Great Living Religions: Judaism and Islam (640:134:01) Spring 2009

Instructor: Dr. Kenneth Atkinson

Dates: MWF

Office: Baker 154

Time: 11:00-12:50 p.m.

Office Phone: 273-6990

Location: Lang Hall 211

Office Hours: I maintain an open door policy for your convenience. Feel free to drop by my office whenever my door is open. I am always happy to talk with students.


My policy is to answer your message once I have received it. I try to check my e-mail throughout the day, so if you have not heard back from me please be patient.

Mailbox: Baker 135. I check my mailbox each day in case you want to drop something off for me to read.

Course Web Site:

Visit my web site frequently for class updates and links to sites of interest.

Required Texts:


Kirsch, Jonathan. The Woman Who Laughed At God: The Untold History of the Jewish People (Penguin, 2002)


Aslan, Reza. No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam (Random House, 2006)


Wiesel, Elie. Night (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006).


Mattson, Ingrid. The Story of the Qur’an: Its History and Place in Muslim Life (Blackwell, 2008).


Note: You will need a Qur’an for this course. You may use any version. If you wish to purchase a Qur’an, I recommend the following edition:

The Meaning of the Glorious Qur'an: Explanatory Translation Revised and Edited in Modern Standard English, Translated by M. M. Pickthall and revised by Dr. Arafat El-Ashi (Amana Publications, 1996).


Note: You will need a Bible for this course. You may use any version. If you wish to purchase a Bible, I recommend the following edition: The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha, Third Edition, New Revised Standard Version, Michael D. Coogan, General Editor. (Oxford University Press, 2001). This version is available in the university bookstore.

Course Description:

Who is a Jew? What do Jews believe? What is the difference between Sunni and Shi‘ite Islam? What is the origin of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What are some of the similarities and differences between Jews and Muslims? Why is Muhammad important to Muslims? How do Jews and Muslims view Christians? What do the Jewish and Islamic Scriptures have to say about war and peace? How have Judaism and Islam adapted over the centuries? Do all Jews and Muslims live in the Middle East? If you are interested in the answers to these questions, and wish to know more about how Judaism and Islam continue to shape the world in which you live, then this is the course for you. In this class, you will learn the basic doctrines, texts, and religious practices of contemporary Judaism and Islam. During this semester, you will also explore how Judaism and Islam began in Middle East, spread throughout the world, and made unique cultural contributions to western civilization.

During the historical portion of this class, you will explore Jewish and Islamic history by reading major selections from the Old Testament (Tanak) and the Qur’an. You will also read other texts from later Jewish and Islamic history to examine the historical and religious development of both religions. In this class, you will also learn about the religious background to the events of 9/11, the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the current Iraq-Afghanistan war. Because conflicts between Jews and Muslims affect your life, it is important for you to learn something about these ancient faiths. It is not necessary that you know anything about Judaism or Islam to take this class. You will find that this course will not only help you to understand our modern world, but it will also show you the importance of religious literacy for fostering peace. In addition to studying Judaism and Islam, you will also learn how scholars explore the world’s great religions in an academic manner.

Judaism and Islam both possess sacred, or holy, books. Because it is impossible to understand any of these religions without reading from their books, you will spend much time in this class reading and discussing the scriptures of both faiths. You will discover that Jews and Muslims, like the followers of the other major religions of the world, continue to debate how to adapt their ancient texts to modern times. You will find some of the texts that you will read in this course are difficult to understand. This is because they reflect traditions foreign to those in which you have been raised. If you find yourself perplexed when reading some of these texts you are making progress, for my goal is to expose you to other religions, cultures, and new ways of thinking. In class you will discuss and examine these texts together with your fellow classmates to make them appear less strange.

My goals in this course are:

•To provide you with a basic understanding of the foundational beliefs and practices of contemporary Judaism and Islam.

•To help you to appreciate the richness and diversity, as well as the commonalties, of Judaism and Islam.

•To help you learn how Judaism and Islam began and how they have adapted and changed over time.

•To introduce you to other cultures, religious practices, and different ways of thinking.

•To help you understand the war on terror and Islamic views of jihad.

•To help you understand the role that religion plays in the current conflicts in the Middle East.

