May 06, 2009

Saliba, George
[ASCM V2008] Contemporary Islamic Civilization and [ASCM V2003] Introduction to Islamic Civilization

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

This review is meant to cover both halves of the sequence, Introduction and Contemporary. Both classes are run in an identical manner, with only one small difference (scroll down to "workload section for more details).

Professor Saliba is, simply, one of the finest professors I have had at this school. He is a kind yet quirky old man who has no problems talking one-on-one with you, despite what you may have heard about him. The courses he teaches deal with a region of the world that we hear about on the news all the time, yet have next to no "real" knowledge about - the Middle East and the Greater Islamic World. If you take these two classes you will learn a great deal about them, and many of your pre-conceived assumptions and stereotypes will be shattered. And Saliba's thought-provoking (yet hilarious) lectures and tangents only help you learn more. His occasional side comments will make you chuckle as well!

Introduction to Islamic Civilization, the first half of the sequence, covers the rise of Islamic Civilization from its humble beginnings (~600 AD) to the early 20th century. Contemporary Islamic Civilization picks up where Intro left off, and goes up to present day. Please note that this course is NOT an Islam class. There is a separate class for that under the Religion department. The class focuses on the civilizations that were created as a result of Islam, not the religion itself.

And what, may you ask, is Saliba's role in this class? Lectures consist of him going over the readings and analyzing them thoroughly, with the occasional tangent thrown in every now and then. During lecture Saliba uses a powerpoint with the main points of that day's lecture written on it. Now, here's a bit of advice - you don't necessarily have to write down anything. No notes, no nothing. What I did was take my laptop and scramble to write down every word written on the powerpoints. However, this is completely unnecessary and will only distract you from actually listening to what he has to say, which ironically will help you learn the material better than if you wrote down the notes. You should note that he is not the one who determines your final grade - that task falls to your TA, so pick a good one.

Also, don't pay attention to some reviews here that paint Saliba as some pro-Islamic, anti-Israeli bigot... one of the things that makes Saliba a great professor is that even though he does favor one side, when he teaches he gives an objective analysis of the history and circumstances. In particular, his explanation of the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, the Kurdish question, and Kashmir were very informative and neutral. They could not have been done any better. Anyone who disliked the man obviously had a problem with his personal opinions and not with his abilities as a professor, so don't listen to them.

All I have to say is, just give this guy a chance. You'll walk out both entertained and enlightened over a subject your fellow countrymen (assuming you are American) know nothing about. Personally, I will greatly miss having Saliba as a professor next year and would definitely take another class with him.

Workload:

For both Introduction and Contemporary:
+ Weekly Readings: Anywhere from 2 to 5 articles are assigned a week. Each week's readings revolve around a theme or concept. Total pages can be anywhere from 20 - 100.
+ Weekly responses to the readings

For Introduction only:
+ 1 Midterm. This consists of 3 sections: explanation of randomly selected quotes (ie one/two line excerpts) from the readings, multiple choice, and short answer. If you only listen to what he has to say during lecture and you actually do the readings, this is hilariously easy. If you don't, you'll be quite screwed.
+ 1 Final. Same exact layout and rules as the midterm.

For Contemporary only:
+ 1 Midterm. This consists of 2 sections: quote explanation and short answer. Same rules as the Intro midterm.
+ 1 Final Paper. This is completely self-directed and is due on the last day of class.