Michael E. Marmura Lecture Series in Arabic Studies

The Michael E. Marmura Lecture Series in Arabic Studies is an interdisciplinary and multi-perspectival endeavor by faculty members of the Department of Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto. The series is devoted to explorations of culture, history and politics in the Arab world, its diasporas, and their transnational itineraries. We use “Arabic” studies rather than “Arab” studies to gesture towards a field based on a common language context rather than on an ethnicity.

It is dedicated to the memory of our late colleague, Michael E. Marmura, F.R.S.C. Professor of Medieval Islamic Philosophy, who was born 1929 in Jerusalem, Palestine, and died 2009 in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. The lecture series seeks to promote public education, scholarly collaboration, and intellectual engagement among students and scholars in the Greater Toronto Area.

For further information, please contact Jeannie Miller or Nada Moumtaz



A Laudatio of Professor Michael E. Marmura, F.R.S.C


Michael Marmura photo
By Jens Hanssen


On the occasion of the Launching of the Michael E. Marmura Lecture Series in Arabic Studies 
at the Department of Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations


University of Toronto, January 14th, 2021


Read the full Laudatio




2023–2024 Lectures

IAMCC and Marmura Lecture September 25 event banner

Huda Lutfi

Visual Artist and Cultural Historian, Cairo, Egypt


Inside the Black Enclosure: A Masterclass for Graduate Students


In this graduate masterclass, contemporary Egyptian artist Huda Lutfi will share her experiences of creating her recent installation Inside the Black Enclosure for the inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale which was held from January 23–May 23, 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Lutfi will speak about the history of pilgrimage at Mecca, the importance of the kiswa covering of the ka’ba, the craftspeople involved in its making over history, and how it all connects to her recent installation. She will also discuss her artistic practice and career and problematize the notion of an Islamic Arts Biennale as part of her talk, which will also include videos of her work.

Marmura Lecture september 25 poster

Bachtyar Ali, Kareem Abdulrahman, Firat Bozçalı & Jeannie Miller


The Politics of Fiction and Transation: A Conversation with Bachtyar Ali, Kareem Abdulrahman, Firat Bozçalı, and Jeannie Miller

Politics has at least two faces in Ali’s works. While his characters are in a constant search to prove their humanity, politics often appears as a barrier in that search. Why does their salvation seem to fall beyond politics? Yet another face is the politics of literature: Kurdish language has lived on the margins of the more dominant languages in the Middle East for centuries. In this context, lliterary translation could be seen as an effort to put the Kurds, the largest minority group without their own nation state, on the cultural map of the world.

In this conversation, we will probe questions such as: Where do the politics of publishing and those of the Middle East collide? Is literary translation a means to put the Kurds, the largest minority group without their own nation state, on the world’s cultural map? What unique challenges do translators of Kurdish texts face?

Bachtyar Ali is one of the most prominent contemporary intellectuals from Iraqi Kurdistan. The Last Pomegranate Tree (Archipelago Books, 2023), one of his most famous novels, was just translated into English by translator and Kurdish affairs analyst Kareem Abdulrahman. It tells the story of Muzafar-i-Subhdan, a Kurdish Peshmerga fighter in Iraq desperately searching for his son after being held in a desert prison for 21 years.

Fırat Bozçalı is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. His research concentrates on political and legal anthropology with a special focus on smuggling economies, human rights advocacy, and Kurdish politics in Turkey.
Jeannie Miller is an Associate Professor of medieval Arabic literature in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations.

Marmura Lecture Nov 12 poster

Sohaira Siddiqui

Associate Professor, Georgetown University, Qatar


Debating Legal Sovereignty in Colonial India


Sohaira Siddiqui is an Associate Professor of Theology at Georgetown University in Qatar. Her work focuses on the relationship between law, theology and political thought in classical Islam; Islamic law during British colonization; Islamic law in contemporary Muslim societies; and secularism and modernity in relation to Muslims in the West.

She is the author of Law and Politics Under the 'Abbasids: An Intellectual Portrait of al-Juwayni (Cambridge University Press, 2019) and Locating the Shari'a: Legal Fluidity in Theory, History and Practice (Brill, 2019). Her next book, Contesting Islamic Law in Colonial India, will be published in Fall 2024, followed by her second edited volume, The Cambridge Companion to Islamic Law, in Spring 2025.

