The Journal for MultiMediaHistory
Volume 1 Number 1 ~ Fall 1998
 

Teaching Islamic Civilization with Information Technology

Corinne Blake

 

New types of information technology such as the Internet and CD-ROM can be used to enhance courses in colleges and universities. A large amount of primary material about Islam and Islamic civilizations, for example, is available to students through the Internet, including full texts of the Qur'an in various translations, several collections of Hadith (records of the Prophet Muhammadís words and deeds), Shi`i and Sufi religious texts, and classics works of Islamic literature. Since this material is mostly translated, it is of limited interest to advanced graduate students, but it is appropriate for undergraduate courses on Islamic religion, history, and civilization as well as for survey courses in world history. Using material from the Internet provides students with access to primary sources and research material that is often unavailable at smaller institutions. It can also expose students to different points of view within the Muslim community. The challenge for already overextended professors is figuring out how to locate these materials and incorporate them into courses. After reviewing primary source material for teaching Islamic civilization that is available online, I'll discuss methods and issues related to incorporating Internet material into courses.

 

A photograph of the Hala Masque, from the www.cco.caltech.edu site
A photograph of the Hala Masque,
from the www.cco.caltech.edu site.

Primary Materials for Teaching Islamic Civilization

The Qur'an online
Hadith and Fiqh online
Material about Shi`ism
Material about Sufism
Islamic Literature
Islamic Art and Architecture
Miscellaneous Tools

Incorporating Internet Material into Courses

Course Web Pages
CD-ROM
Internet Assignments

 

Primary Materials for Teaching Islamic Civilization

The Qur'an online

The Qur'an. Graphic image from the http://www.quran.org.uk/ Web site.
The Qur'an. Graphic image from
the www.quran.org.uk/ Web site.
Students can access several translations, or interpretations, of the Qur'an through the Internet. Reading Qur'an on the Internet, rather than (or in addition to) buying a copy, enables students to read and compare different interpretations, use search functions to quickly locate passages on topics of interest, view the Arabic text, read it in transliteration, and/or hear Qur'an recitation. Not surprisingly, most of the material related to the Qur'an and other religious material was put on the Internet by Muslim groups, especially Muslim Student Associations at various universities. As a result, most of these sites contain pamphlets on a wide variety of topics related to the Qur'an and Islam in general in addition to primary source material.

Searchable, full text interpretations of the Qur'an by reputable scholars are available through the Internet in hypertext format. Perhaps the easiest way to locate this material is to go to a site that includes links to several different interpretations. A Muslim group in the U.K. maintains a site at http://www.quran.org.uk/ that provides links to eight different English interpretations of the Qur'an, including widely used versions by Marmaduke Pickthall, M.H. Shakir, and Yusuf Ali. The Quran Browser home page, at http://goon.stg.brown.edu/quran_browser/pqform.shtml, provides links to five translations, with a sophisticated search function. Clicking on the highlighted name of the translator, then on one of the surahs listed, brings up the passages on a line by line basis. To bring up the whole surah at once, type the name of the surah into the form at the top of the page. Another site at http://islam.org/Mosque/Quran.htm, part of the Islami City Web page, includes links to interpretations by Yusuf Ali and T.B. Irving. The T.B. Irving version includes a short introduction to each surah (chapter), with information about when the surah was revealed.

Graphic image from the http://www.islam-usa.com Web site.
Graphic image from
the www.islam-usa.com Web site.

Since the links in these sites don't always work, it is helpful to list alternative sites where students can find the assigned interpretation. The Yusuf Ali version with a subject list is available at yet another site, http://www.umr.edu/~msaumr/Quran/, maintained by the M.S.A. at the University of Missouri-Rolla. Other copies of Shakirís interpretation are located at http://etext.virginia.edu/koran.html, http://info.uah.edu/msa/quranShakir.html and http://www.hti.umich.edu/relig/koran/. The latter site allows students to use several different methods to search the text for passages of interest. The T.B. Irving version is available at http://www.islam-usa.com/quran.html. A different interpretation by Muhammad Taqi ud-Din al-Hilani and Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan with a glossary and introductions to each surah is available from the U.N.N. Islamic Society in the United Kingdom at http://www.unn.ac.uk/societies/islamic/quran/neindex.htm. A translation by Maulvi Sher Ali can be found at http://www.utexas.edu/students/amso/quran_html/.

