• About

    In 2009, Zaytuna College was founded in Berkeley, California, with a mission that called for grounding students in the Islamic scholarly tradition as well as in the cultural currents and critical ideas shaping modern society.

  • Academics

    As a Muslim liberal arts college in the West, Zaytuna offers a curriculum that provides its students with a foundation in the intellectual heritage of two major world civilizations: the Islamic and the Western.

  • Admissions & Aid

    Our mission is to educate students to become morally, intellectually, and spiritually accomplished individuals ready to contribute to our contemporary world in ways that are proportionate to their gifts and to the needs of human society.

  • Campus Life

    Zaytuna’s campus is on Holy Hill and students enter the College as part of a cohort, a community of learners that travel together through the curriculum.

BA Course Descriptions

Bachelor Degree Curriculum

Freshman Year: Fall

Islamic Law 1 | Hanafi Fiqh: Purification and Prayer

The study of the pillars of faith (shahādah) and prayer (ṣalāh), which includes purification (ṭahārah) and ceremonial prayer, introduces Islamic theology and examines the most important and foundational ritual of Islam. Students engage relevant Islamic theological concepts and explore the meaning of jurisprudence (fiqh), the rulings related to ritual prayer, the etiquette of supplication, and the spiritual dimensions of worship. Students aspiring to join the Honors Program are also required to study and memorize a classical text (matn) in the first year to serve as a memory peg for the jurisprudence of their respective school.

Islamic Law 1 | Maliki Fiqh: Purification and Prayer

Islamic law forms the foundation for a life of devotion and servitude to God. The curriculum in Maliki fiqh, therefore, introduces Islamic theology and examines the most important and foundational rituals of Islam. Working systematically through the principles and rules of Muslim ceremonial practice, as envisioned in the school of Imam Mālik b. Anas (711–793) and explained in Al-Murshid al-mu¢īn (The helpful guide), students undertake a detailed study of the pillars of faith (shahādah) and prayer (ṣalāh), which includes purification (ṭahārah) and ceremonial prayer. The course explores the meaning of jurisprudence, the rulings on ritual prayer, obligatory and supererogatory prayers, the etiquette of supplication (du¢ā’), prerequisites for prayer, the status of the one who abandons prayer, apostasy, the status of the worship of non-Muslims, the manner of repairing ruptures in devotional acts, exemptions from compulsory worship, and the spiritual dimensions of worship.

Islamic Law 1 | Shafi‘i Fiqh: Purification and Prayer

As an introduction to Islamic positive law, this course equips students with the knowledge to navigate and fulfill lifelong religious duties, bringing knowledge and confidence to their worship of God. Instruction makes use of two classical texts and their respective commentary traditions: Matn al-ghāyah wa al-taqrīb by Abū Shujā¢al-Aśfahānī and ¢Umdat al-sālik by Aĥmad b. al-Naqīb al-Miśrī. Students learn detailed rulings on purification and daily prayer. They also examine some of the textual proofs for those rulings. Specifically, instruction treats the methods, instruments, and aims of purification, as well as the types of water, ablution, wiping on leather socks, purification while wearing casts, the ways of preparing for prayer, the requirements for valid prayer, the importance of correctly reciting al-Fātiĥah, Friday and Eid, funeral prayers, prayer while sick or while traveling, what may invalidate prayer, and exceptional situations. Key concepts, together with stipulative and declaratory rulings, receive special consideration. Throughout the semester students keep a journal, participate regularly in class discussions, and prepare written assignments. They also take midterm and final exams. The course strongly emphasizes students’ ability to memorize, recall, and apply key concepts related to purification and prayer.

Introduction to the Qur’an

Students undertake an introductory study of the Qur’an to familiarize themselves with its content, arrangement, and vocabulary. For each class, they prepare one part (juz’) of the Qur’an, both in Arabic and in translation. Surveying some of the finer points of language, style, and interpretation, class discussions focus nonetheless on the major themes and arguments of the Qur’an, its overall structure, and the order of its chapters. From a confessional perspective, increased familiarity with every aspect of the Qur’an justifies itself. Additionally, this course prepares students for deeper engagement with the sacred text in Qur’anic sciences during their sophomore year. Finally, as the course requires frequent writing, students refine their critical thinking and research skills.

