NEAR E 234 A: Introduction to Shi'i Islam

Spring 2022
TTh 4:30pm - 5:50pm / DEN 111
Section Type:
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

                        NEAR E 234 A Sp 22: Introduction To Shi'i Islam



Instructor: Terri DeYoung                                                                           Class Location: 303 Denny Hall

Office: 246Denny Hall                                                                                             Class Time: TTh 4:30-5:50

(on the same floor as the NELC Dept. Office)                                                  Schedule Line Number: 17927 (2022)

Telephone: 543-6184 (direct)

                or 543-6033 (main office--leave message)

Office Hours: on line (by appointment through e-mail)



Description of Course: This course will focus on the Shi’i branch of Islam in the context of the larger Muslim community. Shi‘is comprise the second largest group of Muslim adherents, approximately 150-200 million, or 10-15% of Muslims world-wide. Shi’is form the majority of the Muslim population of Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan and Bahrayn. They are a substantial portion of the population in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Pakistan, India. Saudi Arabia and several of the Gulf States.

After a short review of the general framework of Islam as a religion, in the second two-thirds of the course we will explore what the basic beliefs of Shi’ism are today, and how they developed over time. Attention will be paid to the institutional framework of Shi'ism in the cultural and intellectual sphere. During the classes we will look at the three groups of Shi’is who have been most widespread and influential in the history of Shi‘ism: Ithna ‘Asharis, Zaydis and Isma‘ilis, including their theological principles and legal systems. These groups have used both Arabic and Persian to spread their ideas, but all the materials for the course will be IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION. No knowledge of Arabic or Persian is required for the course. There are no pre-requisites.




Learning Objectives

            At the conclusion of the course, students will have developed expertise in the following subject areas: 

  1. The geographical range of Shi‘i populations in the Muslim world in the current day.
  2. The basic religious principles that have been articulated by various Shi‘i Muslim denominations as relevant to their faith.
  3. How the Shi‘a observe the “Five Pillars” of Islam.
  4. The cultural beliefs of Shi‘i communities today and how they developed.
  5. An understanding of the historical experience of the Shi‘a.
  6. A knowledge of the basic vocabulary from Arabic and Persian relevant to categorizing and understanding Shi‘i texts, even in English translation.
  7. Basic knowledge of the Shi‘a legal system and how it relates to the broader framework of Islamic law.




Course Requirements


Exams: There will be three exams for the course. Two of them will be midterms. The first will be tentatively (=no earlier than) scheduled for Thursday, 14 April, 2022 (based on a list of terms to be distributed in the first week of classes). The second midterm is tentatively scheduled for 12 May, 2022. It will be based on a second list of terms that will be distributed no later than 26 April, 2022. There will also be a take-home Final Exam (due date will tentatively be the last day of exam week, Friday 10 June, 2022). It will be based on a set of questions distributed no later than 3 class sessions before the end of the course. The Midterms will count for 30% of the total grade (15% each), and the Final Exam will count for 40%.

                Students will have the option to substitute (with the instructor’s permission, obtained at least two weeks in advance of the end of classes) a final paper (about 5-8 pages in length) for the take-home final exam. This paper will be due on the same day as the final exam.


Other Assignments:

10% of the grade for the course will be based on a 2 pp. paper due on Sunday 3 April at midnight. The topic of the paper will be “Why am I taking this course and what do I hope to learn from it?” If you have any questions about the topic or the due date, please feel free to ask Professor DeYoung.

            An additional 10% of the total grade will be based on 3 discussion post questions assigned throughout the quarter on days following a lecture. For example, the first discussion post (due on Wednesday 13 April at midnight) will be: “Who, in your opinion are the more important individuals in Shi‘i Islam: ‘Ali, or his sons Hasan and Husayn?” Canvas drop-boxes will be set up for all the discussion posts, and they will be noted on the “Assignment List” handout.

The remaining 10% of the grade will be based on in-class participation. This means that you will be expected to have read the handouts and the “Required Readings” listed in the Canvas modules before coming to class, and do whatever other reading is necessary so that you can participate actively in the class discussions. Asking at least one question in the course of the Zoom session will count as “active participation.” Regular attendance (according to University Regulations)  cannot be included in this portion of the grade, so it is up to the student to participate in the class discussion, in order to receive full credit for "class participation."


 Any of these assignments, if turned in or completed late, may be subject to an automatic .3 deduction from the grade originally assigned. Late work (even with a .3 deduction) will not be accepted after the last day of class, Friday June 3 at midnight.  It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that all assignments are submitted on time and in readable format to the instructor.



