Shiʿi Islam Theology & Political Thought

REL 5937 Special Topics - Spring 2017


Professor: S. Sadegh Haghighat[1]


Time: Tuesday, 9:30- 12:30

Office Hours: Just after class


Course Introduction:

This course for the graduate covers the sources, the fundamentals and a short history of Shiʿi Islam as a mainstream. Special attention will be given to the different approaches in Shiʿi thought, such as traditionalism, modernism and political Islam. It seems that many Islamic events, such as the complicated situation in the Middle East, could be analyzed through the “confluence” of text (holy scriptures) and (socio-politico) context.[2]

Prerequisites: None.


Students who complete the course should have developed an understanding of the following issues in:

1) A history of Shiʿi & Sunni Islam

2) The Shiʿi Islam sects: Zaydi, Ismaili & 12 Imami

3) Different approaches: Traditionalism, Modernism and Political Islam

4) General principles of Shiʿi Islam

5) Main holy texts

6) Usulis & Akhbaris

7) New concepts in Islam: secularism, democracy and terrorism


Required Texts:

There is just one required textbook for this course: Tabatabai, Sayyed Muhammad Husayn, Shi’ite Islam, Translated and Edited by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, State University of New York Press, 1975.

Note: Available on the net, it seems that the above book has no copy right.

Main Resources:

- Abbott, Kenrick, Contemporary Shi'ism as Political Ideology: the views of Sharî'atmadârî, Ṭâliqâni, and Khumaynî, U.M.I, 1993.

- Esposito, John, “Political Islam & the West” (Blackboard).

- Gerhard Bowering, Islamic Political Thought, Princeton University Press, 2015.

- Hassan, Riffat, “Messianism & Islam”, Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Vol. 22, No. 2 (Spring 1985).

- Gleave, Rob, Scripturalist Islam, Brill, 2007.

- Haghighat, S. Sadegh, "Jihad from a Shi'a Hermeneutic Perspective", in: Bas de Gaay Fortman (and others) (Editors), Hermeneutics, Scriptural Politics, and Human Rights: Between Text and Context, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

- -------------------- , "Persian Mirrors for Princes: Pre-Islamic and Islamic Mirrors Compared", in: Regula Forster & Neguin Yavari (ed), Global Medieval: Mirrors for Princes Reconsidered, US, Harvard University, 2015.

- McAuliffe, Jane, The Norton Anthology of World Religions: Islam, W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.

- Nasr, Hossein, The heart of Islam, HarperOne, 2004.

- Sadri, Mahmoud (& Sadri, Ahmad) (Translated and Edited), Reason, Freedom & Democracy in Islam, Oxford University Press, 2002.

- Sobhani, Ja’far, Doctrines of Shiʿi Islam, (tr. and ed. Reza Shah Kazemi), London and New York: I. B. Tauris Publishers and the Institute of Isma’ili Studies, 2001.

- Watt, W. Montgomery, Islamic Philosophy and Theology, Aldine Transaction, 2008.


- File No 1.

- File No 2.

Note: The professor will upload the required readings on the Blackboard.


A mid-term exam, a final exam, a presentation and a paper will collectively constitute your grade in the course (each one 25% points). The topic of the presentation should be one of the above ones. The edited paper, which is according to “the standard style”[3] and between 1500 and 2100 words, should be emailed to by the end of Apr. The topic of the paper could be the same topic of the presentation. The mid-term exam will be on Mar, 7th and the final-exam will be on Apr 25th. The tests will be based on your general understanding and appreciation of the main theme tackled over the course of the class. Video links are VERY important to get familiar with Shiʿi thought; however, they will NOT be in your tests. Questions are JUST based on your readings.

Grading Summary:

Final grades will be computed based upon performance on the following items:

Mid Term:                                  25 %

Presentation:                              25 %

Paper:                                            25 %

Final:                                           25 %


­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Total:                                       100%

Grading Scales:


>/= 93












Social Justice Statement:

Florida International University is committed to social justice. The instructor concurs with that commitment and expects to maintain a positive learning environment based upon open communication, mutual respect, and non-discrimination. Florida International University does not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, age, disability, veteran status, religion, sexual orientation, color, or national origin. Any suggestion as to how to further such a positive and open environment in this class will be appreciated and given serious consideration. Any student with a disability that anticipates needing any type of accommodation in order to participate in this class, please advise the instructor within the first week of class to make appropriate arrangements.  Please contact Disability Resource Center (305) 348-3532 with any questions.


