature


This module is taught over 20 weeks with 2 hours classroom contact per week, consisting of a 1-hour lecture and a 1-hour seminar.

Scope and syllabus

During the course of lectures, students will study selected texts from the following disciplines and areas of scholarship:

  • classical jurisprudence: standard compilations on substantive law (furu ‘);  treatises on the roots of law; and legal commentaries
  • Islamic theology: treatises on the precepts of faith and expressions of orthodoxy; polemical tracts; and heresiographical literature
  • Arabic linguistic thought: early grammatical treatises; biographical compilations; philological works
  • Classical hermeneutics: selected topics and themes such as discourse on the inimitability of the Qur’an and modes of abrogation

Method of assessment

• One 3000 word essay submitted on day 1, week 1, term 2 (50%)
• One 3000 word essay submitted on day 1, week 1, term 3 (50%)

Suggested reading

Basic Bibliography:
  • Abed, Shukri. Aristotelian Logic and the Arabic Language in Alfārābī. (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1991).
  • Baalbaki, Ramzi (ed.). The Early Islamic Grammatical Tradition. The Formation of the Classical Islamic World Series. (Aldershot: Ashgate, Variorum, 2007).
  • Bohas, G., J.P. Guillaume, and D. E. Kouloughli. The Arabic Linguistic Tradition. (London and New York: Routledge, 1990).
  • Frank, Richard. Al-Ghazali and the Ash’arite School (London: Duke University Press, 1994).
  • Frank, Richard. Philosophy, Theology and Mysticism in Medieval Islam: Texts and Studies on the Development and History of kalam edited by Dimitri Gutas. (Aldershot: Ashgate, Variorum, 2005).
  • Frank, Richard. Early Islamic Theology: The Mu’tazilites  and al-Ash’ari: Texts and Studies on the Development and History of kalam edited by Dimitri Gutas (Aldershot: Ashgate, Variorum, 2007).
  • Frank, Richard. Early Islamic Theology: the Ash‘arites: Texts and Studies on the Development and History of kalam edited by Dimitri Gutas (Aldershot: Ashgate, Variorum, 2008).
  • Griffel, Frank. Al-Ghazālī’s Philosophical Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
  • Hallaq, Wael. A History of Islamic Legal Theories: an Introduction to Sunni usul al-fiqh (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1997).
  • Hallaq, Wael. An Introduction to Islamic Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
  • Madelung, Wilferd. Religious Schools and Sects in Mediaeval Islam (London: Variorum, 1985).
  • Masud, Khalid, Rudolph Peters, and David S. Powers (editors). Dispensing Justice in Islam: Qadis and their Judgements (Leiden,Boston: E. J.Brill, 2005).
  • Masud, Khalid, Messick Brinkley and David S. Powers (editors) Islamic Legal Interpretation: muftis and their fatwas (New Delhi : Oxford University Press, 2005).
  • Motzki, Harald. The Origins of Islamic Jurisprudence: Meccan Fiqh Before the Classical Schools (translated from the German by Marion H. Katz; Leiden: Brill, 2002).
  • Nagel, Tilman. The History of Islamic Theology: from Muhammad to the Present (translated by Thomas Thornton from the German: Geschichte der islamischen Theologie; Princeton, N. J.: Markus Wiener; Hadleigh: BRAD, 2000).
  • al-Nashshar, Sami. Nashʾat al-Fikr al-Falsafi fī al-Islām. 3 vols, 7th edi. (Cairo: Dār al-Maʿārif, 1977).
  • Nyazee, Imran Ahsan.  The Distinguished Jurist's Primer: a Translation of Ibn Rushd's Bidayat al-Mujtahid wa niyahat al-muqtasid. Reviewed by Muhammad Abdul Rauf (Reading: Garnet Publishing, 1994-6).
  • Van Ess, Joseph. Theologie und Gesellschaft im 2. 3. jahrhundert Hidschra (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995).
  • Versteegh, Kees. Landmarks in Linguistic Thought III: the Arabic Linguistic Tradition (London, New York: Routledge, 1997).
  • Versteegh, Kees. The Arabic Language (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2001).
  • Watt, Montgomery. The Formative Period of Islamic Thought (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 1998).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules