Bachelor Degree Curriculum

Senior Year: Fall

Arabic Rhetoric and Literature

Please refer to the section on Arabic courses for a description.

Metaphysical Foundations

We cannot escape metaphysics. Even so, the term is notoriously difficult to define. Muslim theologians and philosophers have identified the subject matter of this science as the most general and universal of all things: the existent (al-mawjūd) qua existent. Hence, it has been called the scientia generalis. Since metaphysics comes after physics (¢ilm mā fī ba¢d al-ṭabī¢ah), we think of it as the science of divinity (al-¢ilm al-ilāhī), scientia universalis (al-¢ilm al-kullī), kalam theology (¢ilm al-kalām), and the first teaching (al-ta¢līm al-awwal). This course covers topics such as existence, nonexistence, quiddity, causation, substance, accidents, the categories, atomism, hylomorphism, universals, particulars, nominalism, immaterial objects, identity, persistence, proofs for the existence of the soul, and the faculties of the soul. Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas’s explanation of the Islamic vision of reality and truth as “a metaphysical survey of the visible as well as the invisible worlds including the perspective of life as a whole” opens this course to topics such as the conception of religion and the meaning of happiness. Other topics covered include essentialism, conceptions of the self, social ontology, conception of the natural world, natural kinds, and epistemology.


How has ethics evolved as a branch of philosophy, both in its speculative and practical aspects? To answer this question, students start their inquiry with virtue ethics, especially as it unfolds in both the Euthyphro and the Gorgias of Plato, and in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. They continue by exploring the development of aretaism in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim thought, especially Maimonides, Aquinas, and al-Isfahani. Thereafter, the course focuses on the Enlightenment and its turn away from virtue theory, particularly in the deontological ethics of Kant and the utilitarianism of Mill. Finally, students look carefully at the challenges of moral relativism in light of aretaic theory. Throughout the semester, students observe how metaphysics informs ethical perspectives and attempt to arrive at a clearer understanding of current ethical debates in the light of multiple perspectives. By the end of the course, students will have gained an appreciation of virtue ethics, recognizing the inherent tensions between aretaic traditions and modern ethical frameworks.

Astronomy in the Islamic Tradition

Astronomy investigates the origin of the cosmos (¢ilm al-kawniyyāt), the motion of celestial bodies (¢ilm al-falak), and time-keeping (¢ilm at-tawqīt). Historically, sustained and careful inquiry into these discrete fields of astronomy has generated other branches of empirical science. Students explore the development of astronomy in both Islamic culture and the West with special emphasis on how the heavens signal God’s order and design. Examining ancient and modern sources, students follow the discoveries of Ptolemy, al-Ṭūsī, al-Shāṭir, Ibn al-Haytham, al-Bīrūnī, Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, Newton, and Einstein, and arrive at last at a contemporary understanding of the universe. Their study emphasizes the motion of the sun, stars, and planets, moon phases, and the interrelation of celestial phenomena. Students then apply theory to practice by building an astrolabe to model the motion of the sun. Using their instruments to track star movement throughout the year makes it possible for them correctly to work out the times for prayer prescribed by Islam. While sighting the crescent moon further endows them with a fundamental skill for keeping time, study of positional and navigational stars teaches students how reliably to orient themselves to the qiblah. Assessments include written work, computational assignments, quizzes, and a final exam.

Contemporary Muslim Thought

The key intellectual developments in the Muslim world from the late seventeenth century to the present unfold in this seminar, which investigates the thought and contributions of various figures who have influenced contemporary Islamic discourse in the areas of law, theology, philosophy, politics, ethics, and spirituality (taṣawwuf). Specific topics include secularism, reform (iṣlāḥ), independent reasoning (ijtihād), following qualified scholarship (taqlīd), public and private good (maṣlaĥah), decorum (adab), vicegerency (khilāfah), the nation-state, Muslim fundamentalism and extremism, constitutionalism, critical assessment (taĥqīq), critique, progressive Islam, gender, sexual orientation, the Enlightenment, modernity, the decline thesis, scholars (¢ulamā’) and new Muslim intellectuals, religious authority, Islamism, justice, freedom, Islamization, Muslim feminist thought, tradition, and philosophia perennis. 

Senior Year: Spring 

Senior Arabic Seminar

Please refer to the section on Arabic courses for a description.

Islamic Law: Commercial 

This course acquaints students with the Islamic teachings on business transactions, sales, and ethics. Students learn the basic components of a business transaction, contracts, types of exchanges, the rules of buying and selling, the impermissible forms of transaction, insurance, lease-purchase, mortgages, stocks and bonds, bank accounts, debts, refunds, financing, warranties, bankruptcy, monopolies, the various types of Islamic corporations, and much more. All topics are dealt with based on the guidance of the Qur’an, the sunnah, and the findings of Muslim scholars. 

Islamic Law: Inheritance 

What is the prescribed way of disposing of a person’s possessions after death, according to Islamic teachings? This course covers the laws of inheritance and wills, including heirs, the rules of exclusion (ḥajb), the law of increase (¢awl), the laws of return (radd), and shares. Students also study areas of disagreement between Muslim legal schools, along with some contemporary applications. Students engage in practical applications and exercises related to a number of hypothetical scenarios.


Our tradition regards Abū Ĥāmid al-Ghazālī, called “the proof of Islam” (ḥujjat al-islām), as the renewer (mujaddid) of the fifth-century hijrah. This advanced course looks deeply into al-Ghazālī’s synthesized understanding and approach to Islam in its legal, theological, cosmological, ethical, spiritual, political, sociological, and metaphysical dimensions. To this end, students study al-Ghazālī’s writings, focusing on the areas of epistemology, rationality, scriptural hermeneutics, the conception and classification of knowledge, the divine names and attributes, prophetology, the Qur’an, religious psychology, political and social dimensions of religion and religious practice, and heresiography. Students explore these fields, with the goal of developing a clear understanding of al-Ghazālī’s science of the path to the afterlife (¢ilm ţarīq al-ākhirah). The course teaches a method of close textual reading and proposes an interpretation of al-Ghazālī’s own method that distinguishes and holds together doctrinal judgments and comprehension. Additionally, students study the reception of al-Ghazālī and his works by the later Islamic tradition.

Principles of Democracy

What do modern people mean when they speak of democracy? Is democracy always a government of the people, by the people, for the people? What are the historical roots of democracy? How do democratic institutions function in the modern world? Answers to these questions require a detailed investigation of foundational assumptions about democratic rule, the variety of political institutions that make it work, and the social impact that results therefrom. First, we survey historical critiques of democracy and republics in Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Livy, Machiavelli, and Hobbes. Next, we consider the nascent liberalism of Locke and the systematic political taxonomy of Montesquieu, together with his theory of the separation of powers. Afterward, we focus upon the United States specifically and the concept of democratic pluralism as it unfolds in the Federalists (Hamilton, Madison, Jay), the anti-Federalists ( Jefferson, Henry, Mason), the US Constitution itself, and de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Finally, these classical treatments of democracy become the lens through which the seminar will examine two contemporary works: March’s The Caliphate of Man: Popular Sovereignty in Modern Islamic Thought and Hallaq’s The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity’s Modern Predicament.