We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more Teaching Islam - Disparity and Context: Teaching Quranic Studies in North America - Oxford Islamic Studies Online
Select Translation What is This? Selections include: The Koran Interpreted, a translation by A.J. Arberry, first published 1955; The Qur'an, translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, published 2004; or side-by-side comparison view
Chapter: verse lookup What is This? Select one or both translations, then enter a chapter and verse number in the boxes, and click "Go."
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result

Disparity and Context: Teaching Quranic Studies in North America

Jane Dammen McAuliffe

TO BEGIN WITH A CLARRIFICATION: I speak of “teaching Quranic Studies” rather than of “teaching the Quran” in order to emphasize the range and complexity of this subject field. The Quran, like the New Testament, is not a big book, but Quranic Studies, like Biblical Studies, is a vast, multilayered discipline, one which no single scholar can hope to master in all its intricacy and diversity. Within the field of Religious Studies, the status and scope of Biblical Studies are readily manifest. In North America, the Society for Biblical Literature (SBL), with a membership of nearly 7,000, almost equals the size of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), a professional organization that purports to represent scholars of all other scriptural and religious traditions combined.1 The AAR and SBL share the program book for their huge, jointly sponsored annual meeting, mounting roughly equal numbers of panels. All of this is well known to academics in the field of Religious Studies, but I repeat it here in order to draw your attention to the immense disparity that exists between North American Biblical Studies and North American Quranic Studies.

To provide some evidence of that discrepancy, let me describe my own, admittedly limited, attempts to explore the field of Quranic Studies in situ. A few years ago, courtesy of a fellowship funded by the Mellon Foundation, I spent a semester at the University of Jordan’s Faculty of Islamic Law [Kulliyyat al-Sharī‘ah]. I went to Jordan because I wanted to find out how the Quran was studied in a contemporary Muslim university. Having long rubbed shoulders with biblical scholars, both as colleagues and as friends, I had a fair sense of the graduate preparation required by the field of Euro-American Biblical Studies. But I was eager to experience the analogue—the range of offerings available in a university program of Quranic Studies. The Kulliyyat al-Sharī‘ah, with its extensive range of courses, afforded an excellent venue for this exercise. Although I could only sample a portion of the courses offered in Quranic Studies, in the hope that even that sampling will prove instructive, I shall briefly sketch the syllabus of my semester’s work.

Quranic Studies [Dirāsāt qur’āniyyah], taught by Dr. Muḥammad al-Majālī, was the primary foundation course for the more specialized aspects of Quranic Studies. Dr. al-Majālī moved rapidly through the standard loci of the Quranic sciences, that is, the phenomenon of revelation [waḥy], the formation of the ‘Uthmānic codices [maṣāḥif], textual or semantic variation [al-aḥruf al-sab‘a], the designation of Meccan and Medinan verses, the abrogating and abrogated verses [al-nāsikh wa-l-mansūkh], and the occasions or circumstances of revelation [asbāb al-nuzūl]. Professor al-Majālī, who has a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh, was a popular teacher and his classes were always packed. Students were occasionally quizzed orally in class and were free, time permitting, to raise questions. They were formally tested on the material and these exams [imtihān] were, quite expectedly, the source of considerable student anxiety.

