Featured Researcher – Dr. Nuha Alshaar, CAS

The library is pleased to feature the influential and cutting-edge work of our AUS faculty researchers. In a newly launched library series, faculty from across the schools discuss their work and areas of research focus.

AUS Featured Researcher: Dr. Nuha Alshaar, Assistant Professor – Arabic & Translation Studies, CAS

Ideas often take on a life of their own and crystallize in ways that we do not always anticipate. This is equally true of future plans, books, and life! I came to academia and to Arabic studies out of interest in having a degree that will allow me to become a journalist, but my interest in Arabic literature grew during my undergraduate days and I found myself wanting to pursue postgraduate studies in classical Arabic literature in order to explore further its richness and humanistic depth.

image of Dr. Nuha Alshaar studying a manuscript in Bibliothèque Nationale de France in ParisAfter finishing my BA in Arabic Literature, I moved to the UK as a fresh graduate to continue my academic journey. I found myself diving in a sea of knowledge when I began my Post Graduate Program in Islamic Studies and Humanities at the Institute of Isma‘ili Studies in London. This led me to do an MA in Asian and African History at SOAS, University of London, followed by an MPhil and a PhD from the University of Cambridge in Arabic Studies.

So far, I have been interested in looking at the system of knowledge that shaped the development of Arabic thought, and in exploring its relation to religion and the Qurʾan, theology, and Greek philosophical traditions. Although, some scholars tend to think that most Arabic thought in the classical period is a reproduction of Greek ideas, my research shows the originality of Arabic thought and the tendency of Muslim scholars, especially in the fourth/tenth century of Islam to embrace different forms of knowledge. In my book, Ethics in Islam: Friendship in the Political Thought of Abu Hayyan al-Tawḥīdī and his Contemporaries (Routledge 2015), I discussed the complex influences that shaped ethical and socio-political thought in the early period of Islam. Using various disciplines (history, literary criticism and sociology), I analyzed the concept of ṣadāqa (friendship) of al-Tawḥīdī, an important litterateur and philosopher of the fourth century of Islam.

I was fascinated by al-Tawḥīdī’s definition of friendship, which has four key components: affinity of the soul (mumāzaja nafsiyya), intellectual friendship (sadāqa ‘aqliyya), natural assistance (musā‘ada tabī‘iyya), and moral unanimity (muwātāt khuluqiyya). Trust is also a fundamental component in forming friendship. It triggers emotional and rational attention in the friends to love the good for each other, and secures tranquility. Attention, in this context, plays a major part in the formation of this form of loyalty, since ṣadāqa includes the meanings of ‘to listen attentively’, and ‘to be truthful’ to a friend, which are essential parts of a process of peace and healing of the soul of the friends. This is why al-Tawḥīdī attempted to promote the value of friendship in politics and as a virtue that transcends religious zeal in society.

My book has been reviewed by Professor Eric Ormsby from Freie Universitȁt Berlin who highlighted the excellence and originality of the research in this book (appeared in Journal of Philosophy East and West).

2016-2017 was a good year for me. I received the College of Arts and Sciences, AUS, Award for Excellence in Research [Humanities and Social Sciences], and my edited volume “the Qur’an and Adab: the Shaping of Literary Traditions in Classical Islam” to which I contributed two lengthy chapters was published (Oxford University Press, 2017). For a long time I have felt the need to explore how the Qur’an has been received in a broader context. Too often, the scholarly focus is on Qur’anic commentaries, which has prevented the Qur’an from being examined more fully in other forms of literature and cultural media. This made me aware of the need to rethink the relation of scripture (the Qur’an) to humanistic traditions in classical Islam, in this case adab. Adab has generally been classified as belles-lettres, but this disconnects it from the body of religious literature/its inherent religiosity. This volume demonstrates how the Qur’an in fact shaped the concept of adab and illustrates the religious aesthetic found in different types of adab works – poetry, literary criticism, epistles, oratory, anthologies, ‘mirrors for princes’, folklore and mystical/Sufi literature.

I am happy that this book is well received and scholars in the field, such as Professor Asma Afsaruddin of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Indiana University describes it as “a rich and eminently readable collection of articles. The volume will be a welcome addition to Qur’anic studies as well as literary studies….”

I like to travel and stay active in research. In the last five years, I presented my research at various international conferences, including, the AUS and the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies collaborative conference; the British Association of Islamic Studies, the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales of Paris, the American University of Beirut, and the American Oriental Society.

In 2014, I was elected to the Arab-German Young Academy of Science and Humanities (AGYA), and since then I continue to be an active member of this academy. I obtained funding from the academy and organized conferences in Palermo, Italy, and in Salala, Oman. I also take part in other conferences organized by my colleagues in AGYA.

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