The Reading Muslims Project is a multi- and interdisciplinary conversation among leading local and international scholars on the place of textuality in Islamic studies, funded through the University of Toronto’s Connaught Global Challenge Grants Program. Reading Muslims begins from the premise that a consideration of texts and textual methods are indispensable to the study of Islam. Islam began with a book : al-Kitāb, the Qur’anic revelations. From this first textual experience came others: Qur’anic exegesis, the Law, Sufism, etc. Islamic studies scholars, whether Muslim or not, read Muslim texts to understand the Islamic tradition. But they also read Muslim bodies and practices through an ethnographic lens. And, to make things more complicated, they read Muslims as readers of their texts, paying attention to various interpretations within Muslim communities. Between these different forms of readings lies questions of power: who are the privileged readers of Muslim texts? What is the relationship between texts and the Islamic tradition? Who gets to decide the relationship between textuality and orthodoxy? and how do texts support legal and bureaucratic institutions of the modern state in its project of governance? In short, textuality is a lens through which our project examines a set of methodological and political questions for the study of Islam today.
Reading Muslims is divided into four research hubs. Each hub gathers together researchers and community partners, who examine a set of methodological and political questions around textuality in Islamic studies and its place in the formation of community identities in dynamic societies.
The first hub is the “Constructing Muslims Orthodoxies” hub; this hub examines how Muslim community members invoke texts to construct authoritative forms of religious interpretation. It begins from an awareness that there is no orthodoxy outside of power relations that make some religious views possible and others not.
The second hub is the “State Surveillance and Islamophobia” hub: This hub turns its attentions to the North American and European context. Its participants probe two areas of concern: 1) The ways in state officials, bureaucracies, and law courts have used and abused Muslim texts to monitor and marginalize its Muslim populations; and 2) The invocation of Muslim texts among Islamophobic groups who champion the incompatibility of Islam with liberal-democratic societies. Importantly, this hub will contribute to IIS’s existing partnerships with the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association and the National Council of Canadian Muslims, both of which raise concerns about the implications of government construction of Muslim identity through competing ideas of textuality. Moreover, it also supports the IIS’s partnership in RADex, an International Research Network hosted by Sciences Po (France) and Northwestern University (USA).
The third hub is “Philological Methods” hub, which focuses on the methods and assumptions of classicists about what texts mean for understanding premodern Islam. It focuses on the materiality of texts as remnants of the past. From 19thcentury German universities to 20th century area studies programs in North America, philology remains a vital yet contested site for Reading Muslims to consider the text and textuality across time and space.
The final hub is the “Ethnographic Methods” hub; it focuses on the anthropological relevance of texts in observing Muslim beliefs and practices. Because of its ethnographic focus, anthropological inquiry typically privileges the present over texts of the past. And yet, anthropologists studying Muslims have been intimately attuned to the necessity of linking this present to the vast textual tradition of Islam. This hub is therefore a means to examine when and how texts should play into ethnographic study
- Co-Principal Investigators: Anver M. Emon and Youcef Soufi (University of Toronto)
- Rumee Ahmed (University of British Columbia)
- Suzanne Conklin Akbari (Institute for Advanced Study)
- Haytham Bahoora (University of Toronto)
- Faisal Bhabha (York University)
- Ayesha S. Chaudhry (University of British Columbia)
- Fatema Dada (Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association)
- Mohammad Fadel (University of Toronto)
- Alexandra Gillespie (University of Toronto)
- Zareena Grewal (Yale University)
- Nadia Hasan (National Council of Canadian Muslims)
- Basit Iqbal (McMaster University)
- Elizabeth Shakman Hurd (Northwestern University)
- Ruba Kana’an (UofT)
- Nadia Marzouki (Sciences Po)
- Jeannie Miller (University of Toronto)
- Amira Mittermaier (University of Toronto)
- Nada Moumtaz (University of Toronto)
- Selma Zecevic (York University)