Posted: Thu Dec 10, 2009 3:25 am Post subject: THE IIS ACTIVITIES
Live Event: IIS Co-Director to present on Institute’s Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities
TheIsmaili.org will host a live webcast by Professor Karim H Karim, Co-Director of The Institute of Ismaili Studies, for individuals interested in the Institute’s Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities (GPISH). The event will take place on Saturday, 12 December 2009 at 14:30 GMT (London time), and will be broadcast at www.theismaili.org/live.
A demanding and exciting three-year post-graduate course of study, the Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities trains individuals to play a leading role in academic and community life. It prepares students for a research degree and acts as a stepping stone to a variety of career opportunities around the world.
For more information, please visit the GPISH programme page at the Institute’s website.
Live Event: Eboo Patel
In conjunction with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, TheIsmaili.org will host a live webcast of a speech by Eboo Patel on Monday, 14 December 2009 at 15:30 GMT (London time). The event will be broadcast at www.theismaili.org/live.
IIS Collaborates with Foundation for Endangered Languages for Conference in Tajikistan
The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) in collaboration with the Foundation for Endangered Languages (FEL), The Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan (AST), and the Institute of Humanities, Khorog, Tajikistan, organised the 13th Annual International Conference of FEL, which took place in Khorog from 24 to 26 September, 2009.
Khorog, capital of the remote, mountainous Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province (GBAO) of Tajikistan, was chosen to host the conference as the region is the most linguistically diverse in Central Asia; and is designated a ‘Museum of Languages’ by many scholars engaged in the study of Pamiri languages, such as Drs Joy Edelman and Dodikhudo Karamshoev.
The 2009 FEL conference investigated the complex interrelation of endangered languages and history. Discussions included both how historical research can benefit the preservation and revitalisation of endangered languages as well as looking at how their study can answer historical questions. Often scholars seek answers to the historical development of nations, their values and ethics, way of life, arts and crafts, and religious traditions in the endangered languages of minorities. These languages form a vital part of linguistic diversity worldwide while adding value to community life and promoting a sense of identity.
The three-day conference brought together over 50 participants from eight countries, including Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, UK, and USA. Papers were presented and published in four languages, including Tajik, English, Russian and Dari/Persian. Welcoming speeches were delivered by Mr Shamsiddin Orumbekov, Deputy Chairman of GBAO; Dr. Oghonazar Aqnazarov from the Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan; Dr Shodikhon Yusufbekov, Director of the Institute of Humanities, and Dr Nazar Nazarzoda, Director of the Institute of Languages and Literature. The speakers expressed the importance the Tajik government attaches to Tajikistan’s language policy and drew attention to the Law on Languages, which calls for preservation and promotion of the Pamiri and Yaghnobi languages as cultural assets of Tajikistan.
In his keynote speech, FEL’s President, Professor Nicholas Ostler traced the history of Western European and Central Asian languages. He stated that if a language becomes endangered, three aspects of social life are also threatened: the identity of the speech-community may be demeaned and even permanently extinguished; community life which takes place exclusively in this language will shrink; and local traditions will eventually die out. The third point is particularly relevant, since these traditions, whether oral or written, constitute the ‘story’ of the language and the community in which it is spoken.
Mr Hakim Elnazarov, the Conference Programme Chair and the IIS Coordinator of Central Asian Studies, highlighted that the Pamiri and Yaghnobi languages are a valuable part of Tajik heritage. These languages are the successors of more ancient languages, such as Sogdian, spoken across Central Asia, and the languages of interaction of many civilisations along the Silk Road. Mr. Elnazarov stated that the conference will create greater participation by various stakeholders in safeguarding these endangered languages; including by making use of them for educational purposes, such as language speakers being taught in their mother tongue in primary school.
Currently, research projects are underway at the Institute of Humanities in Khorog and the Institute of Languages and Literature in Dushanbe creating scripts and writing textbooks for Pamiri and Yaghnobi languages.
The speakers of the Yaghnobi languages are scattered in the Zarafshan valley, predominantly in the narrow Yaghnob valley. The Pamiri languages (Shughni, Rushani, Bartangi, Roshorvi, Ishkashimi, Sariquli, Wakhi) and their various dialects are spoken in the GBAO region and the adjacent areas of Afghanistan, Northern Pakistan and Western China. The degree of their endangerment varies but all are included in the UNESCO 2009 Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing.
It is hoped that this conference will contribute to language preservation efforts in Tajikistan and more generally to the international endeavour to protect endangered languages worldwide, as these constitute a valuable part of the intangible aspects of the human heritage. More information and FEL conference proceedings can be obtained at http://www.ogmios.org/.
The IIS sponsored a panel presentation at the 2009 meeting of the Middle Eastern Studies Association of North America (MESA), held in Boston, Massachusetts. The panel entitled, Formulations of Authority in Early Shi‘i Islam, was part of the Institute’s new endeavour in the field of Shi‘i Studies.
The panel was organised by Dr Teresa Bernheimer of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), who, until recently, was a Visiting Research Fellow at the IIS. Professor Roy Mottahedeh of Harvard University chaired the panel.
The four papers presented at the panel looked at various aspects of the formulations of authority in early Shi‘i Islam. The first paper by Dr Najam Haider examined the emergence of religious authority among various groups of Kufan Shi‘is. He emphasised the importance of public expressions of identity through a case study concerning authorities who operated at the margins of multiple communities.
Dr Teresa Bernheimer’s paper compared the formulations of authority among ‘Alid dynasties of the ninth and tenth century from a socio-historical perspective, with a particular emphasis on their claims to Prophetic descent. Her research was based on newly available historical and genealogical sources and numismatic material.
Dr Gurdofarid Miskinzoda’s paper focused on a report commonly known as the hadith manzilat Harun (the Prophetic tradition on the position of Aaron) in the Muslim tradition. She explicated the particular hadith’s role in the doctrinal formulation of Imam ‘Ali’s special status in Shi‘i Islam. The paper argued that, although not all authors discuss the parallels between Aaron and Moses directly, they nevertheless utilise them to respond to concerns about important issues as the concept of prophethood, the position of Prophet Muhammad as the last prophet and the nature of religious authority.
Dr Toby Mayer’s paper analysed Shahrastani’s concept of the Prophet’s Household as protectors of the Qur’an’s higher meanings, elaborated in his commentary ‘Keys to the Arcana’. In this work he presents a detailed system of complementary concepts underlying the entire Qur’anic text. This framework, supposedly transmitted by the lineage of the Prophet, not only functions as a scriptural hermeneutic, but also as a ‘philosophy’ on which basis Shahrastani challenges Ibn Sina’s thought in Struggling with the Philosopher.
MESA book exhibit
All IIS publications were on display at the popular MESA book exhibit, located adjacent to the main MESA conference hall. Patricia Salazar and Nadia Holmes, two editors from the Department of Academic Research and Publications, were there to distribute catalogues and provide information about the books and the work of the Institute to academics, authors, publishers, students, researchers and other conference attendees.
Qur’anic Studies Workshop: Theories and Methods in Qur’an Commentaries
In October 2009, Dr Karen Bauer of IIS’ Qur’anic Studies unit organised a workshop on Theories and Methods in Qur’an Commentaries. The workshop was attended by prominent scholars from North America and Europe, including Andrew Rippin, Walid Saleh, Devin Stewart, Claude Gilliot, and Roberto Tottoli.
At the three-day workshop, scholars presented papers on various aspects of theories and methods in Qur’anic tafsir, covering areas such as esoteric and exoteric exegesis, hadiths in tafsir and early exegesis.
Though great strides have been made in the secondary literature on the genre of Qur’anic commentary, a gap exists in descriptions of overall theories and methods used by the exegetes. The goal of the workshop was to examine what is included in Qur’an commentaries, why certain information is or is not included, how exegetes wrote about the information that they included, and how their particular milieu affected their writing.
The workshop had two concrete aims. The first, to produce an edited volume based on the essays that were presented at the workshop. This edited volume will be the first to focus specifically on the aims and methods of the exegetes, and as such it is hoped that it will become essential reading in the field of tafsir and Qur’anic studies.
