Bachelor Degree Curriculum

Senior Year: Fall

Arabic Rhetoric and Literature

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

Metaphysical Foundations

Metaphysics is inescapable. 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. Muslim theologians and philosophers have called metaphysics what comes after physics (¢ilm fī mā ba¢d al-ţabī¢ah), science of divinity (al-¢ilm al-ilāhī), scientia universalis (al-¢ilm al-kullī), kalām 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.

Ethics

How has ethics evolved as a branch of philosophy, both in its speculative and practical aspects? To answer that question, this course starts by giving special attention to virtue ethics, especially as it unfolds in Plato’s Gorgias and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. The course continues with a survey of the Hellenistic influence on the Muslim world and the Islamization of Greek thought and virtue ethics. In this regard, students explore ethical theory and other alternative philosophical trends in classical Islamic thought. Finally, students discuss Western Enlightenment thought and its turn away from virtue ethics, specifically in Emmanuel Kant’s deontological ethics and John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism. Students also examine how metaphysics informs ethical perspectives and attempt to arrive at a clearer understanding of current ethical debates in the light of various perspectives. By the end of the course, students gain an appreciation of virtue ethics in the Islamic tradition and its connection to spirituality, recognizing the inherent tensions between that tradition and modern ethical frames.

Astronomy in the Islamic Tradition

This course is an introduction to astronomy (¢ilm al-falak), time keeping (tawqīt), and navigation, as these developed and were practiced in medieval Muslim and Western societies. It is not a standard astronomy course, as given at colleges and universities today; rather, it is designed to open students to understanding the motion of the celestial sphere and the phenomena that occur in the sky. Through reading and discussing the works of prominent Muslim astronomers, students gain an appreciation of the contributions Muslims made to the field of astronomy. Students also build and use an astrolabe to solve time-related problems, such as determining prayer times and developing star charts (zīj). The course involves regular sky observations and field trips to observe new moons marking the beginnings of Islamic months. 

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 (taśawwuf). Specific topics include secularism, reform (iślāĥ), independent reasoning (ijtihād), following qualified scholarship (taqlīd), public and private good (maślaĥah), 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 (ĥajb), 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.

Al-Ghazālī

Abū Ĥāmid al-Ghazālī, known as “the proof of Islam” (ĥujjat al-islām), is considered to be the renewer (mujaddid) of the fifth-century Hijrah This course serves as an inquiry 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 following areas: epistemology, reason, scriptural hermeneutics, 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. These are explored 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 understanding. Additionally, students study the reception of al-Ghazālī and his works by the later Islamic tradition.