Prescriptive Verses [Āyāt al-aḥkām], also taught by Dr. Muḥammad al-Majālī, concentrated on those verses of the Quran that carry legal implications. Dr. al-Majālī’s lectures presented exegetical analyses of specific passages. My notes for the course record remarks on Q 2:102–103, 106–108, 114, 154, 172–73, etc. In fact, the formal lectures never went beyond the second “chapter” [sūrah] of the Quran [sūrat al-baqarah] because of the high degree of detail that the professor wished to convey to his students. While the focus was on the main legal norm or rule [ḥukm] of the verse, attention was also paid to such legally significant issues as asbāb al-nuzūl, nāsikh/mansūkh, and matters of jurisprudential disagreement [ikhtilāf]. Professor al-Majālī’s intention was to model a method of studying the prescriptive verses, one the students could then extend to other parts of the Quran, once they had thoroughly assimilated the procedures as applied to the relevant portions of the second surah. The basic texts for this course were a twentieth-century aḥkām textbook by Muḥammad ‘Alī al-Sāyis2 and the important twelfth-century source by Muḥammad b. ‘Abdallāh b. al-‘Arabī.3 The al-Sāyis text itself provides a convenient summarization of noteworthy elements of earlier legal exegesis, while current, well-printed editions of Ibn al-‘Arabī offer students direct access to a widely cited classical source. The lectures, however, made frequent reference to other major aḥkām works, especially those of al-Qurṭubī, al-Jaṣṣāṣ, and al-Harrāsī,4 as well as the standard, full-scale [musalsal] Quran commentaries.

Recitation and Memorization I [al-Tilāwah wa-l-ḥifẓ I] was taught by Mrs. Amal al-Na‘īmma, and Recitation and Memorization II [al-Tilāwah wa-l-ḥifẓ II] was taught by Dr. Aḥmad al-Quḍāh. As the Roman numerals indicate, these titles represent two levels of Quranic recitation courses. Normally students would take these courses in sequence, but I audited both simultaneously in order to assess the different levels of instruction and of student development in the theory and technique of Quranic recitation. Students at the primary level began with memorization and recitation of the final section [juz’] of the Quran. They were introduced to the rudiments of correct articulation and vocal conveyance [tajwīd] and were frequently quizzed on their understanding of these principles. The fundamental classroom procedure, however, was straightforward recitation of memorized or previously prepared passages. For me, participation in these classes took on a timeless quality. I could well imagine hearing these sounds and seeing the same tightly concentrated student faces in any Islamic land and in any century of the Islamic era.

The second level of this course sequence reviewed tajwīd theory in more detail, elaborating all aspects of physical sound production [makhrūj al-ḥurūf] and concentrating attention on the finer points of consonantal assimilation [idghām], vowel lengthening [madd], mandated or recommended pause points [waqf], etc. Developing genuine skill in the “science of recitation” [‘ilm al-tajwīd] is a complex and exacting task, one that requires many hours of focused attention and practice. At this second level, students were expected to memorize and correctly recite significantly longer portions of the Quranic text, and their precise pronunciation and full employment of principles of articulation [aḥkām al-tajwīd] were judged more stringently. Again, the majority of class time was taken up with prepared recitation. Students were usually called on by row and desk order and the instructor expected to move quickly from person to person. I noticed that the religious etiquette [adab] of recitation was followed scrupulously. Each new reciter began with the compulsory prayer formulas [ta‘awwudh and basmalah] and during periods of ritual impurity, students followed a neighbor’s copy, taking care to avoid any direct contact with the text.5

It is worth mentioning that tajwīd classes in the Kulliyyat al-Sharī‘ah, unlike other courses, are sex-segregated and, obviously, I was permitted to attend only those for females. The reasons most often cited by students for this mandatory segregation was that women’s voices would be too spiritually distracting for male classmates. While this is a common viewpoint in many parts of the Muslim world, it is not universally shared. Women have achieved prominence as professional reciters, sometimes international prominence.6

Textual Study of Quran Commentaries [al-Dirāsat al-naṣṣiyyah fī kutub al-tafsīr], taught by Dr. ‘Abd al-Jalīl ‘Abd al-Raḥmān, was an upper-level exegesis course that involved close textual analysis of a selection of exegetical works. The course began with a section from a twentieth-century Shi‘i commentary, al-Ṭabāṭabā’ī’s Mīzān,7 and ranged through a number of works, both classical and modern, with particular attention to al-Qurṭubī and Abū Su‘ūd.8 The class format entailed virtually all lecture with very little student interaction. The lectures themselves tended to range broadly and, occasionally, verge on a sermon-style. Professor ‘Abd al-Jalīl has written a book on tafsīr mawḍū‘ī, a method of contemporary exegesis that treats Quranic material thematically rather than sequentially, and, understandably, this focus shaped much of the course content.