The second aim was to create a scholarly dialogue. Works of tafsir are written in response to one another; later works respond to and include elements from earlier works. Thus, one work should never be studied in isolation; yet these works run to many volumes and are written in technical language. It is thus impossible for one scholar alone to understand all of the factors at play in this vast literature. By gathering together scholars who have deep knowledge of this genre of text, the IIS was able to create a highly specialised discussion, which benefited all participants.
Several scholars from IIS’ Qur’anic Studies unit participated in the workshop. Dr Karen Bauer presented a paper entitled Canon vs. Common Sense in Tafsir of the 10th – 12th Centuries exploring the question of learned judgment and its place in the Qur’an commentary; Dr Stephen Burge presented a paper on Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti, the Mu‘awwidhatan and Modes of Exegesis, exploring al-Suyuti's methods of tafsir, and Dr Toby Mayer chaired the panel on Mu‘tazili exegesis. Dr Omar Ali-de-Unzaga delivered closing remarks.
The workshop was deemed by all present to be a great success. Participants especially appreciated the intimate atmosphere and the resulting sophistication of the discourse.
Narrating Islam co-edited by IIS Research Associate
Dr Shiraz Thobani, a Research Associate with the Department of Curriculum Studies at the Institute, has co-edited a new publication with Dr Gerdien Jonker, entitled Narrating Islam: Interpretations of the Muslim World in European Texts. Dr Jonker is affiliated with the Georg-Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research in Braunschweig, Germany.
The series of articles in this publication were first presented by European scholars at an international conference and workshop on the subject which took place in 2006 and 2007. The articles explore both the history and contemporary representations of narratives about Islam and Muslims, as reflected in European school textbooks.
In this context, Muslims have often taken the role of the ‘other’ during the last 500 years of European history, that is, from the Reformation up to the 21st century. In each region, the role of the ‘other’ is linked to safeguarding their indigenous, cultural and political frameworks. The militarily and culturally superior Ottomans, along with other Muslim cultures at Europe’s margins, were one of the catalysts for European self perception. Thus, these narratives lead to increased collective identity and group cohesion.
The editors’ hypothesis is that textbook narratives on Islam have their roots in ideas that are still one of Europe’s basic identifiers of belonging and not belonging. The majority of European school textbooks share basic features such as ‘the life of Muhammad’ or ‘the Crusades’. Drs Thobani and Jonker argue that these narratives have been fixed over a long period of time and can only be understood by looking at the longue durée of European historiography, following ideas from Fernand Braudel’s seminal work.
Dr Thobani, in his concluding chapter, called Peripheral vision in the national curriculum: Muslim history in the British educational context, brings the discussion right up-to-date. The chapter deals with the role of the UK national curriculum in promoting cultural diversity and civic identity in the context of Muslims and Islam. Even today, the Islamic world is seen as an essentially bounded entity, centring on the Middle East. Other areas, such as North Africa, Central Asia or India, are only mentioned in passing.
The predominant emphasis on the texts examined by Dr Thobani is on Muslim religious and political, rather than socio-cultural history. “The Muslim ‘world’... is distanced by being neatly separated from Europe, embedded in a medieval age and therefore having little if any engagement with modernity, and cast as confrontational through conflictual episodes such as the Crusades” (p.249). Dr Thobani traces these perspectives back to an Orientalist discourse.
A better alternative, Dr Thobani suggests, would be to discuss the richness of Muslim civilisation and its interdependence with other civilisations as well as the century-long history of Muslims within Europe. The textbooks should also be brought up to the present day: “It is vital that the peripheral gaze be led to focus also on the encounter between Muslim societies and European nations in the colonial period and in recent times” (p.252).
While textbook narratives of cultures are often based on ideas that reach long into the past, they seek to shape young readers’ futures. Thus, in a changing post-colonial world where old divisions and certainties are being revised, this volume sheds a welcome light on a previously neglected area of study.
The third lecture in the Shi‘i Studies Lecture Series at the IIS was delivered by Dr Sajjad Rizvi, Senior Lecturer in Islamic Studies and Director of the Centre of Islamic Philosophy of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at University of Exeter.
In his talk entitled Debating Shi‘i Philosophy in Qum, Dr Rizvi argued that the study of the philosophy of Mulla Sadra (d. 1640 CE) and of philosophical mysticism in the Shi‘i seminary at Qum have seen a recent revival and dominance. Sadra’s philosophy has been contested by traditionalist ‘ulama who consider both philosophy and mysticism as a challenge to the true teachings of the Shi‘i Imams. Dr Rizvi then examined one such critique of philosophy from the school known as the maktab-i tafkik (the School of Epistemological Distinction), founded in Mashhad by scholars trained in the seminary in Najaf. They insist that the true teachings of the Imams are the guides for understanding religious realities and as such should not be mixed with ‘foreign’ knowledge.
Three areas of analysis were discussed. First, the concept of philosophy in maktab-i tafkik and the criticism of the school of Mulla Sadra for conflating knowledge of the faith with Hellenic learning, posing a challenge to those like ‘Allama Tabataba’i, who considered hikmat-i ilahi (divine wisdom) and din-i ilahi (divine religion) to be synonymous. Second, their fideist approach to the knowledge of God is akin to reformed epistemology's position that belief in the existence of God is ‘properly basic’ (in Plantinga's terms); they strongly criticise and juxtapose the notion of reason and rationality found in Shi‘i hadith with the Neoplatonic notion of the nous in Mulla Sadra. Third, the school of Mulla Sadra is seen as deficient in defending basic theological doctrines such as the resurrection of bodies; the Sadrian theory of the bodies of resurrection and the afterlife are seen as incompatible with the teachings of the Imams.
At the heart of the debate is the concept of reason and of knowledge which, according to Dr. Rizvi, is not surprising, given that, for the Shi‘a, the primary virtue of the Imam lies in his superior and supernatural knowledge. But, it indicates to us another example of an attack on philosophy actually entailing a challenge to a hegemonic concept of rationality, in opposition to which an alternative rationality is offered. Therefore, the maktab-i tafkik is much more than just a traditionalist one in the vein of the simplistic Hanabila or even the Akhbaris.
The 16th of March 2010 marked the graduation of the first cohort of students from the Secondary Teacher Education Programme (STEP), a joint initiative of University of London’s Institute of Education (IoE) and The Institute of Ismaili Studies. The ceremony, which was held at Logan Hall, was attended by the IIS governors, Co-directors, senior managers as well as faculty and staff associated with STEP.
Forty STEP students from Canada, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and the USA graduated at that ceremony. The students embarked on their collaborative studies at IoE and the IIS in September 2007. Each student graduated with a double award: MA in Education (Muslim Societies and Civilisations) and MTeach (Masters of Teaching). Commendation is due to the following students who received a distinction in their Masters’ degrees: Fayyaz Ali, Noorin Fazal, Shaira Kachra, Rizwan Lalani, Zohirbek Piltaboev and Sheila Virani; Farah Virani is also to be specially commended on being awarded a double distinction.
Several Honorary Doctorates were awarded at the ceremony as well. The Honorary Graduands included Malorie Blackman, the award-winning and prolific author of books for children and young adults; Lady Elizabeth Vallance, for her path breaking contributions in shaping British public sector policies in education, health and ‘Standards in Public Life’; and Richard Martineau for exemplary public service and designing innovative partnerships between businesses and public education. In his speech, Richard Martineau commented that graduation ceremonies marked the passing of the torch of learning and responsibility from one generation to the next.
Since completing the Secondary Teacher Education Programme, the graduates have all successfully taken up full time employment positions as Secondary Education teachers in the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Boards (ITREBs) in their home countries. The teachers will be responsible for the delivery of IIS’ Secondary Curriculum at Ismaili religious education centres.
Internationally Acclaimed Author, M.G. Vassanji gives IIS Book Reading
M.G. Vassanji, an author of international standing, gave a book reading at the Institute on 8 April, 2010. He read from his latest book, A Place Within, a travel memoir of his visits to India. An earlier book, The Gunny Sack has been a set text for the Literature of Muslim Societies module of the IIS’ Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities.
Mr Vassanji was born in Nairobi, Kenya and lived in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. He later moved to America where he studied Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then at the University of Pennsylvania, where he gained a PhD. Moving to Canada in 1978, he continued his career in physics until his first novel, The Gunny Sack, was published in 1989. Since then, he has published a number of novels, including The Book of Secrets (1993) and The In-Between World of Vikram Lall (2003), both of which won the Giller Prize. His books deal with history and memory as well as immigration and diaspora between three continents, Asia, Africa and America.