Trivium Seminar 1: Grammar

Grammar focuses students’ attention on the symbolic representation of thought in language. To frame grammar in metaphysics, students read Aristotle’s Categories, which lays the foundation for further study of logic and rhetoric. Thereafter, the seminar reviews (1) the prescriptive rules of language, (2) taxonomies of linguistic phenomena, and (3) the mechanics of prosody and syntax. As the cornerstone upon which the whole of a liberal arts curriculum rests, this course develops the analytical skills needed for the close reading of texts. Oedipus Tyrannus provides the paradigm students scrutinize in multiple readings, each through a distinct theoretical lens. Aristotle’s Poetics comments directly upon Sophocles and offers an analysis of mimesis and the elements of tragedy. Through Freud’s On the Interpretation of Dreams, students investigate the pathologies of pity and fear represented in Oedipus’ plight. Finally, Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy explores the Dionysian and Apollonian forces at work in ancient drama. While instruction places primary emphasis on clear writing and cogent argumentation in frequent, short essays on these great texts, the course also includes exercises in recitation, lexicography, and criticism.

Prophetic Biography

To express love, one must know the beloved. The Qur’an affirms that the path to learning divine love consists of following the footsteps of our beloved Prophet ﷺ. To accomplish this task, one must come to know the life, struggles, and moral character of the final Prophet ﷺ. Indeed, the Prophet Muĥammad ﷺ is the model for Muslims, as individuals and communities, and it is the highest purpose for every Muslim to follow his example. Students engage selections from original historical sources and such foundational texts as the Sīrah of Ibn Hishām (d. 218 AH/833 CE), compiled and synthesized in the work of contemporary scholar Martin Lings. Freshmen further examine the authenticated narratives related to the Prophet ﷺ and acquaint themselves with the normative biography Muslims across the globe have recognized. Class participation constitutes an important verification of the care students take to read and assess the arguments and themes in assigned materials. Socratic method quickly exposes incomplete, faulty, or haphazard preparation. The course further requires a critical review in writing of a contemporary monograph on prophetic biography and a final research paper.

Freshman Year: Spring

Islamic Law 2 | Hanafi Fiqh: Fasting, Zakat, and Pilgrimage

Freshmen continue their examination of the pillars of Islam by focusing on fasting, zakat, and hajj. Students learn how the school of Imam Abū Ĥanīfah understands the principles and rules of fasting, of purifying one’s wealth, and of the rites of the hajj as the basis for a life of devotion and servitude to God. The course covers the linguistic and technical meanings of key terms, as well as the rulings concerning fasting, zakat, and hajj—their integrals, recommended acts, offensive acts, invalidators, ways of making up missed acts, and supererogatory forms. Students gain detailed knowledge of all three pillars of the religion, while also studying some of the pertinent scriptural sources. Lastly, students begin to read legal manuals of the tradition in the Arabic language.

Islamic Law 2 | Maliki Fiqh: Fasting, Zakat, and Pilgrimage

Freshmen continue their examination of the pillars of Islam by focusing on fasting, zakat, and hajj within the framework of the Maliki school. This class delves further into Al-Murshid al-mu¢īn, introduced in the first semester. In particular, students learn how the school of Imam Mālik b. Anas articulates (1) the principles and rules of Muslim financial practices in charity and business dealings, (2) the principles and rules regarding fasting, and (3) procedures to follow in performing hajj as the basis for a life of devotion and servitude to God. Special topics include zakat on monetary wealth, zakat on agriculture and livestock, zakat regarding merchandise and merchants’ inventory, and recipients of zakat. The students and instructor discuss fasting in detail, as well as the full procedure of hajj. The course also briefly touches on the diseases of the heart and their cures.