Principles of Quranic Exposition [Asālīb al- bayān], taught by Dr. Faḍl Ḥasan ‘Abbās, was a packed-house, upper-level course taught by one of the most revered faculty members in the Kulliyyat al-Sharī‘ah. His lectures, delivered in impeccable Arabic [fuṣḥā], were riveting. The basic text was the professor’s own two-volume work on rhetoric [balāghah], and students were expected to master substantial sections of this in preparation for each class session.9 The material was densely detailed and accessible only to those students with a strong preparation in both the Quranic text and in classical grammatical and rhetorical analysis.

Hermeneutical Methods of the Commentators on the Quran [Manāhij al-mufassirīn], taught by Dr. Muṣṭafā al-Mashnī, was a graduate seminar conducted on the student-presents-paper model. But Dr. al-Mashnī, who has written extensively on Andalusian tafsīr,10 would frequently interrupt with his own insightful reflections or challenge the students on issues of research methodology. For this auditor, class arrangement presented a problem, an unanticipated consequence of gender segregation in the classroom. The six male students sat facing the instructor in the front row. As was expected in the Kulliyyat al-Sharī‘ah, I sat several rows behind with the only female student in the class. The effect on seminar dynamics was quite marked. Not only was female participation marginalized, but also the expected cohesion of a graduate seminar never materialized.

I have described this semester at the University of Jordan in some detail—and I repeat that this selection of courses by no means represents the university’s full offerings in Quranic Studies—for two reasons. First, this kind of information is not easily available to Western-language readers. Rarely does non-Muslim scholarly literature allude to the contemporary reality of Quranic Studies as a multifaceted academic discipline in Muslim educational institutions. Second, I want to reinforce the point that the concept of Quranic Studies as a subject within the undergraduate or graduate curriculum of a European or North American university bears little resemblance to its counterpart within a modern Muslim academic institution. No North American university would hire a research scholar of “Biblical Studies.” It would recruit a specialist in John or Luke-Acts or Christian origins. Or it would advertise for a biblical archaeologist, an authority in Israelite and Canaanite religion, or a scholar of northwest Semitic languages. That same university, however, would feel no hesitancy in advertising for a specialist in “Quranic Studies,” if it were even willing to diversify its faculty beyond a single, all-purpose Islamicist. The situation within our major professional organizations is no different. A recent AAR/SBL directory listed 79 program units for Biblical Studies and none for Quranic Studies. There is but a single “study of Islam” unit which in any given year may or may not choose to include Quranic Studies among its program offerings.

The Quran, then, cannot be studied within North American universities and colleges in a manner either commensurate with its biblical cognate or with its equivalent mode of instruction in a Muslim university. The frank acknowledgment of this fact can serve as a useful prelude to another important qualification: Any course on Quranic Studies must inevitably be shaped by the academic context in which it is offered. Naturally, both the diversity and the orientation of the offerings in Quranic Studies at a Muslim “seminary,” such as the Kulliyyat al-Sharī‘ah of the University of Jordan, or comparable faculties at institutions like Egypt’s al-Azhar, India’s Aligarh, or Malaysia’s International Islamic University, will be different than those forged within a Western academic heritage. But even within the latter category, significant variation will occur. Again, I can best explain this by reference to my own experience.

The first course devoted solely to the Quran that I developed was a graduate offering in the Ph.D. program at Emory University. While at that time the Graduate Division of Religion was not yet admitting doctoral students in Islamic Studies, it had—and continues to have—a very strong program in Biblical Studies. Consequently, most of the graduate students in my course were doing advanced work in either Old or New Testament. For the most part, their interest in the Quran was comparative. They were curious about the genesis and development of the Quranic text, and they brought to their study the perspectives and preoccupations of contemporary biblical study. Because they were already quite sophisticated in textual and exegetical investigations, they were able to probe the Quranic corpus with developed analytical skill. These students, however, had no training in classical Arabic—although a number of them subsequently enrolled in my graduate Arabic course—so there was no opportunity to do comparative philology or to address the lexical and grammatical conundrums of the Quranic text.

