Weekly Qur'an Halaqa (study-circle)

This year-long course of studying the Qur'an is intended to provide participants with a crucial knowledge-base and thinking-tools with which to engage with the Qur'an meaningfully and productively. By examining how scholars of the Islamic tradition have historically understood a wide array of issues in the Qur'an (from theology to ethics to spirituality), participants will be equipped to navigate the many conflicting approaches to Islam that they encounter in Muslim religious discourse and practice. 

 1. The Story of the Qur’an: an introductory overview
  • Overview of the Islamic intellectual heritage
  • Modes of revelation: How was the Qur’an revealed?
  • Chronology and themes of the Qur’an
  • Interpreting and Understanding the Qur'an (the tafsir literature)
2. Theology part 1: Who/What is “God”?
  • How have different theological and philosophical schools tried to understand this most basic yet perplexing question of religion?
  • What kind of God? The attributes and names of God (sifat)
  • Is God unknowable and transcendent, or similar to us in some way so that we can know and relate to Him? The problem of anthropomorphism (tashbih and tanzih)
  • The Oneness and Unity of God (tawhid)
  • Does God exist? How do we know? What does that even mean?
3. Spirituality and connecting to the Divine:
pietism vs. mysticism?
  • The God-human relationship as described in the Qur’an
  • The concepts of "God-consciousness" (taqwa), spiritual “purification” (tazkiyah), “love” (mahabbah), and "self-annihilation (fana')
  • What is Sufism? An overview of Sufism, its history, and its different forms/types
  • Is spirituality about mystical knowledge and experience, or piety through following the Shariah?
 4. Morality, Ethics, and Law
  • What is righteous conduct as described in the Qur’an?
  • A historical overview of Shariah and Fiqh (Islamic ethics and law)
  • Are the commandments of revelation of a rule-based timeless nature or contextual and principle-based?
  • The theory of “Objectives of the Shariah”, and modern developments in ethical theory
  • What does the Qur’an and Shariah have to say about a variety of social issues?
5. Theology part 2: Between heaven and hell -
salvation and the fate of “others”
  • How does the Qur’an present Heaven and Hell, and the fate of different groups in the hereafter?
  • Are all Muslims saved in the hereafter? Are only Muslims saved?
  • What will be the fate of non-Muslims in the hereafter?
  • Can other religious paths be acceptable to God?
6. Theology part 3: The timeless puzzles –
“freewill vs. predestination” & “the problem of evil”
  • How does the Qur’an describe our moral responsibility for our actions?
  • Are we autonomous and free actors, or does God determine what we do?
  • If God is control of all things, how are we responsible for our actions?
  • If God is control of all things, why does evil and suffering exist?
7. Beyond the meaning: aesthetics, art,
and a holistic experience of the Qur’an
  • Approaching the Qur’an aesthetically: what is the significance of the style of the Qur’an? How does that influence our experience and understanding of the Qur’an?
  • Reacting to the Qur’an artistically: what are the different art and literary forms connected to the Qur’an?
    • Qur’anic recitation
    • Poetry
    • Song
    • Calligraphy and architecture