The Quran class is magical. Now, some of you may be offended by the association of Quran and magic, but students of rhetoric will understand that it is not intended to be literal. This lesson is best learned by reading Imam al-Ghazali's Jawahir al-Qur’an, or “Jewels of the Quran,” which the course begins with. In this work, one of the greatest scholars of Islam tells us that the Quran consists of pearls and rubies, along with many other precious minerals, substances, and gems. The allegory speaks of the Quran as a vast ocean that offers adventurous travelers the opportunity for an endless journey of discovery, with islands full of valuables and depths unfathomable. A close reading of classical texts is one of the hallmarks of a Zaytuna education. But instead of that being an end, it is, for us, only a beginning. It is the beginning of a process of reflection that brings the texts to life and makes them relevant for today.In addition to engaging in a close reading of Imam al-Ghazali's work, students also read and discuss a more recent work that takes into account modern sensibilities, Fazlur Rahman’sMajor Themes of the Qur’an. We also cover a book that summarizes the topics of the discipline of Quranic Studies, Von Denffer’s ‘Ulum al-Qur’an. These chapters are read in conversation with contemporary literature in Quranic studies through reference works in local libraries. In their next assignment, students are comparing the approaches to the theme of “God” in the Quran between Fazlur Rahman, the entry in the Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an, and a chapter in The Blackwell Companion to the Qur’an. Each of these three approach the topic from a different perspective. A class at Zaytuna is not about indoctrination. We do our best to offer a real education, where students are grounded in Islamic scholarship but also able to think for themselves.
The Quran is the ultimate source of guidance for Muslims and the greatest miracle of the Prophet Muhammad (). The field of Quranic Studies is vast and difficult to cover comprehensively in a lifetime, let alone in a single semester. This course, therefore, enables students to become life-long learners through systematic exposure to research methods and resources, over and above the treatment of core content. Last week, students visited the UC Berkeley library to explore reference materials and journals like the Journal of Qur’anic Studies. This week, we collectively pondered why Surat Ya Sin is called "the heart of the Quran." It is truly exciting to be able to study in an environment that prizes both devotion and critical thought. This lesson, too, is learned best from the Quran, where one verse (3:190) combines the activities of the heart and mind (dhikr and fikr). As I said: magical!