Scholars, Apostasy and States in Medieval Islam: Historiographical and Juridical Issues

17th June 2021

Islamic History and Thought Lecture Series

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During the medieval period, theʿulamāʾ had a prominent social status in Islamic dominions and were often closely connected to the sources of political power. Yet, the historiographical sources report cases of Muslim scholars accused of apostasy and executed, thus providing examples of highly unusual socio-religious circumstances in which arbiters of good belief were themselves subjected to the ignominy of breaking with it. Contemporary scholarship has favoured narratives of “murder” and “martyrdom” as two explanatory paradigms to study famous cases of scholarly apostasy. While these categories can reveal the strategies of the medieval historians who crafted iconic figures (martyrdom) and emphasized political antagonisms as the cause of the accusations and executions (murder), they fall short of explaining the myriad of social, religious and political processes at stake.

Through the examples of ʿAyn al-Quḍāt al-Hamadānī and Shihāb al-Dīn al-Suhrawardī this lecture will first present how the authors of literary sources of history constructed their narratives of scholarly apostasy in accordance with their own sectarian and political affiliations. It will then present the juridical procedure at play when scholars were accused of apostasy.

Image: Citadel of Aleppo, 1936


Date: 17 June 2021
Time: 2.00 pm – 4.00 pm GMT
Location: Online (Zoom)


Q&A: At any time during the lecture, attendees can submit questions to the speaker through the Q&A option at the bottom of the control panel. As time allows, the speaker will address as many questions as they can during the Q&A session at the end of the presentation.

Recording: Please note that the session will be recorded and published on the IIS website.





Speaker: Dr Salimeh Maghsoudlou (McGill University, Canada)

Discussants: Dr Fârès Gillon (The Institute of Ismaili Studies, UK), Dr Christian Sahner (Oxford University).






Watch a recording of this lecture


Dr Salimeh Maghsoudlou

Dr. Salimeh Maghsoudlou is a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University. She specializes in classical and post-classical periods of medieval Islam with a focus on Islamic thought, cultural history, and development of scholarly disciplines. Her research explores the interrelationships of Sufisminfo-icon, theology and philosophy and the social implications of scholarly practices. She is currently writing her first monograph tentatively titled Scholars on the Gallows: The Social, Juridical and Intellectual History of Apostasy in Medieval Islam. She is also a collaborator in the project “The Heirs of Avicenna: Philosophy in the Islamic East from the 12th to the 13th Century” (LMU, Munich). She has a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from École Pratique des Hautes Études. Her dissertation on ʿAyn al-Quḍāt al-Hamadānī’s intellectual system was awarded the best dissertation of the year 2016 on a topic of Iranian Studies by the Foundation for Iranian Studies. Among her recent publications are articles on popularization of Avicennan philosophy in the Sufi milieu, the status of the spirit in al-Mustamlī al-Bukhārī’s Sharḥ al-Taʿarruf, the study of the doctrines of name (ism) in al-Ghazālī’s al-Maqṣad al-asnā.