Marmura Lecture Nov 13 poster

Julia Elyachar

Associate Professor, Princeton University


Austerity, Coloniality, and the Semi-Civilized


Julia Elyachar is Associate Professor at Princeton University in the Department of Anthropology and the Institute for International and Regional Studies. Co-editor of Cultural Anthropology and member of the editorial collective of Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa, and Middle Eastern Studies, Elyachar was previously Associate Professor of Anthropology and Economics at UC Irvine, and director of the Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies. Among her books are On the Semi-Civilized: Channels of Mobility and Finance in Cairo and Beyond (forthcoming); the co-edited Thinking Infrastructures (2019); and forthcoming Turkish and Arabic translations of her award-winning book, Markets of Dispossession: NGOs, Economic Development, and the State in Cairo (2005). She is the author of numerous articles published in, among others, Cultural Anthropology, American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, and Comparative Studies in Society and History.

Marmura February 9 lecture poster

Cemil Aydın

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Decolonization by Non-European Empires? Rethinking the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 and the End of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924 as Global Intellectual and Political History



Despite the achievements in writing a non-Eurocentric world history of decolonization, current scholarship has difficulty situating the Lausanne Treaty of July 1923 into the political transformation of the world in the last one hundred years from the world of empires to its current partition into nation states. The recognition of a sovereign Turkish State at the Lausanne Treaty was hailed by contemporary observers in Asia and Africa as the victory of an Eastern/Muslim nation against Western colonialism. Yet, the Treaty also formalized the legal recognition of the colonization of Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire, namely Palestine, Syria, and Iraq, by the British and French empires. Abolishment of the Ottoman Caliphate by the Turkish parliament in March 1924, just seven months after the Lausanne Treaty, further complicates the narratives. While Turkish nationalist historiography marks this as a completion of the Republican revolution, it led to the erasure of a Pan-Islamic political symbol for a globalist world making visions across Asia and Africa aiming to critique and reform the unequal racialized imperial world order. This presentation will explore the contradictions of the 1923 and 1924 moments in the broader context of the role of nonEuropean empires and pan-nationalism in the global history of decolonization. This event is Co-sponsored by the Seminar in Ottoman and Turkish Studies.

Marmura February 16 lecture poster

Nisrin Elamin

Assistant Professor of Anthropology and African Studies, University of Toronto


Gulf Capital, Deficient Deserts and Property-making in central Sudan


Nisrin Elamin is currently an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and African Studies at the University of Toronto. She received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from Stanford University in 2020. She is currently writing a book tentatively titled: Stratified Enclosures: Land, Capital and Empire-making in central Sudan which focuses on Saudi and Emirati land grabs and community resistance to land dispossession in the Gezira region of Sudan. In addition to scholarly articles, Nisrin has also published several op-eds for Al Jazeera, the Washington Post, Okay Africa and the Egypt Independent. Before pursuing her Ph.D., Nisrin spent over a decade working as an educator, community organizer and researcher in the US and Tanzania.

Marmura Lecture Series March 1 poster

Abdel-Khalig Ali

Associate Professor, University of Toronto


The Case of the Disappearing Hamza: Radical Reanalysis in Contemporary Spoken Dialects of Arabic


The literature on the grammar of Classical Arabic describes intricate patterns of realization of the glottal stop, represented in the Arabic alphabet by the hamza diacritic. In his Al-Kita:b, the grammarian Sibawayh (d. between 793-796) dedicates an entire section to describing the patterns attested in the different dialects of Classical Arabic, spoken in the Arabian Peninsula. Many of these patterns are also attested in Modern Standard Arabic whose grammar bears significant resemblance to that of Classical Arabic. Most contemporary spoken dialects preserve the glottal stop in their phonemic inventories, and a cursory look at these dialects reveals equally interesting realization patterns. The small body of literature on this subject reports a general weakening and, in some contexts, a total loss of the glottal stop. However, systematic descriptive studies and explanations of these phenomena are simply lacking. In this talk, I address this limitation. I identify some of these patterns and offer an explanation as to why and how they have come to exist.

Abdel-Khalig Ali is an Associate Professor of Arabic Language and Linguistics in the department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at University of Toronto. He is a phonologist specializing in contemporary dialects of Arabic, particularly those spoken in Sudan. His research spans the areas of prosodic phonology and metrical structure, the interaction between phonology and morphology, the interaction between phonology and syntax, and the emergence of certain morphophonological features in contemporary spoken dialects of Arabic.