The M.S.A. at U.S.C. maintains a helpful site that enables students to compare different interpretations of the Qurían on a line by line basis. To access this site, go to the address http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran, scroll down to "Chapters of the Qur'an," and chose a surah. Translations of each line of the surah by three different scholars, Shakir, Pickthall, and Ali, appear listed together line by line. The site includes a comprehensive index as well as a search function. The Quran Browser home page, at http://goon.stg.brown.edu/quran_browser/pqform.shtml also permits comparisons of different translations. Students can bring up a passage, then click on "all" to see the passage displayed in a table showing five different interpretations. It is also possible to read a passage or surah at this site, then click on one of four other translations of the same passage.

The M.S.A. at the University of Southern California provides another useful source at the same address; they have put excerpts from Syed Abu-Alaí Maududiís noted commentary, The Meaning of the Qurían, online. Though severely abridged, the online version includes useful introductions to each surah, with information about the surah's name, a discussion of historical events related to the text, and exegesis of the surah's themes. Maududiís commentary can also be accessed through the Islamic Societyís site in the U.K. at: http://www.unn.ac.uk/societies/islamic/quran/intro/iindex.htm.

Photograph from the Muslim Sisterís Web site
Graphic image from
the Muslim Sisterís Web site.
Students who want to read what the Qurían has to say about womenís issues without spending hours leafing through an index can go to a home page that contains a collection of ayahs (verses) related to women. To access this site, visit the Muslim Sisterís home page at http://www.albany.edu/~ha4934/sisters.html, scroll down the first section, and click on the article entitled "177 Ayahs about Women in the Qurían." Students should be cautioned that only verses containing the word "women" are listed; the Qur'an includes information about divorce laws, for example, that does not appear in this collection. Information about a specific issue is best located by performing a search.

Sometimes it is helpful to have students read the Bible for comparative purposes. Since there are a number of sites on the Internet with full text versions of the Bible as well as search functions, students can easily locate assigned passages. Students could be asked to read the story of Noah in the Qur'an and the Bible, for example, or compare the story of Joseph in these texts. Or each student could chose a topic and search the Qur'an and the Bible to compare their viewpoints. Perhaps the easist way to locate these translations is through the Bible Gateway at http://bible.gospelcom.net/bible?. This site, sponsored by Gospel Communication Networks, includes links to six translations of the Bible with a variety of search options. A site at Princeton University, http://www.music.princeton.edu/chant_html/bibles.html, contains a number of links to Bible translations. The King James Version and the Revised Standard Version can also be accessed through a site at the University of Virginia, at http://etext.virginia.edu/relig.browse.html. Full text versions of the King James edition of the Bible with search capabilities are available at http://www.hti.umich.edu/relig/kjv and at http://estragon.uchicago.edu/ Bibles/. The Revised Standard edition of the Bible with search capabilities is also available online at http://www.hti.umich.edu/relig/rsv. Students could also be asked to read specific passages in the Torah, which is available online at http://bible.ort.org/bible/index/inx_pent.htm, with hyperlinked commentary.

Students can also read (or at least see!) the Qur'an written in Arabic through the Internet. There are several sites which include full text versions of the Qur'an in Arabic. Perhaps the easiest way to access these sites is through Ibrahim Shafi's comprehensive "Islam Page," which includes links to three sites with Qur'ans in Arabic. Go to this page at http://www.islamworld.net/ and click on the section "Qur'an." The Islam Page also includes a link to the Muslim Society site in the U.K. where each verse is written both in Arabic and in an English translation. To reach this site directly, go to http://www.unn.ac.uk/societies/islamic/quran/naeindex.htm.

