A hypothetical course on Islam

Let’s say, just in theory, that a friend of mine were to be assigned to teach an introductory course on Islamic thought at a college with a discussion-centric pedagogy based on primary texts. Let’s say further that this friend of mine wants to strike a balance between Islamic scripture, legal reasoning, philosophy, art, and literature — perhaps capping off the course with a modern novel in an Islamic setting. What would you recommend to this completely hypothetical person?

12 thoughts on “A hypothetical course on Islam

  1. I think there’s value in reading some of the medieval Islamic debates on the Qur’an and Hadiths. Compare Falsafah, Kalam, Mu’tazilah, Occasionalism, etc. Although maybe slightly tangential, the debate between, Al-Ghazali and Ibn Rushd in the Incoherence of the Philosophers and the Incoherence of Incoherence is particularly interesting.

  2. I would ask your friend if the scope is perhaps too large. Does this hypothetical person do something similar with the other monotheistic traditions? And if not, could it be modelled more on the focus of those classes?

  3. This doesn’t fully answer your question, but in the past couple of years with seminary students I have used Starkovsky’s The Koran Handbook (http://www.amazon.com/Koran-Handbook-Annotated-Translation/dp/0875863760/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1395775181) as an introduction to the Qur’an, which takes all of the suras out of order, organizes them thematically, and then heavily annotates the text with clear introductions. There are clearly pedagogical and theological weaknesses or problems with it presented in this way but I have found it helpful.

  4. For the modern lit I suggest “Blind Owl”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blind_Owl for three reasons. It’s the first modern novel in Farsi, the setting is Iran and India, and it’s available.
    But there is an avant-garde play which would be my first choice if I were that hypothetical teacher. “Nagahaan haza habibollah…” by Abbas Nalbandian: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abbas_Nalbandian
    It is a modern interpretation of traditional Shia performative ritual Tazia. The setting is during the ceremonies and the act happens in slums around of a Muslim metropolis. The hypothetical teacher could even suggest her students to rehearse and perform it after the semester. If only she could find any Farsi speaker to translate the text into English. Though it’s not impossible to find an existing translation I suppose. However the original text can be downloaded for free.
    I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s on reading list. Though you have probably considered it before: Cities of Salt (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cities_of_Salt)

  5. If you wanted to look into the relationship between Islam and philosophy, Al-Ghazali’s “The Incoherence of Philosophers” is an incredibly interesting original source (even if a little Aristotelian), and Al-Ghazali’s “Niche of Light” is a good meditation over the philosophical meanings of a specific passage from the Qu’ran (Sura 24, Verse 35). “Niche” is more mystical than “Incoherence” and deals with the different levels of understanding available to adherents. I have taught both and have had a good reaction to them.

  6. Not sure if this’ll be out in time to help your hypothetical friend, but the much-anticipated HarperCollins Study Qur’an (2015, ed. Nasr et al.) promises to be a great resource. Otherwise, Sells’ “Approaching the Qur’an” and Ernst’s “How to Read the Qur’an” work well. Hadith-wise, Jonathan Brown’s introduction is coming to be standard. For legal reasoning, maybe pairing an introduction like Weiss’s “The Spirit of Islamic Law” or one of Hallaq’s lighter works with a fatwa compendium (so students get a sense of how it actually works out)? There’ve been a few new books on Islam & art out recently, but I like the style of Leaman’s Edinburgh survey. Other options for the novel: http://www.unc.edu/~cernst/novels.htm.

  7. Nasrudin’s parables make for an engaging primary text, although it might be considered something of a wildcard selection. In any case, Idries Shah’s collection, ‘The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin’, is easily the second most memorable thing I read for a similarly unwieldy introductory course on Islam my freshman year of undergrad.

    (The first is a sufi treatise on epistemology, the title and author of which I embarrassingly cannot recall despite acute memories of the arguments, poor underlining technique applied while reading them (in red gel pen for fuck’s sake), page texture, etc.).

  8. Fwiw, you might also want to consider Talal Asad’s ‘Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity’ and this relatively short article by Noah Feldman: http://goo.gl/QOpyUJ .

    These don’t meet the criterion of being primary sources but might prove valuable as “bridging texts”.

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