Like many East African Ismailis of Indian heritage, Mr. Vassanji’s knowledge of India was based on stories told by his parents, religious hymns, including Ismaili ginans and later, Bollywood films. None of this prepared him for his visit to India itself, which, he said, changed him completely. He found that he could not simply write about India objectively, but rather that he had to write about himself and his own responses to the country.
The evening began with Mr. Vassanji reading selections from A Place Within (2008), including his reflections on India before his visit, a description of the shrine of Amir Khusraw, a humorous account of a visit to a temple of a local Devi and his impressions on first visiting Gujarat, the land of his ancestors. The beauty of Mr. Vassanji’s prose was apparent in the reading. The extracts contained subtle and often surprising transitions between humour, tragedy and the sublime.
The reading was followed by an interview with the author, led by Dr Farouk Mitha, Course Director of the Secondary Teacher Education Programme. This became a wide-ranging conversation, taking in the nature of writing, the complex nature of identity and the current political situation in India; issues which Mr. Vassanji has dealt with in his writing.
Mr Vassanji’s comments on the act of writing; which for him is like eating or breathing rather than being the product of analytical thought, shed light on the differences between writer and critic. He also commented on the way in which people are shaped by historical events and the integration of these events into his writing. His books are concerned with the interaction between public and personal histories. Mr. Vassanji ended on a stirring note when he stated, “If you don’t write about yourself then you don’t know yourself, and others will write about you and they will stereotype you.”
IIS Scholar Speaks at University of Lincoln
Dr Nader El-Bizri delivered a talk on 14 April 2010 at the School of Architecture, Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design, at the University of Lincoln. This presentation was part of a faculty seminar organised by the East Midlands History and Philosophy of Architecture Network during its Spring Session 2010. This network of ‘architectural humanities’ is supported by a consortium of schools of architecture at British Universities in the East Midlands region, in order to foster advanced academic research in the domains of architectural history, theory and criticism.
Dr El-Bizri’s talk, entitled Architecture and Culture, aimed at investigating the principal philosophical presuppositions that underlie the fundamental theoretical reflections on the intercultural roles of architecture. His line of inquiry focused on some of the salient interconnections that this question has with contemporary debates in ontology, epistemology, and theories of value. He argued that the contemplation of the architectural aspects of culture is intertwined with meditations on being, truth, beauty, goodness, justice, law and governance; along with pointers and directives that signal multiple relations with art, religion, techno-science, history, civilisation and society.
His elucidation of these complex and co-entangled dimensions, which in most cases surpass the professional or disciplinary and intentional or conscious control of architects, was undertaken by way of advancing selected prolegomena (introductory ideas) towards rethinking the attributes of the dialectical relationships between culture and architecture, with their correlative conceptual bearings and signifiers. This investigation was furthermore set against the background of examining the limitations of the intercultural roles that architecture and its pedagogy may still effectively perform in the contemporary world. This is particularly due to the dominance of narrow fields of academic and professional architectural specialism, and a growing emphasis on technology in the production of architecture. This does not happen merely at the tectonic level, but also in terms of both predetermining the possibilities of architectural thinking and organisation of the design elements.
Fourth Lecture in Shi‘i Studies Lecture Series
The fourth lecture in the Shi‘i Studies Lecture Series was delivered by Dr Andrew Newman in April 2010. It was entitled Khilaf and authority between the Buyid and Safavid periods. Looking specifically at the example of khilaf literature, Dr Newman discussed wider methodological issues in the contemporary study of Shi‘i Islam.
Dr Newman argued that the khilaf (debate or polemical) literature is a vast corpus of work which chronicles internal Shi‘i debates. The al-Dhari‘a ila asanif al-Shi‘a, the great bibliographical dictionary of Agha Buzurg al-Tihrani (d. 1970 CE), lists titles in the khilaf genre scattered across a number of volumes. A preliminary count turns up more than 1000 titles which may be said to belong to khilaf literature, without taking into account duplicates and cross-referencing.
The Usuli/Akhbari ‘debate’, between the rationalists and the traditionalists can also be covered by the appellation khilaf. While Akhbaris rely on the traditions of the Imams as a source of religious knowledge, Usulis emphasise the importance of reason in understanding the principles (usul) of theology and religious law. This dispute is one of the best known examples of the khilaf genre, and was at its most intense between the seventeenth and the early nineteenth century CE. It has received much attention to the detriment of other examples in the genre, which seldom receive consideration.
As part of their fierce intellectual debates, the supporters of the Akhbari and Usuli schools occasionally composed virulent polemical tracts against each other. However, this presentation suggested that the Usuli/Akhbari interchange was of little practical or ‘societal’ import in relation to religious or political authority as well as in matters of doctrine and practice. In good Shi‘i spirit, this proposition itself may be said to have generated some measure of khilaf, however small the number of participants in the discussion. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that other examples of khilaf literature could be of immense practical impact in relation to religious as well as political aspects of authority.
Dr Newman is Reader in Islamic Studies and Persian and Director of Graduate School of Literatures and Languages at the University of Edinburgh, and Co-Director of Centre for the Advanced Study of the Arab World (CASAW) at the same University. He is the author of The Formative Period of Shi‘i Law: Hadith as Discourse Between Qum and Baghdad (Richmond, Surrey: Curzon, 2000), Safavid Iran: Rebirth of a Persian Empire (London: I. B. Tauris, 2006) and the editor of Society and Culture in the Early Modern Middle East, Studies on Iran in the Safavid Period (Leiden: Brill, 2003).
IIS Alumnus Presents on History of Leadership and Authority in Tajikistan
Dr Otambek Mastibekov gave a presentation at The Institute of Ismaili Studies on History of Leadership and Authority in Tajikistan in March 2010 as part of the Occasional Lectures organised by the Central Asian Studies (CAS) project. The paper was based on his doctoral thesis entitled Leadership and Authority in Badakhshan of Tajikistan submitted to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).
Dr Mastibekov is a graduate of the Institute’s Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities, who subsequently worked as a Research Assistant in the CAS project before being awarded an IIS Doctoral Scholarship to pursue his PhD. He worked under the supervision of the well known political scientist Dr Shirin Akiner.
In his introductory remarks Hakim Elnazarov, CAS Coordinator, noted that the notion of leadership and authority amongst Ismailis in Central Asia is a complex phenomenon which has not received due attention in Soviet scholarship. In the Soviet period, religious leadership was largely depicted within the prevailing Marxist ideological framework and treated as a remnant of old social structures. It was thus seen as an obstacle to social progress.
In the post-Soviet era, there is growing scholarship on the history of the Central Asian Ismailis, particularly the role of community leaders during Russian and Soviet rule. Worldwide archives and library materials in various languages are now much more accessible for researchers. This is enabling a greater body of critical research on the Central Asian Ismaili community’s history in the modern period.
The presentation opened with a quote from Mohandas Gandhi who is believed to have said, “I learned from Husayn how to be wronged and be a winner; I learnt from Husayn how to attain victory while being oppressed.” It went on to discuss various leadership theories in Western scholarship where leadership is seen as the creative capacity to evoke the most positive capabilities and potentialities within ourselves and consequently within others. Culture is also seen as very important for leadership, and must be supportive of it, for it to be effective. Leadership is also seen as playing a vital role in protecting people from calamities, following Michel Foucault’s ideas on the concept of power as an enabling force.
Dr Mastibekov’s work builds on extensive literature produced both in the post-Soviet space and the West as well as his own extensive fieldwork in Tajikistan between 2005 and 2007. Following Nasir Khusraw, who is traditionally considered to be the first pir in Badakhshan, Dr Mastibekov provided detailed descriptions of the position and the role of Ismaili leaders in Tajikistan during the periods of the Afghan invasion, which ended in 1895; Russian imperial rule (1895-1917); Soviet power (1917-1991); and the aftermath of the Soviet period (1991-1995).
Currently, Dr Mastibekov works in the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisation (ISMC) Library in London, UK.
Qur’anic Studies Lecture on Pragmatic Aspects of the Religious Text
The Qur’anic Studies Unit hosted an occasional lecture by Dr Asma Hilali of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris entitled Pragmatic Aspects of the Religious Text: The San‘a Qur’an Palimpsest in May 2010.
