choose one of the following topics for your final essay. I expect that you will find most of your information in the assignments in the units for this course – the books, the modules and their links and online readings. You may well have written about one or another aspect of these topics for the units by the time you work on this final project – and you may feel free to reuse ideas that you have already used in this course. It there is something in addition to this information that you wish to include in your essay, and it cannot be found in the assignments, you should feel free to look elsewhere. For any other sources used, I want you to cite them carefully so that I could find the location of your information. As I’ve said earlier in the course, though, much of the information on the internet, and indeed in Wikipedia in its various language versions, is potentially unreliable, since there is no real “vetting” of that information by scholars. I would expect that the final essay should be several times’ longer than the weekly assignments have been – it is worth many more points!
1. A comparison of some of the Islamic states that we have studied this semester (Umayyad, Abbasid, Ottoman, Safavid, Mughal empires) with that of the earliest Islamic “state”, that in Medina (begun by Muhammad, and continued and expanded by the “rightly-guided” Caliphs). Please choose three states to compare with the Medinan state: either Umayyad or Abbasid, and then 2 of Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal. Please keep in mind that that first state in Medina is usually considered by Muslim leaders even today (including radical Islamists like ISIS as the “model” state, the equivalent of the state of the “founding fathers” of Islam. Rather than giving only a general comparison, I want you to focus on 2 or 3 ingredients of those states – for example, economy, political system, treatment of members of other religions, rural and urban society. These are just meant to be examples.
2. A discussion of the origins of reform and secularism in the Middle East – looking at the readings for the last two units to begin with, but also earlier movements and governmental policies. Did the rulers of the three great 16th and 17th century Islamic empires also reform their regimes (that is, give new form to political and ideological systems that they inherited from the earlier states) Some have argued that the Ottomans, at least from the time of Suleyman the Magnificant, and perhaps earlier, were contantly reforming, modernizing their systems – especially in the economic realm. For the Mughals, I think, some argue that they were returning to the views of Muhammad and the “Rightly-Guided Caliphs” on the treatment of non-Muslims – given the fact that they faced the same challenges – ruling as a Muslim minority in the midst of a large majority non-Muslim population. These are just examples. Please find your own.
3. An assessment of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals that might have been made by Muhammad and/or the “Rightly-Guided Caliphs” – of course this requires some imagination on your part. Remember that Muhammad himself had not made preparations for a transfer of authority on his death – and probably did not have any idea of “Caliphs”. Yet those of you who have paid close attention to the details of Islamic “terrorism”, particularly of Osama bin Laden and his movement, will remember that Osama viewed the Ottoman caliphate (which was finally shut down by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1924 in the process of his creation of the Turkish Republic) as the legitimate form of government for Muslims – and promised to reestablish that universal Islamic government if given the chance. And the radical Islamists today in Syria and Iraq, ISIS, claim to be establishing a new Caliphate to include all Muslims throughout the world.