Nevertheless, these students generated stimulating seminar sessions and wrote some exceptionally interesting graduate essays. They were capable of absorbing and discussing dense and detailed material and, given the strong theological focus of Emory’s graduate program, they were especially interested in Quranic themes that drew upon the scriptural commonalities of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. With such interests in mind, I allowed these aspects of the Quran to occupy more space on the syllabus than would be the case in other teaching contexts. Yet I felt it was also important to highlight significant differences between the Quran and its biblical “cousin.” An example of this would be the role of orality in both the formation of the Quranic text and its subsequent religio-social function. Here I found the works of William Graham and Kristina Nelson, among others, to be particularly useful.11 Another example would be the pronounced continuities of classical and contemporary Quranic exegesis, continuities which have not sustained the kind of intellectual rupture represented by post-Enlightenment skepticism and secularity.

Moving from Emory University to the University of Toronto in 1992 meant changing my pedagogical contexts in a significant way. (In 1999, I left Toronto for Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.) The University of Toronto is a very large, publicly supported institution situated in the center of one of the most ethnically diverse urban areas on the globe. Just as in the United States, revisions made to Canadian immigration legislation within about the last thirty years, have dramatically altered the older religious demography, particularly in major metropolitan regions. Consequently, the university student body, which draws largely upon the population base of both the greater Toronto area and southern Ontario more generally, has experienced recent and profound demographic shifts. Although no completely accurate statistics are available, surveys within the last few years indicate that the undergraduate population at the University of Toronto now approaches 50 percent Asian in ethnic origin, including West, South and Southeast Asia, as well as the Pacific Rim countries. For about 40 percent of the undergraduates, English is a second language.

My appointment at the University of Toronto was shared between two departments, the Department for the Study of Religion and the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations. In each of these departments the results of this demographic shift were striking. Unlike the situation twenty years ago within the Department for the Study of Religion, now when the faculty offer courses in religious traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, many—often, most—of the students are either themselves adherents of these traditions or come from families with a cultural practice of adherence. I would argue that this change raises some basic pedagogical issues for the field of Religious Studies, a subject to which I will return shortly. For the moment, it is enough to note some of the ways in which changing classroom demography affects pedagogical expectations and strategies.

In the Department for the Study of Religion, I regularly offered an undergraduate course entitled “Revelation and Interpretation in Islam.” Initially, I structured this as a historical and thematic exercise. A variety of questions generated the course’s topical outline: How do Muslims understand the process of Quranic revelation? Is the Quran a book or a sound? Can different literary genres be found in the Quran? How did the Quran achieve its present format? Can the Quran be translated? Why are there so many exegetical books on the Quran and why do they continue to be produced? What is the Quranic understanding of God, human nature, revelation, etc.? How should one explore a particular topic in the Quran? How does the Quran function in diverse Muslim societies? What role did/does the Quran play in shaping both the aesthetic environment and responsive human sensibilities?

In this course students combined their study of particular Quranic surahs with other readings which explored the history and the structure of the text. They traced some of the Quran’s principal themes or topics and examined various ways in which the Quran functions within contemporary Muslim society. In some iterations of this course, I reduced the amount of secondary scholarship with which students were asked to acquaint themselves and focused their attention on a close, analytical reading of the Quranic text itself. In preparation for each class session, students read assigned surahs in at least three different English (and/or French) translations. Such comparative reading quickly highlights textual differences and discrepancies and pushes students to acknowledge the inherently interpretive nature of both translation and reading. Often these students struggled to wrest a preunderstood or preexplained meaning from the text. Frequently, they confronted rhetorical and stylistic elements that ran counter to the expectations created by their own Western educations. Inevitably, they brought to the text ideological formations that had been constructed within the family and community or that were being freshly created within the confines of their university experience.

