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Class slides and links will be posted each week. Audio and video recordings are unavailable at this time.

Class 1The Philosophy of Faith, Prophethood, and Certainty (slides)

  1. What is the role of “agency” in religion?
  2. What is faith?
  3. Why do Muslims believe in God and the existence of prophets?
  4. How do Muslims know anything with certainty?
  • A 4 minute summary of the Rare Earth theory. The physical world does not seem to provide unequivocal proofs of a metaphysical reality, but rather they induce thinkers to ask, “is there any purpose to this incredibly rare and delicate opportunity to life?” Those who have faith answer in the affirmative.
  • A well-made BBC documentary on the same subject.
  • offers a summary of 40 years of academic discussions, photos of manuscripts, tombstones and other historic artifacts that have survived the pre-Islamic and first Islamic century. It offers academic rebuttals to polemical claims of missionaries and hyper-skeptical Orientalists and even ground-breaking research on the carbon dating and paleographic analysis of the Sana’a I manuscripts.

Further Reading:

Class 2 Rationalism in the Islamic Tradition: Be Reasonable, Be Kind: Avoid the Use of Logical Fallacies (slides)

How does rationalism shape law and theology in Islam?

How did early rationalists read verses of the Qur’an considered anthropomorphic or antithetical to justice?

How is rationalism relevant to Muslim practice today?

What are common illogical proofs Muslims use to reason with their interlocutors?


The four contributions of Umayyads: Anthropomorphism, Fatalism, the Salvation of criminals, Anti-Alid sentiment.

The Mu’tazili response.

The Quran and Verses that suggest anthropomorphism. God’s Face, Eyes, Hands, Throne, Chair, Descent, Location, Light, Guidance & Misguidance, Sāq.

3 major schools in the first century:

Tajsīm – Anthropomorphist readings of Literalists

Tafwīḍ – Abstaining from any interpretation and affirming the existence of a physical characteristic.

Tanzīh – Absolving God of physical attributes and considering such verses to be metaphorical.

The Role of Reason in Islamic Law:

Legal Maxims – (al-qawa’id) represent the logical articulation of legal axioms in light of the sacred sources. They also reflect a collective practice among judges and jurists.

Objectives of Islamic law – (maqasid al-sharia). If Islamic law could be collapsed into six objectives, they would be the preservation of life, intellect, religion, property, family, and dignity.

Procedural principles in cases of doubt – The Principle of Continuity, Precaution, Exemption, and the Inculpatoriness of non-specific knowledge. These principles derive from other philosophical principles like the Repugnance principle and Incapacity principle and give birth to other principles like the Halal principle.

Further Reading:

  • Kamali, Mohammad Hāshim. “Legal Maxims and other Genres of Literature in Islamic Jurisprudence” Arab Law Quarterly 20, 1.
  • “Maqasid al Shariah: The Objectives of Islamic Law.”
  • –. Mohammed, Khaleel. “The Islamic Law Maxims,” Islamic Studies 44, no. 2 (1426/2005), 191-209.
  • Al-Ṣadr, Muḥammad Bāqir, Lessons in Islamic Jurisprudence, trans., Roy Mottahedeh. Oxford: Oneworld, 2003.
  • [For rationalist theology see suggested readings from Lecture 1]

Class 3The Identity Spectrum (slides)

There are six major trends within Muslim communities today. Are they all rivals or friends?
[Medina Institute vs. Maghrib Institute vs. the Muslim Brotherhood vs. Tariq Ramadan vs. Mahdiism vs. Mauritania]

Where do mosques in my community fall in the spectrum?

Which perspective has influenced my understanding of Islam the most?

Class 4The Conflicts of Companions (slides)

Why did Muslims become sectarian and how did they deal with the Conflicts between Companions?
What were the seven major conflicts from the death of the Prophet to the death of Ali (the period of the ‘Rāshidūn’)?
Why did Companions go to war against each other and what are the ramifications today?
How did various theological schools deal with this history?

Class 5 – What is “Islamic” government and who are the Inheritors of the Prophet? (Slides)

Are the inheritors of the Prophet the caliphs or the scholars?

Is the Caliph the ‘Deputy of God’ [khalifatullah] or the ‘Successor to the Prophet’  [khalifat rasūlillah]?

How was the “sunna” redefined over two centuries?

Does Islamic law dictate that a ruler have full legislative and executive authority? What are the characteristics of a legitimate ruler or polity?

Class 6 – Wahhabism, Sufism and Shi’ism (slides)

What are the principles and practices that distinguish Shi’ism from Sunnism? Did the Family of the Prophet associate with Shi’i Muslims?  How does Shi’ism respond to claims that its beliefs and practices have no basis in the sacred sources of Islamic law or theology?
Who was Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhab and why did he lead a military campaign (which he described as ‘jihad’) against other Muslims?  What are the fundamental beliefs and methodologies that characterize Wahhabism? Why are terrorist organizations in the Muslim world, if inspired by religion, regularly linked to Wahhabism?
What is Sufism? What are general practices and beliefs associated with Sufism?  How does it respond to claims that its beliefs and practices have no basis or origin in Islamic law or history?

Class 7Hadith Skepticism (slides)

Why have some Muslim scholars in the twentieth century expressed doubts regarding the authenticity of hadith in the canonical collections of Bukhari and Muslim? What are arguments they utilize to criticize such hadith? What alternative methods do they use to derive law and theology?

Class 8When it no longer makes sense: The negative influence of ancient societies on Islamic law and thought

How have Judeo-Christian traditions [Isrā’iliyyāt] influenced Muslim theology?

How have ancient Near Eastern practices influenced Islamic laws?

How did pre-Islamic Arabia influence Muslim debates regarding gender, race, and slavery?

Class 9The Progressive Muslim movement (Class 9 & 10 slides)
How does the ‘progressive Muslim’ agenda differ from activism that promotes liberal, Western worldviews? Does the movement criticize liberal as well as conservative worldviews? In a post-9/11 era is there fear amongst Muslims in overtly criticizing US domestic and foreign policies? Is there an over-emphasis of popular 7th century Arabian beliefs and culture in mosques today? Is there a conservative, anti-intellectual mosque culture that intimidates and excludes Muslims with different views? Does Islamic feminism necessitate a “difficult double commitment”?
How do progressive theologians and jurists engage LGBT individuals who would like to convert to Islam or are born to Muslim families?

Class 10Social tensions related to Islam in America
Islam and the axis of popular culture. What is a Muslim’s relationship to art, television, poetry, music, and entertainment culture? How do Muslims navigate a party-culture that encourages erotic images, sex and substance abuse? What are movements related to American food culture? Are there American holidays that one does not celebrate, why or why not? How does alienation affect American Muslims? How has racism affected first-generation Americans and those with historic roots?