Islamic Law 2 | Shafi‘i Fiqh: Fasting, Zakat, and Pilgrimage

This second course on Islamic positive law in the Shafi‘i tradition builds upon the foundation of the previous semester and continues the students’ introduction to the Matn al-ghāyah wa al-taqrīb by Abū Shujā¢al-Aśfahānī and ¢Umdat al-sālik by Aĥmad b. al-Naqīb al-Miśrī. Students explore the methods, instruments, aims, and objectives of zakat, fasting, and hajj, along with an examination of some of the textual proofs for those rulings. The course treats such issues as the properties on which zakat is obligatory, livestock, currency, wealth, trade goods, inventory, gold and silver, zakāt al-fiţr, and the distribution of zakat. With regard to fasting, students examine the conditions obligating the fast, things that invalidate the fast, and matters regarding spiritual retreat. Lastly, with regard to hajj, students learn the full procedure of hajj, including the conditions obligating hajj, the integrals of hajj and ¢umrah, what to do and what not to do during hajj, and the question of expiation. Throughout the semester, students keep a journal, participate regularly in class discussions, and prepare written assignments. They also take midterm and final exams. The course strongly emphasizes the students’ ability to memorize, recall, and apply key concepts related to the pillars of Islam.

Trivium Seminar 2: Logic

Students learn Aristotle’s formal system of logic, as developed in the Organon, especially the Prior and Posterior Analytics and On Interpretation. Texts include ancient, medieval, and Renaissance commentaries on the Corpus Aristotelicum from Porphyry, Thomas Aquinas, and John of St. Thomas. Formal logic refers to the structure rather than the matter or content of arguments. It represents terms by symbols, which reveal the elements of a logical proposition and the construction of a syllogism. The metaphysical foundations of Aristotelian formal logic receive special emphasis. Developing core logical principles in light of the acts of the intellect to which they correspond, students’ learning centers upon (1) the concept, which is the product of the act of simple apprehension; (2) the proposition, which arises from the intellect’s combination and division of concepts; and (3) the syllogism, which constitutes the intellect’s act of demonstrative reasoning. The Trivium Seminar in Logic provides a complete set of concepts, rules, and methods by which students can recognize and construct sound arguments. In each class session, students work together to complete logical exercises. In the course of the semester, they take exams that emphasize each discrete act of the intellect. A comprehensive final exam concludes the semester. By the end of the course, students are able to analyze an argument into its premises and conclusion, recast it into proper syllogistic form, and identify formal fallacies. 

Trivium Seminar 3: Rhetoric

Rhetoric constitutes the third discipline of the trivium. Considered the master art, rhetoric presupposes a solid grasp of grammar and logic and draws constantly upon them. For Aristotle, rhetoric is “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” As the influential modern rhetorician Kenneth Burke (1897–1993) put it, “Rhetoric is rooted in an essential function of language itself, a function that is wholly realistic and continually born anew: the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols.” Students analyze important historical treatises in rhetorical theory. In the Gorgias and the Phædrus, they encounter Plato’s censure of the practice and purpose of rhetoric. In Aristotle’s Rhetoric, they find a new theoretical basis for the art. Cicero’s De oratore attempts to reconcile Greek views, and the Institutio oratoria of Quintilian concerns itself with method and application. Putting into practice their training in grammar and logic, students write and revise epideictic, forensic, and deliberative essays. They further practice common rhetorical progymnasmata to invest their academic writing with greater clarity, vigor, and persuasion.

Creedal Theology

Islamic creedal theology and its dialectical tradition, with special emphasis on normative Sunni doctrine, form the core of this material. Students learn about (1) the historical schisms that generate the theological diversity contemporary Muslims have inherited, (2) the rational and anti-rational tendencies that marked the struggle for determining orthodoxy, and (3) the teachings of surviving schools of thought on various doctrinal issues. Beginning with the Qur’an and branching into such classical sources as Al-¢Aqīdah al-Ţaĥāwiyyah and Al-Fiqh al-akbar, students examine the nature of divinity, prophethood, eschatology, revelation, indiscernible realities, destiny, free will, and theodicy. Class participation constitutes an important verification of the care students take to read and assess the arguments and themes in assigned materials. Socratic method quickly exposes incomplete, faulty, or haphazard preparation. Lexicography assignments assist students in developing the specialized Arabic nomenclature that expresses scholarly proficiency in the field. A final research paper, meant in part to exhibit students’ competence in deploying the technical lexicon, concludes the semester.

