South Asian Islam at University of Toronto


At the University of Toronto, the study of Islam in South Asia is part of a broader commitment to understanding the plurality of Muslim traditions globally and historically. At the same time, it is studied within the context of other South Asian religious traditions such as Hinduism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, and Buddhism. Faculty pursue an ambitious research agenda that includes the study of hagiography and sacred biographies; Muslim engagement with Indic knowledge systems, such as literary romances, aesthetic theory, and cosmology; the role of relics and rituals in pious devotion; somatic practices and sensorial experiences; conversion and translation theory; and Shi‘i and Sufi thought and history.


The University of Toronto library network is one of the leading research hubs for the study of Islam in South Asia. Its collection includes works in Arabic, Persian, Urdu-Hindi, Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, Gujarati, Bengali, and Tamil. The collection contains numerous rare works, thanks in part to the generous donation of Aziz Ahmed (1914–1978), Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Toronto. In addition, the Persian Imprint project spearheaded by Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi includes a large collection of rare Persian lithographs published in India.




The study of Islam at the University of Toronto is primarily undertaken at Department for the Study of Religion and the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at St. George campus, and the Department of Historical Studies at the Mississauga. At the undergraduate level, introductory courses on Islam and South Asian religions include the study of Indo-Muslim traditions, as well as thematic surveys covering Islam’s aesthetic, mystical, and spiritual traditions, modern Islamic thought, and postcolonial Islam. Students may augment their training in Islam in South Asia by taking courses on the Quran, Islamic Philosophy, and the history of Islam globally from late antiquity to the modern period. Special focus is given to Islam in South Asia at the Mississauga campus where upper-level courses include religious encounters between Indo-Islamic and Hindu cultures, and special topics such as the comparative study of Sufi and Bhakti traditions in pre-colonial India, and the history of Islam in South Asia from the medieval to the early modern period. Graduate courses on Islam in South Asia include a survey of medieval Indo-Islamic history, comparative South Asian hagiography, and Islamic material culture and ritual practices.




Engagement with South Asian Islam at the University of Toronto is mediated through training in a diverse set of languages, including Arabic, Persian, and Urdu-Hindi. Language training in Arabic ranges from first year introductory courses all the way to the fourth year advanced level. In addition, students may take seminars in a variety of different topics including classical and medieval literary theory, poetry, and prose, as well medieval chronicles, biographical literature, and legal documents. Persian is regularly offered not only at the introductory and intermediate level but also through advanced seminars on historiography and diplomatics, classical and mystical poetry, as well as ethical and advice literature. The University of Toronto has expanded its language offerings to include Urdu-Hindi instruction at the Mississauga and Scarborough campuses. For languages of South Asian Islam not offered by the University of Toronto such as Bengali and Punjabi, there is the possibility of budgetary support to join language programs elsewhere. In addition, faculty expertise also allows students with existing language background to pursue advanced readings in languages such as Gujarati and Sindhi.




The University of Toronto is home to a vibrant extracurricular academic life that explores the diverse traditions of Islam in South Asia. The Centre for South Asian Civilizations hosts a number of academic and artistic presentations related to Indo-Islamic culture. Persianate traditions of South Asia are often explored in the weekly Iranian Studies seminar series while critical conversations are fostered across disciplinary boundaries at the biennial South Asian Religions graduate student conference. The study of Islam in South Asia is supported by the Institute of Islamic Studies.




Karen Ruffle, Assistant Professor of Islam in South Asia at UofT, specializes in Indo-Persian Shi‘ism. Her research and teaching interests focus on devotional texts, ritual practice, and Shi‘i material practices in South Asia. Recent publications focus on Fatimah al-Zahra’s exceptional embodiment in Shi‘i hagiographical narratives; devotional literature and ritual practices in South Asia that centre on Fatimah; and Urdu didactic hagiographical narratives focusing on the special father-daughter relationship between the Prophet Muhammad and Fatimah. She currently focuses on issues of Shi‘i material practices and the ritual performance of self-flagellation. Over the course of 2015-16 academic year she will be co-leading a John E. Sawyer Seminar in Comparative Study of Cultures, titled “Religious Materialities in the Indian Ocean World, 1300-1800,” funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


Shafique Virani holds the title of Distinguished Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Toronto and is the Director of the Centre for South Asian Civilizations. His research focuses on Islamic history, philosophy, Sufism, Bhakti literature, Shi‘ism, and Islamic literatures in Arabic, Persian and South Asian languages. Students on his research team have the opportunity to develop such skills as advanced information literacy, geographic information systems, and filmmaking, and may be exposed to primary sources and manuscripts in languages as diverse as Urdu, Hindi, Gujarati, Sindhi, Persian, and Arabic, or to some of the newest developments in digital humanities. Detailed information about his research and the mentorship that he offers may be found by clicking here.