At Toronto, my graduate teaching in Quranic Studies was done through the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations (NMC). Until the 1996–97 academic year, the university had two separate departments, a Department of Near Eastern Studies and a Department of Middle East and Islamic Studies. While budgetary concerns were yoked to academic justifications in creating the amalgamated department, the union offered particular benefit to students of Quranic Studies as they became, through both formal course work and informal conversations, more conversant with the Near Eastern literary heritage.

During my time there the graduate students in that department were drawn from a wide range of religio-cultural and academic backgrounds. Some had a fairly standard North American undergraduate and master’s level education, while others had attained an equivalent stage of preparation in European, Middle Eastern, Asian, or African universities. The courses which I offered in NMC were also cross-listed with the Centre for the Study of Religion and the Centre for Medieval Studies. Students from these programs added to the intellectual diversity of my graduate classrooms.

The majority of these graduate students had commenced doctoral level work in some aspect of Islamic studies, such as history, literature (Arabic, Persian, or Turkish), philosophy, art, and archaeology or the “religious sciences.” Because of this range of concentrations, one of my graduate courses on the Quran attempted to introduce students to the whole field of contemporary Quranic Studies, with primary concentration on the development of Western scholarship in this area within the last century and a half. This was not done, however, to the complete neglect of classical and contemporary Muslim scholarship on the Quran, although the latter was less prominent in my planning for this course because I did not assume source-language fluency on the part of all the students. (Of course, those students who could read one or more of the languages of Islamic scholarship were encouraged to pursue work utilizing such sources.)

With this graduate course, I wanted to open students to the ongoing “conversation” of contemporary Quranic Studies and to equip them to access this conversation for their own areas of specialization and, eventually, to participate in it. An important aspect of this approach involved guiding students to the recognition that this “conversation” is not monovocal: actually, it is a whole congery of conversations, some of which complement each other and some of which are mutually exclusive or contradictory. Representative readings for this course ranged from Norman Calder’s “Tafsīr from Ṭabarī to Ibn Kathīr” to Patrick Gaffney’s The Prophet’s Pulpit, from Estelle Whelan’s “Writing the Word of God” to Barbara Stowasser’s Women in the Quran, Traditions and Interpretation.12 I gave anthropological research on the Quran’s social function a good deal of attention, as I feel that this remains a range of Quranic Studies that has yet to be integrated adequately into our understanding and appreciation of the total field.13 As a graduate seminar, this course also provided students with an opportunity to explore an aspect of the contemporary conversation of Quranic Studies and to present the results of their research for mutual discussion and critique.

For those students with a sufficient preparation in Arabic, I also offered a course of “Readings in Quran and tafsīr (Quranic exegesis).” Texts selected for this ranged from representative passages drawn from classical commentaries [tafāsīr] to contemporary textbooks of the Quranic sciences [‘ulūm al-Qur’ān]. Through this course I wanted to provide students with exposure to a variety of materials so that they could develop familiarity with the technical vocabulary of Quranic interpretation and with the common rhetorical patterns of classical exegetical discourse. With this background the vast literature generated by the Quran became more accessible to them for their own, individual research purposes. Because this was a semester-long rather than a full-year course I could incorporate only selective reading of the Quranic text itself, but I began with tutelage in the basic rules of tajwīd. This permitted students to recognize the orthographic particularities of the Quranic corpus and to produce a reasonable approximation of the correct oral conveyance of the-text.

It may now be useful to broaden this discussion of the contextual shaping of courses on the Quran by raising some issues that concern the field of Religious Studies more generally. As I mentioned earlier, the major changes produced by the contemporary religious diaspora may be seen in the classrooms of those departments of Religious Studies to be found in large, urban universities. Faculty who teach non-Euro-American traditions, that is, religions other than those of the earlier European immigrants, have experienced a startling change in their classroom demographics. Fifteen, or even ten, years ago most of the students in courses on Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, or Chinese and Japanese religions were students of Judeo-Christian or secular backgrounds, who wanted to learn something about these “other” religions. Now, as they scan the class list and look out at the faces gathered for the first day of lectures, faculty of Religious Studies in these large urban universities find that most of the students in the courses on Islam are Muslims, most of those in courses on Hinduism are from South Asian Hindu families, the majority of those enrolled for the course on Sikhism have Punjabi surnames, etc.

