Madrasa Discourses Team

Ebrahim Moosa, Principal Investigator

Co-Director, Contending Modernities
Professor of Islamic Studies; Department of History & Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies

Ebrahim Moosa PhD (University of Cape Town, 1995) is Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Notre Dame with appointments in the Department of History and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies in the Keough School of Global Affairs. Dr. Moosa held previous appointments at Duke University, Stanford University, and the University of Cape Town. He serves on several distinguished international advisory boards and interacts with communities and leaders in the Muslim world and beyond. Dr. Moosa earned his ʿalimiyya degree specializing in Islamic Studies and Arabic Studies (1981) from Darul Uloom Nadwatul ʿUlama, one of India’s foremost Islamic seminaries in the city of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. He also has a BA degree from Kanpur University, and a postgraduate diploma in journalism from the City University in London. He earned his MA (1989) and PhD (1995) from the University of Cape Town.

Dr. Moosa is an expert in Islamic thought, covering modern and premodern Islamic law, theology, contemporary Muslim ethics, and political thought. He is a prominent public intellectual and was ranked among the 500 most influential Muslims in a 2009 annual publication issued jointly by the Prince Waleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim Christian Understanding at Georgetown University and Jordan’s The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center. In 2007 he delivered the distinguished annual Durus Hasaniyya Lecture to his Majesty King Mohammed VI of Morocco in Arabic in a live broadcast to a regional audience. In 2012 he delivered the Langford Lecture at Duke University and in November 2014 gave the Wold Lecture on Religion and Conflict at Union College.

Dr. Moosa was trained in both traditional (orthodox) Islamic institutions in India and in the modern academy specializing in the study of religion at the University of Cape Town. He has a track record of reaching multiple audiences around the world. In his role as a scholar and public intellectual, Dr. Moosa has addressed audiences that have included among them prominent global statesmen and thought leaders such as former President Bill Clinton, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi of Malaysia, Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, and ministers of state in Turkey. Dr. Moosa consulted for the office of the late President Nelson Mandela of South Africa as well as for members of his cabinet. He has addressed audiences at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference, worked with UN officials on matters related to governance in the Islamic world, and participated in other international and prestigious initiatives. He frequently publishes op-ed pieces in leading publications such as The Boston Review, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Washington Post, The New York Times and is a frequent commentator on Islam, religion, and world affairs.

Dr. Moosa has published extensively on the history of contemporary Islamic thought, Islamic reform and the reconstruction of tradition. His scholarly interests range from traditional Islamic education, human rights, gender, politics, and citizenship to bioethics and science and the human person. His book, What is a Madrasa?, published in 2015, is an important study on South Asia’s traditional Islamic seminaries (University of North Carolina Press). He has also published widely on medieval Islamic thought, with special reference to the major twelfth century Muslim thinker, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 1111). His prize-winning book Ghazali and the Poetics of Imagination (University of North Carolina Press, 2005) was awarded the Best First Book in the History of Religions by the American Academy of Religion. His other publications include co-edited books The African Renaissance and the Afro-Arab Spring, forthcoming Summer/Spring (Georgetown University Press, 2015). Already published are: Islam in the Modern World (Routledge, 2014) and Muslim Family Law in Sub-Saharan Africa: Colonial Legacies and Post-Colonial Challenges (Amsterdam University Press, 2010). He is also the editor of the last manuscript of the late Professor Fazlur Rahman, Revival and Reform in Islam: A Study of Islamic Fundamentalism (Oxford: Oneworld, 2000).

At the University of Notre Dame, Dr. Moosa is tasked with designing an innovative program in Islamic Thought and Muslim Societies (ISTHMUS) in the Keough School of Global Affairs with partnerships in the College of Arts and Letters. ISTHMUS aspires to become the premier venue for the study of Islam in both contemporary and historical contexts with specific attention to ethics, law, politics and society. Dr. Moosa also codirects Contending Modernities, a multi-disciplinary project devoted to generating new knowledge and greater understanding of the ways that religious and secular forces interact in the modern world. As a part of that initiative, Dr. Moosa sought funding from the John Templeton Foundation to equip madrasa graduates with the intellectual tools to engage the intellectual currents of our time. Having himself experienced the conceptual challenge of transitioning from a madrasa to an academic context, Dr. Moosa, in his own words, “could not notengage in such a project” at this stage in his professional career.

