Omid Safi

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Omid Safi
Academic background
Alma mater Duke University
Academic work
Main interests Sufism

Omid Safi is an American Professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University, where he is the Director of Duke Islamic Studies Center, and a columnist for On Being.[1] Dr. Safi 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 and the Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion.[2][3] Before joining Duke University, Dr. Safi was a professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

Life and work[edit]

Omid Safi was born in Jacksonville, Florida[4] and is of Iranian descent.[5] He was raised in Iran and fled Tehran to the United States with his family in 1985.[4]

Safi is a leader of the progressive Muslim movement,[6] 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.[7]

After September 11, 2001 Safi was publicly 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."[5]

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.[8] 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."[4]

Safi was one of the co-founders of the Progressive Muslim Union (PMU-NA).[9] He resigned from PMU in 2005, but he continues to support progressive interpretations of Islam outside of PMU.

Public Dispute with Aaron Hughes[edit]

In the 2012 book Theorizing Islam, Hughes had written critically about the scholarship of Omid Safi and other scholars in the academic study of Islam.[10] In January 2014, Safi published a piece on the ezine Jadaliyya presenting his "impressions about the state of Islamic studies in the North American academy."[11] 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."[11] Specifically, he described Hughes book as "grossly polemical and simplistic."[11] In response, Hughes 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."[10] He further suggested that Safi may have been motivated by Hughes' position in Jewish studies, adding sarcastically, "[w]e all know that Jews are the arch-enemy of Islam."[10]

Selected works[edit]


  • 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



  1. ^ Columnist Profile; On; 2015
  2. ^ Biography, Omid Safi, The Pluralism Project at Harvard University
  3. ^ Islamic Mysticism Group, American Academy of Religion
  4. ^ a b c Kevin Eckstrom (November 27, 2009). "Islam's warrior prophet shrouded by myth, devotion". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved April 21, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b 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. 
  6. ^ 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 
  7. ^ Omid Safi (2003). "What is Progressive Islam?" (PDF). ISIM Newsletter. Retrieved April 21, 2013. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ a b c 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. 
  11. ^ a b c Safi, Omid. "Reflections on the State of Islamic Studies". Retrieved 14 March 2014. 

External links[edit]