Class Cancellation for Weather and Other Emergencies:

At some point during the semester, it may be necessary for the University to cancel all or some classes due to poor weather, power failures, or other emergencies. Because of the very nature of an online class in which students are participating from all over the world, a University class cancellation or closure will not automatically apply in this course. The FIU eCampus will still be operational in times of a University shutdown. In times of a power outage or system wide failure, the instructor will make an announcement in the FIU eCampus classroom as soon as information becomes available. Assignment due dates are firm and will not automatically change if the University is closed. Always check the eCampus for updates and announcements concerning the class.


Student Evaluation of Instruction:

Effective teaching is a primary mission of Florida International University. Student evaluation of instruction provides the university and the instructor with feedback about the student’s experience in the course for review and course improvement. Student participation in the evaluation of course instruction is both strongly encouraged and highly valued. Results are strictly confidential, anonymous, and not available to the instructor until after final grades are released by Admissions and Records. Information about the evaluation will be provided towards the end of the semester.





Course Layout:


Section 1:         Jan, 10


Theme:           Orientation: Introducing Sunni and Shiʿi Islam // A Framework for the Course// Shias, Kharijites, Murjiites // Shiʿi Islam: 1, 2, 3// Traditionalism, Modernism and Political Islam

Readings:        None

Video Link:      

Sunnism and Shiʿism


Section 2:       Jan, 17

Theme:           An Introduction to Islam

Readings:       1) Sayyed Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai, Shi’ite Islam, pp. 33-67.

                        2) Hossein Nasr, The heart of Islam, pp. 55-112. 

Further (Suggested) Readings: 1- Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Al Khashif’l Ghitah, The Origin of Shi’te Islam. 2- Mohammad Baqir As Sadr, The Emergence of Shi’ism and the Shi’ites. 3- Fred M. Donner, Muhammad and the Caliphate, in: John L. Esposito, The Oxford History of Islam, pp. 1-61, 4- Anthony Black, The History of Islamic Political Thought. 

Video Link:     Conversations w_Great Minds P1 - Dr. Nasr - The Difference between Shia _ Sunni:


Section 3:       Jan, 24

Theme:           The Branches of Shiʿi Islam: Zaydi, Ismaili & 12 Imami

Readings:       1) Tabatabai, Shi’ite Islam, pp. 68-77.

                        2) W. Montgomery Watt, Islamic Philosophy and Theology, pp. 122-131.

 Further Reading: Farhad Daftary, The Isma’ilis: Their History and Doctrines, Cambridge University Press, 1992.   

Video Links:     1- Origins of Ismaili and Zaidi Sects of Shiʿism; Internal Obstructions to Faith - Dr. Husein Khimjee

2- Harvard Lecture - The Shia Ismaili Muslims by Khalil Andani


Section 4:       Jan, 31

Theme:           Methodology, Ontology & Epistemology

Readings:       1) Tabatabai, Shi’ite Islam, pp. 79-107.

                        2) Knowledge of God & the Prophet: Tabatabai, Shi’ite Islam, pp. 109-139.

                        3) Ja’far Sobhani, Doctrines of Shiʿi Islam, pp. 1-17.

Further Reading: Hossein Nasr, The heart of Islam, pp. 1-54. 


Free Discussion: Islam & The Theory of Evolution


Video Link:     Seyyed Hossein Nasr - at This is America - General Talk about Islam


Section 5:       Feb, 10

Theme:           Friday Prayers: Ershad Center (6669  SW 59th Place, Miami, FL 33143).

Notes: 1- There is no class in this week. 2- There is an extra grade for a critical report of the center (in 2 or 3 pages) by the week 7.


Section 6:       Feb, 14

Theme:           General Beliefs & Immamate

Readings:       1) Ja’far Sobhani, Doctrines of Shiʿi Islam, pp. 18-141.

                        2) Tabatabai, Shi’ite Islam, pp. 150-191.

Further Reading: 1- Eschatology, Tabatabai, Shi’ite Islam, pp. 140-149. 2.  Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi, Shiʿism: Imamate and Wilayat, online. 3- S. Jafri, The Origins and Early Development of Shi’a Islam, Chapter 11.

Video Links:

1) Shii Five Pillars:

2) Sunni Five Pillars: Islam, the Quran, and the Five Pillars All Without a Flamewar Crash Course World History 13


Section 7:       Feb, 21

Theme:           Messianism

Readings:       Riffat Hassan, “Messianism & Islam”. 