Sophomore Year: Fall

Qur’anic Sciences

This course examines the sciences associated with the study of the sacred text, known in Arabic as ¢ulūm al-Qur’ān. Topics include types of revelation; books of revelation; history of the transmission, collection, arrangement, and standardization of the Qur’an; variant/multiple readings found in the ¢Uthmānic Codex as well as the pre-¢Uthmānic manuscripts; language; vocabulary; textual analysis/collation and translation theories; principles of exegesis and abrogation; virtues; and inimitability. Students focus on concepts embedded in the classical Islamic tradition but also explore key contemporary reference works. Instruction centers upon the seminal Itqān fī ¢ulūm al-Qur’ān by Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūţī (d. 911 AH/1505 CE), as presented by contemporary scholars Ahmad von Denffer and Justice Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani. To gain familiarity with contemporary Western diachronic and synchronic approaches to the Qur’an, and to respond critically to the challenges they may present, students engage with Michel Cuypers’ The Composition of the Qur’an: Rhetorical Analysis, along with Carl Ernst’s How to Read the Qur’an. The standard Geschichte des Qorans of Theodor Nöldeke (1836–1930) recurs prominently throughout the semester.

Prophetic Tradition

The prophetic tradition and the sciences associated with it form the core of this seminar. Topics include the history of hadith compilation; hadith structure and content; major hadith canons; criteria for hadith authentication; nomenclature; the importance and practical uses of hadith in law, theology, and ethics, and as historical and rhetorical resources; as well as Western criticism and Muslim responses to this criticism. Students must study, decipher, and memorize Al-Manżūmah al-Bayqūniyyah, the didactic poem of Imam al-Bayqūnī, and hadith from al-Nawawī’s Forty Hadith collection. Lastly, they interact with excerpts from original Arabic hadith canons.

Logic in the Islamic Tradition

The history of Arabic logic, its development in the classical period, and its reception in subsequent Muslim thought forms the core of this material. Instruction focuses on terms, definitions, propositions, syllogisms, and fallacies. Such historical texts as the sixteenth-century Al-Sullam al-munawraq fī ¢ilm al-manţiq, a versification of Imam al-Abharī’s medieval work the Kitāb al-Īsāghūjī, bring to light the place of logic in the other Islamic sciences. Students develop a firm grasp of Arabic logical terms and so acquire a vital toolkit for future scholarship in the Islamic tradition. The course also surveys the contributions of Muslim thinkers to the ongoing development of logic. While preparing weekly assignments, students see that assigned readings and class discussions provide a platform to identify and develop topics for their research paper on the history of logic in the Islamic tradition. A comprehensive exam concludes the semester.

Islamic History

This course is designed to provide students with a basic outline of Islamic history and introduce them to various methods employed in contemporary historical research about Muslim societies. Students learn how to distinguish between the study of Muslim peoples and the study of the history of Islam as a socio-political phenomenon. They are exposed to the unique spiritual and intellectual traditions of Islam, as distinct from the dynastic, or power-centric, model of Islamic historical study. Students also examine the global impact of Western European modernization, the ways in which Muslim societies responded, and how those responses inform the contemporary challenges and crises of the Muslim world.

Sophomore Year: Spring

Euclidean Geometry

In thirteen books, the Elements works out the logic of plane and solid geometry, elementary number theory, and incommensurable lines. Starting from just five axioms, Euclid derives most of basic geometry in Book I. Although the conceptual framework of a mathematical proof and its necessity constitutes a difficulty even for advanced math majors, the Elements offers direct and accessible inferential argumentation expressed in ordinary language without dense theoretical preliminaries. Leading from axiom through deduction, the Elements builds mathematical structure from scratch. In this introductory course, students verify the propositions of Book One that yield the Pythagorean theorem and its converse (I.47 and I.84). In place of exams, students develop and present geometric proofs both orally in class and through written homework assignments. Well acquainted with the nomenclature of geometry, students learn to formulate a proof with an irrefutable argument and to grasp how a mathematical system unfolds.

