The Dawn of Islam class with Dr. Rudolph Ware

Thursday, April 5, 2018

8:00 pm – 9:30 pm

The Dawn of Islam: Prophetic History & Qur’anic Ethics

In 610 CE the world changed forever; Muhammad son of ‘Abdullah began having visions wherein the Angel Gabriel instructed him to ‘recite!’ The resulting recitation—which is what the word Qur’an means in Arabic—is understood by Muslims to be God’s verbatim speech transmitted to a human being over the next 22 years.

That human being—The Prophet Muhammad—was thereafter referred to as the Messenger of God by his followers, and whenever his name is mentioned, most Muslims say a prayer asking God to bless him and grant him peace.

This course is an intensive introduction to the Holy Book of Islam, the Life of the Messenger of God (peace be upon him) and the core ethical teachings of the religion. To tell this story as it unfolded in time, two distinct threads must be woven together:

1) The Qur’an: which will be examined not in the order in which the chapters and verses are arranged in canonical copies of the text, but rather following the chronological order in which the verses were revealed.

2) The Biography of the Prophet: which will also be approached in a chronological sequence beginning with his birth, focusing intently on the period of revelation (beginning in 610), and ending with his passing in 632 CE.


For Muslims, the Quran represents God’s verbatim speech, but the Prophet’s life was also a sacred narrative. Though prophetic biographies (sira) are not believed to be infallible in the same way as the Qur’an, they are crucial sources for understanding Muslim history and thought. They relate the story of a human being— Prophet Muhammad—was tried and tested with the recitation of God’s Words until he had delivered a message. The successful completion of the trial left the Word forever engraved on his heart; the Word of God inscribed in the heart becomes the character of a human being. It is for this reason that the Prophet was described as having ‘the character of the Qur’an,’ or even as being ‘the Qur’an walking upon the earth.’

From within traditional Islamic thought, ‘knowing’ the Qur’an is not enough; one must embody it. The sacred story of revelation (of the Prophet’s life and the Qur’an) was a ‘teachable moment’ wherein God instructed the Prophet (and through him humanity) on how to live ethically and morally. Therefore ethics—or more properly, character—is the third and final thread that is woven into the chronological narrative of this course. The Qur’an highlights seven character traits which are the most desirable in people; indeed the only times that the Qur’an says ‘God loves’ anything, the clear reference is to human beings displaying those traits. The ultimate goal, then, of ethical behavior in Islamic thought is to become the beloved of God.

The Qur’an says God loves: the repentantthe purethe reverentthe excellentthe patient, the just, and those who trust Him. This course uses the Qur’an and sira to explore these seven traits of character and shows how the specific events in the life of the Prophet and revelations of the Qur’an were understood as the progressive unfolding of Divine instruction on how to embody excellent character.



Meraj Mohiuddin, Revelation: The Story of Muhammad

Seyyed Hossein Nasr (ed.) The Study Qur’an: A New Translation & Commentary

Imam Fodé Dramé, The 99 Names of Allah: Expansions vol. 5

Uthman dan Fodio (Aisha Bewley trans.) Handbook on Islam, Iman, and Ihsan


About Dr. Rudolph Bilal Ware     
Dr. Ware is a Professor of History at the University of Michigan and Director of the IKHLAS Research Initiative, which fosters research into historical and contemporary Islamic thought, knowledge practices, and epistemology through an interdisciplinary exploration of the traditional Islamic sciences with keen attention to diverse Muslim contexts, cultivating deep and meaningful scholarly and community dialogues.

Dr. Ware specializes in premodern West African history. His research interests include Islam, popular religious culture, and race. His book, The Walking Qur’an: Islamic Education, Embodied Knowledge, and History in West Africa,
documents the profound significance of Qur’an schools for West African Muslim communities, spanning a thousand years of history and bringing the story to the present through ethnographic fieldwork in Senegal, Gambia, and Mauritania.