The "Qur'an" section of the Islam Page includes links to sites where one can hear the Qur'an recited by various shaykhs. To hear these recitations, one needs a computer with multimedia capabilities; it is also necessary to download audio software such as RealAudio player or True Speech player. The Islami City Web site has put a recitation of the entire Qur'an by renowned reciter Shaykh Khalil al-Husari online at http://www.islamicity.org/radio/ch100.htm; one can also download Real Audio from this site. Other recitations are available through a site in the U.K. at http://www.almanar.org/qs/allqs.html and through the Islamic Center of Blacksburg at http://www.bev.net/community/sedki/icb_huth.htm. Students can also listen Qurían recitations on CD-ROMs such as Alim and Islamic Scholar (see below for more discussion of these CD ROMs).

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Hadith and Fiqh online

Cover of Al-Maqasid, from
Al-Maqasid Web site.
A large amount of material from various Hadith collections, records of the Prophet Muhammadís words and deeds, is available through the Internet. The M.S.A. at U.S.C. has put reputable, full text translations of Hadith collections by al-Bukhari and Malikís al-Muwatta online through the following address: http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah. (Bukhariís hadith is also available at http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~calmsa/sahih.html.) This site also contains partial translations of Hadith collections by two other Hadith scholars, Muslim and Abu-Dawud. Since these collections are arranged by topic—revelation, ablutions, Friday prayer, witnesses, manumission of slaves, and so on—students can easily locate sections of interest; there is also a search function. Other interesting primary source material is available through the U.S.C. site, such as translations of Hadith Qudsi, sayings revealed to God by Muhammad but narrated in the Prophet's words.

To my knowledge, extensive collections of Sunni fiqh, Islamic jurisprudence, are not yet available online. In addition to Malikís al-Muwatta mentioned above, one can access a readable translation of a book written by the thirteenth century Shafi`i scholar, al-Imam Nawawi, at (http://www.nbic.org/isru/Resources/Maqasid). This book, entitled al-Maqasid: Ma Yajibu Ma`rifatuhu min al-Din (The Objectives: What is Necessary to Know of the Religion), includes three sections: "Fundamentals of Faith and Sacred Law," "Purification," and "Prayer." It also contains text notes drawn from commentary translated from `Umdat al-Salik (Reliance of the Traveler) by Ahmed ibn Naqib al-Misri.

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Material about Shi'ism

Thanks to the efforts of the Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project, a lot of primary source material related to Shi'ism is available on the Internet. Ahlul Baytís homepage, at http://www.al-islam.org/organizations/dilp contains links to reputable translations of many full-length classic texts such as Nahjul Balagha, a collection of over two hundred sermons, letters, and sayings by 'Ali ibn-Abu-Talib and Sahifa al-Kamilah, a collection of supplications by `Ali ibn Husayn, considered to be one of the oldest Islamic prayer manuals. A separate translation of the Supplication of Kumayl, one of the best-known prayers, includes extensive commentary, a recitation of the supplication, and an Arabic-English version. In addition to classical material, the Ahlul Bayt site includes links to full text translations of more contemporary material, from Peshawar Nights to legal rulings by Ayatallah 'Ali al-Sistani. A page on Islamic laws according to the fatawa (legal decisions) of Ayatallah `Ali al-Sistani, for example (at http://www.al-islam.org/laws/index.html), contains a fascinating discussion of issues such as purity and the concept of filth in Shi`ite law. This well-organized and comprehensive site also contains information about pilgrimage, with maps, information, and pictures of Shi`i shrines and graves in a number of Middle Eastern countries. Much of this material, including the translated texts, can also be accessed through the Shi`a homepage, at http://www.shia.org/

A related site, at http://www.al-islam.org/, includes links to some of the same translations, as well as additional works. Click on the section entitled "The Infallibles," for example, then click on "Writings and Sermons." There are a number of useful links here, including translations of Nahjul Balagha, al-Sahifa al-Kamila, and Du`a Kumayl (with a recitation), and Imam Husaynís "Sermon of Mina." The "Biography" section in "The Infallibles" includes links to lists of the Imams, biographies of the Imams, information about the graves and shrines of the Imams, and a geneology of the Quraysh and the Imams. "Sayings" has selections (but not the full text) of Hadith from various Imams, such as selections from Usul al-Kafi; "Pearls of Wisdom" includes stories of the infallibles and their companions. The Shiite Encyclopedia, which is available at this site, http://www.al-islam.org/encyclopedia, includes a lot of legal information which may be of interest to students, such as a long discussion about the institution of mut'a, or temporary marriage (scroll down to chapter 6), and comparisons of laws about prayer, modesty, fasting, etc. in the five different law schools.  

