Master Degree Curriculum

General Courses

Arabic Grammar 

This is the first of two Arabic courses that are required as the skills component of the MA program in Islamic texts. The course uses Iżĥār al-asrār fī al-naĥw, by Zayn al-Dīn Muĥammad b. Bīr al-Birkawī (d. 981/1573), to study advanced concepts in grammar. Al-Birkawī’s Iżĥār was a standard text in the Ottoman madrasa system and received numerous commentaries. The text’s highly organized structure—agent (¢āmil), governed (ma¢mūl), and agency (¢amal)—distinguishes itself from other grammar texts and provides students with a framework for the grammatical concepts of the Arabic language. Additionally, it serves as a useful reference, providing students with clear and precise definitions and examples. Studying this text prepares students for the second skill-based Arabic course in the program. 

Arabic Rhetoric 

This intermediate-level course in Arabic rhetoric uses two textbooks: Talkhīś al-miftāĥ, by al-Khaţīb al-Qazwīnī (d. 739/1338), and Jawāhir al-balāghah, by Ahmad al-Hāshimī (d. 1943). Students develop a structured understanding of the rhetorical concepts necessary to understand the Qur’an and Arabic poetry. Fifteen primary rhetorical concepts and a dozen sub-concepts are investigated in depth. Eight of these concepts relate to word order (¢ilm al-ma¢ānī) and semantic syntax; three relate to figurative speech (¢ilm al-bayān), including allegorical and non-allegorical significations, linguistic allusion, and linguistic signaling; and two relate to embellishment (¢ilm al-badī¢), the art of bestowing decorative lexical and semantic features upon speech. Studying these textbooks enables students to analyze almost any passage from the Qur’an, poetry, and prose. Students are expected to start with a strong grasp of Arabic grammar and morphology and to develop a knowledge of poetry. 


In the Islamic as well as Latin scholastic traditions, the Īsāghūjī of Athīr al-Dīn al-Abharī (d. 1262) prepared students for advanced readings in logic. This course introduces students to the Arabic logic tradition (manţiq) through a close reading of the Īsāghūjī, along with its commentary, Mughnī al-ţullāb, by Maĥmūd b. Ĥasan al-Maghnīsī (d. 1808). Students learn the main problems of the Arabic tradition of formal logic, as it is divided broadly into conceptions (taśawwurāt) and affirmations (taśdīqāt), focusing on significations (dalālāt), terms (alfāż), definitions (ĥudūd), propositions (qađāyā), syllogisms (qiyās), and fallacies (mughālaţāt). The course draws on supplementary material from the greater Arabic logic tradition as well as material from the Western tradition to further discussion. Furthermore, the course provides a basis for understanding the methods employed by scholars in investigations of both the rational and transmitted sciences (¢aqliyyah and naqliyyah, respectively).

Dialectic and Disputation

Through the study of the science of dialectics and disputation (al-baĥth wa al-munāżarah), this course introduces the method of inquiry employed in the Islamic scholastic tradition. Although originating in law (fiqh), this method was later employed in all the Islamic sciences. Students learn the various ways of analyzing arguments, what transpires during a disputation, the various ways of objecting to premises and conclusions, and the ethics of disputation. This course also covers the science of imposition (¢ilm al-wađ¢), which is the study of the conventional reference of words and their meanings.

Along with grammar, logic, and rhetoric, these two sciences constitute the ancillary sciences that provide students with the tools for studying the core Islamic sciences. The texts used are Al-Risālah al-waladiyyah, by Sājiqlīzādah (d. 1145/1732), and Matn fī ¢ilm al-wađ¢, by Ibrāhīm Ĥaqqī al-Akīnī (d. 1318/1901). 

Research Methods

As a foundation for their graduate work, this course introduces students to research tools and resources for the academic study of Islam. It engages both traditional Muslim and critical/historical approaches to primary Islamic sources. To this end, it introduces students to the major reference works in the Islamic tradition related to the two streams of study at Zaytuna College: Islamic law, and philosophy and theology. Additionally, it introduces students to the key European reference works in those areas and to the problems studied in the European tradition[s] of Islamic studies. The course is designed to help students formulate a thesis problem, generate an annotated bibliography related to their thesis, and write a thesis proposal. 