Further Reading: Abdulaziz Abdulhussein Sachedina, Islamic Messianism: The Idea of Mahdi in Twelver Shiʿism, State University of New York, 1981. 


Free Discussion: Messianism: A Comparative Study between Sunni Islam, Shiʿi Islam, Christianity and Judaism


Video Link:     Islamic Messianism


Section 8:       Feb, 28

Theme:           Political Verses of the Quran

Readings:       1) Jane McAuliffe, The Norton Anthology of World Religions: Islam, pp. 86-130.

                        2) File No 1.

Video Links:    

1) Approaching The Study Quran:

2) Keynote address at New Approaches to Qur'an , Seyyed Hossein Nasr


Section 9:       Mar, 7

Theme:           Nahjul Balaqa (Letter 53)

Readings:       File No 2: Text & Video

Mid- term Exam (closed- book): Remember, you have 30 minutes to complete the exam, once started. Please, plan accordingly. 


Video Link:     Nahjul Balaqa letter 53


Section 10:     Mar, 14

Theme:           Spring Holiday


Section 11:     Mar, 21

Theme:           Ijtihad: Usuli vs. Akhbari

Readings:       Rob Gleave, Scripturalist Islam, pp. 1-30 & 268-305. 

Further Reading: 1- Zackery M. Heern, Reform Movement in Early Modern Iraq and Iran, A dissertation submitted to the faculty of, The University of Utah, 2011. 2- Saeid Edalatnejad, Shi’ite Tradition, Rationalism and Modernity, online.

Video Link:     Reforming Islamic Thought through Structural Ijtihad


Section 12:     Mar, 28

Theme:           Islamic Political Texts: Political Philosophy / Political Fiqh (Jurisprudence) / Mirrors for Princes

Readings:       1) Sayyed Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai, Shi’ite Islam, pp. 33-67.

                        2) Hossein Nasr, The heart of Islam, pp. 55-112. 

Further Reading: Henry Corbin, History of Islamic Philosophy, pp. 319-364. 

Video Link:     Shi'a Jurisprudence


Section 13:     Apr, 4

Theme:           Political Islam: Imam Khomeini & The Supervision of Faqih

Readings:       1) Kenrick Abbott, Contemporary Shiʿism as Political Ideology, Chapter 4.

                        2) Jane McAuliffe, Islam, pp. 571-576. 

Further Reading: Ahmad Vaezi, Shia Political Thought. 

Video Link: Imam Khomeini - Reformer of the Century



Section 14:     Apr, 11

Theme:           Secularism & Democracy

Readings:       Mahmoud Sadri & Ahmad Sadri (Translated and Edited), Reason, Freedom & Democracy in Islam, pp. 3-38 & 122-130.

Further Reading: Paul Kubicek, Political Islam and Democracy in the Muslim World. 

Video Links:    

1) Islam and democracy

2) Islam & Secular Practices



Section 15:     Apr, 18

Theme:           Jihad & Terrorism

Readings:       1) S. Sadegh, Haghighat, "Jihad from a Shi'a Hermeneutic Perspective".

                        2) John Espositio, “Political Islam & the West”. 

Further Reading: Hossein Nasr, The heart of Islam, pp. 237-272. 

Video Link:     Conversations w_Great Minds P2 - Dr. Nasr - The Muslims among us



Section 16:     Apr, 25

Theme:           Final Exam (open-book): 45 minutes.

[1] . Seyed Sadegh Haghighat graduated in political thought from TM University in Tehran, and studied at the Islamic Seminaries between 1981 and 2004. His M.A. thesis on "Trans-national Responsibilities of the Islamic State", and his Ph.D. dissertation on "Distribution of Power in Shi’i Political Thought" are focused on Shi’i jurisprudence. His research interests embrace Islamic political thought, methodology of political science, Iranian Revolution and political Islam. He has published 20 books, some of which have been translated into Arabic. In Six Theories about the Islamic Revolution’s Victory, he has put forward a new theory about the Iranian Revolution. He has participated in several international academic conferences. His new book, Methodology of Political Science, deals with methodological and interdisciplinary issues. Currently he is a full professor at the Department of Political Science at Mofid University in Qom and a courtesy lecturer at FIU. His articles and most full texts of his books and articles could be accessed at:

[2]. See: Vali Nasr, The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future, New York: W.W.Norton, 2006.

[3]. The standard style of writing will be explained in the first session.