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Material about Sufism

Shaykh Muhammad Nazim al-Haqqani.
Shaykh Muhammad
Nazim al-Haqqani.
From the Web site of
The Haqqani Foundation.

Most of the material on the Internet related to Sufism, Islamic mysticism, that I have located is more contemporary in nature; nonetheless, there are still a few sites and sources that could be used in courses or segments on Islamic civilization. Several Sufi orders have Web pages with lots of information about their order, including biographies of their current shaykh and information about the order's history, philosophy, practices, dhikrs, (mantras) etc. Some of these sites are extremely elaborate, with the homepage including recitation of the order's dhikr, flashing pictures of the order's shayks, etc., and are worth visiting for that reason as well. The Haqqani Foundation has an extensive homepage with a large amount of information about Sufism and the Naqshbandi order at http://www.naqshbandi.net/haqqani/haqqani_english.html. The Naqshabandi order has another large site at http://www.naqshbandi.org/. Other Sufi orders that have developed Web pages including the Nimatullahi order, which has a site at http://www.nimatullahi.org and the Qadiri-Rifa`i order, which has a site at http://www.qadiri-rifai.org/index.html. A Web page at http://www.armory.com/~thrace/sufi/index.html includes translations of a number of poems by Mevlana Jamal al-Din al-Rumi, a few pictures from Konya, and links to a number of selections of Mevlevi music music (you need access to Real Audio to hear these).

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Whirling Dervishes.
Konya - The mystic ceremony of the Whirling Dervishes.
Source: http://www.ege.edu.tr/Turkiye/si/Konya.html Web site.

Islamic Literature

Since there are many older translations of classic works of Islamic literature, where copyright is not an issue, one can also access translations of Islamic literature that might be of use for courses on Islamic civilization. One of the best ways to find translations is through a Web page maintained by Columbia University's library at http://www.columbia.edu/cu/libraries/indiv/area/MiddleEast/literatures.html, which includes links to a large amount of classic and contemporary literature and poetry, including Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Kurdish literature. There are several sites that contain translations of individual classes, such as 1001 Nights. A hypertext version of Sir Richard Burtonís translation is available at http://www.techfak.uni-bielefeld.de/techfak/ags/ti/personen/mfreeric/m/an/a_index.html and a hypertext version of Andrew Langís turn of the century translation is available at the same site, http://www.techfak.uni-bielefeld.de/techfak/ags/ti/personen/mfreeric/m/an/lang/lang_index.html. Project Gutenberg, which puts full-text versions of works without copyright online, has links to translations of 1001 Nights at http://tom.cs.cmu.edu/cgi-bin/book/lookup?num=128.

Drawing by Nurullah Berk, from http://www.cs.rpi.edu/~sibel/poetry.
Drawing by Nurullah Berk,
from a Turkish poetry Web site.
Scholars seem to have been most active in putting classics of Persian literature and poetry online, both in Persian and in translation. A site entitled "Treasures of Persian Literature," at a university in Japan, http://www.cit.ics.saitama-u.ac.jp/hobbies/iran includes links to full text originals and classic translations of an impressive number of Persian classics, including Ferdowsi's Shahname, The Gulistan of Saadi, Ghazels by Hafiz, and the Rubiat of Omar Khayyam. The main page of this site, at http://www.cit.ics.saitama-u.ac.jp/hobbies/iran/farsi.html, also contains other useful material, such as a collection of Persian miniatures and links to pictures of modern cities in Iran. Some of these Persian classics, along with examples of modern Persian poetry, can be accessed through another site, the Persian Literature Page, at http://www.iranonline.com/literature/index.html.

