2nd Session – Workshop Series: Contemporary Islamic Thought

November 29, 2023

Time: 1:30 PM to 3:30 PM

Date: January 25, 2024

Virtual: Register Here

Welcome to our monthly workshop on Contemporary Islamic Thought. The goal of this series is to explore the understudied reformist Islam of the late Syrian intellectual Muhammad Shahrour (1938-2019). Shahrour’s writings, which appeared with the decline of pan-Arabism in the late 1900s and in response to (what he perceived to be) problematic trends in Islamic revivalism, were instant bestsellers, but also elicited vehement critique and outrage from the Sunni religious establishment across the Arab world. What were the reasons for the overwhelming public success and notoriety of his ideas? We will examine Shahrour’s understanding of Islam as a creative and fundamentally unique Sunni paradigm that, significantly, was not preoccupied with the challenge of modernity, and thus stood curiously apart from the intellectual projects of his Muslim contemporaries. We will also focus on his distinctive methodology of reading the Qur’anic text—premised on a radical rejection of synonymity and a quality of scrutinous semantic differentiation—that intentionally broke with the entire exegetical Islamic tradition, tracing how this approach led to particular and unprecedented conceptions of God, time, morality, and the human condition. Unpacking the linguistic premises and philosophical underpinnings of his ideas, we will locate influences on his thought in various, diverse thinkers ranging from the eleventh century grammarian al-Jurjani to nineteenth century thinkers such as Hegel and Marx.    
For our January meeting, we will discuss Islam and Humanity: Consequences of a Contemporary Reading (2018) by Muhammad Shahrour (translated by George Stergios). This text deals with the thorny question of how and to what extent religion ought to inform society and more specifically nation-states. In other words, this book responds to resounding aspirations for an Islamic state among contemporary Muslims, which gained immense traction in the late twentieth century and continue to hold sway today. In particular, we will examine Shahrour’s understanding of citizenship and the importance he places on freedom as, what he calls, the “foundation of religion.”

**We’ll focus on the following sections of the book: Introduction, Chapters 3, and 4.

This workshop series welcomes graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, faculty members, and undergraduate students. By fostering an inclusive environment, we hope to nurture a diversity of perspectives and insights.

Because our workshops are designed to be discussion-based, we encourage all attendees to engage with the readings before each session, ensuring fruitful and thought-provoking conversations.

Ultimately, the goal of this series is to shed light on intellectual currents in contemporary Islamic thought that have been given little attention in academia, but which are compelling to Muslims around the world and are thus deserving of scholarly engagement.


Sara Hamed is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Islamic Studies. Her research centers on the 20th-century Islamic reformer Muhammad Shahrour, exploring the transatlantic and often clandestine communities that have emerged around his contentious ideas in North America and Europe, both in-person and online.

Sara Hamed is a PhD Candidate in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. She holds a BA in Anthropology and an MA in Religious Studies, both from McMaster University. She is a two-time recipient of graduate level awards from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada, and recently held a post as a graduate fellow at the R. F. Harney Program for Ethnic, Immigration and Pluralism Studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. 

She is also a highly rated course instructor and award-winning teaching assistant at the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Toronto, Mississauga. Her doctoral research brings debates in the anthropology of Islam about ethics and tradition to bear on Canadian Muslim aspirations in civil society, an area that is nearly untouched in the study of Islam and Muslims in Canada. Specifically, her doctoral work explores conceptions of tarbiyah as organizational practice in a context of pluralism and cultural fragmentation and the perceived role of Islamic charitable NGOs in the ethical formation of Muslims in Canada.