Public Lecture Series Program for 2021-2022

The Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Unit 

Faculty of ArtsUniversity of Helsinki 

September 27, 2021, 6-8 pm 

Lecture title: Revisiting Islamic Law: Concepts and Historical Developments Guest speaker: Mohamed Serag 

In this lecture, Professor Mohamed Serag will take the audience on a journey that delves into the essential concepts and historical development of Islamic law. He will engage with concepts such as shariʿā, usūl il fiqh, fiqh, theology. He will shed light on important principles and practices in pre-modern Islamic legal system, for example the use of precedent and ʿurf (custom)in judicial practice. He will also examine the multiple textual and non textual sources of law-making and the role of the judges and context(s) in such processes. 

The lecture will conclude with reflections on the function of Islamic law in present day constitutions and national laws, and the contestations around this rich and complex legal tradition. 

Bio: Mohamed Serag is professor of Islamic studies at the Department of Arab and Islamic  Civilizations at the American University in Cairo. Serag was a professor and head of the  Islamic Law Department at the Alexandria University Faculty of Law, Egypt; a visiting  professor at Sana’a University in Yemen; chair of the Department of Islamic Law at Cairo  University; assistant and associate professor of law at the International Islamic University in  Islamabad; and associate professor of Islamic Studies at Cairo University. He authored,  translated, and co-edited numerous books on Islamic law, including books on the Islamic law  of trusts; Islamic legal theory and practice; Islamic laws of contract, inheritance, and  bequests; the Islamic banking system; and torts in Islam. 


October 25, 2021, 6-8 pm 

Lecture title: Not so Spectacular Dubai. Vignettes from a Visual Ethnography of Homes and Migrations. 

Guest speaker: Samuli Schielke 

Samuli Schielke tells and shows photographic fragments of a long-term ethnography with Egyptians seeking to create the means of a conventional good life in their home regions through migration. His research is concerned with how people live with the unsolvable contradiction that their search to realize a conservative dream of a good life in stability is dependent on unstable means: mobility, growth, and change. Following the trajectories of men and women on the move between Egypt and the Gulf states, he reflects on the need to understand moral and economic trajectories in combination, and on the methodological importance of narratives and images that do not reproduce spectacular media imageries of luxury or misery, but instead draw attention to the hard work of pursuing not so spectacular dreams. 

Bio: Samuli Schielke is a social and cultural anthropologist working on contemporary Egypt and the Gulf region. He is a senior research fellow at Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO), and associate primary investigator at Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies. He is author and editor of The Perils of Joy (2012), The Global Horizon (with Knut Graw, 2012), Ordinary Lives and Grand Schemes (with Liza Debevec, 2012), In Search of Europe? (with Daniela Swarowsky and Andrea Heister, 2013), Egypt in the Future Tense (2015), Migrant Dreams (2020), and Shared Margins (with Mukhtar Saad Shehata, 2021). A selection of his photographic work can be seen at http://www.samuli 


November 22, 2021, 6-8 pm 

Lecture title: Early Christian Engagement with the Qur’an: The Case of Ignazio  Lomellini’s 1622 Translation 

Guest speaker: Paul Shore 

The Genoan Jesuit Ignazio Lomellini completed a Latin translation of the Qur’an in 1622.  The unique manuscript of this translation is accompanied by the earliest complete  transcription of the Arabic text of the Qur’an made by a Western European, and extensive  commentaries and marginalia. The lecture will address three aspects of this document:  

First, Lomellini’s translation process, with comparisons made with other early Latin  translations (e.g. Robert of Ketton, Germanus de Silesia and Lodovico Marracci). 

Secondly, the “translation culture” of the seventeenth-century Society of Jesus, including  their approach to language study, the relationship of their translation projects to their  missionary and other undertakings, and their self-presentation as masters of translation. 

Finally, Lomellini’s use of rabbinical sources to bolster his arguments against the Qur’an, and  his use of scholarship in Arabic, such as the works of Avicenna. 

We will conclude with a few general remarks on the special challenges of Qur’anic study in  seventeenth-century Christian Europe.  

Bio: Paul Shore has held teaching and research posts at Saint Louis University, Harvard  Divinity School, Oxford University, the University of Edinburgh, Oxford University, Trinity  College Dublin, and Charles University Prague, and in 2013 was the Alan Richardson Fellow  in Theology and Religion at the University of Durham (UK). He is a Life Member of  Wolfson College, Cambridge University, and Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies at the  University of Regina. Shore was ordained a Deacon in the Anglican Church of Canada in  2017. The author of several publications, he has lectured on topics from the history of  religion in many cities, including Moscow, Jerusalem, Rome, Vienna, and Toronto. 


February 7, 2022, 6-8 pm 

Lecture title: Embodying Inequalities: Gender and Class in Urban Egypt Guest speaker: Farha Ghannam 

Drawing on research in a low-income neighborhood in northern Cairo, Pierre Bourdieu’s  discussion of class, Marcel Mauss’ notion of “prestigious imitation,” and new material  feminist approaches to matter, agency, and relationality, this presentation looks at how young  men and women train their bodies and cultivate them to produce themselves as gendered and  classed subjects. Focusing on the examples of weight and muscles, the talk explores how  boys and young men are increasingly under pressure to produce strong muscular bodies while  girls and young women are under more and more pressure to produce slender bodies. Young  men use the gym on a regular basis, exercise at home, and consume substances (such as extra  protein) to produce muscular abs and chests that are visibly impressive and assertive. In  contrast, young women focus on dieting (regulating food intake or taking medicine to control  weight gain in some areas of the body and enhance other parts) and exercising (usually at  home) to produce a body that is slim in some areas but plumb in others and is considered  feminine and attractive. Through these examples, the paper elaborates the inseparability of  gender and class in the production of the body, its gestures, shape, and size as well as its  ability to forget and learn new ways of being in the world.  

Bio: Farha Ghannam is the Eugene Lang Research Professor of Anthropology at  Swarthmore College. Her work focuses on urban life, spatial practices, globalization,  embodiment, gender, food and taste, and class politics. She is the author of Live and Die like  a Man: Gender Dynamics in Urban Egypt (Stanford 2013) and Remaking the Modern: Space,  Relocation, and the Politics of Identity in a Global Cairo (California 2002). Her work has  been published in several journals including the American Ethnologist, Visual Anthropology,  the Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, and Ethnos. Currently, she is working on a book  entitled “The Gender of Class: Social Inequalities in Daily Life in Urban Egypt.” She had  served as the president of the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological  Association and is currently serving as the president of the Association for Middle East  Anthropology, an affiliate of the Middle East Studies Association. 


April 4, 2022, 4-6P 

Lecture title: Is Post-Classical Islamic Theology a Part of the History of Philosophy? 

Guest speaker: Jari Kaukua  

For a long time, it was commonplace to think that philosophy in the Islamic world underwent a rapid decline around the death of Averroes in 1198 CE. During the past two decades, however, several scholars have challenged the received view by showing that not only self-styled philosophers (falāsifa, ḥukamāʾ) but also Muslim theologians (mutakallimūn), well beyond the twelfth century, continued to fervently discuss the quintessentially philosophical questions that were central to recognised philosophers like Abū Naṣr al-Fārābī and Avicenna. This emerging consensus was recently attacked by Dimitri Gutas, who argues that the “post-classical” authors are not real philosophers, because they give up certain attitudes essential to the philosopher, such as the radical open-endedness of one’s investigation. The crucial question underlying the debate is, of course, what is a valid concept of philosophy for the historiography of philosophy. After a preliminary answer to this question, I will consider the work of some central post-classical authors in its light. 

Bio: Jari Kaukua is the professor of philosophy at the University of Jyväskylä. He is specialized in Islamic philosophy, especially the thought of Avicenna and its reception. He is the author of the award-winning monograph Self-Awareness in Islamic Philosophy: Avicenna and Beyond (2014). 


June 2022 

Date: TBA 

Lecture title: TBA (on Islamic Art and Architecture) 

Guest speaker: TBA


Islam, Native Americans, and the Conquest of Canaan: A Qur’anic Reading – Shadaab Rahemtulla

Middle East And Islamic Studies Lecture Series

Date: 8 May, 2020- 12 pm 

Islam, Native Americans, and the Conquest of Canaan: A Qur’anic Reading

Guest lecture: Dr Shadaab Rahemtulla of University of Edinburgh

Abstract: This presentation seeks to put Islamic liberation theology in conversation with Native American rights, focusing on an indigenous critique of Christian liberation theology. The Exodus is a central paradigm for Latin American and Black theologians, representing a just deity in solidarity with the oppressed. But native scholars have critiqued the Exodus paradigm as selective, omitting “the other side” of the story: namely, the Israelite conquest of Canaan and destruction of its local inhabitants. Given the Exodus is also a key trope in Islamic liberation theology, this paper raises the following questions: What exactly does the Qur’an have to say about the Israelite encounter with Canaan? Does it mirror the biblical account? Did a mass genocide take place, and, if so, was this a result of divine decree?

Bio: A Canadian Muslim of Indian descent, Shadaab Rahemtulla is Lecturer in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at the School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh. Trained in Islamic thought at the University of Oxford, Shadaab’s primary interest lies in the relationship between religion, power, and resistance, exploring how religious texts can be  (re)interpreted to challenge structures of social domination, including poverty and patriarchy, racism and empire. He is the author of the book, Qur’an of the Oppressed: Liberation Theology and Gender Justice in Islam (OUP, 2018).


Students wishing to obtain a video recording of the lecture for educational purposes can contact Mulki Al-Sharmani at

Qur’anic Ethics and Hermeneutics: The Case of Gender – Omaima Abou-Bakr & Asma Lamrabet 

Middle East And Islamic Studies Lecture Series

Date: 12 October, 2020

Qur’anic Ethics and Hermeneutics: The Case of Gender

Guest lecture: Dr. Omaima Abou-Bakr and Dr. Asma Lamrabet 

Abstract: A growing body of contemporary scholarship on the Qur’an and its exegesis has been engaging with the question of ethics and hermeneutics. Focusing on gender, this scholarship has been tackling the following questions: How do we conceptualize Qur’anic ethics? What interpretive approaches can be used to map out the text’s ethical principles and directives? What are the readings that are made possible by such ethically-oriented interpretive approaches specifically with regard to the question of gender? And what are the methodological, conceptual, political contributions as well as challenges of this scholarship? These questions will be the focus of a public lecture by Professor Omaima Abou-Bakr (Cairo University) and Dr. Asma Lamrabet (Gender Studies Department, the EuroArab Foundation in Granada).


Omaima Abou-Bakr is a Professor of English & Comparative Literature at Cairo University; a founding member of The Women and Memory Forum; a member of the advisory board and the knowledge building working group of Musawah, a global organization of scholars and activists combining production of scientific research and activism towards the goal of transformative knowledge on Islam and gender. Professor Abou-Bakr’s doctorate work at University of California in Berkeley specialized in medieval Sufi poetry and comparative topics in medieval English and Arabic literature. Her research and publications over the span of the last three decades covered: Qur’anic exegesis, women’s mysticism and female spirituality in Christianity and Islam, feminist theology, Muslim women’s history, and gender issues in Islamic discourses.

She is the author of numerous Arabic and English publications. Some notable examples are: “Islamic Feminist Tafsir and Qur’anic Ethics: Rereading the Divorce Verses (co-authored with Mulki Al-Sharmani)” In Nevin Reda and Yasmin Amin (eds.) Islamic Interpretive Tradition and Gender Justice: Processes of Canonization, Subversion, and Change (2020); “Bride of the Qurʾan: An Aesthetic Reading of Surat ar-Rahman” In Dorpmüller, S., Scholz, J., Stille, M., & Weinrich, I. (eds.). Religion and aesthetic experience: Drama – sermons – literature (2018). “The Interpretive Legacy of Qiwamah as an Exegetical Construct.” In: Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Mulki Al-Sharmani and Jana Rumminger (eds.). Men in Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition (2015); “Turning the Tables: Constructions of Muslim Manhood;” In: Hawwa 11(2-3):89-107, 2014. “Teaching the Words of the Prophet: Women Instructors of the Hadith.” In: Hawwa, 1(3), 306-328, 2003. She is also the editor of Al-niswiyyah wa-al-dirasat al-diniyah (Feminism and Religious Studies, 2012); and two volumes of collected articles in English (Feminist and Islamic Perspectives: New Horizons of Knowledge and Reform) and in Arabic (al-Niswiyyah wa-al-manzur al-islami, 2013).

Asma Lamrabet is a Moroccan scholar of Islam. Originally trained as a physician, she has been engaging for many years in the study and reflection on reformist thought in Islam and in particular on the theme of women in Islam. Her work is mainly focused on rereading sacred texts from a reformist and feminist perspective. She has given numerous lectures on this subject around the world.

Since March 2018, she has been the director of the Gender Studies Department at the EuroArab Foundation in Granada. From 2011 to 2018, she was the Director of the Center for Women’s Studies in Islam in the Rabita Mohammadia des Oulémas du Maroc since 2011 to March 2018. From 2008 to 2010, she was the President of GIERFI (International group for study and reflection on women and Islam) in Barcelona. From 2004 to 2007, she was coordinator of a research and reflection group on Muslim women and intercultural dialogue in Rabat (Morocco).

Dr. Lamrabet is a member of the Observatory of the Muslim Arab world at the ULB University of Belgium since March 2018, and a member of the scientific committee of the National Institute of Human Rights of Morocco since June 2019. She is the author of numerous books in Arabic and French (also translated to English). Notable examples are: Women and Men in the Qur’ān; 2018; Women in the Qur’an: An Emancipatory Reading, 2016; 20 Questions and Answers on Islam and Women from a reformist vision, 2016


Students wishing to obtain a video recording of the lecture for educational purposes can contact Mulki Al-Sharmani at

Humor in Islam – Yasmin Amin

Middle East And Islamic Studies Lecture Series

Date: 12 June 2020, 4 pm

Humor in Islam 

Guest lecture: Yasmin Amin – Ph.D. Exeter University

Abstract: Muslims are nowadays often stereotyped as humorless. Burning flags, besieged embassies, angry mobs, and terrorist attacks are the images frequently associated with Muslims. But these images are at odds with the abundant evidence of humor in Islamic civilization. Textual sources such as hadith collections and adab al-nawadir show that humor was an integral part of the lives of Muslims over the centuries. Furthermore, Muslims were also not afraid to use their religious obligations to generate laughs. This presentation takes you on a journey through the ages to shed light on instances of Muslim humor.

Bio: A half-German, half-Egyptian, Yasmin Amin is currently a PhD student in Islamic Studies at Exeter University’s Arab & Islamic Institute, finalizing her research “Humor and Laughter in the Hadith”. She obtained a post graduate diploma in Islamic Studies from the American University in Cairo in 2006 as well as an MA in Islamic Studies in 2010. Her research covers various aspects of early Muslim society and culture as well as the original heritage texts of Islamic history, law and Prophetic traditions. She is co-translator of the book The Sorrowful Muslim’s Guide (EUP 2018), co-editor of the book Islamic Interpretive Tradition and Gender Justice: Processes of Canonization, Subversion, and Change (MQUP 2020) and the author of the forthcoming Musnad Umm Salama and the Factors Affecting its Evolution (Brill).

update: May 16, 2021- Dr. Amin has since completed her doctoral studies.

Students wishing to obtain a video recording of the lecture for educational purposes can contact Mulki Al-Sharmani at

Current Trends in Qur’anic Interpretation: Nation States, Media, and New Subjectivities – Johanna Pink

Middle East And Islamic Studies Lecture Series

Date: February 22, 2021, 6 pm 

Current Trends in Qur’anic Interpretation: Nation States, Media, and New Subjectivities 

Guest speaker: Professor Johanna Pink 

Abstract: This talk discusses current trends in Muslim qur’anic interpretation as well as the context that shapes them. Demonstrating how the same qur’anic verse is subject to vastly divergent interpretations, I look at the exegetical genealogies and hermeneutical principles that contemporary readings of the Qur’an draw on. Moreover, I discuss the structural factors that influence exegetical endeavors today, such as new media, migration, and the agendas of nation states.  

