Reading the Qur’an
68 Jay Street, #308
Brooklyn, NY 11201
“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. We will learn the basic terminologies and conceptions of the Qur’an, and examine it from its inception and historical conceptualization to its modern-day significance. Analyzing some of the most commonly referenced verses in the Qur’an, 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 Qu’ran and how is this evident in Muslim societies? What is the relation between the Qur’an’s ethical message and its usage of classical Arabic? Employing a historical-critical approach to the study of the Qur’an, we will read primary and secondary literature, including the texts penned by critical Muslim intellectuals, such as Amina Wadud, Fazlur Rahman, Nasr Abu Zayd, Navid Kermani, Shahab Ahmed and others, as well as by non-Muslim scholars of Islam, such as Montgomery Watt, Angelika Neuwirth, Nicolai Sinai, and Frank Griffel.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm
November 12 — December 10, 2019
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet the week of Thanksgiving (November 24th-30th).