Omid Safi is an Iranian-American Professor of Islamic Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he specializes in Islamic mysticism (Sufism), contemporary Islamic thought and medieval Islamic history. He has served on the board of the Pluralism project at Harvard University and is the co-chair of the steering committee for the Study of Islam at the American Academy of Religion.
Life and work
Safi is a leader of the progressive Muslim movement, which he defines as encompassing
a number of themes: striving to realize a just and pluralistic society through a critical engagement with Islam, a relentless pursuit of social justice, an emphasis on gender equality as a foundation of human rights, and a vision of religious and ethnic pluralism.
After September 11, 2001 Safi was publically critical of the intolerance and violence among Muslims that inspired the attacks, reminding Muslims that their role lay in "calling both Muslims and Americans to the highest good of which we are capable."
Safi's book Progressive Muslims (2003) contains a diverse collection of essays by and about progressive Muslims. He is one of a number of progressive scholars of Islam in the early 21st century whose work has described for Western readers the diverse range of Muslim thought in the last half of the 20th century. As such, he has been described by Kevin Eckstrom, editor-in-chief of the Religion News Service, as "on the front edge of a generation of scholars who, with one foot in both worlds, are trying to explain Islam and the West to each other."
Public Dispute with Aaron Hughes
In early 2014, Aaron W. Hughes, Chair of Jewish Studies in the Department of Religion and Classics at the University of Rochester engaged Safi in a public dispute. In January of that year, Safi published a piece on the ezine Jadaliyya presenting his "impressions about the state of Islamic studies in the North American academy." In the course of the article, in which he expressed his concern regarding unreconstructed orthodox Muslim voices entering the American academy, he stated that Hughes and two other scholars had written "pieces attacking and critiquing the prominence of Muslim scholars in the Study of Islam Section." Specifically, he described Hughes piece as "grossly polemical and simplistic." In response, Hughes characterized Safi as calling him a racist, and demanded that he "do what the Western tradition of scholarly discourse demands and respond to my ideas in print as opposed to engaging in innuendo and identity politics." He further suggested that Safi may have been motivated by Hughes' Jewish background, adding sarcastically, "[w]e all know that Jews are the arch-enemy of Islam."
- Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism. Edited by Omid Safi (Oxford: Oneworld, 2003)
- The Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam. (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2006)
- Voices of Change (Vol. 5 in the 5 volume series: Voices of Islam), edited by Omid Safi. (Praeger, 2006)
- Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters. (HarperOne, 2009)
- Voices of American Muslims. (New York: Hippocrene Books, Inc., 2005) By Linda Brandi Caetura with introductory essay and interview with Omid Safi
- "On the path of love Towards the Divine" (published in Sufi magazine)
- "A Muslim Spiritual Progressive Perspective on Palestine Israel" (published in Tikkun)
- "I and Thou in a fluid world: Beyond 'Islam vs. the West'"
- "Between 'Ijtihad of the Presupposition' and Gender Equality: Cross-Pollination between Progressive Islam and Iranian Reform", in Carl Ernst, ed., Rethinking Islamic Studies: From Orientalism to Cosmopolitanism (SC, 2010), pp. 72–96.
- "The Emergence of Progressive Islam in America,” in Stephen Prothero, ed., A Nation of Religions (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2006), pp. 43–60.
- "Islamic Modernism," in Lindsay Jones et al., ed., Encyclopedia of Religion, Second Edition. (Farmington Hills, MI: MacMillan, 2006), pp. 6095–6102.
- "What is Progressive Islam?," Newsletter for the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World 13, December 2003, pp. 48–49
- Biography, Omid Safi, The Pluralism Project at Harvard University
- Kevin Eckstrom (November 27, 2009). "Islam's warrior prophet shrouded by myth, devotion". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved April 21, 2013.
- Edward E. Curtis IV (2 September 2009). Muslims in America : A Short History: A Short History. Oxford University Press. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-19-971014-0. Retrieved 21 April 2013.
- Jones, Robert P. (July 25, 2008). Progressive & Religious: How Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist Leaders are Moving Beyond the Culture Wars and Transforming American Public Life. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-7425-6230-1. "Omid Safi is the most widely recognized leader of the progressive Muslim movement"
- Omid Safi (2003). "What is Progressive Islam?". ISIM Newsletter. Retrieved April 21, 2013.
- Martin Van Bruinessen; Julia Day Howell (15 October 2007). Sufism and the 'Modern' in Islam. I.B.Tauris. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-85043-854-0. Retrieved 21 April 2013.
- Leora Tanenbaum (23 December 2008). Taking Back God: American Women Rising Up for Religious Equality. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 161. ISBN 978-1-4299-5879-0. Retrieved 21 April 2013.
- Hughes, Aaron. "When Bad Scholarship Is Just Bad Scholarship: A Response to Omid Safi". Bulletin for the Study of Religion Blog. Equinox publishing. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
- Safi, Omid. "Reflections on the State of Islamic Studies". Jadaliyya.com. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
- Omid Safi's website
- Omid Safi's blog
- Interview with Omid Safi on "Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters" at ReadTheSpirit.com