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Meet the expert: Ahab Bdaiwi

9 March 2020

This January, Dr. Ahab Bdaiwi was the winner of the first Impact Price of the Faculty of Humanities. This price is awarded to the humanities academic whose research exerts the most societal influence. The Assistant Professor, who also taught at LeidenGlobal’s course Discipline & Place, studies late ancient and medieval Muslim thought, ideas, and intellectual & religious traditions. Next to his research, he founded a Shi’i Studies Initiative and engages actively with public debates on Twitter.

The British Bdaiwi studied at the Universities of London and of Exeter and received his PhD in Arabic and Islamic Intellectual History in 2015. After this, he spent three years as a lecturer in medieval Islamic and Iranian intellectual history at the University of St Andrews. In 2016 Bdaiwi came to Leiden, where he now teaches undergraduate (BA) courses at the Institute for Philosophy. Next year, he will also teach at the new MA Global and Comparative Philosophy.

Bdaiwi’s research interests are very ‘global’. He studies ideas, how they can change the course of history, and, more importantly, how they cross cultural borders. In one of his current projects he looks for traces of the ancient world in the Quran. ‘Europeans have the tendency to see Muslims as isolationists, but they didn’t operate in a vacuum. The Quran can teach us a lot about the period before Islam, it is a window to the past.’

Bdaiwi is very passionate about his research and believes that scholarship should be public facing. This is also the reason why he is active on Twitter (ca. 8000 followers). ´I think that it is important, as an academic, to give a moderate, informed perspective to counterbalance people who reinvent the past to match it with their own extreme ideas. Also, I strive hard to bring academic perspectives to the current debates on racism, immigration, and intolerance.’

Another project of Bdaiwi is the Leiden University Shi'i Studies Initiative (LUSSI), which he founded. ‘Leiden has a very long history of studying the Islam.’ He continues: ‘And while it has a brilliant reputation, sometimes the approaches to the study of Islam are ideological or tinged by racism. The study of Shiʿi Islam has largely been neglected at Leiden. LUSSI addresses this academic lacuna and also tries to involve a wider audience with the study of Shi’i Islam.’ One of LUSSI’s activities is the annual LUSSI spring lecture series, with this year’s theme ‘Ancient Knowledge in Medieval Islam’. The next lecture takes place at the 15th of April and discusses traditions of healing among early and medieval Shīʿa.

Interview by LeidenGlobal intern Merel Snoep
September 2020

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