Several factors can be cited to explain this striking alteration. Universities, particularly publicly accessible universities, are a primary focus of immigrant aspiration. Many studies mention access to advanced education as a major motivation for emigration. Urban universities, furthermore, have long operated as, at least in part, commuter-schools, that is, institutions which draw a significant segment of their undergraduate population from their respective metropolitan areas. Patterns of immigration have intensified this tendency because now large numbers of students come from families, where both financial and cultural considerations mandate their living at home during their university years. Ordinarily, students from recent South Asian, East Asian, and Middle Eastern backgrounds are not encouraged to follow the North American model of dormitory student life, of “going away to college.”

The degree of change doubtless varies from one educational institution to another. Prestigious private universities in the United States, such as Georgetown, which has long attracted an international student body, may be somewhat sheltered from the full impact of these recent demographic shifts. Large urban universities, whether Canadian or American, are not. Conversations with colleagues on both sides of the border have simply reinforced my sense of the speed and scope of this change. These changes in classroom demographics have been so sudden that the field of Religious Studies has not even begun to address them in any comprehensive fashion. The prevailing assumptions which undergird the teaching and research functions in Euro-American universities follow the post-Enlightenment ratification of academic secularism. Scholars in the field generally envision their research as the descriptive analysis of religious phenomena surveyed from a “neutral” perspective, despite the massive attack on such assumptions mounted by feminist, Marxist, postcolonialist, etc., critiques. The field seeks to maintain careful distinctions between the confessional and the cultural study of religion, distinctions undergirded by the separation of church and state common to much Western political philosophy. The prevailing classroom model, whether explicitly acknowledged or not, assumes students of Judeo-Christian or secular backgrounds, students whose previous religious education, if any, has been conducted within the context of church/state separation and of religion understood as a private and individual affair.

But these assumptions are changing, that framework is shifting. Inevitably, the question must arise: How should this field of study address these shifts both theoretically and pedagogically? Some would argue that changes in religious demography, both global and as reflected in the university classroom, remain irrelevant to the theories and methodologies which inform the discipline of Religious Studies. Following this line of argument, scholars in the field should not change their methods and theories in order to accommo- date their teaching and research to students who do not share their Western cultural formation. They should simply insist upon academic assimilationism. By this model, Religious Studies treats all religious traditions as equally “other,” and matters of proximity or distance, whether cultural or geographical, are simply irrelevant. One might call this—while acknowledging the exaggeration—the “physics model” of Religious Studies, because the reactions and sensibilities of religious adherents to being the focus of such study or the recipients of its associated pedagogy are of no more concern than that of subatomic particles under an electron microscope.

Conversely, other scholars in the field would look at the epistemological questions being raised in such ancillary disciplines as anthropology and sociology, as well as at recent work in the academy’s understanding of scientific “objectivity,” for clues with which to begin a reexamination of the grounds upon which research and teaching is conducted in the field of Religious Studies. These remarks do not seek to prejudge the results of this debate but simply to stress its contemporary inescapability. Distinctions which seemed largely settled (i.e., that between Religious Studies and Confessional Theology) have reemerged in quite different guise now that scholars and teachers in the field can no longer assume the homogeneity of Judeo-Christian or Western secular academic and cultural formation.

