Dr Shadaab Rahemtulla aims to encourage new MSc in Christian-Muslim Studies

The Christian-Muslim Studies Network is excited to welcome Dr Shadaab Rahemtulla as the new Lecturer in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations.

Dr Rahemtulla’s arrival not only marks the growth of Christian-Muslim Studies in Edinburgh under a three-year Luce grant, but also points toward the future. His appointment paves the way for a new Taught Masters programme that will prepare more scholars to engage in Christian-Muslim Studies.

‘The process of learning, of becoming aware that you don’t know enough, is part of being a scholar’, Dr Rahemtulla said. ‘That’s why I became an academic – because I love learning, and I just want to be a student for life’.

Dr Rahemtulla joins Prof Mona Siddiqui, Dr Joshua Ralston, and Dr Omar Anchassi in the area of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at the School of Divinity.

Preparing for Expansion

Dr Rahemtulla already looks forward to the next academic year, when a Taught Masters (MSc) in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations is set to launch. In September 2020, the Taught Masters joins a one-year, Masters by Research and three-year PhD programme in the same field.

The Taught Masters in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations is a one-year academic experience that either can stand alone or be used as preparatory training for students interested in doctoral study. The programme plan is unique in examining Christian-Muslim relations from theological, historical, scriptural, and even anthropological perspectives. Many of the critical skills and analytical frameworks used in the masters in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations can, he says, also apply to the study of relationships between other religious communities, such as Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus.

‘We really want to produce scholars who are thinking comparatively’, he said. ‘But the challenge is to think dialogically, or even triologically’.

He emphasized that the encounters under study will not always be irenic. Academic study in this emerging field requires an understanding of not only fruitful interfaith engagement, but also the discourses and histories of oppression, conflict, and even violence.

Dr Rahemtulla is set to teach a core course called, ‘Major Themes in the Study of Islam’, as the first of the two core courses within the new masters programme, the second being Christian-Muslim relations, taught by Dr. Ralston. The variety of electives on offer will include a comparative course on Liberation Theology for postgraduate and undergraduate students.

‘You can take it in two different directions’, he said. ‘You can talk about Christian minorities in Muslim-majority countries, or you can talk about Muslim minorities in the (Christian-majority) West’.

Liberation Theology has been his personal – and research – passion since his doctoral studies at Oxford University. He had intended to study Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the oldest Sunni Islamic institution and one of the oldest universities in the world. When he went to Al-Azhar to conduct research, however, he felt an unexpected need to change emphasis.

‘I was sitting in lectures on the minutiae of Sunni real estate law, at a time when the average Egyptian was living on $2 a day, and I was getting upset’, he said.

At that point, he shifted from studying the history of a seminary, to studying the history of resistance and protest in the name of religion. Liberation theology is not restricted to Christian contexts in Latin and Black America, he points out, but also has a long history in the formerly colonized Muslim-majority world. Dr Rahemtulla’s book, Qur’an of the Oppressed: Liberation Theology and Gender Justice in Islam (Oxford University Press, 2018), analyzes the work of four leading Muslim liberation theologians hailing from South Africa, South Asia, and Black America.

‘The question I like to ask is – whose Islam are we talking about: the Islam of the powerful or the Islam of the oppressed?’ he said.

He then asks the same question in a comparative spirit – is this the Christianity of the powerful or of the oppressed? In doing so, Dr Rahemtulla wants to build on the tradition of the late Latin American liberation theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid, New College’s first female professor, at the University of Edinburgh.

From Jordan to Edinburgh

Dr Rahemtulla moved to Edinburgh from the much sunnier city of Amman, where he taught at the University of Jordan on the subjects of Islam and Human Rights. He is not, however, allowing his time in the Middle East to chill his enthusiasm for Scotland.

‘It’s one thing to be at a great university, but it’s another thing to be at a great university in a great city’, he said of Edinburgh.

As a Canadian, Rahemtulla can embrace the frosty temperatures and northern climes of Edinburgh, but he has also been cheered by a warm welcome from staff – and hot food from Social Bite Cafe – at the School of Divinity in New College.