Course Syllabus

Introduction to Islam

RELS 2303 section 001 (CRN 45164)
University of Oklahoma, Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences
Fall 2023

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9:00-10:15 in Sarkeys Energy Center P209 (100% in-person)

Syllabus and up-to-date schedule at


David Vishanoff
vishanoff at ou dot edu
Robertson 119
Office hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays 10:30-11:30 (right after class), or by appointment.


This course is an exercise in learning to listen to Muslims. Rather than present information and expect you to remember all the details, hoping that some of them will someday prove useful for understanding Muslims, we will read books by living Muslim authors and I will present whatever background material we need, as we go along, to understand what each author is saying on each page and why it matters. We will read two books together, with me providing commentary and background in class, and you will each choose one additional book (from a list of three) to read on your own, trying to make sense of it and discover why it matters in light of the background learned in class. There will be four tests about material covered in the readings and in class, and one paper in which you make use of class material to make sense of the extra book you chose to read on your own. We will occasionally talk about those extra books in class as well, so you will get to raise questions and hear about the interesting characters your classmates are studying.

That's it! This is just an exercise in reading three books, with some guidance, and learning how to get past the obvious things they say in order to discover the puzzles, the surprises, and the fascinating controversies that make their interpretations of Islam anything but obvious. You will pick up plenty of basic facts and concepts along the way, but the ultimate goal isn't to memorize them; the point is to practice reading things you don't have all the right background for, and then fill in your knowledge gaps with just the tidbits you need for understanding what each particular author is saying, and why it matters. This is a course in which you learn to find people interesting.

This course counts toward General Education requirement IV-WDC (Humanities, World Culture). It has no prerequisites. It is a fully in-person class.


There are two required books:

  • Laury Silvers, The Lover: A Sufi Mystery (ISBN 9781999122843) -- Please order this book as soon as possible, since we will begin reading it for the second week of class.
  • Michael Muhammad Knight, Why I Am a Salafi (ISBN 9781593766061)

You will also choose one of these three (I suggest you wait to choose until I describe them in class):

  • Ayesha S. Chaudhry, The Colour of God (ISBN 9781786079251)
  • Sherman A. Jackson, Islam and the Blackamerican: Looking Toward the Third Resurrection (ISBN 9780199782383)
  • Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Journeys Towards Gender Equality in Islam (ISBN 9780861543274)

These books may be purchased at I encourage you to buy hard copies, rather than ebooks, so that you can flag things and write notes in the margins; but the choice is yours.


Quiz (5%)

A low-stakes open-book and open-notes quiz early in the semester (mainly to help you get used to my questions) with multiple-choice questions covering material from class and the required readings, and one short essay question about the first part of your chosen book.

Test 1 (15%)

Multiple-choice questions about material covered since the beginning of the term, and one short essay question based on the first part of your chosen book.

Test 2 (15%)

Multiple-choice questions about the readings and class material covered since Test #1, and one essay question in which you further develop your ideas about your chosen book.

Essay about your chosen book (35%)

This paper, 5–7 pages long and due late in the semester, will be an analysis of the book you chose to read alongside the class. It should connect your chosen book to material covered and issues raised in class sessions and in the main required readings, showing how that material illumines, explains, or problematizes major issues or themes in your chosen book.

Final exam (30%)

A cumulative exam with multiple-choice questions covering readings and class material from the whole semester, and an essay question about our second required textbook, Why I Am a Salafi by Michael Muhammad Knight.

Attendance and participation (up to 10% extra credit)

Attendance is not technically required; there will be no grade penalty for missing classes. Please bear in mind, however, that tests will focus specifically on what is discussed in class, not on other information you may think you know about Islam, and there will be no provision for making up class sessions that you miss: no lecture outlines or slides will be available, because my lectures are not set in advance but vary from term to term, spontaneously, in response to whatever comes up in the readings, which change from semester to semester. If you have to miss a class, your only recourse is to ask another student for notes, which may or may not help you to grasp what I think are the most important points.