In her presentation, Dr Hilali proposed a method for the study of Islamic religious texts focusing on their textual and contextual components. She used the San‘a Qur’an palimpsest, dated between seventh and mid-ninth century CE, as the principal example. A palimpsest is a manuscript, often made of parchment, which has been scraped off, cleaned and used again. This usually results in two layers of writing. This manuscript, discovered in 1972, is possibly the earliest extant version of the Qur’anic manuscript, it was discovered in the false ceiling of the Great Mosque in San‘a, .
The two layers of text in this palimpsest both contain fragments of Qur’anic verses. However the relationship between these two sets of fragments is problematic. They are not necessarily fragments from the same manuscript nor were they destined for the same uses. The texts from the two layers do not seem to be linked in any way, apart from being contained in the same writing space. A key question Dr Hilali seeks to answer is: Why was the lower layer of Qur’anic text erased and replaced by another text from the Qur’an?
Analysing this particular palimpsest, she showed how the manuscript’s specific teaching or recitation context affects the text’s content. Furthermore, she explored the significance of the transmission process as well as the fragmentary nature of the religious literature. Giving concrete examples from hadith literature, she argued that these historical elements have two literary consequences: the mixture of literary genres and the transformation process of the transmitted texts.
In her concluding remarks, Dr Hilali, stressed the issue of a text’s authority and how it results from the connection between different elements of the transmission process, including the text, its transmitters and, most important of all, its usage. She suggested that the authority of a religious text comes from its use and not vice-versa. In her view, the authoritative texts of the Holy Qu’ran and hadith, although related to Prophet Muhammad, seem independent from his prophetic career even though they are linked to it in terms of representation. In fact, Prophet Muhammad’s authority can be seen as a complex historical process, inseparable from the authority of the religious texts.
The Meaning of the Word: Lexicology and Tafsir, A Pre-Conference Workshop
Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR)
Atlanta, Friday 29 October 2010, 9.30am - 2.00pm
Venue: Marriot Marquis – International 5
Building on the successful Tafsir Workshop run by Karen Bauer at the American Academy of Religion (AAR) conference project in Chicago 2008, this workshop will explore how exegetes approach the meanings of individual words in the Qur’an, and debate how religious beliefs are informed by discussions of lexicology. This area of tafsir encompasses many different disciplines, and is too difficult a task for an individual to undertake. It will bring a number of scholars together with wide-ranging expertise and is open for all to attend. The workshop is part of the Institute’s commitment to promote scholarship in Qur’anic and Tafsir Studies.
A lunch is being offered, courtesy of the IIS, but please note that places are limited. You can reserve your seat by emailing Dr Stephen Burge (firstname.lastname@example.org). Any remaining seats will be given on a first come, first serve basis.
The IIS will have a Bookstand in the Book Exhibit Hall.
9.20 Opening Remarks
9.30 Panel 1: Word, Meanings and Interpretation (Chair: Joseph Lowry)
* Jamal Ali (Hunter College, City University of New York)
The Word ‘Word’: Abu Hatim al-Razi and a Never-Ending Debate about Kalima.
* Ayesha S. Chaudhry (Colgate University)
Lexical Definitions of Nushuz in Qurʾanic Exegesis
* Brett Wilson (Macalester College)
Lexicography and Turkish Renderings of the Qurʾan
11.00 Coffee Break
11.15 Panel 2: Hermeneutics and the Development of Lexicology (Chair: Shakwat Toorawa)
* Herbert Berg (University of North Carolina, Wilmington)
The “School of Ibn ʿAbbas”
* Michael Pregill (Elon University)
Storytellers versus Lexicographers: Tafsir’s Takeover of Qur’anic Commentary in the 10th Century
* Travis Zadeh (Haverford College)
Hermeneutic Polyvalence in Persian Rhyming Translations of the Qur’an
* Devin Stewart (Emory University)
Cognate Substitution and the Interpretation of Qur’anic Terms
13.15 Lunch with Closing Remarks
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Hunter College, City University of New York
The Word ‘Word’: Abu Hatim al-Razi and a Never-Ending Debate about Kalima
Abu Hatim al-Razi (d. 322/934) was an Ismaili preacher (daʿi) known for his Kitab al-Islah and Aʿlam al-Nubuwwa. He was also the author of Kitab al-Zina, a glossary of Qur’anic and Islamic words. The Kitab al-Zina, which has never been published in its entirety, is noteworthy for several reasons. Among these are Razi’s stubborn unwillingness to openly declare any sort of Ismaili ideas anywhere in the book. Despite this, Razi nonetheless manages to express Ismaili ideas, but in a hidden, secretive way. Razi’s use of these Ismaili approaches in organizing his book is exemplified in his treatment of the word kalima (‘word), which demonstrates many aspects of the overall approach that he takes in Kitab al-Zina. He gives numerous ideas that had been circulating in his time regarding the meaning of kalima, most of which stem from attempts at Qur’anic interpretation. He also includes one treatment of the word which hints at Ismaili Neoplatonic thought, but he does not declare outright that he believes in a Neoplatonic metaphysics.
A second benefit to examining Razi’s approach to the word kalima is that it clarifies a debate that has taken place over the centuries regarding the differences between this word, its plural form kalim, and the associated verbal noun kalam. The debate began with attempts to explain Qur’anic usage of each of these variants in the Qur’an, but expanded to become a full debate in its own right. Using Razi as a starting point, we are able to trace this dispute back to the early grammarians.
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University of North Carolina, Wilmington
The ‘School’ of Ibn ʿAbbas
ʿAbd Allah b. ʿAbbas, cousin of Muhammad and ancestor of the Abbasid caliphs, came to be seen as the single most authoritative early mufassir in Sunni Islam. According to his biography, he transmitted information from 30 people, including Muhammad and the first four caliphs, and transmitted this knowledge and his own teachings to six family members, at least four Companions, and over 75 others, including major exegetes such as ʿIkrima, Saʿid b. Jubayr, Qatada, Mujahid, and the fourth Shi‘i Imam. With such an influence (whether real or imagined), one would expect an exegetical ‘School of Ibn ʿAbbas’. By examining a few passages of the Qur’an and their exegesis by Ibn ʿAbbas and by a number of his ‘students’, this paper makes the provisional conclusion that in terms of interpretation and methodology, there was no such school. Moreover, Ibn ʿAbbas’s authoritative status seems a product of later mufassirs, not his ‘students’.
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Lexical Definitions of Nushuz in Qur’anic Exegesis: A Comparative Analysis of Husbandly and Wifely Nushuz in Q. 4:34 and Q. 4:128
This paper compares the exegetical treatment of the term nushuz as it appears in the Qur'anic text in reference to wives and husbands. While pre-modern exegetes acknowledge that in both cases the root of n-sh-z means to rise, this rising is interpreted in completely different ways with regard to its application to husbands and wives. The manner in which exegetes interpret nushuz for husbands and wives tells us a great deal about their understanding of the marital relationship. I argue that the fact that pre-modern exegetes interpreted wifely and husbandly nushuz to have different meanings suggests that they were less concerned with maintaining a cohesive, consistent definition of nushuz and were more concerned with interpreting nushuz to fulfill their vision of an appropriate marital relationship. That this conception, with varying definitions of nushuz for husbands and wives, was consistently held across vast expanses of time and geography, as well as across juridical and theological schools indicates not only that a hierarchical vision of the marital relationship was closely connected to the social and historical reality of patriarchy in which the exegetes lived, but that this context played a central role in how pre-modern exegetes interpreted nushuz.