Turkish scholars have put some material online, but most of what I have found is contemporary poetry. A Turkish poetry homepage at http://www.cs.rpi.edu/~sibel/poetry contains mostly modern poems, but they have also put a poem from Walter Andrew's book on Ottoman lyric poetry online. A partial (but extensive) translation from The Book of Dede Korkut, a legend about the origins of the Turks written down in the fourteenth century, is available at http://hcgl.eng.ohio-state.edu/~hoz/myth/dede.html. As mentioned above, a site at http://www.armory.com/~thrace/sufi/index.html includes translations of a number of poems by Mevlana Jamal al-Din Rumi.

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Islamic Art and Architecture

In addition to the written texts listed above, there is information and graphic material about Islamic arts and architecture that can be accessed over the Web. A site entitled "Islamic Arts and Architecture" at http://www.islamicart.com/ includes information and pictures about coins, calligraphy, carpets, and architecture. There are also sites with pictures and information about various Islamic cities. A site on Isfahan at http://isfahan.anglia.ac.uk:8200/ provides a "virtual tour" through Isfahan, with photographs and descriptions of its incredible art and architecture, including mosques and shrines. Other sites provide pictures and information about specific buildings. A site at http://www.ee.bilkent.edu.tr/~history/topkapi.html focuses on the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. This site provides historical information about the palace, a floor plan, and pictures of artifacts and rooms from different sections of the palace. The "On-line Guide to al-Haram ash-Sharif" at http://www.al-aqsa.com/index.html contains pictures and information about al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, drawn from a CD-ROM sold through this site.

Masjed-e-Barsian, near Isfahan.
Masjed-e-Barsian, near Isfahan. From http://isfahan.anglia.ac.uk:8200/.

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Miscellaneous Tools

In addition to the primary source material listed above, a variety of tools that may be useful for courses on Islam can be accessed through the Internet. The Internet Islamic History Sourcebook, at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/islam/islamsbook.html, is an invaluable site that contains links to a large amount of material useful for courses on Islamic history. This site, which is drawn from the Ancient, Medieval, and Modern History Sourcebooks, includes material about Islamic religion, art, culture, and history from pre-Islamic Arabia to the modern period. There are links to articles by prominent scholars such as Bernard Lewis, Oleg Grabar, Phillip Hitti, Montgomery Watt, etc., as well as extensive translations of primary source material. The site contains excerpts from material such as A Description of Africa by Leo Africanus, Ibn Battuta's travels, writings of Ibn Rushd, and Muslim accounts of the Crusades. There are also links to Qur'an translations and historical maps of the Middle East.

1912 map of Bethlehem.
1912 map of Bethlehem.
From the University of Texas.
Other sites with maps of the Middle East include a collection of historical maps through the University of Pennsylvania at http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~rs143/map.html. This site includes links to about fifteen clear, color maps, including maps of Muslim expansion to 661 A.D., the Umayyad Dynasty ca. 750, the Abbasid Empire in 900, the Muslim world in 1300 and 1500, the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, etc. The Perry Castanda map collection at the University of Texas has a collection of maps of the Middle East at http://www.lib.utexas.edu/Libs/PCL/Map_collection/middle_ east.html. Most of these maps are contemporary; the section entitled "Historical maps" mostly includes maps from the Middle East and the Fertile Crescent from the early twentieth century.

A site at Princeton University, al-Khazina, "the Treasury," at http://www.princeton.edu/~humcomp/alkhaz.html, contains links to other useful information. There is a link to a page about the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, with pictures and detailed information about Hajj rituals. This site also contains links to a chronology of Islamic history and dynasties, as well as a collection of historical maps reprinted from published historical atlases such as Roolvink's and Brice's atlases of the Middle East.

If you want your students to compare the Hijri and Gregorian calenders, look at a site at http://www.assirat.org/Hcal/hdate_gr.cgi, where you can type in any day-month-year and find the equivalent date in the Hijri or Gregorian calender. Biographies of Muhammadís companions are available through the U.S.C. page at http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/history/. Although these biographies contain useful, detailed information drawn from Muslim sources, they should still be used with caution. The biography of `Aishah, for example, states that she was married at the age of fourteen or fifteen, several years older than conventional historiography.