Marmura March 15 lecture poster

Reza Hadisi

Assistant Professor in Philosophy at the Center for Medieval Studies


Ṭūsī on the Form and Matter of Perfection


Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī (d. 1274) stands out among major figures in medieval Arabic and Persian philosophy for giving special prominence to practical philosophy and philosophical ethics in his writings. While some of this emphasis may be explained by historical contingencies in his life and events surrounding the writing of his ethical treatises, this talk explores how Ṭūsī's philosophical views on the nature of perfection contribute to this shift in attitude towards ethics as a philosophical discipline. To achieve this, I contrast Ṭūsī’s conception of absolute perfection with the Avicennian perspective. Like Avicenna, Ṭūsī is an intellectualist about absolute perfection, conceiving it in terms of intellectual perfection. However, while Avicenna sees absolute perfection primarily as perfecting the theoretical intellect, Ṭūsī argues that absolute perfection should be understood as a unity of perfected theoretical and practical intellects. In other words, for Ṭūsī, the perfection of the practical intellect is not merely instrumentally valuable in service to the theoretical intellect; rather, it constitutes an essential part of absolute intellectual perfection. To conclude, I step back and reflect on the philosophical challenges and promises of trying to make sense of human perfection in terms of godlike absolute perfection. 

Reza Hadisi is an Assistant Professor in Philosophy and the Center for Medieval Studies. His research focuses on the overlap of ethics and epistemology in the history of philosophy. He has previously worked on Kant’s theory of epistemic normativity, and he is currently working on a project about moral perfectionism and moral knowledge in medieval Arabic and Persian philosophy.

Marmura Lecture March 20 event poster

Nouri Gana

Professor of Comparative Literature & Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA)


Melancholy Acts: Defeat and Cultural Critique in the Arab World


How do the literatures and cultures of oppressed societies survive and flourish in spite of the overdetermining conditions of precarity and injustice of which they are a product and against which they protest? Might the symptom of oppression become simultaneously the agent of its critique? In Melancholy Acts, Nouri Gana addresses these questions through a series of wide-ranging engagements with Arab thought, literature, and film in the aftermath of the 1948 dispossession of Palestinians and the 1967 military defeat of Arab armies. He tracks the melancholy politics that inform the literary and cultural projects of a multitude of Arab novelists (Ghassan Kanafani and Naguib Mahfouz); poets and playwrights (Mahmoud Darwish, Nizar Qabbani, and Saadallah Wannous); filmmakers (Nouri Bouzid, Moufida Tlatli, Youssef Chahine, and Hany Abu Assad); alongside the work of Arab and non-Arab intellectuals.

Nouri Gana is Professor of Comparative Literature & Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA). In addition to Melancholy Acts: Defeat and Cultural Critique in the Arab World (Fordham University Press, 2023), he is the author of Signifying Loss: Toward a Poetics of Narrative Mourning (Bucknell UP, 2011/paperback 2015), and the editor of The Making of the Tunisian Revolution: Contexts, Architects, Prospects as well as The Edinburgh Companion to the Arab Novel in English (Edinburgh UP, 2013).



2022–2023 Lectures

Fridays 3 - 5 PM


Suleyman Dost

Assistant Professor of Late Antiquity and Early Islam, University of Toronto


Flesh-Eating and Backbiting: Adventures of an Idiom from Akkadian to the Qur’an

Suleyman Dost is Assistant Professor of Late Antiquity and Early Islam in the Department of Historical and Cultural Studies and the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. He works primarily on inscriptions and other documentary sources from late antique Arabia and Ethiopia. His research also covers the historical and linguistic context in which the Qur’an emerged as well as the history of its textual transmission. Before joining the University of Toronto, Dr. Dost was an Assistant Professor at Brandeis University and held a year-long fellowship at ANAMED Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations. 
Image @ the Vakiflar Genel Mudurlugu in Ankara

Dana Sajdi

Associate Professor of History at Boston College


Curating Palestinian Heritage: Preliminary Thoughts on an 18th-century Library in Acre (al-Jazzar’s al-Nur Ahmadiyya Library)

Dana Sajdi (Ph.D., Columbia University 2002) is Associate Professor of History at Boston College. She is the author of The Barber of Damascus: Nouveau Literacy in the Eighteenth-Century Ottoman Levant (2013, Turkish and Arabic translations in 2018); editor of Ottoman Tulips, Ottoman Coffee: Leisure and Lifestyle in the Eighteenth Century (2008, in Turkish 2014) and coeditor of Transforming Loss into Beauty: Essays in Arabic Literature and Culture in Memory of Madga Al-Nowaihi (2008). She is the recipient of several fellowships including from Princeton University, Wissenschfatskolleg zu Berlin (EUME); Research Center for Anatolian Civilization; MIT-Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture; and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. She is working on the history of Damascus based on a local tradition of textual representations of the city between 12th-20th centuries.
Photo Credit: Maya El Helou

