Academic Programs 

The Qur’an and Its Place in Muslim Life and Society (SC-621)
Summer 2007

As the sacred scripture of Islam, the Qur’an has primary authority in the way Muslims understand their faith. This course will examine Islamic concepts of the Qur’an as divine revelation and guidance. Major Qur’anic themes will be studied in English translation, with reference to classical and contemporary Muslim commentaries. Attention will be paid to ways in which the Qur’an functions as sacred scripture in Muslim history and contemporary life, examples of which will include Muslim communities in the United States.


Meeting Day, Time and Dates: 
Monday, June 11 – Friday, June 15 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Ingrid Mattson
Professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations

Contact Information:
(860) 509-9531


Course Syllabus


As the sacred scripture of Islam, the Qur’an has primary authority in the way Muslims understand their faith. In this course, we will explore the function of the Qur’an in Muslim societies and the importance of both recitation and writing in transmitting the text from generation to generation. We will also study some of the “sciences of the Qur’an” including the significance of the Qur’an as Divine Word, the context of revelation and the structure of the text. Finally, we will compare the methodologies of various classical and modern Qur’an commentaries.

Course Requirements:

Since this is an intensive five-day course, full attendance and participation are absolutely necessary. Students will be graded for participation and will lose points for unexcused absences from class.

Students will be required to keep a “Qur’an Journal” in a notebook that will be submitted to the instructor in August. The journal will have two sections. One section will be a glossary, in which students will write down new and unfamiliar terms and their definitions. To this end, the student should bring the journal to class each day. The other section of the journal will be reflective and based on independent reading of translations of the meaning of the Qur’an. Students are required to submit a journal with at least twenty entries—each made on a different day. The entries can be as short as two sentences; there is no maximum length. The entry consists of reflections and questions about what the student has read.

The research paper must be on a topic approved by the instructor. An outline and bibliography must be submitted to the instructor on the designated date or points may be deducted from the final grade. In addition to any monographs the student may find on the paper topic, he or she must also consult the Index Islamicus, the Religion Index or another source to search for relevant scholarly articles. The student is encouraged to submit a draft of the paper before the final due date. Students should follow Hartford Seminary guidelines for writing research papers. A copy of these guidelines are available from the course instructor or the Dean of Students.

Students are also permitted to submit a project instead of a paper. The project should be a creative exercise designed to help the student further explore the Qur’an in Muslim society. Students wishing to submit a project must obtain prior approval from the instructor.

***All students must have read the Introduction to the Sells book by the start of the first class.

Participation     20%
Qur’an journal   30%
Research paper or project 50%

Deadlines: Qur’an Journal and final paper/project due August 20

Course Texts:

1. The Meaning of the Holy Quran. Translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. Maryland: Amana Publications.
2. Fazlur Rahman, Major Themes of the Qur’an. Malaysia: Islamic Book Trust, 1989.
3. Michael Sells, Approaching the Qur’an: the early revelations. Ashland, OR: White Cloud Press, 1999.
4. Chapters from Mattson’s forthcoming book, The Story of the Qur’an: its history and place in Muslim Life (Blackwell) – available on the reserve shelf in the library. Students are given permission to copy these chapters only for use in class and may not make additional copies or distribute their copies to others.


1. If this is your first Islamic Studies class, you must read a general introduction to Islam. I recommend Marston Speight’s God is One, the Way of Islam. This is available at the Hartford Seminary bookstore.

2. Before class, visit the following website and look around:

Daily schedule (except Friday):

Period 1 9:00-10:30
Break 10:30-10:45
Period 2 10:45-12:15
Lunch 12:15-1:15
Period 3 1:15-2:45
Break 2:45-3:00
Period 4 3:00-4:30

Period 1 9:00-10:30
Break 10:30-10:45
Period 2 10:45-12:00

Daily Readings

Monday: Context of the Revelation

Wael B. Hallaq, “The pre-Islamic Near East, Muhammad and Quranic Law,” cpt. of The Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law (Cambridge University Press, 2005): 8-28 (plus maps at front of book).

Martin Lings, Muhammad, his life based on the earliest sources (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1983): 1-49. [For those not familiar with the life of the Prophet Muhammad]

Mattson, Cpt. 1 “God Speaks to Humanity”

Tuesday: Themes of the Qur’an

Mattson, Cpt. 2, “The Prophet Conveys the Message”

Rahman, Themes of the Qur’an, Chapters 1-6.

Wednesday: The Qur’an, Culture and Society

Mattson, Chapter 3, “Blessed Words”

In class we will look at:
M. Lings, The Quranic Art Of Calligraphy And Illumination (New York: Interlink Books, 1987), 11-19, 53-55, 71-78.

Website: Smithsonian Museum of Natural History (sic!):

Thursday: Interpreting the Word of God: Qur’anic Hermeneutics

Mattson, Cpt. 5, “What God Really Means”

Claude Gilliot, “Exegesis: Classical,” Encyclopedia of the Qur’an, v. 2, 99-124.

Rotraud Wielandt, “Exegesis of the Qur’ān: Early Modern and Contemporary,” EQ, v. 2, 124-142.

Friday: New Readings and Approaches to Tafsir; Current Issues; Translations

Dale Eickelman, “Qur’anic Commentary: Public space, and religious intellectuals in the writings of Said Nursi,” The Muslim World v. 89, nos 3-4 (1999): 260-269.

Said Nursi, The Flashes Collection, translation of Risale-I nur by Shukran Vahide. (Istanbul, 1995), 338-357.

Sayyid Qutb, In the Shade of the Qur’an, translation of Fi Zilal al-Quran by M.A. Salahi and A.A. Shamis (Leicester, UK: Islamic Foundation, 1999), 355-372.

Syed Abu’l-`Ala Mawdudi, The Meaning of the Qur’an, translation of Tafhim al-Qur’an by Zafar Ishaq Ansari (Leicester, UK: The Islamic Foundation, 1993), v. 4, 75-107.

Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, The Second Message of Islam, translation of al-Risalah al-thaniyah min al-Islam, by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na`im (Syracuse University Press, 1987), 124-164.

Amina Wadud, The Qur’an and Women: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective (Oxford University Press, 1999): 1-43.

Abdulhamid A. Abusulayman, “Chastising Women,” Islamic Horizons (March/April 2003): 22-26.

Hartford Seminary  77 Sherman Street  Hartford, CT  06105   860-509-9500