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Storytellers versus Lexicographers: Tafsir’s Takeover of Qur’anic Commentary in the 10th Century
In his influential discussion of the development of exegesis in Qur’anic Studies, Wansbrough notes that certain important surviving works of the 2nd/8th century contain anachronistic material that he characterizes as “editorial intrusions.” This seems to be the case with the lexicographic work of the grammarian al-Farraʾ (d. 208/822), Maʿani al-Qurʾan. Wansbrough observes the pervasive ‘tension’ in the work between ‘haggadic’ or narrative elements and the “masoretic” – i.e. grammatical and text-critical – material that should dominate in a work in the genre of ʿilm al-lugha. However, one might argue that the “intrusion” of “haggadic” elements in the work signals something different, namely the increasing dominance of a narrativistic approach (that is, tafsir ‘proper’?) in ʿulum al-Qur’an as the disciplines were coalescing in the time of al-Farraʾ. It is possible that as the various branches of scholarship dealing with the Qur’an crystallized into their mature forms in the 3rd/9th century, the professionalization of tafsir as a discipline, in which the narrative approach had historically dominated, led scholars engaged in other discourses (lexicographers, muhaddithun, historians, etc.) to defer to the mufassirun, their opinions, and their approaches more and more over time. This initial accommodation of the narrativistic approach in the lexicographic discipline was probably only the first stage in a much larger and drawn-out process in which lexicography and tafsir – originally distinct discourses – came together and then drew apart repeatedly over the centuries.
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Cognate Substitution and the Interpretation of Qur’anic Terms
A number of the terms that have puzzled interpreters of the Qur’an may be explained as instances of poetic license, and more specifically as instances of what I have termed cognate substitution, and this possibility has often been dismissed, deemed unlikely, or under-emphasized by commentators. Cognate substitution involves the replacement of a hypothetical, underlying term with a cognate word of a different form, such as taḍlil for an underlying ḍalal, for the sake of end-rhyme. I will examine a number of these cases where root consonants are preserved but the form is altered for the sake of rhyme, including those identified by Friedrun Müller in Untersuchungen zur Reimprosa im Koran (Berlin, 1969), and others, including what appear to be proper nouns such as tuwa, tasnim, laẓa, etc. In some cases, the exegetes do not recognize the connection with a cognate of a different form, while in others they do. A well-known crux of this type is al-Ṣamad (Q. 112:2), which has been interpreted in very many ways, as Rosenthal has discussed in an article devoted to that single word. Some of these interpretations recognize a connection with an underlying term ṣamid or ṣamud, though they do not explicitly claim that ṣamad is a result of cognate substitution for the sake of rhyme.
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‘For those who have the strength’: Translating yutiqunahu (Q. 2:184) in the Turkish Republic
Debates surrounding the translation of the Qur’an led to discussion of the very nature of language and the epistemology of interpretation. Lexicography played a pivotal role in the interpretation and translation of the Qur’an in the late Ottoman Empire. In addition to the challenge of comprehending the Qur’an, Ottoman and Turkish interpreters grappled with the problem of rendering the text into Turkish, a language undergoing rapid change in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In fact, several intellectuals complained that Turkish lacked an adequate modern linguistic apparatus in terms of having formal dictionaries and grammars. Given that some translators and interpreters of the Qur’an lacked madrasa training, dictionaries –Arabic and Turkish as well as Persian and French - were indispensible in this venture. This paper will examine the use of lexicography in Turkish renderings of the Qur’an and probe selected interpretations of Qur’anic words and phrases.
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Hermeneutic Polyvalence in Persian Rhyming Translations of the Qur’an
An anonymous manuscript fragment, Mashhad MS 2309, edited by Ahmad ʿAli Rajaʾi (Tehran, 1974), preserves an early example of translating the Qur’an into Persian using rhymed, metered prose. Based on stylistic and linguistic evidence this particular rhyming translation appears to date to the tenth century. While this fragment has received attention in regard to its significance for the development of New Persian poetics, relatively little has been said about its importance for the history of Persian exegetical literature, its relationship to the larger theological discourse concerning the linguistic inimitability of the Qur’an, or its reflection of homiletic and didactic uses of Persian within the sphere of scriptural hermeneutics. Of particular interest are the paraphrastic, and largely rhetorical means employed throughout the translation of engaging with various lexical problems. The paraphrastic character of the translation addresses questions of meaning and signification obliquely, balancing exegetical expansion with a homiletic use of rhyme and rhythm. My paper situates these practices of equivalence making and interpretive expansion in relation to later rhyming and verse translations, and to the broader development of Persian exegetical literature.
IIS Scholar Presents at the Union Européenne des Arabisants et Islamisants
Dr Omar Alí-de-Unzaga, the Academic Coordinator of IIS’ Qur’anic Studies Unit, presented a paper on biblical quotations in Ismaili sources at the 25th Congress of the Union Européenne des Arabisants et Islamisants (UEAI), held at the Università di Napoli “l’Orientale” in Naples from 8-12 September, 2010.
Founded in 1962, the UEAI aims to facilitate meetings and exchange of ideas and information among specialists of the Arab and Islamic world working in European universities. Congresses are held every two years and the proceedings are published.
Dr Alí-de-Unzaga's paper was entitled ‘“It appeared so unto them”: Ta’wil, the Torah and the Gospel in Ismaili Works (with special attention to the Epistles of the Pure Brethren- Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’)’ and was part of a panel on Philosophy and Science. The paper focused on the use and interpretation of citations from the Torah, the Psalms, the Gospels in the Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’. Even though the Ismaili character of the work is disputable, it is clear that the approach to, and use of, biblical material by the Ikhwan al-Safa’ bears close proximity to that of Ismaili authors, including those of Ja‘far b. Mansur al-Yaman, Abu Hatim al-Razi, and Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani. A comparison between the Rasa’il and those authors highlights a number of parallels which were explored in Dr. Ali-de-Unzaga’s paper: they had Biblical texts at their direct disposal; even though they saw the cycles of Judaism and Christianity as superseded by Islam, not only did they permit the study of the previous scriptures but also encouraged it; they saw the issue of the “falsification” of the scriptures mostly on the level of interpretation; they applied the same hermeneutical vision (which we can call ‘ta’wil’ for lack of a better term) to the Qur’an and the previous scriptures; they interpreted the Qur’an as accepting the physical crucifixion of Jesus while maintaining the immortality of the soul; finally, the interpretations were framed in the context of the Ismaili da’wa from the 10th century onwards.
Dr Alí-de-Unzaga's presentation was very well received and raised a number of interesting questions.
Stephen Burge, from IIS’ Qur’anic Studies Unit, organised a pre-conference workshop at the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting in association with the Qur’an Group of the AAR, in Atlanta, USA, on 29 October 2010. Entitled “The Meaning of the Word: Lexicology and Tafsir”, the workshop formed the first part of a project run by the Qur’an Group exploring the interaction between lexicology and the exegesis of the Qur’an.
The workshop highlighted a number of interesting areas, particularly the dynamic perspective that lexicology can throw onto the understanding of tafsir. The social contexts in which a tafsir was written was also shown to be an area that affected lexicological interpretation. It was noted that these areas need to be explored in greater detail.
The workshop comprised two panels. One looked at methodological and hermeneutic approaches to lexicology in the Qur’an. Devin Stewart (Emory University) explored the importance of understanding rhetoric in the interpretation of the Qur’an; Herbert Berg (University of North Carolina) considered the role of Ibn Abbas in the history of tafsir, alongside the ‘School of Ibn Abbas’, questioning whether such a ‘school’ or method of interpretation really existed. Michael Pregill (Elon University) analysed the history of lexicological scholarship in Islam, highlighting the existence of lexicology as a discipline independent of tafsir and the subsequent appropriation of lexicology by exegetes in the formative period of exegesis. Travis Zadeh (Haverford College) presented a discussion on a Persian rhyming translation of the Quran and its responses to lexicological issues.
Another panel looked at the exploration of the meanings of specific words by exegetes in different exegetical environments. The first paper by Jamal Ali (Hunter College) explored the word ‘kalima’ (‘word’) in the history of Arabic lexicological and linguistic thought. This was followed by Ayesha Chaudhry (Colgate University) who explored the interpretations of ‘nushuz’ (Q. 4:34 & 4:128) in classical exegesis, and why there are differences between male and female nushuz. The last paper by Brett Wilson (Macalester College) placed exegesis in the context of a debate about modernism in the early Turkish republic concerning the interpretation of yutiqunahu in Q. 2:184.
The panels were chaired by Joseph Lowry (University of Pennsylvania) and Shawkat Toorawa (Cornell University). The workshop was well attended and generated much discussion of an underdeveloped area in the study of tafsir.
