Sarah Islam

Sarah Islam, Amman Jordan

Fifth-year Ph.D. Candidate

Photo 1:  On my way to the International Book Fair held near the Roman Theatre in Downtown Amman

I am currently in Amman, Jordan for this academic year (2015–2016) procuring manuscripts and primary sources at the Center for Documents and Manuscripts at the University of Jordan as well as other regional manuscript collections on fellowships from the Fulbright Program, the Social Science Research Council, and the American Center for Oriental Research (Andrew Mellon Foundation Grant for Dissertation Research).

Photo 2:  The Center for Documents and Manuscripts at the University of Jordan

My dissertation examines the evolving discourse on blasphemy as an Islamic legal category among capital crimes in early and medieval Islamic history, from 630 AD until the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Historians have generally understood blasphemy, known as sabb in the Islamic context, as any act constituting insult to the Prophet Muhammad or God. A common view among historians has been that Muslim jurists were unanimous in asserting that any individual, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, who insulted the Prophet should be swiftly executed, with no opportunity for mitigation. Historical sources however, present a more complex picture. A stringent response to blasphemy that leaves no room for mitigation developed relatively late in Islamic thought. Even after sabb was criminalized, Muslim thinkers mounted principled and orthodox opposition to the direct execution of Muslims and non-Muslims for this crime.

Photo 3 : Me in front of the Center for Documents and Manuscripts at University of Jordan

For my Fulbright research in Amman, I have been examining manuscripts from the Ottoman period housed in local collections—particularly those of post- formative Ḥanafī and Shāfiʿī jurists from Syria. Pursuing primary source and manuscript research in Amman has been an incredibly rewarding experience, as faculty and colleagues here have been enormously helpful! The collections likewise are well-maintained and ever-growing, giving me a good corpus from which to procure my materials. 

Photo 5: Me in front of the University of Jordan Mosque