Theology 1 

The subject of this course is the central problems of theology, as articulated by the later Sunni kalām tradition and summarized in the didactic poem “Al-Kharīdah al-bahiyyah” of Aĥmad al-Dardīr (d. 1786), along with his commentary. Topics include the key problems of theology (with an emphasis on the divine attributes), prophetology, beliefs known solely through transmission (sam¢iyyāt), and spiritual ethics. Supplementary readings in Arabic and English are given throughout the course. The Kharīdah provides students with a survey of the problems covered by later kalām works, thereby providing a basis for readings in advanced Islamic theology as well as comparative theology. Students are expected to memorize the seventy-one verses of the Kharīdah by the end of the class, in addition to definitions of key concepts related to Islamic theology. 

Theology 2 

This is the first of two courses on Sharĥ al-¢aqā’id al-Nasafiyyah, Sa¢d al-Dīn al-Taftāzānī’s (d. 792/1390) commentary on Najm al-Dīn al-Nasafī’s (d. 1142) matn on Islamic creed. After situating Taftāzānī’s text in the Islamic theological tradition, the course examines the discussions in the first half of his text regarding epistemology, arguments for the existence of God, and God’s attributes. Al-Nasafī’s matn is a Māturīdī text, and al-Taftāzānī’s commentary follows the Māturīdī school, while occasionally favoring the Ash¢arī school and often providing his own opinions. As one of the most important textbooks in the post-classical Islamic world, and in the Ottoman and Mughal empires in particular, Sharĥ al-¢aqā’id has garnered substantial attention through numerous super-commentaries (ĥawāshī). Where relevant, students read from the super-commentaries of Khayālī, Ramadan Efendi, and al-Qisţilī, as well as Muĥammad ¢Abd al-¢Azīz al-Farhārī’s Al-Nibrās sharĥ Sharĥ al-¢aqā’id

Theology 3 

This course covers the second half of Sharĥ al-¢aqā’id al-Nasafiyyah, Sa¢d al-Dīn al-Taftāzānī’s (d. 792/1390) commentary on Najm al-Dīn al-Nasafī’s (d. 537/1142) matn on Islamic creed. Continuing from the previous semester, the course examines the key problems in the second half of al-Taftāzānī’s commentary, those relating to the “beliefs known from transmission” (al-sam¢iyyāt). In particular, students look at discussions related to governance (imāmah), end times (ashrāţ al-sā¢ah) and messianic doctrines (al-mahdī), and eschatology (al-mawt wa mā ba¢dahu). In addition to Sharĥ al-¢aqā’id, students read from primary hadith texts and commentaries on those texts. 

Theology 4 

The objective of this course is to enable students to critically compare the methods and conclusion of the falāsifah and kalām theologians. The primary text is Nashr al-ţawāli¢, the commentary of Muĥammad b. Abū Bakr al-Mar¢ashī (also known as Sājiqlīzādah, d. 1145/1732) on ¢Abd Allāh Bayđāwī’s (d. 716/1316) Ţawāli¢ al-anwār min maţāli¢ al-anżār. The course covers the four chapters of the introduction, along with eleven chapters in book 1 of the text. After examining the author’s introduction, concerned with epistemology and logical reasoning, students use the methodology adopted by the mutakallimūn to systematically investigate what is known as general ontology (al-umūr al-¢āmmah), such as classification of things known, existence and non-existence, quiddity, necessity and possibility, eternity and temporality, singularity/multiplicity, and causality. Following that, students explore the sections on accidents and substances, as well as relevant topics in theology.

Philosophy 1 

This course serves as an introduction to the fundamental concepts of the Peripatetic school of Islamic philosophy (falsafah). Al-Fārābī and Ibn Sīnā are two of the major figures influencing the development and growth of falsafah and have left lengthy and difficult works in this field. Texts have been composed that serve as teaching tools for the major doctrines the Peripatetic school. One of the most prominent texts of the Muslim scholastic tradition is Hidāyat al-ĥikmah (Guide to Philosophy), by Athīr al-Dīn al-Mufađđal al-Abharī (d. 1265), a student of Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 1210). This serves as the main text. Topics investigated focus on physics (al-ţabī¢iyyāt) and metaphysics (al-ilāhiyyāt). This course also prepares students for advanced kalām theology textual studies in the program. The course provides students with (1) the technical terminology and (2) the methodology adopted by the Peripatetic school. 