For many students of East Asian, South Asian, and Middle Eastern backgrounds, courses in university departments of religious studies are their first, formal religious education. Although they may have had some exposure, via mosque, temple, or gurdwara, to lectures or sermons, very few of the more recently arrived religious communities have yet had the time or the accumulation of resources necessary to develop programs or schools of religious formation. Furthermore, such programs and schools may not be part of the social fabric in the countries of emigration. For North American Christians and Jews, however, there exist an array of seminaries, divinity schools, rabbinic institutions, and theological faculties that provide a forum for intellectual reflection on religion. Such facilities have mediated between the strictly academic study and research of the universities and the pastoral concerns of the adherents of these religious traditions. There are as yet virtually no comparable institutions, and few of the appropriately trained personnel, among the more recently arrived religious traditions and thus no institutional structures available to serve the mediating function. Rather, university departments of Religious Studies have, by default, begun to function in ways unforeseen by those who first founded them.

To bring the focus back to the specific case of Quranic Studies, I can attest to the tensions and dilemmas created by this rapidly changing university demography. It has become common for faculty in Islamic Studies, when they cluster in the conference coffee room, to complain about their more “fundamentalist” students. Colleagues recount stories of being challenged and upbraided during class sessions, of being confronted with angry (but often ill-informed) rebuttals that such-and-such a teaching, practice, or institutional configuration is “not Islam.” Behind the fussing—and one hears it from both non-Muslim and Muslim university faculty—lies a deeper dismay, a sense of sadness at the premature closure of intellectual horizons and at the unwillingness or inability to recognize the stunning variety and vast richness of the Islamic religious tradition. Sometimes when I taught my undergraduate course on the Quran, I was the only non-Muslim in the room. This created a peculiar classroom dynamic, at least in the initial sessions, and I found myself quite sympathetic to the plight of those students who felt uncomfortable with the situation, who were confronted with a sharp challenge to their common religio-cultural assumptions. I also found that it helps to acknowledge the possibility of this student unease, without necessarily assigning it to specific individuals, and to let students express concerns if they feel inclined to do so.

Of course, the adherent versus nonadherent professor conundrum has long plagued the field of Religious Studies. In the last twenty years, it has been interesting to watch the same issue come to the fore in such emerging academic fields as Women’s Studies, African-American Studies, Latino Studies, Gay and Lesbian Studies, etc. The provisional settlement of this problem, reached by Religious Studies in the fast-growth period of the sixties and seventies, may be starting to unravel under the combined forces of rapid demographic change and the identity politics of the turn-of-the-century North American academy. Many Muslim students come into the Islamic Studies classroom, especially a course on the Quran, looking for religious formation. Their expectations reflect both generalized cultural presuppositions, as well as an understanding of the function of such instruction in the country of origin. When such expectations meet the prevailing praxis of university Religious Studies programs, issues of what I would call epistemological hegemony are likely to erupt. Within the ensuing fray, basic changes may emerge as quite diverse interests and orientations compete for position in the newly reconfigured spectrum of academic options.

Some individuals and groups, for example, feel that a publicly supported institution can no longer justify offering a privileged place to the post-Enlightenment secular ideology that grounds both the particular field of Religious Studies and the Western academic enterprise more generally. These voices are pressing for a change in academic culture which would accommodate their visions of religious education and would enable them to remold Religious Studies programs to embrace far greater pluralism of both guiding principles and operating practices. The strict division between the “seminary” and university department of Religious Studies, a division which is basic to the way many of our colleagues define their disciplinary identification, could begin to blur. The last thirty years has produced profound changes in university departments of Religious Studies. The next thirty may witness equally momentous ones. Teaching Quranic Studies in this fast-evolving context will undoubtedly present opportunities and challenges far different than those imagined when most of us embarked upon our own studies of this time-sanctified text.


1. The current AAR membership, according to its website, is about 8,000. Of course, many SBL members also belong to the AAR.