Qur’an, Tafsir and Hadith Studies: A Post-Graduate Workshop
The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London
Friday 24 June 2011
A one-day workshop for postgraduate students working in Qur’anic Studies and related areas throughout the UK will be held on Friday, 24 June 2011 at The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS), London. The workshop will be run by the Qur’anic Studies Unit of the IIS, one of the largest academic units in the UK devoted to the study of the Qur’an and Tafsir (see http://www.qs.iis.ac.uk/).
The aim of the workshop is to give emerging scholars the opportunity to present an academic paper among their peers, to discuss ideas freely, to develop research and writing skills, and to gain advice and comments from scholars currently working in the field.
Students interested in presenting a paper at the workshop should email a short abstract (max. 300 words), along with a brief biography and description of their thesis by Friday, 8 April 2011. Abstracts will be encouraged from students working on any aspect related to the Qur’an, Tafsir and Hadith, both medieval and contemporary, in the fields of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies, Religious Studies and other related fields.
There is no fee for the workshop, but registration is required by Friday 27 May 2011. Lunch and refreshments will be provided. A limited number of travel grants will be available for those presenting papers at the workshop.
To submit an abstract, register, or to ask any further questions about the workshop, please contact Dr. Stephen Burge (email@example.com)
News & Events
IIS Co-Director Speaks at Manchester Metropolitan University
Professor Karim H Karim Co-Director Institute of Ismaili StudiesProfessor Karim H. Karim, Co-Director of the Institute, gave a talk titled ‘The Ismailis: An Islamic Engagement with Modernity’ at the Manchester Metropolitan University on 15 November 2010. The talk was organised by the University as part of their Multicultural Studies programme. Professor Karim’s lecture explored the Ismaili Muslim community’s engagement with modernity under the guidance of its present Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.
The Ismailis, a Shi‘i Muslim community, is led by the hereditary Imamate going back to Prophet Muhammad. Professor Karim noted that the community’s interaction with modernity has been within the framework of the Quranic and Shi‘i value systems which stress the role of the intellect, a strong social conscience and an ethic of pluralism. The present Imam sees his role as a guide to the community in the spheres of din and dunya, usually translated as spiritual and worldly matters. With a reference to the Fatimid dynasty, the rulers of Egypt, Syria and North Africa from 10th to 12th centuries CE, Professor Karim brought out the historical continuity of the Ismaili Imam’s role in guiding the community within an Islamic framework.
The exploration of the role of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) as a contemporary expression of Islam’s emphasis on social responsibility was a cornerstone of the talk. The AKDN was explored as a key example of how the community engages with and positively employs modern thought and practices within a framework of traditional values. In particular, the work in the areas of education and architecture was explored in some detail, bringing out the manner in which rapprochement between modernity and tradition is being achieved. Professor Karim noted that, partly as a result of these endeavours, a significant number of Ismailis are today able to lead a modern life with deep consciousness of tradition and values.
The talk was well received and the audience raised a number of questions pertaining to the historical and contemporary Ismaili communities as well as the work of the AKDN.
IIS Hosts International Conference on Science and Philosophy
The Institute of Ismaili Studies hosted a bi-lingual French/English conference on ‘Science and Philosophy in Classical Islamic Civilization’ from 3-5 December 2010. The event corresponded with the 8th bi-annual Société Internationale d’Histoire des Sciences et de la Philosophie Arabes et Islamiques (SIHSPAI) international colloquium held in Paris at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), in association with the Centre d’Histoire des Sciences et des Philosophies Arabes et Médiévales (CHSPAM).
The SIHSPAI was founded in 1989 to promote advanced academic research on science and philosophy in Islamic civilisations. It is also the scholarly international society that publishes the distinguished Cambridge University Press journal, Arabic Sciences and Philosophy.
The conference was organised by Dr Nader El-Bizri, formerly a Research Associate at the IIS and currently Principal Lecturer at The University of Lincoln’s Faculty of Architecture, Art and Design. It brought to the Institute fifty internationally renowned authorities and scholars from many parts of the world including Paris, Berlin, Sydney, Tangiers, Amsterdam, Washington DC, Napoli and Rabat. The presentations over the course of the three-day event covered various topics in history of philosophy, metaphysics, medicine, geometry, astronomy, arithmetic and algebra.
Scholars affiliated with the IIS also participated in the conference. Dr Toby Mayer delivered a presentation on Time in Shahrastani’s Philosophical System, while Professor Carmela Baffioni, from the University of Napoli, delivered a paper on her new book comprising the Arabic edition and annotated English translation of the epistles On Logic from the Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’, which was recently published by Oxford University Press in association with the IIS as part of the Epistles of the Brethren of Purity series.
The three-day conference was well-attended by scholars, academics and students. (Click here for the conference agenda.) Further details on the organisations involved with this conference may be obtained by visiting the following websites:
Annemarie Schimmel Scholarship Awarded to Dr Dina Le Gall
The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) has awarded its fourth Annemarie Schimmel Scholarship, which is given every three years, to Dr Dina Le Gall, Associate Professor of History and Coordinator of the Middle Eastern Studies Program at Lehman College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
Dr Le Gall’s project, Sufism in History: Mysticism, Piety, and Saintly Power in the Lives of Muslim Societies is a broad comparative study of the history of Sufism and its interactions with Muslim societies over a wide chronological and geographic span--from early Islam to the present, and from the Middle East to the Balkans, Indonesia, parts of Africa, and Central and South Asia. It is currently a manuscript in progress under contract to Cambridge University Press.
Building especially on the insights and methods developed by scholars of Sufism in the past generation, the author examines the tradition in its varied dimensions as a mystical one, a vibrant form of Muslim piety, and a movement integral to the fabric of myriad Muslim societies. She seeks to understand why for over a millennium Sufism has been so ubiquitous; how adherents (men and women) have become affiliated with it; how it has created religious meaning, speaking to the concerns and aspirations of individuals and communities; what it has promised followers and how it has intersected with other social formations, shaping Muslim public space and participating in creating and sustaining self-reproducing social orders.
Employing a combined chronological and thematic approach, the manuscript includes chapters titled Muslim Saints and Saint Veneration; Communities, Networks, and the Ordering of Sufi Space; Women, Gender, and Sexuality in Sufi Discourse and Practice; Sufism and its Critics; and Modern and Contemporary Sufism as a Living Tradition.
Dr Dina Le Gall is a specialist in Ottoman history and the history of Sufism, the author of A Culture of Sufism: Naqshbandis in the Ottoman World, 1450-1700 (SUNY Press, 2005) and, most recently, an article entitled Recent Thinking on Sufis and Saints in the Lives of Muslim Societies, Past and Present, from the International Journal of Middle East Studies. She is the recipient of a number of fellowships and awards, including a 2009 Faculty Research Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The Annemarie Schimmel Scholarship, inaugurated in 2004, is awarded every three years to a scholar working in the fields of interest to the late Professor Schimmel, such as Islamic mysticism, Arabic, Persian and South Asian literatures and literary and artistic expressions of Muslim devotional life. The £10,000 award is intended to assist the recipient to complete research leading to the publication of a book.
IIS Scholar Presents Paper at Nasir al-Din Tusi's International Conference
http://www.iis.ac.uk/WebAssets/Large/Conference%20Poster%20s_w.jpgDr Jalal Badakhchani, Research Associate in the Institute's Department of Academic Research and Publications presented a paper at the `International Conference on the Scientific and Philosophical Heritage of Nasir al-Din Tusi' organised by Iran's Written Heritage Research Institute in collaboration with UNESCO, Iran National Library, Tehran University's Department of Research on History of Science and many other academic and media institutions.The conference was part of a series of events created to commemorate the nomination of 2011 by UNESCO as the year of Nasir al-Din Tusi.
http://www.iis.ac.uk/WebAssets/Large/Dr%20SJ%20Badakhchani%20Speaking%20s_w.jpgIn his presentation Dr Badakhchani gave a description of the development of Ismaili thought and the contribution of Nasir al-Din Tusi to the consolidation of the Nizari Ismaili da`wa. The presentation, delivered in Persian, gave an in-depth insight into Nasir al-Din Tusi's (597-672 AH / 1201-1274 CE) background. He was the most prolific polymath of the 7th AH / 13th CE century Islamic world and spent over 30 years of his life in the company of Ismaili dignitaries and the Ismaili Imams of his time, including Imam Ala al-Din Muhammad (d. 653 AH / 1255 CE) and Imam Rukn al-Din Khurshah (d. 655 AH / 1270 CE).