Seminal Ancient Texts

History and literature provide the lens through which students examine the important ancient texts written before or during the Axial Age (Achsenzeit; the eighth to third centuries BCE). Using both descriptive and prescriptive approaches, students engage with these texts directly to analyze their themes, contents, literary styles/devices, and meanings. They also familiarize themselves with the lost world from which these texts emerged. Comparing and contrasting the texts, students seek to determine whether and how early texts might have influenced later ones. Most of all, they think about what these works may mean for the world today. Readings include the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Code of Hammurabi, the Pentateuch, and the Psalms of David from the ancient Near East; the Hymn to the Aten from ancient Egypt; the Theogony and Works and Days of Hesiod and the Histories of Herodotus from ancient Greece; the Analects of Confucius and Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu from ancient China; and the Bhagavad Gita and Dhammapada from ancient South Asia.


Directly examining the works of Plato (the Republic), Aristotle (the Politics), Thomas Aquinas (Questions on Law), Machiavelli (The Prince and the Discourses on Livy), Hobbes (Leviathan), Locke (Second Treatise on Government), Rousseau (On the Social Contract), Mill (On Liberty), and Marx (The Communist Manifesto and selections from Capital), seminar participants seek to understand how political philosophy shapes the institutions of government. These major texts from the history of political thought raise questions about the design of political and social orders. Students explore the ways in which these great thinkers responded to the particular political problems of their day, and the ways in which they contributed to a broader view of human goods and needs, the concepts of justice and democracy, and the proper relationship of the individual to the state. Throughout the semester, students build a lexicon of political thought and write weekly essays in response to prompts on the reading material.


A Muslim perspective on economic thought takes into account the competing views of humanity and nature reflected in Islamic and secular approaches to matters of production, consumption, and exchange. This course, therefore, begins with an analysis of the spiritual significance of production in traditional Islamic thought and its implications for the link between ethics and economics in consumption and exchange. Students then study the sequential secularization of the sciences of nature, production, and exchange in the West, which elevated economics as an independent discipline in the eighteenth century. Finally, students consider the effect of the secularization of neoclassical economics, particularly its theory of consumption, which replaces needs with wants and reduces values to tastes.

Junior Year: Fall

Islamic Family Law

Principally, this course teaches the laws that govern the formation, care, and dissolution of the family. Students study the Islamic codes of marriage (nikāḥ), divorce (ṭalāq), legitimacy (naṣab), suckling (raḍā¢ah), child custody (ḥaḍānah), and maintenance (nafaqah). In the process of this study, they become acquainted with the rights and obligations of spouses, fitness and suitability in marriage (kafā’ah), abortion (ijhāđ), polygyny (ta¢addud al-zawjāt), guardianship (wilāyah), child support, and other topics.

Constitutional Law

This course in Constitutional law treats both law and legal theory in the United States. Students examine the legal ramifications of the separation of powers between the legislative, judicial, and executive branches, and study individual liberties in our contemporary constitutional order. They also inquire into the relationships and interplay between federal, state, and local governments, and the roles and limits of those levels of government. Case study forms the core discipline that shapes the thinking and develops the analytical skills of the students.

Kalam Theology

This course examines the formation of the Ash¢arī and Māturīdī schools of Islamic theology, their synthesis of reason and revelation in dialectics and hermeneutics, their historical consolidation as Sunni orthodoxy, and the dogmatic theology of the Asharite response. Students undertake a careful examination of the Ash¢arī didactic poem Jawharat al-tawḥīd and its important modern commentary tradition. They further engage with the Māturīdī text Al-Bidāyah fī uṣūl al-dīn to discover the central theological issues that majoritarian Sunni Islam examined and the positions it embraced. Finally, students consider the relationship of theology with spirituality and ethics, how Muslim orthodoxy gives rise to social and political harmony, and the contemporary relevance of theology in dealing with atheism and scientistic reductionism. Weekly discussions probe students’ grasp of demanding texts. A major project requires the memorization, recitation, and explication of selections from Jawharat al-tawḥīd. A short research paper offers students the opportunity to demonstrate clear writing and cogent argumentation in the field.


The history of Western philosophy from c. 350 BCE through c. 1960 CE unfolds in three major epochs: Greek antiquity (Plato and Aristotle), late antiquity (Plotinus) and the Latin Middle Ages (Thomas Aquinas and William of Ockham), and the modern and contemporary periods (Descartes, Nietzsche, Hume, Kant, and Ayer). Students also read contemporary philosophical texts that engage religious traditions with modern philosophical problems. The course furthers students’ development of philosophical reading and writing skills, with emphasis on careful analysis and exposition of arguments, clear definition of terms, consistent identification of fundamental principles, and the concise summarization of broad systems of thought.