Mahan Mirza, Lead Faculty at Notre Dame

Lead Faculty, Contending Modernities
Professor of the Practice; Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies

Dr. Mahan Mirza PhD (Yale University, 2010) is Professor of the Practice in the Contending Modernities program at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, housed in the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame. Having spent several years working with religious groups around issues of social justice before earning an MA from Hartford Seminary in the study of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations and a PhD from Yale University’s program in religious studies, Dr. Mahan Mirza comes to the practice and study of Islam from a diverse set of perspectives. Prior to joining Notre Dame in fall 2016, Dr. Mirza contributed to the establishment of Zaytuna College, the first Muslim liberal arts college to be accredited in the United States, serving as the college’s Dean of Faculty from 2013-2016.

Dr. Mirza’s Ph.D. dissertation focuses on the intellectual framework of inquiry of Abu Rayhan al-Biruni, a scientist from the 11th century. The central question of the study is the relationship between different modes of inquiry in Biruni’s work, particularly the interplay between empiricism, rationalism, and tradition. A secondary question embedded in Dr. Mirza’s work on Biruni relates to the tussle between Greek rationalism in the Aristotelian tradition and a mathematically driven empiricism that challenges the axioms of Hellenistic philosophy, an aspect that comes to the fore in the colorful exchange between Biruni and Ibn Sina.

Dr. Mirza’s interest in Biruni came about in part due to his background in science with a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. This scientific training, combined with interfaith engagement, community activism, and secular academic training in the study of religion eventually offered Dr. Mirza the breadth of vision to work with the founders and faculty of Zaytuna College in its inaugural years to shape a classical Muslim undergraduate liberal arts curriculum in the American context.

While at Zaytuna, Dr. Mirza led faculty seminars in curriculum design, pedagogy, and educational philosophy by drawing on both modern western and traditional Islamic sources for inspiration. Among the courses he has taught over the years are in Arabic, the Quran, Hadith, Prophetic Biography, Islamic History, Logic, Ethics, Politics, Science, Rhetoric, and Comparative Religion. His publications include articles on the need for attention to historical criticism in the study of Islamic origins, the possibility of theological pluralism as being a natural part of the fabric of God’s creation, and apocalyptic anticipation in 20th century Islamic revivalist thought. Dr. Mirza has also served on the editorial team of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought and published two issues as Guest Editor of The Muslim World journal. Dr. Mirza’s most recent interest is in the budding the field of Big History, which looks at the totality of known events from the birth of the cosmos to the present, allowing us to conceive of history in stages of increasing complexity: from the Big Bang to the globally networked technological age of the present. The perspective of Big History is vital for peace studies as it gives humanity a shared narrative of both origin and destiny.

In the summer of 2016, Dr. Mirza accepted Professor Ebrahim Moosa’s invitation to join his initiative to develop a curriculum for advancing scientific and theological literacy in madrasa discourses in India. The Keough School of Global Affairs—home to the Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame—is in many ways an ideal setting for Dr. Mirza to further both his interdisciplinary research interests and to serve as lead faculty to engage traditional institutions of learning in the Muslim world. For Dr. Mirza, the future of Muslim civilization depends on whether or not it can once again become, in the words of John Walbridge, a “Caliphate of Reason.”

Waris Mazhari, Lead Faculty in New Delhi

Lead Faculty, Contending Modernities
Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies, Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi

Dr. Waris Mazhari PhD (Jamia Millia Islamia, 2013) is presently a guest lecturer at the Department of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, in New Delhi. For the past fifteen years, he has been with the Darul Uloom Deoband Old Boys Organization as an editor of its Urdu monthly journal Tarjuman-e- Darul Uloom. Dr. Mazhari served as Research Associate for Virtual Dialogues, an initiative at Duke University in North Carolina, USA, from August 2011 to July 2013. The monthly magazine Communalism Combat dedicated a special issue to his writings on peace, non-violence, and interfaith dialogue, under the theme Rediscovering the Tolerant Tradition in Islam in May, 2010. Dr. Mazhari is a prolific writer with countless articles and multiple books under his name. Among these is Hindustani Madaris ka talimi nizam aur us men islah ki zarurat: aik jaiza, a work that discusses the need for reform in the madrasa curriculum, published in Urdu in 2014. His chief interests are in the areas of interfaith dialogue, peace and social harmony, the reconstruction of religious thought in Islam, and reform in Indian madrasas. Many of his articles have been translated into other languages.