Dr. Badakhchani described Tusi's scholarly status and the challenges that the Nizari Ismailis were facing at the time which urged the Ismaili Imam to invite Tusi to settle in Alamut, the centre of the Nizari Ismaili mission. According to Dr. Badakhchani, the desire for Tusi's presence in Alamut was a case similar to that of Imam al-Hakim, the Fatimid caliph of Egypt, who summoned Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani, a high ranking scholar from Iran, to settle in Cairo. In both cases, the Ismaili Imams were seeking consolidation of the Ismaili da`wa which was facing internal and external challenges.
Tusi initially proposed a new vision of ethics by composing the Akhlaq-i Mutashami and the Akhlaq-i Nasiri. Later, in Alamut, Tusi finalised his master piece on Astronomy, the Muiniyya, and its commentary, while finalising his commentary on Isharat of Ibn Sina. The outcome of Tusi's lectures, delivered at sessions of wisdom (Majalis-i hikmat) were compiled by his close associate Hasan-i Mahmud-i Katib and named Rawda-yi taslim.
A comprehensive landscape of Nizari Ismail religious thought can be found in Dr. Badakhchani's translations of Tusi's treatises. They are: Contemplation and Action (Sayr wa suluk, London 1998), Paradise of Submission (Rawda-yi taslim, London, 2005) and the latest one published by the IIS and I.B. Tauris; Shi`i Interpretations of Islam: Three Treatises on Islamic Theology and Eschatology (London, 2010) which includes three short treatises, namely the Solidarity and Dissociation (Tawalla wa tabarra), Desideratum of the faithful (Matlub al-Mu'minin) and The Beginning and the End (Aghaz wa anjam).
Dr Badakhchani is currently in the final stages of the publication of the 13th century Diwan Qa'imiyyat (Poems of the Resurrection), a master piece of Persian poetry compiled in Alamut by Hasan-i Mahmud-i Katib which reflects the theological vision of Nasir al-Din Tusi and other Ismaili authors of the time.
Apart from many distinguished scholars from Iran, scholars from 16 other countries participated in the conference which received wide press coverage.
IIS Launches New Publications in Portugal
The IIS hosted a book launch at the Ismaili Centre in Lisbon to launch two recent publications: Spiritual Quest: Reflections on Qur’anic Prayer According to the Teachings of Imam ‘Ali and the Portuguese translation of Justice & Remembrance: Introducing the Spirituality of Imam ‘Ali. The event was attended by Dr Reza Shah-Kazemi, the author of the books, as well as a number of local scholars, diplomats and policy makers.
The event began with opening remarks from the Institute’s Communications Manager, Asif Alidina, who introduced the Institute’s role as an academic centre that promotes scholarship on Muslim societies and civilisations. In particular he highlighted the Institute as a resource for scholars, policy makers and others who wish to learn more about Muslim societies, especially in the areas of Qur’anic, Shi‘i and Ismaili studies.
Dr Reza Shah-Kazemi then introduced both publications by speaking about Imam Ali’s approach to the themes of intellectuality and pluralism. Quoting Imam Ali, where he says that ‘The excellence of the intellect lies in the appreciation of the outward and the inward beauty of things’, Dr Shah-Kazemi emphasised the need to understand the human intellect as a multi-faceted faculty of consciousness, comprising not just rational, but also moral, spiritual and even aesthetic dimensions.
Dr Shah-Kazemi noted that one of the key purposes of divine revelation, according to Imam Ali, is ‘to unearth for people the buried treasures of their own intellects’. In the light of this reciprocity between intellect and scripture, Dr Reza Shah-Kazemi addressed the question of the plurality of faiths and cultures as expressed in the Qur’an and referenced several verses that present a pluralistic and tolerant view of human diversity in relation to the principles of tawhid, rahma and hikma.
The launch concluded with an engaging discussion with the audience, hosted by Professor António Dias Farinha, Director of the Instituto de Estudos Árabes e Islâmicos da Universidade de Lisboa (Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Lisbon).
IIS Sponsors Qur’anic Studies Workshop in Canada
The Institute of Ismaili Studies sponsored a workshop entitled Approaches to the Qur’an in sub-Saharan Africa which took place in Toronto, Canada in May. The workshop forms part of the Qur’anic Studies Unit’s project on Regional Approaches to the Qur’an and was the result of a collaboration with the Textile Museum of Canada and York University, Canada.
Organised by Prof. Zulfikar Hirji, Associate Professor of Anthropology at York University, the workshop took place at The Textile Museum of Canada alongside their exhibition Magic Squares: The Patterned Imagination of Muslim Africa in Contemporary Culture.
The workshop took a multidisciplinary approach to the subject, gathering scholars from Islamic, African and religious Studies as well as the fields of history, linguistics, anthropology and sociology. Discussions ranged from tafsir in multiple languages, the teaching of the Qur’an by men and women, esoteric understandings of the Qur’an, including the use of the Qur’an as a talisman, and the role of the Qur’an in contemporary popular culture.
M. Abdel Kadir Haidara of the organisation Sauvegarde et Valorisation des Manuscrits pour la Défense de la Culture Islamique (Saving and Valuation of Manuscripts for the Defence of Islamic Culture) gave a public lecture as part of the proceedings on The Manuscript Library of Mamma Haidara which was established in the middle of the 19th century in Bimba village, Mali. As one of the most prominent libraries in the region, it houses manuscripts belonging to all fields of Islamic studies from the Qur’an, hadith, jurisprudence, literature, to astrology and grammar.
In this regard, Rahim S. Rajan, a GPISH graduate, currently with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Special Initiatives group and Harlan Wallach Head of Northwestern University’s Advanced Media Production Studio, also gave a presentation as part of the workshop on the digitalisation of manuscripts in Mali. A concert of African Muslim devotional music by the Waleed Abdulhamid Ensemble concluded the academic event.
The Workshop and related events were well attended by scholars from various universities in the region, IIS alumni and members of Toronto’s diverse ethnic and religious communities.
IIS launches A Modern History of the Ismailis in UK and Canada
The IIS hosted launch events for its new publication, A Modern History of the Ismailis: Continuity and Change in a Muslim Community edited by Dr Farhad Daftary in London and Toronto. The book is the first of its kind, presenting research on the modern history of the Ismailis.
Organised in four sections, the first entitled Nizari Ismailis: Syria, Central Asia and China, contains essays on the Nizari Ismailis in these regions while the second, which covers the Nizari Ismailis in South Asia and East Africa, contains essays on a diverse range of subjects from the modernisation of education, to the socio-legal formation of the Nizari Ismailis from 1800-1950 CE.
Taking a wider view of the contemporary policies, institutions, and perspectives of Nizari Ismailis, the third section looks specifically at the AKDN and the modernising policies of His Highness the Aga Khan and his grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III. In addition to the Nizari Ismailis, the final section of the publication focuses on the modern history of Tayyibi Musta‘lian Ismailis.
The contributors include internationally renowned academics and noted researchers, both from the IIS and abroad, such as Prof. Ali Asani, Dr Tahera Qutbuddin, Stefano Bianca and Dr Shiraz Thobani. The launch event in London took place at the Ismaili Centre. Dr Farhad Daftary, Hakim Elnazarov and Amier Saidula participated in an on-stage discussion hosted by Asif Alidina.
The discussions provided an opportunity for Dr Daftary to discuss the rationale behind the publication, contextualising its content within the Institute’s current work in Shi‘i and Ismaili studies. In particular, Dr Daftary noted that the book contains hitherto unpublished research on the various Ismaili communities, drawing on their oral traditions and community documents as well as field research. Hakim Elnazarov and Amier Saidula also discussed their contributions, which present a picture of the Nizari Ismailis of Central Asia and China, respectively.
Hakim Elnazarov, Coordinator of the Institute’s Central Asian Studies unit, spoke of the diverse ethnic and linguistic features of the Ismailis in an area that has always, in a broad historical and cultural sense, exhibited intellectual dynamism and cultural pluralism. His research, which was conducted in conjunction with Sultonbek Aksakolov, provides an historical perspective on the origins of the Ismailis in Central Asia and draws on rare archival and primary data to present the general trends and issues in the community’s modern history, from the end of the 19th until the beginning of the 21st century.
Amier Saidula’s research and contribution focuses on the Nizari Ismailis of the Xinjiang province in China. In his chapter, Amier Saidula looks at the origins of the community in the region. With their origins in the Central Asian tradition, little is known of the Ismailis of China, who have received very little attention in modern scholarship to date. The launch event in London provided a fascinating insight into the community’s history and traditions as well as the community’s current socio-political status and structure.
The launch event in Toronto provided an opportunity for Professors Karim H. Karim, Ali Asani and Zulfikar Hirji to discuss their contributions to the book. Prof. Karim H. Karim’s contribution, entitled At the Interstices of Tradition, Modernity and Postmodernity: Ismaili Engagements with Contemporary Canadian Society, explores the Canadian Ismaili community’s relationship and engagement with modernity. Highlighting the challenges faced by religious communities in the diaspora, he examines how the community in Canada is an interesting case study for a community that has come to be seen as refracted through the ‘prisms of tradition, modernity and postmodernity’. In this regard, Prof. Karim speaks of the dialectic between tradition and modernity as a dialogue rather than a point of conflict.
Prof. Ali Asani explores the fluidity of religious communities in South Asia and the evolution of the Khoja identity and culture. Looking at the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial periods, Prof. Asani examines the points at which various South Asian cultures and religious traditions overlapped and merged early on to give birth to the cultural and religious groupings we see today.
Prof. Zulfikar Hirji’s contribution examines the Nizari Ismailis of East Africa from the time of their migration early in the 19th century from the Indian subcontinent to the shores of various parts of Africa, including Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, until the mid-20th century. Utilising the lens of socio-legal formation, Prof. Hirji illustrates how the Ismaili model of community governance in East Africa developed in response to the changing socio-legal arrangements in the British Empire and in accordance with the role of the Ismaili Imamat.
The launch events in Canada and the United Kingdom provided a unique insight into the Ismaili community’s development during the modern period, reflecting the wide scope and intrinsic depth of research contained in the Modern History of the Ismailis.
IIS Sponsors Panel on The Bible and the Qur’an in Ismaili Sources
The Institute sponsored a panel on ‘The Bible and the Qur’an in Ismaili Sources’ at the International Meeting of the Society for Biblical Literature, which took place at King’s College, London. Speakers at the event included Dr Paul E. Walker, Dr David Hollenberg, Dr Daniel De Smet and Dr Jan Van Reeth. The panel was organised by Dr Michael Pregill and Dr Omar Ali-de-Unzaga.
Dr Paul E. Walker’s presentation, entitled Early Ismaili Attitudes to the Religion and Scripture of Christians and Jews, examined three important aspects of lsmaili doctrine, exploring evidence that the law and scripture of the Christian and Jewish communities were subject to the interpretation of Imam Ali b. Abi Talib and the Imams after him.
He also explored a separate but equally interesting record indicating that leading members of the Ismaili da‘wa knew and could quote from the Hebrew and Syriac scriptures, often in their original languages. Prof. Walker ended his presentation by discussing past attitudes and policies adopted by the Ismaili Imams towards these communities.
Dr David Hollenberg presented a paper entitled The Nature of Fatimid Universalism: Ja‘far Ibn Mansur al-Yaman’s Ta’wil of Non-Islamic Sources. The paper discussed how two generations after the advent of the Fatimids, missionaries such as Ja‘far Ibn Mansur al-Yaman (d. circa 969 CE) continued to adopt a universalist approach in their teachings and writings. Dr Hollenberg also highlighted similarities between the writings ascribed to Ja‘far ibn Mansur al-Yaman and those of the local Jews and Christians suggesting that the interpretations were also used to help Fatimid missionaries ward off challenges from other communities on the nature of the Imamat.
Society of Biblical Literature Founded in 1880 2011.Dr Daniel De Smet and Dr Jan Van Reeth presented a joint paper entitled The Ismaili da‘i Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani (d. ca. 1021CE) Quoting the Bible in Syriac and Hebrew: His Sources and Purposes. Dr De Smet and Dr Van Reeth’s paper explored the Biblical citations in both Syriac and Hebrew that appeared in several Arabic works of Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani, a major Ismaili da‘i, scholar and author under the reign of the Fatimid Imam-Caliph al-Hakim (r. 996-1021CE). In particular, they examined new source-material to try to identify the origins of these Biblical citations and understand the motivations of an Ismaili author of Persian origin writing in Fatimid Egypt who quoted the Old and New Testaments in Hebrew and Syriac respectively.
The International Meeting, of which the Panel was a part, was attended by over 900 people and ran over the course of three days.
North American Alumni Explore Interfaith Dialogue
Alumni from across North America gathered in Montreal, Canada, for their annual Chapter Group Meeting at the end of June 2011. The meeting focussed on the theme of Interfaith Dialogue: Challenges, Skills and Strategies, and featured sessions on the concepts and models of interfaith dialogue as well as the ethical considerations involved.
The meeting included presentations by members of the alumni body on their own experiences of interfaith dialogue, and a panel discussion on the different approaches to interfaith and intra-faith dialogue amongst Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities.The meeting began with an update on the activities of the Chapter Group and an overview of the agenda by the Chapter President, Sabrina A. Bandali (GPISH Class of 2008) and Secretary, Ryan Makhani (STEP Class of 2009).
The Opening Remarks were delivered by Asif Alidina, the Institute’s Communications, Development and Alumni Relations Manager, who provided an update on recent developments at the IIS, highlighting the Institute’s vision for its alumni and the contributions they can make. Given the growing number of STEP alumni, Asif also provided an insight into the evolution of the STEP programme and the Institute’s vision for the future.
Professor Patrice Brodeur, (Canada Research Chair on Islam, Pluralism and Globalisation at the University of Montreal), presented an introduction to interfaith dialogue which discussed various theories of dialogue and the diversity of models that exist. After Professor Brodeur’s presentation, alumni enjoyed a sightseeing tour of Montreal, which highlighted the religious and multicultural heritage of the city.
The following day began with Dr Hussein Rashid (Associate Editor, Religion Dispatches and Adjunct Professor, Hofstra University, USA) exploring the ethical questions raised by interfaith dialogue through an on-stage discussion with Sabrina Bandali. Following this session, the alumni explored practical scenarios and case studies that brought to light some of the challenges faced by religious communities who wish to engage in interfaith dialogue. Part of the day was also dedicated to presentations from Farhad Mortezaee (GPISH Class of 2005), Noorin Fazal (STEP Class of 2009) and Ryan Makhani (STEP Class of 2009) who shared how interfaith dialogue has been a part of their work.
On the last day, the alumni were joined by local leadership from the Ismaili community for a panel discussion entitled Interfaith versus Intra-faith Dialogue in Muslim, Christian and Jewish Communities. The Reverend Dr Karen Hamilton (General Secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches), Dr Nargis Virani (IIS Alumna and Assistant Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the New School, USA), and Dr Barry Levy (Former Dean of Religious Studies, McGill University, Canada) spoke about their experiences of engaging in both interfaith and intra-faith dialogue.
Following the panel discussion, Dr Eboo Patel shared his thoughts on interfaith dialogue through a video message about his work with the Interfaith Youth Core, and Hilary Keachie, former Tony Blair Faith Acts Fellow, presented her work on interfaith youth engagement. The meeting concluded with Closing Remarks from Shiraz Kabani, Head of Operations, Finance and Development, who shared his thoughts on the importance of alumni engagement and the contribution of annual Chapter Group meetings towards fostering a greater sense of group identity amongst the alumni body as well as allowing the IIS to update them on its activities.
The Institute of Ismaili Studies is pleased to invite applications for the following scholarship programmes:
Dissertation Writing Scholarship (Deadline: 21st October 2011)
The Dissertation Writing Scholarship carries a stipend of £3000 (or local equivalent), which is awarded every year to a graduate student in the field of Islamic Studies who is researching an Ismaili topic. More.
Zahid ‘Ali Scholarship (Deadline: 21st October 2011)
The Zahid ‘Ali Scholarship, in the amount of £5000, is awarded once every five years to a scholar working in the field of Classical Arabic Thought who intends to use the award to carry-out research with a focus on Shi‘i and/or Ismaili Studies. More.
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