Janine Clark & Maya El Helou



Bumps in the Map: The Infrastructure of LGBT and Queer Activist Subjectivities in the Middle East and North Africa

Janine Clark is a Professor in the Department of Political Science. Her work focuses on decentralization and local politics, Islamist movements, civil society activism and women and politics in the Middle East and North Africa. Currently, she is working on a project examining trans-regional LGBT and queer activism in the MENA.

Maya El Helou is a PhD candidate at the Department of Anthropology in a collaborative program with Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto. Her theoretical interest revolve around necropolitics, queer theory, embodiment, temporality, and spatiality along with urban infrastructure.

Image @ National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Amila Buturovic

Professor, York University


Occult Tools for Health and Protection in Ottoman Bosnia: Talismanic Charts at the National Museum in Sarajevo

With the spread of the Ottoman system of knowledge in which esoteric sciences played a vital role, the occult became a new bridge among Bosnia’s diverse religious communities, as well as a trajectory for Bosnia’s participation in the transfer and exchange of esoteric sciences across and beyond the Ottoman Empire. Focusing on rare, large-format talismanic charts held in the Ethnological collection of the National Museum in Sarajevo, the paper discusses the links between material and written culture associated with magic practices in Ottoman Bosnia. Densely arranged to produce a magical synergy, these icono-textual objects intended to grant health and protection draw elements from Islam's rich esoteric tradition while also providing an important glimpse into the motives and choices made by the talisman maker.

Mostafa Minawi

Associate Professor, Cornell University


A Book Talk
An Intimate History of Global Events: The Case of Arab-Ottoman Imperialists of Istanbul

This event is from 2 PM to 4 PM.

Mostafa Minawi is Associate Professor of History at Cornell University. He is the author of The Ottoman Scramble for Africa: Empire and Diplomacy in the Sahara and the Hijaz (Stanford, 2016). 

Evyn Kropf

librarian and curator of Islamic manuscripts, University of Michigan Library


Recovering Collective Memory: Tracing the Arabic, Persian, and Turkish manuscripts of Gümüşhanevî foundation libraries across dispersal and collection

Evyn Kropf is a librarian and curator of Islamic manuscripts at the University of Michigan Library. As a specialist of Islamic codicology and Arabic manuscript culture, her particular interests include writing material (especially paper), structural repairs, reading and collecting practices of the Ottoman era as well as the significance of pictograms and other visual content for Sufi knowledge transmission.
March 31 Marmura Lecture poster

Robert Wisnovsky

James McGill Professor of Islamic Philosophy at the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University


Muḥammad ʿAbduh as Avicennian philosopher and logician

Robert Wisnovsky (PhD, 1994, Near Eastern Studies, Princeton) is James McGill Professor of Islamic Philosophy at the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University. He also served two terms as Director of the Institute. Wisnovsky specializes in the history of Islamic thought, with an emphasis on the origins, development and influence of the philosophy of Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā, d. 1037). He is the author of Avicenna's Metaphysics in Context (Cornell, 2003) and multiple influential articles on Islamic philosophy, and the editor of numerous volumes on Islamic intellectual history.




2021–2022 Lectures

Fridays 3 - 5 PM

(For now, we are planning on holding the series on zoom and will re-assess in early October. 
In order to respect the CAUT censure, the lecture series will only feature faculty from the University of Toronto.
And given the Palestine speech exception in the Azarova affair, this year’s series will have a strong focus on Palestine.


Israeli military physician examining a Sinai Bedouin man in 1972 (Israel National Photo Collection)

Elise Burton

Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (IHPST)


“Genetic Research and Territorial Occupation: Palestine, Sinai, and the Aden Emergency”

Elise Burton is a historian of the life sciences in the modern Middle East, focusing on developments in genetics, evolutionary biology, physical anthropology, and medicine during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Her research examines the relationship of these sciences to the formation of racial, ethnic, and national identities, and how these identities, in turn, shape the dynamics of transnational scientific collaborations. She is the author of Genetic Crossroads: The Middle East and the Science of Human Heredity (Stanford UP, 2021).
Yasser Arafat Mausoleum, Ramallah (author: 2016)Yasser Arafat Mausoleum, Ramallah (author: 2016)