UW Standard Grading (Chart)


The UW uses a numerical grading system, with certain exceptions in the schools of Dentistry, Law, and Medicine. Instructors may report grades from 4.0 to 0.7 in 0.1 increments and the grade 0.0. The number 0.0 is assigned for failing work or if a student does not officially withdraw. Grades in the range 0.6 to 0.1 may not be assigned. Grades reported in this range are converted by the Office of the University Registrar to 0.0. Numerical grades may be considered equivalent to letter grades as follows:

Letter Grade

























Lowest passing grade.



Academic failure.
No credit earned.

Additional information on grades and scholarship rules may be obtained from the Graduation and Academic Records Office, 2nd Floor or from the following web page: University of Washington Office of the Registrar

Grades for this course, on the 4.0 scale, will be posted on Catalyst This is the most reliable website for consulting your grades.


            If Spring Quarter 2022 is designated an “extraordinary circumstances quarter” (as happened with Winter Quarter 2022), then grading policies will be adjusted. If necessary, Prof. DeYoung will discuss this in class, and an announcement will be circulated on Canvas




            Plagiarism occurs whenever someone uses the ideas or writings of another as their own without giving due credit. This applies to both exams and papers. All policies in place concerning academic honesty at the University of Washington apply to this course.  It is the student’s responsibility to become fully informed about those policies. Refer to the University of Washington Student Conduct Code (WAC 478120), for more information on the subject, or Search “Student Academic Responsibility” on the University of Washington homepage.



Recommendations: Professor DeYoung will be happy to write a recommendation for any student who receives a 4.0 in this course or in any of her other courses.


Exam Comments: If you would like to have your Final Take-Home Exam questions (or your paper) include comments or feedback, please inform Professor DeYoung, in writing, before you submit those assignments. It may take longer to grade these final assignments with comments or feedback, because they take more time to complete.


Additional Credits: If a student wants to sign up for additional credits for the class or do independent studies (including senior essays) in other quarters, s/he needs to contact Professor DeYoung as soon as possible. All such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.


Required Texts


There is one required textbook for the course: Heinz Halm, The Shiites: A Short History. It is available at the University Bookstore.


 Other required texts will be available on Canvas or online at the University Library website.  If you think you cannot receive the texts this way, please talk to the instructor as soon as possible, in order to make suitable arrangements so that you can get access to the texts (for example, by email attachment).


All the Required Readings for the course will be either taken mostly from The Shiites. A few may taken from Frederick Denny, An Introduction to Islam, 4th Ed. (available online through the Suzzallo Library website), or from articles posted in the “Modules” section on Canvas.


Recommended Readings are listed in the “Assignments” Handout and are for the most part available on the Suzzallo / Allen website, on line.


Supplemental Readings will mostly be found in the Suzzallo/Allen Library, either in the “Reference” area or in the stacks.


You should inform the instructor as soon as possible if you have any difficulty obtaining one of these recommended or supplemental readings. Extensions are not granted on the basis of being unable to access source material.



Additional Class Information:


Class Breaks. Whenever possible, there will be a break of approximately 10 minutes halfway through each of the Zoom sessions. This will be an opportunity for students to conduct any personal business necessary outside of the classroom.


For Students with Special Needs: If you would like to request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact Disabled Student Services, 448 Schmitz, (206) 543-8924 (V/TTY). If you have a letter from Disabled Student Services indicating you have a disability that requires academic accommodations, please present the letter to the instructor as soon as possible so we can discuss the accommodations you might need for the class.


Religious Accommodation starting in Autumn 2019, the University of Washington started implementation of the following new policy about arrangements for religious observances:


“Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy ( Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (”

More information on the policy is available on the webpage for the Office of the University Registrar.

In 2022, Ramadan (the month of fasting from sunrise to sunset) runs approximately from Friday 1 April to Monday 1 May. During that time, we will hold our class sessions on Zoom, with the exception of Thursday 14 April when we will meet in our classroom for the 1st midterm.

In addition, Christians will be celebrating the Easter holiday from Friday 15 April to Monday 18 April. Similarly, Jews will be observing Passover from Friday 15 April to Saturday 23 April. Any class obligations occurring during that time period can be postponed (without penalty) by requesting, in writing, such a postponement from the instructor.

Access to the class:


You will need to make arrangements to have access to our course Canvas website: and to our virtual meeting space which will be conducted via Zoom Video Conferencing . You will also need to have access to a camera and audio on your computer in order to participate in the sessions.

You will be prompted to sign into our Zoom sessions with your UW Net- ID which will allow you to join our online sessions when we begin TTh 4:30-5:50. Access to both platforms (Canvas and Zoom) will be necessary for completing homework assignments and for earning class participation points.

