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Reflections on Shahab Ahmed’s ‘What Is Islam?’

May 14, 2018

On the 11 of May, students and faculty gathered together for an informal book discussion about Shahab Ahmed’s groundbreaking work, What is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic. For such a challenging work, the turn out was heartening— more than thirty people in total were involved in the discussion, from various disciplines and departments, including NELC, History, South Asian Studies, Jackson School of International Studies, and even Physics! The four discussants— Purnima Dhavan from History, Hamza Zafer from NELC, Joel Walker from History, and Shariq Khan from the JSIS— lead the discussions with 5-minute briefs of their impressions of the book, followed by an open question-and-answer session where students and teachers engaged in a healthy intellectual discussion about Shahab Ahmed’s ambitious project. In the end, a balanced view of Shahab Ahmed’s book could be seen emerging, with generous praise tempered by careful critiques. To top it all off, there was chai and samosas, to mark a satisfying closure to a pleasant afternoon of intellectual debate and inter-disciplinary camaraderie.