The British Association for Islamic Studies (BRAIS) and De Gruyter are delighted to announce the outcome of the third (2018) round of the BRAIS – De Gruyter Prize in the Study of Islam and the Muslim World. This year, first place was split between two entrants:


Winners (in alphabetical order):


What’s the Difference?  Distinctions, Furūq and Development in Post-Formative Islamic Law

(University of Pennsylvania)



Barren Women: The Intersection of Biology, Medicine, and Religion in the Treatment of Infertile Women in the Medieval Middle East

(Princeton University)


The prize award ceremony was held on Tuesday 10th April 2018 at the Fifth Annual Conference of BRAIS, which took place at the University of Exeter. It was attended by the Prize winners Dr Elias Saba and Dr Sara Verskin, Dr Ayman Shihadeh on behalf of the BRAIS Prize Committee, and Dr Sophie Wagenhofer representing De Gruyter. The winners gave brief presentations based on their theses.




Dr Ayman Shihadeh (left) with Dr Elias Saba  



Dr Ayman Shihadeh and Dr Sara Verskin



The following two other entrants were shortlisted for the prize, and their submissions were deemed to be of high scholarly quality and interest (in alphabetical order):


  • Riyaz Timol, Spiritual Wayfarers in a Secular Age: The Tablighi Jama`at in Modern Britain (Cardiff University)
  • Layli Uddin, In the land of Eternal Eid: Maulana Bhashani and the Political Mobilisation of Peasants and Lower-Class Urban Workers in the Unmaking of East Pakistan, c. 1930’s-1971 (Royal Holloway University)


On the Winners:

Elias Saba received his PhD in 2017 in from the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania. He is currently a Lecturer in Religious Studies at Grinnell College, Iowa.

Sara Verskin began her academic life as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, where she credits Prof. Wadad Kadi for introducing her to the study of Islamic civilization. She then moved to Princeton University for her graduate work and completed her PhD under the supervision of Prof. Michael Cook.


The Winning Submissions:


What's the Difference?

This dissertation is a study of the “legal distinctions” (al-furūq al-fiqhiyya) literature and its role in the development of Islamic legal thinking. It reconsiders how linguistics, law, and public performance intersect with knowledge production to develop new packaging of legal information. This study identifies the origins of this tradition in linguistic and medical literature which demonstrated the possibilities of ‘distinctions’ reasoning. The linguistic furūq literature is largely a theological endeavor aimed as denying the existence of synonymy in Arabic while the medical literature was interested in diagnosing illnesses. After establishing the trends that led to the writing of this genre, I demonstrate the implications of the legal furūq and how changes to this genre reflect shifts in the social consumption of Islamic legal knowledge. The earliest interest in legal distinctions grew out of the performance of knowledge in formalized legal disputation (jadal). Disputation was an important activity for creating and defining tools of legal knowledge and distinction played an important part therein. From here, the genre of legal distinctions adapted to incorporate elements of play and entertainment through interplay with the genre of legal riddles (al-alghāz al-fiqhiyya). As play, books of legal distinctions functioned as supplements to performance in literary salons, study circles, and court performances (majlis); these books also served as mimetic objects, allowing the reader to participate in the majlis virtually through reading. This study demonstrates the analytical strength of genre as a tool for understanding the history Islamic law and the social and intellectual practices that helped shape its development.

This has now been published as: Harmonizing Similarities: A History of Distinctions Literature in Islamic Law:

Harmonizing Similarities: A History of Distinctions Literature in Islamic  Law (Islam - Thought, Culture, and Society) (Islam - Thought, Culture, and  Society, 1): Saba, Elias G: 9783110604054: Books 

Barren Women

Infertility has often had profound legal and social implications for women. This dissertation provides a framework for exploring the institutions and beliefs that helped to shape the experiences of barren women in the medieval Middle East. It draws on three genres of primary sources: legal sources pertaining to family dynamics; medical writings about gynecology, reproduction, and the physician-patient relationship; and works of religious preaching about the social and spiritual effects of seeking healing. Based upon Islamic legal discussions of marriage, divorce, inheritance, adolescence, pregnancy, and menopause, the first chapter shows how being infertile often changed the way women interacted with the legal system. Barrenness highlighted the tension between the sexual and reproductive elements of Islamic marriage, and subverted social norms and attitudes towards the relative desirability of divorce and polygamy. It complicated financial bonds between women, their birth families, and their husbands’ families. And it could also throw a wrench into divorce, remarriage, and inheritance proceedings. However, it also afforded women opportunities to manipulate their legal status, so as to acquire financial or physical independence, or to hasten or thwart marriage or divorce proceedings, in order to level the playing field in a legal system that often favored men. The second chapter considers the treatment of infertility in the Greco-Arabic medical tradition. It undermines some assumptions about the theoretical and practical significance of “learned” gynecology, the extent of interaction between male medical practitioners and female patients, and the relation between scientific understandings of the female body and the cultural roles assigned to women. The final chapter looks at the medical marketplace of ideas from the perspective of certain jurists, who were concerned with the religious ramifications of the pursuit of healing. It examines their descriptions of the competition between the Arabo-Galenic medical tradition, the “medicine of the Prophet,” and folk medicine, and their attitudes toward the respectability and piety of women’s health-related practices. Barren Women thus provides a multi-dimensional perspective of the specific experience of infertility, and also enhances our understanding of institutions and modes of thought which played significant roles in shaping women’s lives more broadly.

This has now been published as: Barren Women: Religion and Medicine in the Medieval Middle East:

Buy Barren Women: Biology, Medicine and Religion in the Medieval Middle East  (Islam - Thought, Culture, and Society) Book Online at Low Prices in India  | Barren Women: Biology, Medicine and Religion

 For the current call for submissions, please go to