Bio:Johanna Pink is Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Freiburg, Germany, and Principal Investigator of the ERC-funded project „GloQur – The Global Qur’an“. She is a specialist in the history of qur’anic exegesis and Qur’an translations with a focus on transregional dynamics in the modern period. Her publications include Muslim Qur’anic Interpretation Today: Media, Genealogies and Interpretive Communities (Sheffield: Equinox 2019).  

Students wishing to obtain a video recording of the lecture for educational purposes can contact Mulki Al-Sharmani at

The Arab Spring: Ten Years On – Asef Bayat + Rabab El Mahdi

Middle East And Islamic Studies Lecture Series

Date: March 22, 2021, 6 pm. 

The Arab Spring: Ten Years On 

Featuring two guest speakers

First guest speaker: Professor Asef Bayat 

Presentation title: Arab Spring: A New Generation of 21st Century Revolutions

Abstract: The outbreak of the Arab uprisings created an unprecedented optimism about the future of the Arab world. But today, a strong sense of pessimism and despair surround the trajectory of these uprisings. Why did the Arab revolutions experience such trajectories? How do we understand the nature of the Arab Spring? My presentation attempts to historicize the Arab revolutions comparing them with those of the 1970s notably the Iranian revolution of 1979. I suggest that what transpired in Tunisia, Egypt or Yemen represent a new generation of 21st Century revolutions that are remarkably rich as movement, but woefully poor as change. I discuss why this is so, and what it means for the outcome of these revolutions.   

Second guest speaker: Associate Professor Rabab El Mahdi 

Presentation title: A Decade of Uprisings: What explains the Outcome? 

Abstract: A decade after the onset of Arab Uprisings, the euphoria that surrounded it has given in to frustration, prompting a return to the Arab “exceptionalism” and “anti-democratic tendencies” debate in some circles.  Whether in successful cases like Tunisia and Sudan or in failed cases such as Egypt and Syria, I argue that the outcome in terms of structural change has been limited.  What explains this limited outcome (despite variation) in those different cases? And is it particularly “Arab” or limited to those countries? Focusing on the genealogy of class-structure in these countries, I argue that the main culprit has been the middle-class.  



Asef Bayat, the Catherine & Bruce Bastian Professor of Global and Transnational Studies, teaches Sociology and Middle East at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Before joining Illinois, he taught at the American University in Cairo for many years; and served as the director of the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM) holding the Chair of Society and Culture of the Modern Middle East at Leiden University, The Netherlands. His research areas range from social movements and social change, to religion and public life, urban space and politics, and contemporary Middle East. His recent books include Being Young and Muslim: Cultural Politics in the Global South and North (ed. with Linda Herrera) (Oxford University Press, 2010); Post-Islamism: The Changing Faces of Political Islam (Oxford University Press, 2013); Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East (Stanford University Press, 2013. 2nd edition), Revolution without Revolutionaries: Making Sense of the Arab Spring (Stanford University Press, 2017), and Global Middle East: Into the 21st Century (ed. With Linda Herrera) (University of California Press, 2021). 

Rabab El Mahdi is an associate professor of political science at The American University in Cairo. Her research interests cover the areas of state-civil society relations, social movements, and contentious politics.  Her publications include; Political Manipulation Or Empowered Participation? Civil Society and the State in Egypt and Bolivia. Brill, 2012 and the edited volumes Arab Spring in Egypt: Revolution and Beyond (with Bahgat Korany)2012, Egypt: The Moment of Change (with Philip Marfleet) 2009 and a number of book chapters and journal articles on labor movements, the feminist question in Egypt, youth mobilization, and the Ultras football fans. She is the founder and director of AUC’s research project, Alternative Policy Solutions (APS)