Visiting Lecturer: Reflections from Khaled Fahmy’s lecture series

November 27, 2020

Earlier this month we had the honour of hosting Khaled Fahmy – Professor of Arabic Studies, Cambridge University – for a week-long engagement at the Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS).

Public Lecture
Khaled Fahmy’s visit contained a public lecture titled “History of Islamic Legal Practice: Some Insights from 19th Century Egypt”. 

In this lecture, Professor Fahmy shared insights from his book “In Quest of Justice” and the story surrounding the book.

A video recording of the lecture can be viewed below:

Master Class Lectures
Khaled also hosted a series of lectures for graduate students that discussed various topics related to Islamic studies and research.

We’re pleased to share with you two reflections written by graduate students who attended Khaled’s lectures:

The Struggle of Accessing Archival Data in Egypt

I had the pleasure of attending Dr. Khaled Fahmy’s master class, taking place under the auspices of the Institute for Islamic Studies at the University of Toronto. As a PhD candidate specialized in modern Egyptian history, Dr. Fahmy’s astute and erudite academic work is of special importance and relevance to my own work, in terms of content and research methodology. My own project investigates childhood governmentality in the context of colonialism and nation-building in Egypt 1882- 1952. My research covers many topics including children as legal subjects (specifically juvenile delinquency), children under the medical gaze, pedagogy and multiple childhoods (the labor child, the fellah child, and the middle-class ideal child). All these topics require access to material in the national archives in Egypt, specifically documents from dabtiyyit Masr, ministry of interior, ministry of public health, ministry of education along with other important legal documents. 

I went to Egypt on a research mission and relocated with my kids to spend the 2018-2019 academic year there for data collection. I was hopeful this one-year sojourn would guarantee obtaining security clearance and hence access to the archives. All my hopes were dashed on the rock of the Egyptian security state. Ever since the Egyptian revolution and overthrowing of the Mubarak regime, in 2011 the security grip on academic research was further tightened. I did my MA at the American University in Cairo in 2011-2013 under the supervision of Dr. Fahmy. My research was on colonial psychiatry and the Abassiyya mental asylum. Dr. Fahmy witnessed my struggle to have access to the national archives and how all my attempts to do so were in vain. I had to write and defend my thesis with no access to the archives, depending on secondary sources and non-Egyptian primary sources (mainly British). My recent experience was not any better. I was granted “partial” access to qai’t al matbou’at (hall of publications) and not the research hall which contains all the important documents relevant to my research. 

During my visits to the archives, I have heard stories from employees in the archives and who themselves are also researchers. They told me how heavily tight the surveillance is on those researchers who managed to get access to the archives. While the whole point of the archives is to discover documents (sometimes even haphazardly and randomly) researchers with access to the archive material are restricted to their proposed research topics and if they try to access other documents deemed “irrelevant” to their research, they might have their access permission revoked. It does sadden me when I read all those books produced by scholars some 30 years ago until 2011, where they mainly based their brilliant research on primary sources and archival material. I feel that as researchers of Egyptian history we are experiencing unprecedented levels of restrictions on academic freedom that might at times amount to suspicion and even blunt accusations of attempted espionage. Furthermore, the numbers of academic researchers and scholars arrested and sometimes their disappearance upon their arrival to Egypt for research is very scary and intimidating and deterring to prospect scholars who are considering accessing the archives or simply collecting data in Egypt.  

Samar Nour Abdelgalil
PhD Candidate
Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations
University of Toronto

Sources and Methodologies of Depicting Islamic Law

As someone more familiar with the study of lived religion than with Islamic Law, and whose exposure to the latter has painted a picture of a somewhat rigid and highly formal system, this course was extremely eye opening. Overall, I learned about the impact of elevating and attending to different sources and methodologies in depicting Islamic Law, and how the picture that emerges can differ significantly depending on the sources employed. This was my first experience with the topic of Islamic Law that privileged ethnography and archival material depicting the law in practice. By reading through the lens of a social historian, I saw how the study of lived religion could be applied to the history of Islamic Law, which was shown to have a great deal more diversity, room for flexibility, and to place more value on local practices of mediation and settlement than I had previously thought. In addition to this, I had not previously been aware of some of the limitations of sharia in the implementation of public justice and community wellness, and learned how the siyasa system often worked in tandem to fill those gaps. Finally, this course provided me with an introduction to differences of opinion and methodology within Islamic legal historiography, including the difficulty and value of distinguishing between the religious and the secular, and the challenges of striking a balance between theory and lived-reality.

Maysa Haque
PhD Student
Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice
The University of British Columbia