For physics, the following topics are covered: hylomorphism, refutation of atomism, faculties of the animal soul, external and internal senses. For metaphysics, the following topics are covered: universals and particulars, causality, the categories (substance and accidents), singularity and plurality, the necessary existent, divine oneness, and divine knowledge.

Philosophy 2 

This course is the first part of a three-part, in-depth study of the Transcendentalist school of Islamic philosophy. Through a reading of the entire text of Studying the Bidāyat al-ĥikmah, by Muĥammad Ĥusain Ţabāţabā’ī (d. 1981), students explore the subject matter of philosophy (al-ĥikmah) and its methodology, along with the major questions of the essence/existence distinction, the doctrine of the principality of existence or essence, God’s knowledge, quiddity and essence, the “thing it-self,” and other topics of ontology and epistemology. Additionally, the historical development of the Transcendentalist school and its major figures are explored.  

Philosophy 3 

In this second part of their study of the Bidāyat al-ĥikmah, students explore the Transcendentalists’ notion of causality. Topics studied include the kinds of causes, the mutual necessity between cause and effect, and the question of whether a completely simple being can only cause a single effect (ex uno non fit nisi unum). Additional topics include the division of existence into one and many, kinds of one, actuality and potentiality, motion, and time. 

Philosophy 4 

In the last part of their three-part course on the Bidāyat al-ĥikmah, students study the final sections of the text, which present the Transcendentalists’ positions on epistemology and necessary being. Specific topics of epistemology include knowledge of universals and particulars, the stages of intellection, presential knowledge (al-¢ilm al-ĥuđūrī), and acquired knowledge (al-¢ilm al-ĥuśūlī). The investigation into necessary being extends to the topics of its existence, attributes, and acts. Additional topics include immaterial beings and the imaginal and material worlds.  

Islamic Law 

Positive Law 1 

This is the first part of a two-semester course focusing on Islamic laws of business transactions according to the Ĥanafī school of law. It covers the positive law of business transactions, based on the text Al-Lubāb fī sharĥ al-kitāb (The Quintessence: An Exegesis of “The Book”), by ¢Abd al-Ghanī al-Ghunaymī al-Maydānī (d. 1298/1880). Students learn the definition, the conditions, and the integrals for twenty-six types of transactions. 

The types of transactions covered are sales (buyū¢), contract revocation (iqālah), cost-plus sale (murābaĥah), usury/interest (ribā), pre-paid forward sale (al-salam), money exchange (al-śarf), collateral (rahn), freezing someone’s business transactions (al-ĥajr), confessions (al-iqrār), renting/hiring contracts (ijārah), preemption (shuf¢ah), partnership (sharikah), and trust financing contract (muđārabah). Students examine each type of transaction and distinguish between them through examples and applications. They learn contract requirements as well as the reasons certain topics are ordered a specific way in the book. 

Positive Law 2 

Continuing their study of the Islamic laws of business transactions according to the Ĥanafī school of law, students explore all the positive laws of business transactions, again based on the text Al-Lubāb fī sharĥ al-kitāb. (The Quintessence: An Exegesis of “The Book”), by ¢Abd al-Ghanī al-Ghunaymī al-Maydānī (d. 1298/1880) Students learn the definition, the conditions, and the pillars for each of the following types of transactions: commissioning (wikālah), contract of guarantee (kafālah), resolutions (śulĥ), gift giving (hibah), endowment (waqf), extortion (ghaśb), deposit for safekeeping (al-wadī¢ah), lending items for use (al-¢āriyah), abandoned items (luqaţah), missing persons (mafqūd), reviving dead land (iĥyā’ al-mawāt), the slave who is authorized to do business (al-ma’dhūn), and sharecropping and watering for a share of the crop (al-muzāra¢ah wa al-musāqāh). 

As in the first course, the content includes examples and applications of each type. Students examine each type of transaction as well as compare and contrast them. They learn contract requirements as well as the reasons certain topics are ordered in a specific way in the book. 

Legal Theory 1 

This two-semester course is an introduction to the science of Islamic legal theory (uśūl al-fiqh), according to the “school of the jurists” (i.e., the Ĥanafī school). Students focus on the foundational sources of law as well as the key principles by which legal reasoning may be conducted, based on the Arabic text Uśūl al-Shāshī (Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence), by Niżām al-Dīn al-Shāshī.