2. Muḥammad ‘Alī al-Sāyis, Tafsīr āyāt al-aḥkām, 4 vols. in 1 (Cairo: al-Azhar, 1953).

3. Muḥammad b. ‘Abdallāh Abū Bakr b. al-‘Arabī, Aḥkām al-Qur’ān, 2nd ed., 4 vols. (Cairo, 1392/1972).

4. Abū ‘Abdallāh Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-Qurṭubī, al-Jāmi‘ li-aḥkām al-Qur’ān, ed. Aḥmad ‘Abd al-‘Alīm al-Bardūnī et al., 20 vols. (Cairo, 1371–87/1952–67); Abū Bakr Aḥmad b. ‘Abdallāh al-Jaṣṣāṣ al-Rāzī, Aḥkām al-Qur’ān, 3 vols. (Istanbul, 1335–8/1916–9); Ilkiyā Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ṭabarī al-Harrāsī, Aḥkām al-Qur’ān, ed. Mūsā Muḥammad ‘Alī, 4 vols. (Cairo, n.d.).

5. During their menstrual periods many Muslim women will avoid touching a Quran. Among some Muslims, concerns about ritual purity make them reluctant to see a Quran in any non-Muslim hands.

6. A recent edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education (November 24, 2000; 48:A72) included an article by Andrea Useem about Maria Ulfah, an outstanding Indonesian reciter and teacher, who has toured the United States as a guest of the Middle East Studies Association. I was particularly pleased to see this article because when I lectured in Indonesia a few years ago, I had the chance to meet Maria Ulfah, to hear her recite, and to talk to her about the study of Quran recitation.

7. Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ṭabāṭabā’ī, al-Mīzān fī tafsīr al-Qur’ān, 20 vols. (Beirut, 1393–4/1973–4); vol. 21 (Beirut, 1985).

8. Abū al-Su‘ūd Muḥammad b. Muḥyī al-Dīn al-‘Imādī (d. 982/1574), Tafsīr Abī al-Su‘ūd aw Irshād al-‘aql al-salīm, 5 vols. (Riyadh, 1971).

9. Faḍl Ḥasan ‘Abbās, al-Balāghah, funūnuhā wa-afnānuhā, 2 vols. (Amman, 1405/ 1985). ‘Abbās has also written a book that assesses and responds to the article on the Quran written by Helmer Ringgren for the fifteenth edition (1974) of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Cf. Qaḍāyā Qur’āniyya fī l-mawsū‘a al-brīṭāniyya (Amman, 1410/1989).

10. Muṣṭafā Ibrāhīm al-Mashnī, Madrasat al-tafsīr fī al-Andalus (Beirut, 1406/1986) and Ibn al-‘Arabī al-Mālikī al-Ishbīlī wa-tafsīruhu Aḥkām al-Qur’ān (Beirut, 1411/1991).

11. W.A. Graham, Beyond the Written Word. Oral Aspects of Scripture in the History of Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); Kristina Nelson, The Art of Reciting the Qur’ān (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985). While Nelson’s book offers an accessible explanation of Quranic recitation, the more comparative study by Graham highlights its importance in Muslim societies both present and past.

12. Norman Calder, “Tafsīr from Ṭabarī to Ibn Kathīr: Problems in the Description of a Genre, Illustrated with Reference to the Story of Abraham,” in Approaches to the Qur’ān, ed. G. R. Hawting and Abdul-Kader A. Shareef (London: Routledge, 1993), 101–40; Patrick D. Gaffney, The Prophet’s Pulpit: Islamic Preaching in Contemporary Egypt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994); Estelle Whelan, “Writing the Word of God: Some Early Qur’an Manuscripts and Their Milieux, Part I,” Ars Orientalis 20 (n.d.): 113–47; Barbara Freyer Stowasser, Women in the Qur’ān, Traditions and Interpretation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).

13. Representative examples of this syllabus are John R. Bowen, Muslims through Discourse (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993); Dale F. Eickelman, Knowledge and Power in Morocco: The Education of a Twentieth-Century Notable (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985); C. B. M. Hoffer, “The Practice of Islamic Healing,” in Islam in Dutch Society: Current Developments and Future Prospects, ed. W. A. R. Shadid and P. S. van Koningsveld (Kampen, the Netherlands: Kok Pharos, 1992); Frederick M. Denny, “Qur’an Recitation: A Tradition of Oral Performance and Transmission,” Oral Tradition 41 (1989): 5–26.

  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2019. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice