My rihla fi talab al-ʿilm (educational journey) started in Lebanon at the American University of Beirut. After three years wandering in the wilderness (that is, majoring in Mathematics, B.S. 1990), I "saw the light" and joined the History Department to study Middle East History (B.A. 1991; M.A. 1996). I read Medieval, pre-Modern and Modern Middle East History with the late Kamal Salibi, Islamic Culture, History and Religious Thought with Tarif Khalidi, Modern Middle East Social and Intellectual History, and the discipline of History with Samir Seikaly, and Ottoman History and History of pre-Modern Lebanon with Abdulrahim Abu-Husayn. In 1996, I came to the United States to work on the Ph.D. at Yale University, where I studied the basic curriculum in Arabic and Islamic Studies: Philosophy and Intellectual History with Dimitri Gutas; Arabic Language, Poetry and Grammar with Beatrice Gruendler; Qurʾan, Tafsir and Mysticism with Gerhard Bowering. I also ventured into Ancient Christianity and Early Christian Monasticism with Bentley Layton, audited Diaspora Christianity with Wayne Meeks, and studied Syriac with Paul-Alain Beaulieu, Syriac Historiography and Religious Texts with Walid Saleh, and Persian with Fereshteh Amanat-Kowssar. My professors and classmates at AUB and Yale were instrumental in my education. I owe a great deal to them for instilling in me the passion for intellectual curiosity and knowledge and helping me become a better scholar and teacher. The most beautiful thing about this journey is that it continues and benefits from many friends and colleagues whose work is inspiring and who also generously share their comments and advices about my own writing and research.
My research interests (Publications) have focused so far on Islamic Religious Thought and History between 600 and 1500 CE: Qurʾan and the history of its interpretation, the radicalization of Jihad ideology in the period of the Crusades and its subsequent impact on mainstream Sunni thought and the course of Middle Eastern history, early Arabic/Islamic historical writing, Jesus and Mary in the Qurʾan and Islamic literature, and Jerusalem and its Fadaʾil (Merits) literature. I am also interested in the question of how Muslims addressed and wrestled with the challenges of the ideas of the Enlightenment and Modernity. My objective from examining this wide array of topics is to determine the level of originality on the part of Muslim scholars in shaping the Islamic tradition, and how this led to the formation of trends and beliefs that reflect, in the first place, the intellectual, social, political and religious environments of these scholars and movements, and, subsequently, their particular understanding of Islamic history and tradition and the way they have to be conceptualized and transmitted. I also co-edit the book-series The Muslim World in the Age of the Crusades (published by Brill).
My research has benefitted over the years from major awards. I am a recepient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities (2007-2008), The Institut d'Études Avancées de Nantes--France (2012-2013), and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation--Germany (summers of 2013 and 2014). I also received awards and grants from the American Philosphical Society, the Mellon Foundation, the Kahn Institute at Smith College, the Sams Fund at Smith College, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, the American University of Beirut, Yale University, Middlebury College, and Smith College.
CURRENT RESEARCH PROJECTS:
The major current research project that I am conducting studies the evidence for tolerance between Muslims and Crusaders during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and how the Muslims who promoted it (rulers, religious scholars and notable figures) justified it; in other words, I am looking at the factors that convinced them there was an alternative to war. This project therefore will examine the religious, political and legal arguments advanced by those Muslims who were eager for a peaceful coexistence with the Crusaders. The promise of this project is to help undermine the singular perception of the Crusades as an episode that was fueled by militancy and bloodshed on both sides. The project also represents an inspirational case for tolerance and acceptance of the other that one hopes emboldens the many moderate Muslim voices that are trying to combat the phenomena of Islamic terrorism. History after all is always relevant in the ways we invoke it to religitmize our convictions and shape our future.
This project came out of a book that I recently published The Intensification and Reorientation of Sunni Jihad Ideology in the Crusader Period: Ibn ʿAsakir (d. 1105–1176) of Damascus and His Age (Brill, 2013), written in cooperation with James E. Lindsay. It examines the radicalization of the ideology of jihad in mainstream Sunni thought during the Crusader period. The main focus was on the career and views of the famous medieval Damascene scholar Ibn ʿAsakir (d. 571/1176) and his contribution to the jihad campaign of his political patron sultan Nur al-Din, as well as the impact of this radicalized jihad on later scholars and the course of Middle Eastern history. The book maps how the scholar (re)difined the concept of Jihad as a religious obligation that emphasizes strict religious adhenrence to Sunnism as a necessary prerequisite for undertaking the military jihad against Islam's internal and external enemies. In this respect, the monograph underscores the social and political contexts of Ibn ʿAsakir and his work as an example of the way certain intellectual and religious positions are generated by particular political environments and moods, and then draw on the authoritative religious sources, especially the Hadith or teachings of Muhammad, to endorse such religiously and politically motivated views, thus legitimizing them as normative within Sunni discourse; hence the project's relevance to understanding modern jihadist thought as a normative Sunni discourse. The book includes an edition and an English translation of Ibn ʿAsakir's Forty Hadiths for Inciting Jihad, which was commissioned by sultan Nur al-Din for public propaganda.
The other major current research project relates to the Muʿtazila school, in particular its approach and methodology with respect to Qurʾanic exegesis. I am finalizing The Muʿtazila and Qurʾanic Hermeneutics: A Study of al-Hakim al-Jishumi’s (d. 494/1101) Exegesis al-Tahdhib fi Tafsir al-Qurʾan. Al-Jishumi's Tahdhib has not been properly studied yet, and his work is only available in manuscripts scattered in libraries and private collections around the world. It is the earliest substantial and complete commentary on the Qurʾan we possess that was written by a member of the Muʿtazila movement, and, given the emphasis early Muslim scholars placed on the “proper” interpretation of the Qurʾan, it includes a wide array of hermeneutics and exegetical glosses otherwise lost to us.
OTHER RESEARCH INTERESTS & PUBLICATIONS:
My research on Mary and Jesus focus on the Qurʾanic stories about their lives and careers, and their treatment in Islamic scholarship. Regarding the Qurʾanic material, I examine in one article the story of the birth of Jesus under a Palm-tree (in Qurʾan 19.22-26) which shares close similarity with the Hellenic myth of the birth of Apollo. In another article, I examine the two annunciation stories (in Qurʾan 19.2-33 and 3.35-39) which also closely correspond to the birth narratives found respectively in the Gospel of Luke 1.5-2.24 and the Protevagelium of James.
My work on early Arabic/Islamic historical writing came as a fruition of my M.A. dissertation research with Tarif Khalidi, at the American University of Beirut . The particular case I examined was the Futuh al-Sham (Conquests of Syria) by Abu Ismaʿil al-Azdi al-Basri (d. ca. 190/805). The dissertation (out of which came the article published in JAOS) establishes that the text dates to the second century H/eighth century CE, and that it was based on the now lost work with the same title by the early chronicler Abu Mikhnaf al-Azdi (d. 157/774) who flourished in Kufa, Iraq; before my study, al-Azdi's Futuh was largely ignored in modern scholarship on the early Islamic conquests.
My monograph Early Islam between Myth and History: al-Hasan al-Basri (d. 110 H/728 CE) and the Formation of His Legacy in Classical Islamic Scholarship (Brill, 2006), which is based on my dissertation completed under the supervision of Dimitri Gutas at Yale University, examines the way the early Muslim scholar al-Hasan al-Basri has been portrayed in medieval literature and how that shaped his perception in modern scholarship. I employ textual criticism and historical analysis to demonstrate the pseudepigraphal nature of the treatises attributed to him--more than ten in number that discuss topics like asceticism, mysticism and theology, including the two short epistles al-Risala ila ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Marwan fi al-qadar (Epistle to Caliph ʿAbd al-Malik Against the Predestinarians) and Risalat al-Zuhd ila ʿUmar ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAziz (Treatise on Asceticism to Caliph ʿUmar II). I also investigate how, when and why these works, along with several other sayings and anecdotes, came to be attributed to him over the centuries by a variety of religious groups and intellectual trends. I argue, with reference to compelling cases, that transfer of authorship (i.e. misattribution of sayings and anecdotes) and pseudepigraphy were essential tools for the legitimization of trends and beliefs that became popular in the third/ninth century onward; the groups involved (including Sunnis, Shiʿis, Muʿtazilas, and mystics) used such means to project their views and beliefs back to the generation of Islam's founding fathers (Muhammad, his Companions, and their Successors), enabling them, on the one hand, to claim adherence to the “true” teachings of Islam and, on the other hand, to refute the beliefs of their adversaries. In the particular case of al-Hasan al-Basri, the process of his mythicization was much more intense and widespread than modern scholars have expected. My findings corroborate with the results of a number of recent studies on early Islam, necessitating a radical reconsideration of our understanding of the formative period of Islamic religious thought and the way we read and use the classical sources.
In 2008, I co-edited (with Tamar Mayer) Jerusalem: Idea and Reality, a collection of 17 multi-disciplinary studies on Jerusalem that offer insights into the complexity and significance of the city's perception, representation and status at the historical, religious, social, artistic, and political levels from biblical to modern times. This book, which came out of the conference on Jerusalem that Timi and I organized at Middlebury College in April 2005, was published by Routledge in May 2008.
My interest in the significance of Jerusalem in Islam focuses on the period spanning from Muhammad to the end of the Crusades. I am particularly interested in the way Muslims first identified and acknowledged Jerusalem's historical and religious symbolism as stemming from its Biblical heritage (in particular the personalities and events associated with the presence of the Israelite Temple), and how and why it shifted through times to become primarily dependent on Muhammad's legendary Night Journey and Ascension to Heaven. A project underway is to finalize the reconstruction, critical edition and translation of the earliest text on the religious symbolism of Jerusalem known to have been authored by a Muslim scholar. It is entitled Fadaʾil Bayt al-Maqdis (The Merits of Jerusalem) by al-Walid b. Hammad al-Ramli (d. 300/912 CE), who lived in the town of Ramla, west of Jerusalem. An analytical study of this text, its content and significance appears in Chapter 6 of Jerusalem: Idea and Reality.
EMPLOYMENT & TEACHING:
Since July 2010, I hold the rank of Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion. My employment at
Academic Year 2015-2016:
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