Anwar Jaber

AMTD Global Talent Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Architecture, University of Waterloo


Architectural of Statehood: Investigating Palestinian State Structures 

Anwar Jaber is an architect and urban scholar interested in the cultural and socio-political aspects of architecture and urbanism. Her interdisciplinary research explores the meaning and change of the urban environment in cities facing extreme conditions, such as violent conflicts and wars. A Jerusalem-born and raised Palestinian, Anwar holds an MPhil in Architecture and Urban Studies and a PhD in Architecture from the University of Cambridge in England. Her research interests include: the interplay between politics and architecture, cities and conflicts, urban memory and war, Islamic architecture and urbanism in the Middle East and North Africa, especially in Palestine/Israel.
Image @ Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ruba Kana'an

Visual Studies, UTM; Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, UTSG


Reading the Friday Mosque: Architecture and Nostalgia in Medieval Damascus and Cairo

Ruba Kana’an (DPhil, Oxford) is an architect and Islamic art and architecture historian. Her research and publications focus on the intersections between art and law in Muslim contexts in two research areas: mosque architecture and silver inlaid metalwork. She is currently working on her forthcoming book The Friday Mosque: Law, Architecture, and Authority in Pre-Modern Muslim Societies (Edinburgh University Press). Her experience spans the worlds of academia, museums, architectural practice, and community-based art education.

Oscar Lӧsgren and Renata Traini. Arabic Manuscripts in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana. Italy: Neri Pozza, 1975. Vol. 1, Plate XIV

Michael Payne

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München


The Nature of a Gentleman’s Dominion:

al-Jāḥiẓ on Slavery and Human Difference






Michael Payne is a postdoctoral researcher at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München and is a part of the ERC Project on Animals in Philosophy of the Islamic World. Michael received his PhD in 2020 from Brown University’s Department of Religious Studies. He is a scholar of early Islam and late antique Christianity in Iraq. He specializes in the history of kalām, animals, and race.

Image @Ismail Shammout

Chandni Desai

University of Toronto


Against Acts of Elimination:
Making Palestinian Resistance Culture from the Frontiers








Chandni Desai is Assistant Professor in the Critical Studies of Equity and Solidarity (New College) and Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto. Her current research focuses on the Palestinian revolution's cultural resistance, comparative settler colonialism, third world internationalism and global histories of liberation.


Feriel Bouhafa

University of Cambridge


Conceptions of the Good in Islamic Theology and Philosophy: The Relation Between Metaphysics and Ethics






Feriel Bouhafa is a scholar of Arabic/Islamic philosophy with a focus on moral/legal philosophy in medieval thought. After receiving her Ph.D. from Georgetown University in 2016, she has taken a postdoctoral fellowship in the philosophy department at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg and then served as a lecturer and senior research associate in the Faculty of Divinity at the University Cambridge.


Esmat Elhalaby

University of Toronto


Race, Caste, Sect, and the Limits of Pan-Islam






Esmat Elhalaby is an intellectual historian of modern West and South Asia at the University of Toronto. His writing has been published in Modern Intellectual HistoryArab Studies JournalBoston ReviewAmerican Quarterly, Michigan Quarterly Review, Dissent, and elsewhere. For his article “Empire and Arab Indology” Elhalaby was awarded the inaugural Amílcar Cabral Prize from the Institute of Contemporary History in Lisbon.



2020-2021 Lectures

Fridays 3 - 5 PM

(Videos only available to the University of Toronto community)



Mariam Sheibani

Visiting Assistant Professor, University of Toronto Scarborough



“Judicial Crisis in Damascus on the Eve of Baybars’ Reform: The Case of the Orphan Girl and Her Cunning Guardian (654–55/1256–57)”


Watch the lecture video




Sara Pursley

Assistant Professor, New York University



“Familiar Futures: Time, Selfhood, and Sovereignty in Iraq”


Watch the lecture video




Sumayya Kassamali

Assistant Professor, University of Toronto



“What is Kafala? An Account of Migrant Labour in Lebanon”


Watch the lecture video




Introduction by Jens Hansen, "A Laudatio of Professor Michael E. Marmura"



Aslıhan Gürbüzel

Assistant Professor, McGill Institute of Islamic Studies



“Arabic Philology in Ottoman Istanbul: Practices of Textual Edition in a Manuscript Culture”


Watch the lecture video




Hoda El Shakry

Assistant Professor, University of Chicago



“The Literary Qurʾan”


Watch the lecture video