Shahab Ahmed

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Shahab Ahmed (December 11, 1966 – September 17,[1] 2015) was a Pakistani-American scholar of Islam at Harvard University. Professor Elias Muhanna of Brown University described Ahmed's posthumous work, What Is Islam?, as "a strange and brilliant work, encyclopedic in vision and tautly argued in the manner of logical proof, yet pervaded by the urgency of a political manifesto."[2]


Ahmed's parents were Pakistani doctors who were living in Singapore at the time of his birth. He was born at Mount Alvernia Hospital, educated at Anglo Chinese School, Singapore and Caterham School, before studying at International Islamic University Malaysia.[1] After work as a journalist in Afghanistan, he gained a master's degree at the American University in Cairo and his PhD at Princeton University.[3] He was a junior member of the Harvard Society of Fellows (2000-2003), and served as a Visiting Lecturer and Research Fellow at Princeton University (2004-2005), Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at Harvard University (2005-2014), Higher Education Commission of Pakistan Visiting Scholar at the Islamic Research Institute in Islamabad (2007-2008), and Lecturer on Law and Research Fellow in Islamic Legal Studies at Harvard Law School (2014-2015).[4][5][6]

A polyglot who was "master of perhaps 15 languages",[4] Ahmed's broad field of study was Islamic intellectual history, with a special interest in the Satanic Verses incident and the evaluation of its historicity by Islamic scholars of the medieval period.[7][8]

He died of leukemia at the age of 48.[9]

In a posthumous presentation about him, Shahab Ahmed's sister highlighted her brother's fondness and appreciation for good wine. In this regard, she noted that "he felt very much in good company with Jahangir, with Ghalib, and with other writers [...] he adored."[1]



  • Ibn Taymiyya and his Times. Coedited with Yossef Rapoport. Oxford University Press: 1st Edition: September 9, 2015. (ISBN 019940206X)
  • What is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic. Princeton University Press: November 17, 2015. (ISBN 0691164185)
  • Before orthodoxy: the Satanic Verses in early Islam. Harvard University Press: April 24, 2017. (ISBN 9780674047426)
  • Neither Paradise Nor Hellfire: Understanding Islam through the Ottomans, Understanding the Ottomans through Islam (forthcoming)


  • "Ibn Taymiyyah and the Satanic Verses". Studia Islamica 87 (1998): 67–124.
  • "The Poetics of Solidarity: Palestine in Modern Urdu Poetry", Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics/Alif: Majallat al-Balāghah al-Muqāranah 18 (1998), thematic issue on "Post-colonial Discourse in South Asia/Khiṭāb mā ba`d al-kūlūniyāliyyah fī junūb āsyā," 29-64.
  • "Mapping the World of a Scholar in sixth/twelfth century Bukhara: Regional Tradition in Medieval Islamic Scholarship as Reflected in a Bibliography", Journal of the American Oriental Society, 120.1 (2000), 24-43.
  • "The Sultan's Syllabus: A Curriculum for the Ottoman Imperial Medreses Prescribed in a Fermān of Qānūnī I Süleymān, Dated 973 (1565)", cowritten with Nenad Filipovic. Studia Islamica 98/99 (2004): 183–218

Book reviews[edit]

  • Review of Andrew Rippin (ed.), The Qur'ān: Formative Interpretation, Aldershot: Ashgate-Variorum, 2000, Middle East Studies Association Bulletin 36.2 (2003), 216-218.
  • Review of Issa J. Boullata (ed.), Literary Structures of Religious Meaning in the Qur'ān, Richmond: Curzon Press, 2000, Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 14.1 (2003), 93-95.
  • Review of Meir M. Bar-Asher, Scripture and Exegesis in Early Imāmī Shiism, Leiden: Brill, 1999, Journal of the American Oriental Society 123.1 (2003), 183-185.
  • Review of Daphna Ephrat, A Learned Society in a Period of Transition: The Sunni `Ulama' of Eleventh-Century Baghdad, State University of New York Press, 2000, Journal of the American Oriental Society, 123.1 (2003), 179-182.


  1. ^ a b c QMUL School of History (2017-06-14), What is Islam-Session 3, retrieved 2017-06-15
  2. ^ Muhanna, Elias (11 January 2016). "Contradiction and Diversity". The Nation. 302 (2&3): 28.
  3. ^ Malise Ruthven, 'More than a Religion', London Review of Books, 8 September 2016.
  4. ^ a b Noah Feldman (20 September 2015). "An Extraordinary Scholar Redefined Islam". Bloomberg View. Retrieved 26 October 2015.
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-12-07. Retrieved 2016-01-05.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ "M. Shahab Ahmed | NELC - Harvard University". 2014-04-10. Archived from the original on April 10, 2014. Retrieved 2016-01-05.
  8. ^ Muhanna, Elias (2015-12-23). "How Has Islamic Orthodoxy Changed Over Time?". The Nation. Retrieved 2016-01-05.
  9. ^ Mark Oppenheimer (5 July 2016), "Can Islam Be More Jewish?", Tablet. Retrieved 17 October 2019.