Even though attendance is not technically graded, I will take attendance (silently) just before the start of every class, and make note of contributions that individual students make each day in class. If, at the end of the term, my records show that you have attended faithfully (missing no more than 3 classes) and/or have contributed significantly to our class dynamic (by being on time, bringing the assigned books to class, and engaging with the lectures through questions and comments that show you are up to date with the reading), then I will add between 1% and 10% to your course grade. If, on the other hand, you make a habit of disrupting or skipping class (missing more than 6 classes with or without an excuse), then you cannot receive any extra credit for attendance or participation.

Academic honesty (all or nothing)

In my estimation, any form of deceit, however “mild,” warrants a final course grade of F (zero). Individual instances of suspected academic dishonesty will be referred to the appropriate University authorities, who will investigate and determine appropriate penalties (which may include grade penalties, extra classes, suspension, expulsion, and/or other penalties). In my estimation, academic dishonesty includes (but is not limited to):

  • turning in writing not created solely by yourself solely for this class on the basis of your own understanding of the subject (assistance from the OU Writing Center is allowed, but not from Artificial Intelligence [AI] or other writing aids)
  • plagiarism (reproducing or paraphrasing someone else’s words or ideas without citing them)
  • failing to document sources as required in an assignment
  • using or submitting text (even in modified form) that was generated in whole or in part by AI-driven text generators such as ChatGPT
    • Here is the relevant policy from OU's Office of Academic Integrity Programs and Integrity Council: "No resource should ever be used to replace original thought or effort. Therefore, all academic work submitted by a student should be the product of the student's own understanding and effort. Unless specifically permitted by the professor, and clearly indicated by the student through proper attribution, it is cheating to submit any academic work that originates from another source."
  • helping other students to avoid doing their own reading or thinking or writing
  • selling a paper or exam essay or sharing it with someone who might use it instead of doing his or her own work
  • using unauthorized materials, sources, or devices for tests
  • sharing tests with others in or outside the class
  • false excuses for absences or late or missed assignments

If you have questions about academic integrity or plagiarism, please ask; my aim is to foster an environment of trust in which you can learn, grow, and try out ideas while being transparent about your thinking and learning. See for information on student rights and responsibilities with regards to academic misconduct.

General course policies

  • Tests and quizzes must be taken when scheduled unless prevented by religious observance or a documented health issue. If a make-up test is necessary, it may be in a different format, possibly an oral examination.
  • Exams or work falling on religious holidays may be rescheduled without penalty; please let me know in advance, as soon as you are able to determine that a holiday may conflict with class or an assignment.
  • Assignments may or may not be accepted late, at the instructor’s discretion. Unless arranged in advance, any such lateness will be penalized one letter grade for each interval between class periods (or any fraction thereof) that elapses after the scheduled date.
  • No extra-credit work (other than good class attendance and participation) will be assigned or accepted; please do not ask. To benefit from this class, you need to do the work as it is assigned, not do other work later.
  • On all writing assignments the instructor reserves the right, before assigning a grade, to request an individual meeting with any student to ask for explanation of any aspect(s) of their writing, and then assign a grade based on the total evidence of the written paper and the student's explanations. This could improve the grade somewhat if the instructor feels the student had excellent ideas that were not fully communicated in writing despite a good effort, or it could dramatically reduce the grade, and possibly lead to sanctions for breach of academic integrity, if the student's explanations cast doubt on whether the student actually wrote the paper themselves from scratch. This policy is needed in order to safeguard against students using recent advances in artificial intelligence to obtain essays that they did not write themselves but whose actual provenance might be difficult to establish. If academic dishonesty is suspected, the case will be referred to the Integrity Council (see Academic Honesty above), but even if the Council is not able to establish that academic misconduct has occurred this policy will enable the instructor to assign a low or failing grade (including a zero) on the assignment if the student is unable to explain to the instructor's satisfaction how the paper resulted from their own thinking. In other words, being ready and able to explain your writing orally if asked is part of what is expected in all writing assignments in this class. If you cannot explain how each aspect of your writing resulted from your own thinking, you have missed the point of the assignment, and if the instructor discovers this you will be graded accordingly.

