EXCERPT: New Quran Halaqa Project Description


TRANSCRIPT:  "This project to share the result of my long-term engagement with the Quran, to be done properly and effectively, and to get through the entire Quran. At least if I could afford a year of leave where I'm on leave from school and doing nothing but the Quranic halaqas, that would be ideal.


"It's very difficult to imagine how I could do this while teaching because of just the numerous obligations that I have. But, there was a further idea... And I've already talked to Grace about this. Is that if this thing about taking off a year to teach the Quran. I am at the stage in life where you start thinking very seriously about... When you meet Allah and you are asked about what you've done with your knowledge. So, you get to a certain stage in life where the training of others and the preparing of others to carry the torch, so to speak, you don't just leave a legacy of written books, but you leave a legacy of living books, human beings...The way I was raised was that, to always think that the value of a teacher is in what a teacher leaves behind in terms of students, rather than anything else. The quality of a student that a teacher leaves.

To be quite honest with you I have not been very successful on that front. I have not left a very large body of students and I'm not even sure that I've left any body of students. There are some of course clear exceptions. People that I've had long associations with and at least contributed to their training in one form or another. Only Allah knows the best to what extent. But anyway, the idea is that during that year, hopefully we can invite two, three, or four people. That would undertake a great sacrifice on their part. And that is to take a year off their lives and come to LA.


"Our hope is that we'd raise funds to be able to pay for their lodging and their food, at a minimum. And that for that year, they would train very closely with me on the Quran. But this would require complete dedication. And the reason that it would have to be one on one, and it would have to be in person, and it would have to be that these people would come and live close to where I am for a year is that for this type of project, I don't need smart people. I need wise people, and wisdom is not just the product of IQ. Wisdom is a product of that remarkable combination between the heart and the mind. And the heart and the mind strike the mizan (balance) between these two. There are a lot of people who are extremely sharp and very studious, but are idiots in every sense of the word. And there are a lot of people that have very big hearts, but absolutely no power, intelligence-wise. They're not studious at all. And as a result, they're fools, they're all heart. But, they learn nothing from the experiences of others as documented in writing.


"For that year, what these individuals would do, they would prepare the chapters that we will discuss. So they read them, they prepare them, I would meet with them daily, or once every two days to discuss the types of things that I will not have time to go into in the broader halaqas. And also - and this is not any less important - to do spiritual exercises, preparing the chapters. So, they would do dhikr; each surah in the Quran has its own dhikr. And they would regularly focus on developing themselves spiritually and intellectually, and their intimacy with the Quran.


"And after that year, hopefully, they would go on to, I pray, to take the message further than I could have ever taken it. And that would be my sincere hope. Of course, all of this is at this point a dream, because we don't have the funds. And, as it stands now, I'm scheduled to teach next year. But, I think that perhaps the hearing loss is a strong alarm system that you can't just say, "Well if I don't do it this year, it will be next year." Life is just too unpredictable. So, that is the dream, to do it the way that it should properly be done.


"Knowledge that you don't sacrifice for, is knowledge that you don't learn; knowledge that comes cheaply. We human beings, our psychology is that we have a tendency not to respect anything that doesn't cost us, and that's not necessarily bad. That's just the way our psychologies are as human beings. We don't value what comes free and the way that we learn to cherish something is by coming to appreciate its scarcity and its cost.


"Think of the way that even when you were a child, the way you were taught value by your parents is to learn that things have value because they're not necessarily replaced. Or if replaced, they are replaced at a cost. And as a child, if you had not learned this lesson, that's exactly how you would grow up to be spoiled rotten. And think of any child that is spoiled rotten - they're insensitive, they can't understand the feelings of others, and they take everything for granted. And they take everything for granted because they were not indoctrinated with the idea of cost and sacrifice. Anything that costs you energy, exhaustion, financial resources, and substantial time is something that impacts your psychology and impacts your intellect at a different level of consciousness than something that doesn't cost you. That is why the sacrifice of taking a year out of your life is a moral cost that needs to be incurred. Not just because the material is intensive and not just because we are going through the entire Quran in one year and becoming thoroughly comfortable with why each chapter is the way it is.


"What were the circumstances that led to the revelation of each chapter in the Quran? What are the major theological/philosophical/ jurisprudential debates about each chapter in the Quran? Plus the dhikr that is necessary to surround the educational process that defines the engagement with each chapter. That dhikr brings the element of Allah's baraka, because without Allah's baraka, without Allah's blessing, it is impossible for the Quran to unlock its secrets and to unlock its keys.


"If you don't have Allah's baraka, you can read the Quran a million times. Think of the Orientalist Montgomery Watt, who I am sure has gone through the Quran [a million times]. I used to know the late Patricia Crone quite well and I knew that she read the Quran many times. But so what? She's not reading it with baraka. She's not reading it with that element of Allah's touch, Allah's madhad, Allah's aid. And so nothing will penetrate and nothing did penetrate to Patricia Cohen's heart. Nothing penetrated in Montgomery Watt's heart. I used to be a student of Avram Udovitch at Princeton; he was one of my teachers. I know from my long conversations with him and Michael Cook [that] nothing ever penetrated their heart. I have a colleague here at UCLA whose specialty is the translation of Arabic text and he knows Arabic quite well. But without the element of baraka, your heart is locked up.


"And so that dhikr is critical to the process of engagement. And it mirrors my own long engagement with the Quran itself..."


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