Research Methods Seminar

This practicum in research and writing takes students step by step through the processes of (1) scholarly investigation; (2) the compilation and analysis of their findings; and (3) the production of a well-argued, properly documented research paper. Using A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, by Kate L. Turabian, and Garner’s Chicago Guide as reference works, class sessions consist of presentations on research methods and academic writing; research and note-taking exercises; and directed, practical, hands-on activities at the libraries of UC Berkeley and the GTU. Students formulate their senior thesis research question, articulate a clear thesis statement, prepare a preliminary outline, present an annotated bibliography, and submit their formal senior thesis proposal together with an abstract. The practicum director offers commentary and assesses each of these assignments and students’ performance in each of the class activities.

Junior Year: Spring 

Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence

The study of Islamic legal theory and the principles of Islamic jurisprudence (uṣūl al-fiqh) forms the core. Students learn the philosophical underpinnings of the primary and secondary legal sources; the indications of these sources; and the objective criteria that qualify a person to derive legal rulings directly from the sources of Islamic law (ijtihād), without being bound by legal precedent. Preconditions for the practice of this science include strong familiarity with positive law (furū¢), Arabic grammar and morphology, and logic. Students undertake a guided reading of a number of classical manuals, with a focus on the memorization of the key nomenclature of this science. The language of instruction for this class is English, with the requirement of reading texts in Arabic.

Comparative Theologies

How does Islamic theology compare to or contrast with the defining elements in the dharmic faiths of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism; the ancient Far Eastern traditions of Taoism and Confucianism; and the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism and Christianity (Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant)? Answering this question requires a systematic presentation of the main themes, concepts, beliefs, and key figures of each religious tradition. Special attention is given to the most common trends in classical Jewish and Christian theologies and how they intersect with or diverge from traditional Muslim conceptions of God. Students also critically examine some of the beliefs, theories, and trends that dominate contemporary academic theological discourse, which may include such widely divergent perspectives as perennialism and new atheism. 

Readings in Muslim Spirituality

Is there a normative Muslim view of the nature of the human soul and its relationship to the cosmos? Students study the evolution of Sufism, from the inception of Islam until its consolidation as an orthodox religious science, and the contribution it made in providing the theological and intellectual frameworks governing Muslim reflection on reality. Students also become familiar with the different genres of Sufi literature. The rich lexicon of terms in spirituality and related concepts provides students with extraordinary access to the history of the field and especially to textual traditions. Class participation constitutes an important verification of the care students take to read and assess the arguments and themes in assigned materials. A final project requires memorization, recitation, and explication of selected spiritual aphorisms.

Classical Muslim Texts and Commentaries

This advanced course introduces juniors to the most influential texts of the classical period’s greatest thinkers: al-Kindī, Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna), al-Ghazālī, and Ibn Rushd (Averroës). The semester begins with al-Kindī, the first Muslim philosopher to have engaged Greek philosophy with Islamic teachings. Afterwards, students study Ibn Sīnā’s Al-Ishārāt wa al-tanbīhāt (Remarks and admonitions) and examine its influence in shaping the curricula of the madrasa system, from its introduction to the present. Thirdly, students examine al-Ghazālī’s Mishkāt al-anwār (The niche of light), in which he establishes the grounds, both in the Qur’an and hadith, for his philosophical and theological work. Finally, students consider Ibn Rushd’s Faṣl al-maqāl (The decisive treatise), which presents a clear view of the relationship between philosophy and religion from the perspective of both philosopher and a jurist (qāđī). As students explore these texts, they discuss the central issues and concepts of Islamic philosophy and theology and the relationship between religion, theology, philosophy, and Sufism. By the end of the semester, students grasp the main principles and themes addressed by these texts and are able to describe their formative influence on Islamic thought.

Senior Year: Fall

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 

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.

Explore the BA Program


An opportunity for advanced study with Zaytuna Faculty.

Experiential Learning

Learning: A unique holistic education beyond the classroom.


Common questions for prospective students and parents.