In addition, most of the sites listed in the previous sections include essays and pamphlets written by Muslim scholars on numerous topics in addition to primary source material. Pamphlets are available on almost any topic related to Islam: the etiquette of handling the Qur'an, marriage in Islam, women's rights in Islam, instructions on how to pray, embryology in the Qur'an, and more. Some of these essays are well argued, while others are more polemical. Nonetheless, I think these pamphlets and essays provide valuable source material; students can be asked to read several essays on any topic, for example, and write a critical review comparing the articles. In addition, while some of the views presented may differ from Western scholarly interpretations, using this material exposes students to different points of view and gives them a sense of the wide range of opinions and diversity within the Muslim community. Sites that list links to lots of general information about Islam, including pamphlets and articles, include the Islam Page, at http://www.islamworld.net/, and a site at the University of Georgia entitled "Islamic Studies, Islam, Arabic, and Religion" at http://www.arches.uga.edu/~godlas.

To find other useful material about virtually any topic related to Islam, Islamic history, the Middle East, and Middle Eastern countries, try looking at three well-designed and well-organized sites that serve as gateways to massive amounts of information about Islam and the Middle East: http://menic.utexas.edu/mes.html, maintained by the Middle East Center at the University of Texas; http://www.columbia.edu/cu/libraries/indiv/area/MiddleEast, maintained by Columbia University; and http://www.assr.org/vlibrary/source.html, the new home page of Arab Social Science Research.


Incorporating Internet Material into Courses

Course Web Pages

I have tried to demonstrate that there is a lot of material on Islam and Islamic history available to students through the Internet. When I first began using these materials, I directed students to the various sites by typing Web addresses in the syllabus. Students often had difficulty reaching the sites; they would not understand all the symbols, type the address incorrectly and in general, became very frustrated. A better approach is to develop a Web page for the course, with links to the required readings, or sites. From this page, which can be a complete online syllabus as well, students simply click to reach the sites.

Developing a Web page used to be a complicated process that required knowledge of HTML. With the Web authoring programs available now, such as Microsoft Word 97 or AOL Press, anyone who can use a word processor can author a Web page. The time-consuming part, as always, is locating materials to use and developing assignments based on those materials. Even with the help of a course Web page, for example, it is still sometimes difficult for students to access sites; the universityís system could be overloaded, there could be problems at the site itself, or there could be a traffic jam on the Internet "superhighway." When the same material is available at several sites or through several entry points, as is often the case, you could include links to different locations in hopes that at least one of them will be working. You could also put back up copies of the material on reserve in the library for students who are having trouble accessing the sites, or who prefer to read the material in print.

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CD-ROM

Some of the material discussed in the first section is available through CD-ROM. A CD-ROM entitled "Alim," published by the ISL Software Corporation (
http://www.netspective.com/web-islsw/index.cfm, phone: 800-443-3636) includes the Qur'an in Arabic and in three translations, with simultaneous translations for comparative purposes; M. Maududi's introductions to the Surahs; complete texts of Hadith from al-Bukhari, Muslim, and others; biographies of Muhammad's companions; a chronology of Islamic history; and more. It also includes thirty hours of Qur'an recitation. Another CD-ROM entitled "The Islamic Scholar," distributed in the United States through Sharaaz & Associates (phone: 1-800-628-6427), includes similar material: the Qur'an in Arabic and in four translations, Qur'an recitation, Hadith, biographies, and so on. The Islamic Computing Center in London, at http://www.salaam.co.uk/icc/products/ilawbase.htm, carries a Windows and Mac product on disc entitled "Islamic Law Base" that purportedly contains volumes of fiqh about different law schools and translations of other legal material.

The problem with CD-ROMs is deciding how to make them available to students. You can put them in the computer lab, but it may not be convenient for commuting students to come to the lab, and the CD-ROM could be lost or stolen. One CD-ROM is not adequate for a large survey class, and it may be expensive to purchase more. At some universities, it is possible to put CD-ROMs on a university-wide server, often through the library, but not all companies allow their CD-ROMs to be networked and others charge extremely high fees. Because of these problems, I tend to assign students material from the Internet, and list Alim and The Islamic Scholar in my online syllabus (available through the computer lab) as a backup for students who are having difficulty accessing sites.

