The Reading Muslims Project is a multi- and interdisciplinary conversation among leading local and international scholars on the place of textuality in Islamic studies, funded through the University of Toronto’s Connaught Global Challenge Grants Program.

Reading Muslims begins from the premise that consideration of texts and textual methods are indispensable to the study of Islam. Islam began with a book : al-Kitāb, the Qur’anic revelations. From this first textual experience came others: Qur’anic exegesis, the Law, Sufism, etc. Islamic studies scholars, whether Muslim or not, read Muslim texts to understand the Islamic tradition. But they also read Muslim bodies and practices through an ethnographic lens. And, to make things more complicated, they read Muslims as readers of their texts, paying attention to various interpretations within Muslim communities.

Between these different forms of readings lie questions of power:

  • Who are the privileged readers of Muslim texts?
  • What is the relationship between texts and Islamic tradition?
  • Who gets to decide the relationship between textuality and orthodoxy?
  • How do texts support the legal and bureaucratic institutions of the modern state in its project of governance?


In short, textuality is a lens through which our project examines a set of methodological and political questions for the study of Islam today.

Reading Muslims is divided into four research hubs. Each hub gathers together researchers and community partners, who examine a set of methodological and political questions around textuality in Islamic studies and its place in the formation of community identities in dynamic societies.

This hub examines how Muslim community members invoke texts to construct authoritative forms of religious interpretation. It begins from an awareness that there is no orthodoxy outside of power relations that make some religious views possible and others not.

Researchers / Partners

  • Rumee Ahmed (University of British Columbia)
  • Ayesha Chaudhry (University of British Columbia)
  • Ruba Kana’an (University of Toronto)
  • Aaisha Salman (University of Toronto)

This hub probes two areas of concern: 1) The ways in which  state officials, bureaucracies, and law courts have used and abused Muslim texts to monitor and marginalize its Muslim populations; and 2) The invocation of Muslim texts among Islamophobic groups who champion the incompatibility of Islam with liberal-democratic societies.

Researchers / Partners

  • Zareena Grewal (Yale University)
  • Elizabeth Shakman Hurd (Northwestern University)
  • Nadia Marzouki (Sciences Po)
  • Youcef Soufi (University of Toronto)

This hub focuses on the methods and assumptions of philologists and literary scholars about what texts mean for understanding the ‘Islamic’ as signifier of meaning and significance. Examining textuality across the fields of area studies, philology, medieval studies, comparative literature and so on, the ‘Islamic’ text is centered to examine the evolving contours of these distinct but overlapping disciplines

Researchers / Partners

  • Suzanne Conklin Akbari (Institute for Advanced Study)
  • Haytham Bahoora (University of Toronto)
  • Jeannie Miller (University of Toronto)

Focuses on the anthropological relevance of texts in observing Muslim beliefs and practices. Because of its ethnographic focus, anthropological inquiry typically privileges the present over texts of the past. And yet, anthropologists studying Muslims have been intimately attuned to the necessity of linking this present to the vast textual tradition of Islam. This hub is therefore a means to examine when and how texts should play into the ethnographic study.

Researchers / Partners

  • Basit Iqbal (McMaster University)
  • Amira Mittermaier (University of Toronto)
  • Nada Moumtaz (University of Toronto)