Skip to content

Spring 2013 – MIT

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. Why do Muslims believe in God and the existence of prophets?
  2. How do Muslims know anything with certainty?


  • A 4 minute summary of the Rare Earth theory. We agree with atheists and agnostics that these facts do not constitute unequivocal proofs of a metaphysical reality, but rather induce us to ask, “is there any purpose to this incredibly rare and delicate opportunity to life?” Those who have faith answer in the affirmative, while atheists hope it is all coincidence.
  • 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

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?


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, the 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 3Muslim Identities (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?

What are the eight major legal schools in Islam and how do they differ from each other in methodology?

Class 4 The Qur’an and the Sins of Prophets

What does the “infallibility” of prophets mean to you? Can they commit major or minor sins? Can you locate and note narratives that describe prophets committing “sinful” deeds in the Quran? If prophets earn their rank through constancy in piety, how did Christ have access to prophethood from birth? If sinlessness is a prerequisite to receiving revelation, how did theologians interpret narratives regarding prophets manifestly contradicting this belief?

Further Reading:

Part I – Selections from the Qur’an:

  • The Covenant (Q33:7, Q3:81)
  • Individuals free of zulm (Q2:124; Q6:82)
  • A Deputy on earth (Q2:30)
  • Imams by His Command (Q21:73, Q32:24)
  • Adam – Q7:11-27; Q20:117-21
  • Jonah – Q21:87, Q37:139-48; Q68:48-50; 10:98/li>
  • Moses – Q26:10-22 &Q28:14-22/li>
  • The Prophet – Q80:1-11; Q48:1-12/li>

Class 5The Conflicts of 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? How did Companions respond to the caliphate of Yazid? How did various theological schools deal with this history?

Class 6The 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 7The Family of the Prophet in the Sunni Tradition (Slides)

On Companions:
What were the conflicts that occurred during the caliphates of ‘Uthman and ‘Ali? What are the ramifications of those conflicts today?

On The Family of the Prophet:

What happened to ‘Alī, Fatima, Hasan, Husayn and their children after the death of the Prophet? Who are famous Imams that are descendants of the Prophet and what is their role in Sunnism? Why did some Muslims despise the Prophet’s family and consider them criminals? What are some legal codes and what are some superstitions related to being a “sayyid” in Muslim society today?

Class 8 – Wahhabism, Sufism and Shi’ism

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 9Hadith Skepticism:

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 10The 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 11The Progressive Muslim movement (Class 10 & 11 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?