Islam and Democracy


Beginning with the life and times of the Prophet Muhammad, and focusing in detail on the period since 1800, this course will examine the relationship between Islam and the modern world within a broad historical context. We will examine the relationship between contemporary Islam, Western democracy, post-Enlightenment thinking and concepts of civil and human rights, and seek to identify democratic and human rights trends within Islam. Why does the influence of political Islam appear to be stronger than that of historical Sufi thinking? We will conclude by studying why things appear to have gone so badly wrong  since The Arab Spring which started with so much hope in 2011.

Programme details

Courses starts: 28 Sep 2020

Week 1:  A snapshot of the life of the Prophet Muhammad as understood by Muslims today

Week 2:  The Battle of Siffin to the passion of Kerbela: the Sunni-Shia divide.

Week 3:  The Ottoman Empire and the Millet system which protected minorities such as Jews, Christians, Druzes, Alawites and Yazidis

Week 4:  The cultural and intellectual explosion caused by Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt and the opening to the West and liberal thinking by proteges of Muhammad Ali who filled the vacuum of the departing French

Week 5:  The Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia and the Shia of Iraq

Week 6:  Khomeini and his velayat-e faqih (The Custodianship of the Jurisconsult, essentially, Islamic dictatorship) challenge the Western-style democracy once favoured by Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadegh. Have the liberals failed to challenge Iran's hardliners? Is President Trump's US to blame?

Week 7:  When the army aborts the democratic process in Algeria in 1990-92 the West remains hypocritically silent and a black decade develops. What next for Algeria?

Week 8:  What is the impact of US policy on the Arab-Israel conflict after Trump and Jared Kushner's controversial peace plan

Week 9:  Will Islamic State return to Syria and Iraq and what future for The Kurds? We will study the role of Erdogan's Turkey

Week 10:  Class debate on lectures 1-9


Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.


Description Costs
Course Fee £220.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Mr Trevor Mostyn

Read Arabic and Persian (MA Hons), lived in Algeria and Egypt and travels throughout The Middle East. A Middle East newspaper correspondent, he created EU programmes for the region, writes obituaries for The Guardian, lectured on cruise ships and has published eight books on the region and is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Course aims

At a time when hopes engendered by the Arab Spring have been dashed, Western-initiated experiments with democracy in Iraq and Libya have failed, incidents of militant Islamist terrorism have increased, immigration from Libya and Algeria may be set to expand massively and civil war has devastated Syria, the course will analyse who is to blame for the failure to democratise in Iran, Egypt, Algeria and Iraq.

Course Objectives:

1.  To help students understand why western-style democracy has mostly failed in the Islamic world

2.  To analyse why the failure to democratise is related to contemporary Islam or western interference or both

3.  To understand why genuine attempts to democratise in Iran (1952/53), Algeria (1991/2), Palestine (2006) and Egypt (2013) have been thwarted

Teaching methods

This course will consist of a weekly, one-hour pre-recorded lecture to be viewed by students in preparation for the once weekly tutor-led live session at the time advertised.

Methods of teaching will include simple notes, chronologies, maps and documents provided in advance of each class, presentations with PowerPoint slides by the tutor, controlled discussion among students, chaired by the tutor, and debates on selected topics. Students will be encouraged to ask questions at regular intervals set by the tutor. Each session will include the circulation of and presentation on screen of historical or political documents. Students will be offered the option of producing short, written exercises at home for oral presentation at the next class.

Teaching will include references to and circulation of primary and secondary sources. In advance of each class an advance handout of notes on the subject-matter of the class, notes on the previous class and an agenda with maps, newspaper cuttings and other documents for the next class as well as a calendar of events at St Antony's College Middle East Centre, The Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies and relevant debates at the Oxford Union will be circulated by the tutor.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

1.     Understand the extent to which Islam reflects the sort of democracy that lies at the heart of contemporary Western civilization.

2.     Study the influence that 19th-century reform movements had on the development of democratic thinking and civil and human rights in the Middle East.

3.     Assess the success or failure of recent democratic movements in Iran, Iraq, Algeria, Palestine, Egypt, Libya and Turkey and how the West has responded to them.

Assessment methods

Tasks set will depend upon each class’s subject matter. Option A requires from each student four short pieces of written work of about 250 words or a total of 1,500 words. These must be based on documentary work carried out in class. These exercises will form a part of each week’s teaching programme. Option B includes the opportunity for the student to write one piece of work of about 1,000 words. Up to 1,500 words is allowed for both options. This will be an analysis of a historical or political figure discussed in class or a key event in modern Islamic history discussed in class.

The tutor will provide a list of possible subjects. Students will be strongly encouraged to read books on the reading lists provided in order to enhance their understanding of each new topic discussed. The tutor may set short reading tasks in order to clarify discussions taking place the following week. There will also be a number of short quizzes based on a previous class.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form.


Each course will close for enrolments 14 days prior to the start date to allow us to complete the course set up. We will email you at that time (14 days before the course begins) with further information and joining instructions. As always, students will want to check spam and junk folders during this period to ensure that these emails are received.

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

No previous knowledge of the subject is required, but students may find it helpful to have looked at a book such as Malise Ruthven's lslam In the World, Eugene Rogan's The Arabs, Albert Hourani's A History of the Arab Peoples or Peter Mansfield's The Arabs prior to the course.

This course is offered at FHEQ Level 4, consisting of ten 2-hour sessions or the equivalent. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study. This course is worth 10 CATS points at FHEQ level 4.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)