What is an Islamic Studies Degree?

Islamic studies degree programs focus on the cultural aspects and doctrines of the Islamic world from the time of the sixth-century Prophet Mohammad to the present day. Courses examine Islamic history, politics, law, philosophy, literature, scripture, and faith. Students learn about the two main denominations of the religion of Islam: Sunni Islam and Shi’ite Islam. They also study Sufism, which focuses on the mystical elements of Islam; and Sharia law, which is based on the Koran and the sayings of Mohammad.

The Arabic language is typically not a focus of the Islamic studies curriculum. However, it may be touched upon in some programs because Islam originated in the Arabic-speaking countries.

Coursework also looks at the spread of Islam beyond Arabic-speaking countries and the strategic importance of the field in multicultural society.

Program Options

Many schools that offer Islamic studies degrees have partnership programs with educational institutions abroad. Students are encouraged to consider a study-abroad experience for a portion of their degree program(s). Opportunities at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels may exist in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), among other countries.

Islamic studies degree online programs offered in English by institutions like the Islamic Online University present another option to students.

Bachelor’s Degree in Islamic Studies – Four Year Duration
While a master’s is the most common degree in Islamic studies, graduates with a bachelor’s in the field may find career opportunities as business consultants or research assistants.

These are sample courses from a bachelor’s level Islamic studies degree program:

  • Introduction to Arabic Literature
  • Arabic Religious Thought
  • Introduction to Islam
  • Islamic Art
  • Governments and Politics of the Middle East
  • Islam and Politics
  • Women in Islamic Society
  • Middle Eastern Civilization
  • Cultures of the Middle East
  • The Life and Legacy of Mohammad
  • Arab Nations History
  • The Arab Spring

Master’s Degree in Islamic Studies – Two Year Duration
With a Master’s Degree in Islamic Studies, some graduates become political advisors or journalists. At this level, students conduct research related to their chosen thesis topic.

These are sample courses from a master’s curriculum:

  • Middle Eastern History
  • Middle Eastern Politics and Societies
  • Geography of the Middle East and North Africa
  • The Middle East and Islam: Contemporary Issues and Debates
  • Islamic Law, Ethics, and Human Rights
  • Sunni and Shi’ite Religious Thought: Comparative Muslim Theologies
  • The Koran (Qur’an) – Interpretation
  • Sufism / Mystic Islam
  • War and Peace in Islam
  • Critical Issues in Islamic Studies
  • The Study and Writing of History
  • Research Design

Doctoral Degree in Islamic Studies – Five to Six Year Duration
The Doctoral Degree in Islamic Studies is generally aimed at students who wish to teach at the university/college level or conduct ongoing research in the field. However, international organizations and government agencies may also hire Islamic studies doctoral graduates as consultants.

Some schools may not offer a distinct Ph.D. program in Islamic studies. However, students may have the option to earn a religious studies doctorate with an Islamic studies concentration.

Here are examples of doctoral dissertation topics:

  • History of Journalism and the Press in the Ottoman Empire
  • History of Arabic Countries in the Modern Era
  • History and Culture of Iranian Speaking Countries
  • Non-Muslim Populations in Islamic Societies
  • Sufi Literature

Degrees Similar to Islamic Studies

Religious Studies
The focus of religious studies degree programs is the nature and origin of religious belief and traditions. Coursework includes the study of specific religions such as Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Catholicism, as well as religious history, politics, and anthropology.

Theology / Divinity
This is the study of the nature of the divine and of religious belief. The classes of theology and divinity majors span several disciplines: history, philosophy, literature, anthropology, ethics, science, languages, cosmology, and international studies.

Philosophy encourages the asking of big questions and the formulation of arguments to attempt to answer them. Who are we? Why are we here? What do we believe? Why do we believe it? What is right and wrong in life? What is true and false? What is real and unreal? Philosophy is concerned with the nature of existence and knowledge.

American Indian Studies
This degree field focuses on the history, sociology, politics, culture, and economics of the native peoples of the Americas. Coursework includes American Indian history and literature, contemporary issues in American Indian studies, indigenous worldview perspectives, native North American art, native language studies, and tribal governments.

This is a multidisciplinary degree field that combines the study of languages, literatures, art, history, music, philosophy, and religion. Coursework includes examining ideas and themes that run throughout human history and throughout different cultures.

International Relations
Degree programs in international relations are concerned with looking at how states/governments relate to one another. These relations include trade, cooperation, disputes, conflicts, and war. The principles of diplomacy and foreign policy, international law, and organizations like the United Nations are also studied.

Sociology is the wide study of society, social institutions like religion and law, and the ways in which people live and work together.

Women’s Studies
This degree field studies feminism and the history, culture, and politics of women. It examines the categories of identity – gender, sexuality, race, class, age, ability, geopolitical affiliation, etc. – and structures of inequality in relationship to one another.

Skills You’ll Learn

Islamic studies spans many disciplines, from philosophy and religion to literature, politics, and law. It is because of this wide scope that students who study the field develop a diverse set of skills:

  • Ability to understand complex issues and information
  • Research and analysis skills
  • Sensitivity to and appreciation for different cultures and beliefs
  • Curiosity
  • Capacity to think critically, debate, and discuss
  • Essay and report writing skills

What Can You Do with an Islamic Studies Degree?

Graduates of Islamic studies degree programs work in a variety of sectors in which their understanding of Islamic culture and Islam, the most widely followed religion in the Middle East, is considered particularly valuable:

Business and Business Development
Opportunities may exist in the private sector or with government agencies and think tanks dedicated to building and maintaining trade relations with Islamic nations.

Defense and Security
In the United States, government departments like the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security may hire Islamic studies grads.

Teachers of Islamic studies work at universities, colleges, cultural institutes, and some secondary schools.

International Development
NGOs and government departments and agencies dedicated to international development may have a need for Islamic studies specialists.

International Relations / Foreign Service / Diplomacy
The international relations and diplomatic service sectors consistently need individuals with in-depth knowledge of Islam and Islamic culture. Governments and international NGOs are common employers.

Journalism and Media
Media organizations of all types – television, radio, online, and print – may have a need to hire or consult with Islamic studies specialists.

In this sector, Islamic studies specialists may find work with law firms, public service agencies, and businesses needing to consult with an expert in the field.

Public Policy / Policy Analysis
In this sector Islamic studies graduates may find employment with government, policy institutes and think tanks, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and special interest organizations.

Research positions may be available with universities, research institutes, and think tanks.


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