Dr Abdul Rahman Mustafa joined staff at the University of Edinburgh in September as the Christian-Muslim Studies Network’s first postdoctoral fellow.
He brings to New College his expertise in both law and Islamic theology, and he contributes to the Network’s commitment to interfaith studies with a critical lens. His appointment was made possible by a grant from the Luce Fund for Theological Education at the Henry Luce Foundation.
Dr Mustafa joined the staff at New College after completing his PhD in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. His PhD dissertation is titled, ‘From God’s Nature to God’s Law: Theology, Law and Legal Theory in Islam’.
While studying at Georgetown, Dr Mustafa worked with Professor Daniel Madigan, who he credits with introducing him to Christian-Muslim relations as a scholarly endeavor.
‘It was serious research into interfaith engagement without devolving into platitudes, bringing a critical lens to the discussion’, Dr Mustafa said.
Dr Mustafa applied for the fellowship with the Christian-Muslim Studies Network because he found that same balance in Dr Joshua Ralston, director of the Christian-Muslim Studies Network, and Prof Mona Siddiqui, the Network’s co-founder.
Although he studied for his PhD in the United States, Dr Mustafa is not a newcomer to the United Kingdom. He completed his master’s degree at the University of Oxford and received a law degree from the London School of Economics. He speaks five languages fluently, along with two others: Arabic, Urdu, French, Punjabi, Farsi, and German.
Vision within the Christian-Muslim Studies Network
Dr Mustafa’s projections for the Christian-Muslim Studies Network are far-reaching. He is most interested in its continuous expansion from a network of interested scholars. Further steps will come from faith leaders and faithful laypeople who who, he notes, can often feel excluded from scholarly dialogues of this nature, but whose contributions are also vital to the Network’s mission.
Dr Mustafa is interested in expanding the Network’s ongoing forays into broader public engagement. He sees an opening for interfaith scholarship in other public discussions that seek meaning in a changing world.
As a scholar trained in both law and theology, Dr Mustafa also values what a multi-faceted approach to methods can bring to interfaith dialogue. This means incorporating dialogue from those within theological institutions and outside. This is partly what led him Edinburgh, where he notes a long history of both Christian theology and Islamic studies.
Dr Mustafa will soon contribute to that tradition by teaching Islamic studies courses in the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh. One of his courses follows the controversies within Islamic intellectual thought from medieval debates about the nature of God to the twentieth-century conflicts about radical Islam. He describes it as a pivotal course for students who come with minimal background experience with Islam, as it requires them to leave their comfort zone.
‘I think there’s something useful in exposing students to a set of ideas that are very different from their own, to confront a different way of looking at the world,’ Dr Mustafa said. ‘With Islamic studies, one is often introducing students who are not Muslims to a way of thinking that is very different from twentieth-century liberalism.’
For now, however, several projects within Christian-Muslim studies await his attention. In addition to expanding on his doctoral work, Dr Mustafa seeks to contribute to a growing body of research into sensory history in the Islamic context. His project explores the ways in which Islamic law fashions an ideal legal subject through conditioning, regulation, and domination of the senses and sensory experiences of that subject, thereby framing the individual’s engagement with the world and also creating a register of sensory associations with the afterlife.
Dr Mustafa is also contributing to research on the application of Islamic law to contemporary issues. One of his current pieces is a study of a longstanding debate in Islamic law about whether Muslim women wearing nail polish can offer prayers. The key question, and the major point of intersection with his own interests, is how this debate from Islamic ritual law, which appears to be the most unchanging and static area of the law, still raises questions about the purposes of God’s law and whether the law has to meet certain standards of reasonableness and rationality.
Language also plays a role in Dr Mustafa’s work. He currently works as part of a team of researchers creating a translation of the entire canon of Sunni Hadith, complete with ecumenical commentaries on those that draw on multiple interpretive perspectives from within the Islamic tradition.
Thoughts on Edinburgh
Dr Mustafa expects his trans-Atlantic move will contribute positively to his ongoing research, present and future. He has been charmed by Edinburgh, with its mix of castles and academic life, history and fantasy.
‘I can see why the author of Harry Potter can only have lived here,’ he remarked. ‘Sometimes I feel like I’m walking in a magical place.’
Dr Mustafa’s appointment as a postdoctoral fellow at the Christian-Muslim Studies Network is funded in part by a grant from the Luce Foundation. Those interested in pursuing a degree within this subject area can find more information here.