•To make you aware of the need for religious dialogue in our contemporary world in order to overcome ignorance and


Course Requirements:

1. Attendance/Class Participation (approximately 20% of grade). This course requires your active participation. Because you have chosen to take this class, I assume that you want to learn as much as possible about Judaism and Islam. If so, then please be certain to arrive on time ready to share your ideas and thoughts on the assigned readings. As a member of this class, please be respectful of other students regardless of whether or not you agree with their opinions. I also expect you to remain open to new ideas throughout this course, which is the first requirement of the academic study of religion. Because attendance is critical to understand the material and texts that we will study, I will deduct a few points for more than three unexcused absences when I determine your final grade. I assume that you will miss a few classes due to illnesses, university activities, or other life issues. Only unexcused absences will be penalized, so if you have a good reason for missing class I will not count your absence. If you are sick, you do not need to obtain a note from a doctor or nurse to prove your illness. I will trust you, so just let me know that you were ill, and I will not count your absence. Whether your absence is excused or not, you are required to keep up with the readings and lectures. If you miss a class, I suggest that you obtain copies of the notes from a fellow student. I am always happy to sit down with you and go over any material at any time. I am pleased to have you in my class if you are involved in any university program (sports, ROTC, student government, etc.) that may occasionally prevent you from attending this course. Please provide me with a letter by January 12th about your activity or program, the name and phone number of a contact person, and the projected number of absences.

2. Quizzes (4 total; approximately 40% of grade). There are four quizzes. Each quiz covers the assigned readings and the lectures. All quizzes are worth fifty (50) points. There are no make-up quizzes. The quizzes will cover major events, people, places, and vocabulary from the assigned readings and material presented in class. Because we have much material to cover in this class, I may not discuss each reading in depth. I like to include a few questions on material that I did not explain in class in order to reward you for reading the assigned texts. You are always free to ask me questions in class about any of the assigned readings to help you prepare for the quizzes.

3. Exams (4 exams; approximately 40% of grade). There are four (4) exams in this class. Each exam includes identifications of events, terms, names, quotations, multiple-choice, and sentences for you to complete with the appropriate word. You must be present for the exams: no make-up exams will be given unless you have an excused absence in advance or some legitimate emergency! The exams are not cumulative.

4. Extra Credit. You may attend two presentations at UNI for extra credit. I will announce these in class. To receive credit, you must write a one-two page summary telling me what you thought of the event.

General Comments: I am required by the university to provide you with the following information.

•Grading: When I calculate your final grade, I will look at how you have improved during the class. I like to see evidence of intellectual development over the course of the semester. I will reward you for your contributions to the class discussions and your regular attendance. If you simply show up for each class, do the readings, and participate in class discussions, as well as study the assigned materials, you should have no trouble receiving an excellent grade for this course.

•Reading: In addition to the readings listed on this syllabus, I will periodically send you short readings about current events by e-mail. These will be sent to your university e-mail account. You must have access to your assigned UNI e-mail address for this class. If you need help with your university e-mail account, please consult the ITS home page for assistance ( Make certain that you periodically delete old messages since these accounts are rather small.

•Final Exam: Note the Final Examination Schedule in your Spring 2009 Schedule of Classes (page 17) or the UNI website ( Please read this information and keep this chart handy since some exams are scheduled for different dates and times. I am required to adhere to this schedule unless you follow the procedures described on page 17 of your Spring 2009 Schedule of Classes. It is a good idea to hold onto this book since it contains much useful information. Pay particular attention to the Liberal Arts Core requirements on page 18 of this book or the UNI website ( I am always happy to answer any questions you may have about this chart or the university. The final exam is not a cumulative test, but only covers the last portion of the course.

•Policy on Late Work: All assignments must be completed for class on the day listed on the syllabus. Late submissions will not be accepted. No exceptions! If you do not show up for an exam, presentation, or quiz, you will receive zero points for that exam, presentation, or quiz.

•Disabilities and Assistive Testing Services: Assistive Testing Services are provided to enrolled students approved by the University of Northern Iowa Office of Disabilities Services for accommodations. Alternative testing formats, as well as auxiliary aids such as readers, scribes, or assistive technology, are available. Tests are to be scheduled in advance with the Department of Academic Services -- Examination Services Office. The test service is provided for University course tests and final examinations (not quizzes) to students enrolled in classes that are unable to provide the approved accommodations (i.e. extended time, large print options, reader/recorder, or computer testing). Course testing accommodations are based on disability documentation as determined by the University of Northern Iowa Disabilities Services. I will make every effort to accommodate disabilities. Please contact me if I can be of assistance in this area. All qualified students with disabilities are protected under the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C.A., Section 12101. The ADA states, “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.” Students requesting instructional accommodations due to disabilities must arrange for such accommodations through Student Disability Services. The Office of Disability Services is located in 103 Student Health Center (319-273-2676 [Voice] or 319-273-3011 [TTY]). Email: See page 10 of your Spring 2009 Schedule of Classes for more information or consult the Office of Disability Services website (

•Discrimination: It is the policy of the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) not to discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, age, disability, veteran status, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or any other basis protected by federal and/or state law. Further details concerning UNI’s policies may be found in your Spring 2009 Schedule of Classes (pages 12-13). For additional information, visit:,

•Plagiarism: Any attempt to present someone else’s work as your own is plagiarism, and may result in an “F” for the course. The University of Northern Iowa has a very specific policy statement related to the issue of plagiarism. This policy statement can be found in several places on the UNI website, but it is most prominent in the UNI Student Handbook in Section 3.01 “Academic Ethics/Discipline” ( You should become familiar with the Academic Ethics Policies found at this website or in the University Catalog.

