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Islamic civilization and its influences on the western world

Spring 2005 Program


Lecture Dates: 6 Thursdays

March 31, April 14, 28, May 12, 26, June 9

7:00 – 9:00 pm, Columbus Community Centre



Week 1 (March 31) “Arabia in the pre-Islamic setting” – David Mason, Ph.D. (cand.), McGill University


This lecture will address the language, religion and culture of pre-Islamic Arabia in order to establish an understanding of the milieu into which Islam was revealed. Aspects to be considered will include the tribal system of the Bedouin, pre-Islamic religion and practices, language and poetry and trade and economy.



Week 2 (Apr. 14) “The Revelation of Islam” – Todd Lawson, Ph.D., University of Toronto


Both Islam and the study of Islam begin with the revelatory experience of the Prophet Muhammad. These experiences, preserved in book form by his followers as the Qur'án, are read today as the incomparable and binding guidance of God. This lecture will discuss the literary form and contents of this most read and studied of all books. The goal will be to analyze its aesthetic, religious and charismatic qualities in order to gain an appreciation both for its unparalleled role in the lives of Muslims and its heretofore under-appreciated status as a unique "classic" of world literature.



Week 3 (Apr. 28) “Landmarks of Science in the Medieval Islamic World” – Ingrid Hehmeyer, Ph.D., Royal Ontario Museum, University of Toronto


In the early Islamic centuries learning was held in high esteem. This included study of the natural world in order to understand the greatness of God’s creation. It was due to Islam’s religious endorsement that the natural sciences flourished, regardless of the boundaries of language and culture. The lecture will focus on three scientific disciplines:



Week 4 (May 12) “Islam and the Life of the Mind: Theological, Philosophical and Mystical perspectives” – Todd Lawson, Ph.D., University of Toronto


While Islam was conceived in the Arabian Peninsula, it was actually born in such cosmopolitan centres as Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo. The remarkable spread of Islam over a vast geography gave rise to the encounter of Muslims with a wide variety of cultures, each with its own moral, ethical and philosophical history. The genius of Islam may be thought to be expressed in the way its great scholars and thinkers read these cultures through the lens of the Qur'an and the principle features of Islamic religion. One of the more significant of these encounters was with Greek philosophy and science. Another was with various spiritual and mystical traditions. This lecture will elucidate the manner in which the characteristic and sophisticated ethos of mediaeval Islamic "multiculturalism" represents an enduring gift and challenge.



Week 5 (May 26) “Sultan Hasan: the Jewel of Mamluk architecture” – Dina Ghaly, Ph.D., York University


The Complex of Sultan Hasan is one of the most impressive buildings among the over 200 monuments surviving in Mamluk Cairo (1250-1500AD). Combining a mosque, a madrasa, a mausoleum, a mill, and other facilities, it is also one of the largest. Yet, its importance does not lie in its size, but in the ingenuity of its design and urban setting. This building exemplifies the characteristics of Mamluk architecture in Cairo, while also reflecting the political history of the dynasty in Egypt.



Week 6 (June 9) “Introduction to Modern Islamic Developments” – Nader Hashemi Ph.D. (cand.), University of Toronto Alia Hogben, Exec. Dir., Canadian Council of Muslim Women, and Kirstin Sabrina Dane, M.A. (cand.), McGill University


The advent of modernity -- science, culture, thought, politics -- challenged inherited monotheistic religious views of the world and the universe. Whereas traditional Christianity and traditional Judaism in Europe faced challenges from within their own societies, traditional Islam confronted modernity in the first instance at the point of a gun. This inauspicious beginning of the modern era conditioned, but did not fully determine, the responses of Muslim thinkers and societies to the new forces of change that have defined the world since at least the 17th century. As societies around the world become increasingly intertwined, Muslims no less than others ponder and respond to the relationship between faith, values and traditions on the one hand, and the accelerating pace and pressures of globalization on the other.

Nader Hashemi.


What is it like being a Muslim woman today in terms of identity, authority and participation within the Islamic community and in the greater Canadian sphere? What are the issues facing Muslim women within their faith and how do we respond to the array of voiced opinions? The current movement towards the introduction of Shariah family law in Ontario affects the identity of Muslim women and represents one of the major issues facing Muslim women in modern Islamic development.

Alia Hogben and Kirstin Sabrina Dane.



Syllabus - The Seminar Series



Seminar Dates: 4 Fridays

April 15, 29, May 13, 27

11:00 – 1:00 pm, Swallow Hill



Week 2 (Apr. 15) Principal Qur’anic Themes – Todd Lawson, Ph.D., University of Toronto


This seminar will look more closely and in greater depth and detail at certain topics presented in the lecture such as: the historical development of the Arabic script and grammar, types of Quranic commentary, the role of the Qur'an in the formation of consciousness, and specific questions regarding the use of metaphor and trope in the holy book. Seminar participants will be asked to encounter the text firsthand, both through reading and listening and share the results of this encounter. There will also be ample opportunity for questions and free discussion.



Week 3 (Apr. 29) Private Life in a Medieval Islamic City – Ed Keall, Ph.D., Royal Ontario Museum


A principle that defines Islamic cities in a very striking way is the concept of privacy for the women, and extended family ties. Neighbourhoods are characterized by their groupings of houses around a cul-de-sac which effectively limits access by outsiders. The houses themselves are oriented inwardly, often around a courtyard, again emphasizing privacy. Neighbourhoods in southern Spain retain this atmosphere from the days when Islam was the dominant religion in the peninsula. Managing the neighbourhood was very much the responsibility of the community, since it fell outside of the government's responsibility. The comparative independence of these neighbourhoods served for their survival, in spite of the never-ending succession of revolutions that toppled government after government. An analogy to-day would be a case where a rate-payers' association successfully maintained an independent position within a city, in spite a change of government.



Week 4 (May 13) Sufism – Todd Lawson, Ph.D., University of Toronto


Further exploration of the Sufi ethical and mystical tradition will entail discussions of central topics and motifs such as: the oneness of being, the relationship between love and spiritual authority, various ramifications or interpretations of the path, and the role of music and dance. Participants will be asked to read a variety of brief Sufi texts in translation as a basis for group discussion. Special focus will be given to the problem of defining Sufism as such and assessing its role in the general history of Islam.



Week 6 (June 10) The Islamic Tradition of Knowing the Realms of Reality – Maliha Chishti Ph.D. (cand.), OISE, and Janis Orenstein, soprano, and Aydin Sencan, saz


The pursuit of knowledge is considered among the highest acts of worship in the Islamic intellectual tradition, and the philosophy of education is to realize both the material and spiritual realms of reality. Classical Muslim scholars have long held the belief that seeking knowledge is first through the senses, and fundamentally through the position of the heart, or the intuitive perception of the heart. This remains central to the development of classical Islamic epistemologies, pedagogies and the processes that have anchored the sensory experience of opening the heart to the gateway of understanding, interpreting, and making sense of reality.


This session will explore this theme through the live presentation of Sufi Music by members of the Halvati-Jerrahi Order of Dervishes.