University resources and policies

  • If you are experiencing any mental health issues that are impacting your academic performance, counseling is available at the University Counseling Center (UCC). The Center is located on the second floor of the Goddard Health Center, at 620 Elm Rm. 201, Norman, OK 73019. To schedule an appointment call (405) 325-2911. For more information please visit
  • Any student who has a disability that may prevent him or her from fully demonstrating his or her abilities should contact me personally as soon as possible; I will be very glad to make accommodations to help you participate and learn more effectively. If you are unsure whether you should request some kind of accommodation, or what kind of accommodation might be most helpful for you, consult the staff at the Accessibility and Disability Resource Center (, 730 College Avenue, 325-3852, TDD 325-4173, who will be able to help figure out what is best and whether you should formally register with the Center. The ADRC is committed to supporting students with disabilities to ensure that they are able to enjoy equal access to all components of their education. This includes your academics, housing, and community events. If you are experiencing a disability, a mental/medical health condition that has a significant impact on one or more life functions, you can receive accommodations to provide equal access. Possible disabilities include, but are not limited to, learning disabilities, AD(H)D, mental health, and chronic health. Additionally, the ADRC supports students with temporary medical conditions (broken wrist, shoulder surgery, etc.) and pregnancy.
  • Title IX Resources and Reporting Requirement: Anyone who has been impacted by gender-based violence, including dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, harassment, and sexual assault, deserves access to resources so that they are supported personally and academically. The University of Oklahoma is committed to offering resources to those impacted, including: speaking with someone confidentially about your options, medical attention, counseling, reporting, academic support, and safety plans. If you would like to speak with someone confidentially, please contact OU Advocates (, available 24/7 at 405-615-0013) or another confidential resource (see “Can I make an anonymous report?” at You may also choose to report gender-based violence and discrimination through other means, including by contacting the Institutional Equity Office (,, 405-325-3546) or police (911). Because the University of Oklahoma is committed to your safety and that of other students, all faculty are mandatory reporters. This means that I am obligated to report gender-based violence that has been disclosed to me to the Institutional Equity Office. This includes disclosures that occur in: class discussion, writing assignments, discussion boards, emails and during Student/Office Hours. For more information, please visit the Institutional Equity Office (
  • Adjustments for Pregnancy/Childbirth Related Issues: Should you need modifications or adjustments to your course requirements because of documented pregnancy-related or childbirth-related issues, please contact me or the Accessibility and Disability Resource Center at 405/325-3852 as soon as possible. Also, see for answers to commonly asked questions.
  • OU also has a detailed non-discrimination policy (
  • For OU's official "dead week" or pre-finals week policy see
  • Emergency Protocol: During an emergency, there are official university procedures that will maximize your safety.
    • Severe Weather: If you receive an OU Alert to seek refuge or hear a tornado siren that signals severe weather.
      1. Look for severe weather refuge location maps located inside most OU buildings near the entrances
      2. Seek refuge inside a building. Do not leave one building to seek shelter in another building that you deem safer. If outside, get into the nearest building.
      3. Go to the building’s severe weather refuge location. If you do not know where that is, go to the lowest level possible and seek refuge in an innermost room. Avoid outside doors and windows.
      4. Get in, Get Down, Cover Up
      5. Wait for official notice to resume normal activities.
    • Additional Weather Safety Information is available through the Department of Campus Safety.
    • Armed Subject/Campus Intruder: If you receive an OU Alert to shelter-in-place due to an active shooter or armed intruder situation or you hear what you perceive to be gunshots: 1. Avoid: If you believe you can get out of the area WITHOUT encountering the armed individual, move quickly towards the nearest building exit, move away from the building, and call 911. 2. Deny: If you cannot flee, move to an area that can be locked or barricaded, turn off lights, silence devices, spread out, and formulate a plan of attack if the shooter enters the room. 3. Defend: As a last resort fight to defend yourself. For more information, visit OU’s Emergency Preparedness site ( Shots Fired on Campus Procedure – Video (
    • Fire Alarm/General Emergency: If you receive an OU Alert that there is danger inside or near the building, or the fire alarm inside the building activates: 1. LEAVE the building. Do not use the elevators. 2. KNOW at least two building exits 3. ASSIST those that may need help 4. PROCEED to the emergency assembly area 5. Once safely outside, NOTIFY first responders of anyone that may still be inside building due to mobility issues. 6. WAIT for official notice before attempting to re-enter the building. OU Fire Safety on Campus (