Zoom sessions will be recorded for this class. Your enrollment in NE 234 constitutes acceptance of the terms and conditions posted on the UW Zoom site.

Classroom Courtesy:

Since the consumption of food often interferes with class participation and is distracting to others, students are requested to avoid this in our Zoom. Once Ramadan begins (Tuesday 5 April) until it ends (Tuesday 3 May). it would be polite to refrain from both eating and drinking while your cameras are turned on. Your cooperation will be appreciated.



                                 Academic Works on Shi’ism


            The number of books (and their approaches) to the Shi‘at ‘Ali (the “Party of ‘Ali,” the Arabic phrase from which the noun Shi‘ism is derived) has always been affected by the fact that the group has been a minority (10%-20%) within the larger group of Muslims. Nevertheless, Shi‘i history had an important role within the development of Islam as a religion. Shi‘i doctrine and theology has also had a rich internal history as well an appreciable intersection with trends within Islam as a whole. It is not really possible to understand Islam as a religion without the study of Shi‘ism.

            Similarly, Shi‘ism had an important political role in the development of an identifiably Muslim community. Because early Muslim rulers (following the directives of the Qur’an) did not require their subjects to abandon their religious beliefs and adopt the new religion, conversion to Islam was a slow process, and most regions of the Islamic caliphate did not become majority Muslim until about 200-300 years after the conquests began in 634 C.E. Members of the Shi‘ite community participated in the early history of Islam, of course, and they played an important role in the establishment of the ‘Abbasid caliphate in the late 700s and early 800s). In the fourth Islamic century (roughly 912-1009 C.E.), many of the ruling dynasties (from Andalus in the west to the Sind river in the east) became Shi‘i. This period of the political prominence of Shi‘ism is often called the “Shi‘i century” although it lasts a bit longer than a century, from approximately 945-1118 C.E.

            In the twentieth century the interest in Shi‘ism among scholars in the West was largely limited to specialists and historians of the country of Iran until the Iranian revolution of 1979. Before that time, there were useful specialist studies on various groups of Shi‘ites and individuals within those groupings, but nothing that attempted an introduction to the broader phenomenon. Most of what is available, even now, tends to be polemical in its approach, either pro- or anti- Shi‘i, or favoring one group of Shi‘is over the others.

                        This situation began to change in the latter half of the twentieth century and into the third millennium. There were several important studies produced in the wake of the 1979 Iranian revolution, which tended to focus on the Twelver (Ithna ‘ashari) branch of Shi‘ism which predominates in Iran. These include Heinz Halm’s (a German scholar of Shi‘ism) many books (of which the textbook for this course is one), Moojan Momen’s An Introduction to Shi‘ism (1985) (available on line through the University of Washington’s website), and the groundbreaking Sayyed Hossein Nasr’s translation of ‘Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba‘i’s (1903-1981) book Shi‘ite Islam (on three-day reserve in Suzzallo, Call Number: BP193.5 T3213) from Persian into English. This last book was the first scholarly translation of an entire work by an important contemporary Shi‘a scholar into English One might also want to include here Roy Mottahedeh’s The Mantle of the Prophet (1985), an award-winning ethnography that examines the development of Twelver Shi‘ism through the eyes of a young religious student, or mullah in the city of Qum (a center of Shi‘i studies in Iran). A hard-copy of this book will be available on reserve (for three-day check-out) at Suzzallo Library (Call Number: BP192.7 I68 M67 1985).

            In 2014, a new wave of academic books on Shi‘ism began to emerge. They generally focus on specific Shi‘i groups (like the Zaydis and Isma‘ilis) whose histories and beliefs have been understudied (both in the Muslim world and the West) or Shi‘ism in specific times or places. They include the important works by Farhad Daftary on Isma‘ilism and Rula Jurdi Abisaab's books on Shi‘ism in the Safavid period (Converting Persia, second edition 2015) and various modern countries like Lebanon and Iraq (for example, The Shi‘ites of Lebanon, 2014.  These books provide, collectively, a much more detailed and nuanced picture of aspects of Shi‘ism than was available earlier. Because they are so specialized (and are written for an academic audience), however, they do not serve well as introductory texts. A notable example from this group is Najam Haider's Shi‘i Islam: An Introduction (2014). This book is full of new and well contextualized information about Shi‘ism in many different places and times of its history, but it may be too theoretical for those who do not already have some acquaintance with the movement

GE Requirements Met:
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated:
July 16, 2024 - 5:19 pm