Shahab Ahmed’s What is Islam? and the future of Islamic Studies

BRAIS One-day workshop, 4th May 2017

David Sizer Lecture Theatre, Francis Bancroft Building

Queen Mary University of London,

Convenor: Yossef Rapoport


A video recording of the event in four parts is available on YouTube: sessions 1, 2, 3 and 4.


Shahab Ahmed's posthumous What is Islam? starts with a problem:  Is Sufi pantheism ‘Islamic’?  Should we call philosophical exploration, figural art and drinking wine - all activities highly valorized by many pre-modern Muslims, ‘Islamic’? And if so, what do we actually mean?

Historically, ‘Islam’ was not merely a religious system, a cultural set of symbols, or a code of law. All these conceptualizations, Ahmed argues, fail to capture the distinctive and paradoxical qualities of the Islamic tradition. Instead, Islamic tradition encompassed different ways of exploring God’s design behind scripture, and conflicting contextual readings and ways of making meanings of text and pre-text.

This one-day workshop brought together leading scholars of Islam in the UK to comment, discuss, and critique this ambitious and eccentric book, and to explore its radical implications for the very framework of Islamic Studies in teaching and research.


Links to previous reviews of What is Islam?

LA Review of Books Marginalia's six-part review:

Harvard University symposium:


For the full programme please click here

The workshop was funded with generous support of the British Association of Islamic Studies; The School of History, QMUL; ERC-funded project ‘Stories of Survival: Recovering the Connected Histories of Eastern Christianity in the Early Modern World’; Princeton University Press.

The event was held in the Bancroft Building at Queen Mary University of London.