An Introduction to Islamic Theology

The latest book in the Zaytuna Curriculum Series, from Shaykh Faraz Khan, explains the central tenets of Islamic creed and provides a rare rendering into the English language of the enduring relevance of the kalam commentary tradition.

An Introduction to Islamic Theology: Imam Nūr al-Dīn al-Śābūnī’s Al-Bidāyah fī uśūl al-dīn
Introduction, Translation, Annotation, and Appendices by Faraz A. Khan

In an age of unprecedented challenges, the demanding task before Muslim theologians today is not merely to reproduce the debates of the past but to formulate a genuine contemporary scholastic theology, or kalam, that engages the questions, concerns, and misgivings of modernity.

This concise yet thorough manual on Māturīdī theology authored by Imam Nūr al-Dīn al-Śābūnī (d. 580/1184), a prominent Muslim theologian from Bukhara, provides a foundation upon which modern Muslim discourse can be built. The text explains the central tenets of the Islamic creed and refutes erroneous positions of alternative theologies. The discussions are uncomplicated and unencumbered by technical terminology, and the positions of orthodoxy are presented with rational and scriptural evidence.

Comprehensive notes by translator Faraz A. Khan accompany the text and, with the translation, provide a rare rendering into the English language of the extraordinary richness and enduring relevance of the kalam commentary tradition. Finally, a valuable appendix on the kalam cosmological argument discusses related issues in contemporary philosophy.

From the Foreword by Hamza Yusuf Hanson

"One of the most important intermediate texts of the Māturīdī school, Al-Bidāyah, had a profound influence on Muslim scholastics and was widely used and often cited in some of the most important commentaries of both the Māturīdī and Ash¢arī schools. . . .

This excellent translation and commentary by Shaykh Faraz Khan—a well-schooled, budding scholastic himself—qualifies as the first major translation of a foundational Māturīdī text into the English language. Such texts remain relevant to the continued theological discourse within Islam and without, given the Māturīdī school’s continued relevance, which cannot be overstated.  The school’s perpetuity remains ensured by its unique characteristics: its soft natural law approach, which counters the hard Mu¢tazilī position; its affirmation of the centrality of reason; its emphasis on moral accountability in the absence of revelation; and its subtle awareness of the seemingly intractable problems of causation, free will, and divine determinism that reveal its concern for the most compelling problems of theology. 

Kalam (Islamic theology), like all the great sciences and teachings of Islam, needs renewal and development, especially in light of the immense strides our species has made in the physical sciences—sciences that Muslim theologians were always engaged in during the great periods of Muslim intellectual flourishing."

About the Translator

Faraz A. Khan is on the faculty at Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California. After completing undergraduate studies at the University of Texas at Austin, he moved to Amman, Jordan, where he resided from 2004 to 2011. In accordance with the criteria of traditional Islamic studies, he read classical texts with distinguished scholars in Ash¢arī and Māturīdī scholastic theology, Hanafi jurisprudence, prophetic narration, logic, 
and other religious sciences, receiving scholarly authorization (ijāzah) after seven years of full-time study. His current research interests center on the engagement of philosophical theology and ethics with the contemporary age.

Visit his faculty page

Praise for Faraz A. Khan's Translation

"Anyone interested in Islamic theology owes a debt of gratitude to Faraz Khan for this translation of a significant text from the Māturīdī tradition. Nūr al-Dīn \Lal-Śābūnī summarizes concisely yet acutely what he takes to be the main principles of correct Islamic theology and its alternatives and provides a lively account of the main principles of Māturīdism. Al-Śābūnī is particularly strong on epistemology, and anyone seeking to understand the range of the Māturīdī school of thought will find this translation very helpful." 

—Oliver Leaman, Professor of Philosophy, University of Kentucky

"This text in Māturīdī theology displays the sophistication of Islamic theology at this time, with fair-minded summaries, together with a masterful use of philosophical strategies elucidating the position of the People of Truth. Faraz Khan’s lucid translation conveys the clarity with which the author presents numerous positions of the Māturīdī school, along with concise yet thorough discussions of reasoning characteristic of other theological schools, both inside and outside Islam."

—David Burrell, CSC, Theodore Hesburgh Professor in Philosophy and Theology, University of Notre Dame

About the Zaytuna Curriculum Series

At Zaytuna College, we firmly hold the conviction that the estrangement of faith from reason that emerged out of modernity belies the deep commitment premodern faiths had toward reason. For centuries, reason and revelation represented complementary aspects of both the Western (Christian) and Islamic intellectual traditions. We are aware that the Hellenistic tradition greatly influenced Muslim intellectual endeavors, but too often we neglect the immense influence of the Muslim tradition on Western thought; far from being divergent, these two intellectual streams flow from the same river of knowledge. 

Unfortunately, in the more recent past, many Muslim traditionalists have relegated reason to a lesser place, with a radical minority even expunging it entirely from their understanding of the religion. Beyond their embrace of reason, Muslims—always syncretists, based on the prophetic tradition that wisdom is the lost property of the believer—willingly studied, and borrowed from, the intellectual legacies of other civilizations. They digested, translated, and integrated many great works of the Indian, Persian, and Hellenistic cultures into their own tradition. 

Inspired by these legacies, the Zaytuna Curriculum Series seeks to help restore reason to its proper place of honor, to reconcile it with revelation in Islamic learning, and also to cultivate a welcoming and curious intellectual climate by publishing texts, commentaries, and new works from the Islamic tradition, as well as from other traditions, that reflect the full richness of our heritage. This publishing project is a natural outgrowth of Zaytuna College, where our core mission is to educate students in both the Islamic and Western liberal arts traditions, making our curriculum represent the best of both traditions by incorporating them into an integral program of study.