Public Lecture Series Program for 2021/2022

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, 4-6 pm 

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).


May 16, 2022, 6-8 pm 

Lecture title: ‘The Invisible Chain: Overlooking the Challenges Rising from the Practice of Religious Marriages in Turkey.’  

Guest speaker: Hakime Yaşar

Turkey is one of the intriguing cases in the whole Muslim world, as a country that experienced the dramatic shift from a Sharia-based legal system to a secularized legal system in the shortest time. Before, establishing the Turkish Republic, in the Ottoman period, Islamic family law had been applied for the Muslim community throughout the six-century.

In 1926 with the new Turkish state, sharia-based law has been officially abolished by replacing the Swiss Code. After the law officially became a part of the secular system, it is presumed that Islamic law would not affect society anymore. According to the new code, marriages and divorces in Turkey cannot be regulated according to any religious rulings- which also means religious marriage and divorces are not recognized by the state law. This dramatic shift affected not only the Muslim community but also the non-Muslims in the society as the Ottoman legal system included non-Muslim plural family laws.

Transplanting a secular law has not corresponded to this presumption and the social reality has opposed it. However, this has not resulted in a corresponding change in all of society; the unofficial Islamic family law still persists by a mutation named imam or religious marriage. It is accepted and unofficially applied by different segments of the society, such as in the rural areas of the country or in urban parts of Turkey by couples who are self-defined secular or religious or public characters (i.e. singers or actors/actresses). The official/secular and unofficial/religious marriage practices have brought up various controversial cases. In particular, this dual practicing has led to some confusion and a pending position of a wife in society. This seminar particularly discusses the historical background of this transplantation, the challenges to be faced by the legal system and society, and the arising problems of non-official marriages specific to women in Turkey.


Bio.: Dr. Hakime Reyyan Yaşar is lecturer in Islamic Law Department at Mardin Artuklu University, Turkey. Ms Yaşar is a PhD graduate of the School of Advanced Studies, University of London. Yaşar’s research interests cover two areas: one is the theoretical analysis of the Classical Islamic Family Law, the Theory of Marriage Contract and the early attempts to reform Islamic Family Law in the late Ottoman period, and the other subject is Majaz (Tropes) in Islamic Legal Theory and Legal Linguistics. Her dissertation title: “Marriage, Metaphor, and Law: Exploring Wives’ Anomalous Legal Status in the Classical Islamic Marriage Contract”. She is currently working on the theory of Majaz in Islamic tradition specific to Islamic Legal Theory, the scope of majaz, and how metaphor both theoretically and practically provide a means for legal interpretation. In addition to academic focus, she is interested in traditional Turkish marble art.


May 29, 2022, 6-8 pm 

Lecture title: Scribing the Word of God: Qur’an manuscripts and their Arts through the Ages

Guest speaker: Noha Abou-Khatwa

This talk will survey Qur’an manuscripts from the 7th to the 19th century. It will trace the sacred art of Arabic calligraphy and illumination in Qur’an manuscripts from its nascency in Arabia, to its spread in the east and the west manifesting itself in magnificent styles wherever it developed.

Bio:Noha Abou-Khatwa is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture at the American University in Cairo. Her main research interests are the manuscript culture and architecture of the Medieval Muslim world, with a focus on the Mamluks. She earned her PhD from University of Toronto in Islamic Art and Material Culture, writing a dissertation on “Calligraphers, Illuminators and Patrons: Mamluk Qur’an Manuscripts from 1341-1412 AD in light of the collection of the National Library of Egypt.” Prior to joining the University of Toronto, she worked at the Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation, where she started and directed until 2006 The Dar al-Kutub Manuscript Conservation Project. She also founded the Islamic Art Network, where she documented Islamic Cairo.  She publishes on epigraphy, calligraphy and Qur’an manuscripts.