Reading the Qur’an: Law, Ethics, and Modernity
“Read!” This is the very first word, the first injunction of the Qur’an. Although if one were to “read” (iqra) the Qur’an, as one reads any other book, you’d discover that the word appears, perhaps puzzlingly, in the 96th surah or “chapter” of the “book.” Traditionally understood as revealed to Muhammed, an illiterate and not particularly well-off merchant from Mecca, the Qur’an itself is often considered the principle miracle of Islam—not only in its capacity as the primary source of Islamic theology and law, but also as the finest work in classical Arabic literature. Beyond its religious significance, reading the Qur’an constitutes a unique aesthetic experience—both literary and auditory. It does not look, read, or sound like the Hebrew or Christian Bibles. Though some of the episodes it recounts are derived from other monotheistic works and Near-Eastern sources, the Qur’an diverges from them in style, structure, organization, and principle. At the center is a theological conception of the universe: tawhid, the “oneness” of God, or an even more far-reaching principle of “unity.” Whether read historically, religiously, aesthetically, philosophically or in any combination, the question remains: how can we read the Qur’an?
In this course, we will read, study, and interpret the Qur’an through lenses of historical, legal, aesthetic, and Islamic philosophical-theological principles, as well as look into modern discourse on politics and state in the Muslim world. We will learn the basic terminologies and conceptions of the Qur’an and, reading from the Islamic intellectual tradition, examine the book from its inception and historical conceptualization to its modern-day significance. Analyzing some of the most commonly referenced verses in the Qur’an in the context of ethics, law, and politics, we will ask: Is the Qur’an a book of law? Can the Qur’an be read simultaneously as revelation and as a literary text? What is the role of Islamic law in the Qur’an and how is this evident in Muslim societies? What is the meaning of Qur’an’s ethical message, and how is it interpreted by the proponents of political Islam? Employing a historical-critical approach to the study of the Qur’an and the Muslim world, we will read primary and secondary literature, including the texts penned by critical Muslim intellectuals, such as Fazlur Rahman, Nasr Abu Zayd, Navid Kermani, Jonathan Brown, Kecia Ali, and others, as well as by non-Muslim scholars of Islam, such as Angelika Neuwirth, Nicolai Sinai, Toshihiko Izutsu, and Wael Hallaq.
Course ScheduleMonday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
November 15 — December 06, 2021