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Internet Assignments

As I mentioned above, creating a Web page is a simple task; the real challenge, as always, is deciding which material to use and creating assignments based on the text. Since most of the material listed above is primary source material, it can be used like printed texts. With the Qur'an translations listed in the Qur'an section above, for example, students could be asked to read specific surahs in the Qur'an and note what these surahs reveal about issues such as the nature of God, heaven and hell, righteous behavior, etc. in Islam. They could search an assigned topic or a topic of their own choice and read all relevant passages. They could compare different translations of a specific surah (using the U.S.C. site), or compare Qur'anic and Biblical treatments of particular stories or prophets. They could listen to different recitations of the same surahs of the Qur'an to compare reciters.

With the Hadith material, students could read hadith on specific topics, or compare hadiths in different collections. They could choose hadith about any topic they found interesting and discuss what they learned with the class. They could choose one pillar of Islam—prayer, fasting, hajj, and so on—or any other topic, and read relevant passages in Qur'an and Hadith about that pillar or topic to demonstrate how Hadith material compliments and elaborates on information from the Qur'an. Similarly, students could compare laws or ideas about specific topics in Sunni Hadith collections and Shiite legal material. (For examples of these types of assignments, see the syllabus for my course on Islamic civilization at http://spider.rowan.edu/history/BLAKE/Islami~1.htm).

Some of the sites listed in previous sections serve as reference material: students can use the chronologies, maps, biographies, etc. to enrich their understanding of topics treated in class. Some of the information can be used to complement other material used in the course. After learning about Sufism, for example, students could be asked to go to one of the Sufi sites, "explore it" (i.e. follow a specified minimum number of links) and write a short essay or journal article about what they learned about Sufism from the site. They also could explore some of the sites about art and architecture for a class on Islamic culture. Another approach is to ask students to write critical reviews of relevant sites, determining who sponsors the site and writes the articles, looking at references, assessing biases, etc. These assignments are particularly useful in terms of encouraging students to approach information from the Internet critically.

In my experience, most students react positively to Internet assignments: with a few clicks of the mouse, they can access material that would take hours to locate in the library. Nonetheless, the unreliable nature of technology can give some students more—or at least different—excuses not to complete assignments (the system was down, the link didn't work, the lab was full, etc.). I have tried a number of approaches to ensure that students actually read the material. Sometimes students are required to develop short essays based on the assignments, or give class presentations about material or texts located on the Internet. Students could also be asked to keep a journal based on their Internet assignments, recording the sites visited, their reactions and critiques of material at different sites, ideas about questions posed in the assignments, etc.

In short, the Internet can provide undergraduate students with primary sources and other material that used to be available only at larger institutions with developed research libraries. Students not only gain access to massive amounts of information about Islam and Islamic history, they also become aware of the wealth of information (and misinformation) about almost any topic that can be found through the Internet.

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About the author:

Corinne Blake is an assistant professor at Rowan University in New Jersey, where she teaches courses on Islam and the Middle East as well as world history. She received her Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University in 1991; her dissertation topic was "Training Arab-Ottoman Bureaucrats: Syrian Graduates of the Mulkiye Mektebi, 1890-1920." She became interested in using the Internet while teaching at Rowan, and presented a paper entitled "Sources for Middle Eastern Historians on the Internet" at the Middle Eastern Studies Association Conference in 1995. Last fall, she organized a panel on "Teaching with Technology: Middle East History and Politics" at the M.E.S.A. conference in San Francisco, and presented an earlier version of "Teaching Islamic Civilization with Technology" at the conference. Currently, she is working on incorporating more Internet material into her courses on the Modern Middle East and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.

 

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Teaching Islamic Civilization with Information Technology
Copyright © 1998 by The Journal for MultiMedia History.

 

Comments to: jmmh@csc.albany.edu

Contents: JMMH, Volume 1 Number 1 ~ Fall 1998