The first academic chair in North America dedicated to Shi'i studies has been established at Hartford Seminary.
The Imam Ali Chair for the Study of Shi'i Islam and Dialogue Among Islamic Legal School provides a voice in the academy for Shi'i Islam and encourages dialogue among the diverse Islamic legal schools, including Shi'i and Sunni. Scholars, students and friends from around the world came to Hartford Seminary on January 22, 2016, to mark the chair's inauguration.
President Heidi Hadsell said the chair would contribute to dialogue among Muslims and was a perfect fit for Hartford Seminary's interreligious and intra-religious environment, as well as a natural extension of the Seminary's long history of scholarship in Christian-Muslim relations.
She singled out Dr. Mahmoud Ayoub, recently retired from his position as a faculty associate at Hartford Seminary, as the driving force behind establishing the chair and raising money for it.
"In a school that takes so seriously its more than a century of commitment to the study of Islam, he helped us understand that our study of Islam is not complete without the serious and sustained inclusion of Shi'a Islam," she said.
Dr. Timur Yuskaev, Associate Professor of Contemporary Islam, described the inauguration of the chair as an "important occasion when it comes to the history of Muslims in the United States" and "another step in the American tradition of Muslim unity."
The reason for the chair, Dr. Ayoub said, is not to create a rival program for the study of Sunni Islam, which encompasses about 85 percent of Muslims. It is to include the voice of Shi'i Islam at an institution that has such a special history and role in Christian-Muslim relations.
"What we need most is Muslim unity," he said, pointing out that "unity" is not the same as "uniformity." "And hopefully, this chair will serve that purpose."
Dr. Sayed Ammar Nakhjavani , a prominent Shi'i scholar named one of the 500 most influential Muslims in 2015, has been named as the chair's first occupant.
Dr. Nakhjavani is known worldwide as a British Iraqi Islamic historian, lecturer and author. His books include Hujr Ibn Adi: A Victim of Terror; Islam: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity; Ramadan Sermons: A Compilation of Speeches and Lectures; The Fourteen Infallibles: A Compilation of Speeches and Lectures; and The Ten Granted Paradise.
About Hartford Seminary
Hartford Seminary, the leader in graduate interfaith education, has been named one of the 2015 "Seminaries That Change the World." It was the first seminary in the United States to:
- Admit women on the same terms as men
- Establish a Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations (the Duncan Black Macdonald Center)
- Name a female president
- Appoint a Muslim to the core faculty