Muslims and the Qur’an

In fall 2015, I taught the undergraduate course “Muslims and the Qur’an” with Muhammad Qasim Zaman at Princeton University. This course is cross-listed in the Departments of Near Eastern Studies and Religion and is an introduction to Islamic history and societies.

Topics in the course include Qur’anic ethics, Islamic law, and Sufism. Students are assigned readings including excerpts from ibn Ishaq’s biography of the Prophet Muhammad, The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer of ibn Rushd, `A’ishah al-Ba’uniyyah’s The Principles of Sufism, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Secondary sources include Fazlur Rahman’s Major Themes of the Qur’an and Kecia Ali’s Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith, and Jurisprudence. 

The course comes from the perspective of contextualizing intra-Muslim debates and considering the historical breadth of what scripture means for being Muslim, according to Muslims. In order to complement that approach, I designed activities that highlighted the connections between material culture and lived experience. One example includes offering students an image-based introduction to different calligraphy styles (organized by region) used in writing early Qur’anic texts and inscriptions. The students then compared these styles to those used on, for example, the Dome of the Rock and in the Tashkent Qur’an. Through this analysis, students were able to speak about theological ideas around the presence of scripture in architecture and daily life as well as reflect on the breadth of expanding empire and regional influences during the spread of the Umayyads.