Born in a middle class family in a small village, Dr. Mazhari grew up in rural India away from urban centers of cosmopolitanism, development, and technology. He lost his parents in infancy, received little formal education in his formative years, and was employed as a child laborer on a farm. He eventually received basic religious education from a local madrasa where he memorized the entire Qur’an. However, by the age of sixteen he had completed the prerequisites to formally join a madrasa, enrolling in the renowned Darul Uloom Deoband. Graduating with the Fazilat degree (equivalent to graduate level work) in the year 1995, Dr. Mazhari advanced to Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, graduated in 2005, and received a master’s degree in 2008 in Islamic Studies. He completed his PhD in 2013 from the same university.

Dr. Mazhari’s engagement with issues related to madrasa reform makes him both qualified and enthusiastic for the “Advancing Scientific and Theological Literacy in Madrasa Discourses” project in India. For Dr. Mazhari, bringing contemporary academic discourses into conversation with madrasa learning is necessary to keep traditional scholarship alive and relevant in the modern world. He has written three books on the madrasa education in India and, as a graduate of one of the most renowned madrasas himself, believes that reforms are necessary to enrich and nuance the engagement of young graduates with the world. Dr. Mazhari is passionate about the vital role that madrasas have played in the history of Muslim civilization and considers his work a humble effort to maintain that legacy.


Ammar Khan Nasir, Lead Faculty in Gujranwala

Lead Faculty, Contending Modernities
Professor, Al Sharia Academy

Muhammad Ammar Khan currently teaches Arabic and Islamic Studies at Al Sharia Academy in Gujranwala, Pakistan.  He has served as editor of the Monthly Al Shariah since 2000 and was assistant editor from 1989-2000. Prior to teaching at Al Sharia, he lectured in Islamic Studies at GIFT University, and taught various subjects of the Dars-e Nizami course at Nusrat al-Uloom from 1996 to 2006.

Born and raised in Gakhar Gujranwala, Pakistan, Muhammad Ammar Khan Nasir followed in the scholarly footsteps of his father, Mawlana Zahid al- Rashidi, known for a sound and balanced religious approach, and his grandfather, Mawlana Muhammad Sarfaraz Khan Safdar, considered to be the academic voice of the Deobandi School in the country.  Having begun his religious education in Madrasa Anwar al-Uloom Gujranwala, he went on to obtain Shahada Alamiyyah from Madrasa Nusrat al-Uloom Gujranwala in 1994. He later earned a master’s degree in English Literature from the University of the Punjab in 2001.

Muhammad Ammar Khan’s body of written work is largely in Urdu.  His first work, Imām Abū Ḥanīfa wa-ʿamal biʾl-ḥadīth (Imam Abu Hanifa and Adherence of Hadith) appeared in print in 1996. In 2007, he academically reviewed the recommendations of the Council of Islamic Ideology, Government of Pakistan, regarding Islamic Punishments. His research on the issue was later compiled and published by Al-Mawrid, a Foundation for Islamic Research and Education in Lahore, titled udūd-o Taʿzīrāt: chand aham mabāḥith (Discussions on Islamic Penal Code). His other research works include Masjid Aqṣā kī tārīkh awr haqq-i tawalliyāt (History of the Sacred Mosque in Jerusalem and the Question of its Guardianship) and Jihād – Aik Muṭālaʿa (A Critical Study of Theological Understandings of Jihad). The work on Masjid Aqsa is especially related to the subject of religion and conflict transformation as it tries to hammer out a workable solution to the thorniest religious conflicts of the present-day world. His research articles on a variety of religious issues appear regularly in the Monthly Ishrāq, Lahore; Monthly Al-Sharīʿah, Gujranwala; and Monthly Nuṣrat al-ʿUlūm, Gujranwala.