Legal Theory I focuses on the fundamental definitions and categories that constitute the science of legal theory, and on the linguistic and logical interpretive method, as applied to the Qur’an as a primary source of law. The course covers topics such as general and specific terms and propositions (al-¢āmm wa al-khāśś), absolute and restricted propositions (al-muţlaq wa al-muqayyad), homonyms (al-mushtarak), interpreted texts (al-mu’awwal), explicit and implicit terms (al-śarīĥ wa al-kināyah), literal and figurative expression (al-ĥaqīqah wa al-majāz), commands and prohibitions (al-amr wa al-nahy), and meanings of prepositions (ma¢ānī al-ĥurūf). 

Legal Theory 2 

This second class on the principles of Islamic legal theory according to the Ĥanafī school focuses on the foundational sources of law as well as the key principles by which legal reasoning is conducted. The course is centered on the Arabic text Uśūl al-Shāshī (Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence), by Niżām al-Dīn al-Shāshī.  

Legal Theory 2 focuses on the fundamental definitions and categories that constitute the science of legal theory, and on the linguistic and logical interpretive method, as applied to Prophetic traditions. It covers the role of scholarly consensus (ijmā¢) and legal analogical reasoning (qiyās) in the derivation of legal rulings. It examines secondary sources, including the use of inductive reasoning (istiqrā’) and the considerations of juristic equity (istiĥsān), custom (¢urf), and the presumption of continuity (istiśĥāb). The course also covers types of rulings, such as injunctive rulings (al-ĥukm al-tashrī¢ī) and stipulative rulings (al-ĥukm al-wađ¢ī).  

Legal Theory 3 

Legal Theory 3 is the first course in advanced studies in Islamic legal theory. The approaches of the theologians (al-mutakallimūn) as well as of the jurists (al-fuqahā’) are covered. The main text of study is Jam¢ al-jawāmi¢, by Tāj al-Dīn al-Subkī (d. 771/1370). Additionally, students read Al-Sharĥ al-jadīd ¢alā jam¢ al-jawāmi¢, by ¢Abd al-Karīm al-Dabbān (d. 1993), along with the various marginal glosses on the text. Exploration of the text extends over two semesters. In Legal Theory 3, students focus on the last five sections of the book—covering the third and fourth agreed-upon sources of law: consensus (ijmā¢) and analogical reasoning (qiyās)—and then on other indicators of the law (istidlāl), weighing of conflicting legal indicators (ta¢āruđ and tarjīĥ), and independent legal judgment (ijtihād). Special attention is given to subsidiary topics in ijmā¢ and qiyās.

Legal Theory 4 

In the second part of the two-semester advanced study of legal theory, students continue to study Jam¢ al-jawāmi¢. In Legal Theory 4, they focus on the first three sections of the book, covering the postulates (muqaddimāt), along with two of the primary sources of the law: the Qur’an (al-Kitāb) and prophetic utterances and acts (al-sunnah). Special attention is given to selected topics related to the Qur’an and Sunnah, such as rules of interpretation (dalālāt), explicit and implicit textual significations (manţūq and mafhūm), commands and prohibitions (amr and nahy), general and specific (¢āmm and khāśś), absolute and restricted (muţlaq and muqayyad), abrogation (naskh), and prepositions (ĥurūf). In addition, the declaratory and stipulative rulings (ĥukm al-taklīfī and ĥukm wađ¢ī) are explored. 

Legal Maxims 

This course is an in-depth exploration of the science of legal maxims within Islamic legal sciences. It covers the role of legal maxims and how this science is both distinguished from and related to other legal sciences. The course begins with the definition of this science, its importance and principles, and its historical development.

The main focus of this course is the five leading maxims: matters are determined according to intentions (al-umūr bi maqāśidihā), certainty is not overruled by doubt (al-yaqīn la yazūl bi al-shakk), hardship begets facility (al-mashaqqah tajlib al-taysīr), harm must be eliminated (al-đarar yuzāl), and custom is a basis for judgment (al-¢ādah muĥakkamah). Each major maxim is examined according to the establishment of its validity as a principle in Islamic law, its various articulations within the legal schools, its application in both classical and modern Islamic jurisprudence, and the exceptional cases relating to the maxim. The course also investigates the relationship between the legal maxims and independent legal judgment (ijtihad). The primary text for the course is Sharĥ al-qawā¢id al-fiqhiyyah, by Aĥmad al-Zarqā.