•Weather Policy: My policy is to conduct class as long as the university is open. You will find additional information on my weather policy, as well as your local weather, on my web site. I do not expect you to risk your life to attend this class. If you feel that it is not safe for you to attend class, then please stay home. I will trust your judgment and allow you to make up any assignments you have missed without penalty. Just let me know that you could not attend class due to the weather and I will not count your absence. For UNI’s weather policy, see:





Week 1—Introduction to Judaism and Islam

January 12

Class Introduction

January 14

Defining the Terms: Basic Concepts

January 16

Religion and Story: Sacred Texts

Week 2—A Common Ancestor

January 19

No Class: Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday

January 21

Abraham: Ancestor of Jews, Christians, and Muslims

Kirsch, Chapter 1

Bible: Genesis 12-21:11

January 23

Abraham and the Covenant

Week 3—Moses, Torah, and Scripture

January 26

Torah and Community

Kirsch, Chapter 2

Bible: Exodus 1-20, 32-34

Bible: Deuteronomy 5

January 28

Moses: Exodus and Festivals

January 30

Moses: Rituals

Quiz # 1

Week 4—The Kingdom: Loss and Recovery

February 2

Women of the Bible

Kirsch, Chapter 3

February 4

The Fighting Jew

Kirsch, Chapter 4

February 6

Twenty-Four Judaisms

Kirsch, Chapter 5

Week 5—Major Religious Themes: Israel and the Messiah

February 9

Israel and Nationalism

February 11

The Diaspora

February 13

Exam One

Week 6—Islamic Arabia and the Life of Muhammad

February 16

The Pre-Islamic Arabia

Aslan, Chapter 1

February 18

The Life of Muhammad: Mecca (Part 1)

Aslan, Chapter 2

February 20

The Life of Muhammad: Mecca (Part 2)

Week 7—The Life of Muhammad and the Ummah

February 23

The Life of Muhammad: Medina

Aslan, Chapter 3

February 25

The Life of Muhammad: The Meaning of Jihad

Aslan, Chapter 4

February 27

The Life of Muhammad: Return to Mecca

Quiz # 2

Week 8—The Qur’an

March 2

Muhammad and the Qur’an

Qur’an: Suras 1-2, 9, 17, 48

Mattson, Chapters 1-2

March 4

The Qur’an: Basic Teachings (Part 1)

Qur’an: Suras 10, 12, 14, 19, 21, 55, 62-76, 97-114

Mattson, Chapter 3-4

March 6

The Qur’an: Basic Teachings (Part 2)

Mattson, Chapters 5-6

Week 9—Major Forms of Islam

March 9

The Caliphate and the Division of Islam

Aslan, Chapter 5

March 11

Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Sufis

March 13

Exam Two

Week 10—Spring Break: March 16-20 (No Class)

Week 11—Law and Tradition in Judaism and Islam

March 23

Jewish Law and Talmud

Kirsch, Chapter 6-7

March 25

Islamic Law and Tradition

Aslan, Chapter 6

March 27

Jewish and Islamic Encounters with Others Cultures

Week 12—After The Holocauast

March 30


Kirsch, Chapter 8

April 1

The Holocaust: History

April 3

The Holocaust: Night

Wiesel, Night

Quiz # 3

Week 13—Major Forms of Contemporary Judaism

April 6

Major Forms of Contemporary Judaism

April 8


Kirsch, Chapter 9

April 10

Exam Three

Week 14—The Challenge of Modernity in Light of Recent Conflicts

April 13

Judaism and Modernity in Light of Recent Conflicts

Kirsch, Chapter 10

April 15

Islam and Modernity: Peace and Conflict (Part 1)

Aslan, Chapters 7-8

April 17

Islam and Modernity: Peace and Conflict (Part 2)

Aslan, Chapters 9-10

Week 15—The Arab-Israeli Conflict

April 20

The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

April 22

Wars and Peace: 1956, 1967, 1973, and 1977-1978

April 24

The Intifada and Recent Events

Quiz # 4
Week 16—Understanding the Roots of 9/11

April 27

The Making of a Modern Terrorist

April 29

The Taliban, Bin Laden, and Contemporary Jihad

May 1

Contemporary Terrorism, the 9/11 Commission, and War on Terror

Week 17—Final Exam Week

May 5


Exam Four 10:00-11:50 p.m.

Note: This is not our normal meeting day.