Rula Abisaab


Rula Jurdi Abisaab is Professor of Islamic History at the Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University, where she has worked since 2004. She teaches in all areas of Islamic-Shi`ite history and is especially interested in the transformation of juristic thought, the `ulama’s legal authority and relations of power in Shi`ite society during sixteenth and seventeenth century Iran.
Her previous research focused on religion and power in Safavid Iran, exploring the interface of the shari`a with Sufism and heterodoxy. This research was presented in her book Converting Persia: Religion and Power in Safavid Iran (2004) and several articles. Her current research has focused on public religion and militancy in modern Shi`ite society, which built upon her interest in Marxism, Islamism and postcolonial Shi`ite thinkers. This research is reflected in her forthcoming book, co-authored with Malek Abisaab, The Shi`ites of Lebanon: Modernism, Communism and Hizbullah’s Islamists and in articles such as, “Deconstructing the Modular and the Authentic: Husayn Muroeh’s Early Islamic History,” (2008); “Lebanese Shi`ites and the Marja’iyya: Polemic in the late 20th Century,” (2009). The Shi`ites of Lebanon stresses the importance of communal and revolutionary ideology to the reshaping of the political sphere in Lebanon. It delineates the pervasiveness of particular secular ideas and processes and their complex interface with religion and sect.

In addition to her academic research and writing on Islamic Shi`ite history, Rula also is a poet whose poems appeared in Iraqi, Lebanese, and American journals and newspapers. Her first collection of poetry, Ghilāf al-Qalb (The Heart’s Peel) (October 2014) is currently being translated into English and French. Her novel Al-Kathāfa: Qiṣṣat Ḥarb Lubnāniyya (Thick Air: a Lebanese war story) (Dar Nelson: Lebanon & Sweden, 2007) weaves together three stories from the Lebanese civil war marked by displacement, death and futility. Her second collection of poetry, Mithlī aw Ka-al-Mudun al-Khamsa (Like Me or Like the Five Cities) will appear Fall 2014. She also published articles on Emile Habibi’s novel Al-Waqā’i` al-Gharība fī Ikhtifā’ Sa`īd Abū al-Naḥs al-Mutashā’il (The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessomptimist) in al-Ṭarīq and Edebiyat; “Arabic Poetry and the Public Sphere: a Conversation between Abbas Baydoun and Rula al-Jurdi,” al-Jadid

Teaching and Research Interests

Social and intellectual history of medieval and pre-modern Islamic societies; Twelver Shi`ite jurisprudence and political thought; the Safavid Empire and Twelver Shi`ism; Clerical leadership, public religion and the state in modern Shi`ite society.

Current Projects

Co-authored with Malek Abisaab, The Shi`ite Islamists in Lebanon: Modernism, Communism, and Hizbullah’s Civil Arena (forthcoming). This study examines the modern socio-political and intellectual history of the Lebanese Shi`ites. I am also preparing an article titled,"Skepticism and God's Law in Safavid Iran: the mujtahids under attack," which focuses on the shifts in the Shi`ite juridical tradition during the Safavid period as part of a larger research project investigating the social processes and historical conditions shaping streams of akhbarism in the seventeenth century.

Representative Publications

The Shi`ites of Lebanon: Modernism, communism, and Hizbullah's Islamists. Co-authored with Malek Abisaab. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 2014.

Converting Persia: Religion and Power in the Safavid Empire (2004).

Three poems from Ghilaf al-Qalb (The Heart’s Peel), translated by Michelle Hartman:, April 2014.

Three poems on Jadaliyya:, April 2014.

One poem on Shaabi:, December 2013.

Three Poems: "Al-Salahif Tadhak", "Ashhad", "Ru'ya Mukarrara" al-Safir, June 2011.

"The Shi`ite `ulama, the madrasas, and Educational Reform in the Late Ottoman Period," Journal of Ottoman Studies (2010) 36, 155-183.

"Lebanese Shi`ites and the Marja`iyya: Polemic in the Late Twentieth Century," British Journal for Middle Eastern Studies (2009) 36 (2), 215-239.

"Deconstructing the Modular and the Authentic: Husayn Muroeh's Early Islamic History," Critique: Critical Middle Eastern Studies,17:3 (2008): 239 — 259.

Al-Kathafa, a novel, 2007.

"New Ropes for Royal Tents: Shaykh-i Baha'i and the Imperial Order of Shah 'Abbas," Studies on Persianate Societies, 1 (2003): 29-56.

"The Pessoptimist: Breaching the State's da'wa (sacred creed) in a Fated Narrative of Secrets," Edebiyat, no. 1, 13 (2003): 1-10.



From: The Heart's Peel


"Into a sky of clay she stepped out

She curved her only child

Like rising dough

And released him like a handkerchief

He flew around her hair and sang

He was neither a man nor a girl

He was a martyr

So she offered him letters

And took away all the heavens

She dragged her hair in clay

He said: This is a pomegranate for me and for you

So she let him go"


From: "Fi-al-Mukhayyam bi-Intizār al-Makān"(In the Camp Waiting for Place)


سأُقلِّدُ نَروجيّةً في صورةِ الجوازِ

ثمَّ أقدِّم ثغرًا باسمًا للجليد

سأقيِّدُ حجارةَ المخيَّمِ  بأقدامِ الباب

أشدُّ وثاقَها

كيلا تلحقَ بي

هي وحبيبي إلى أوسلو

سأعيدُ ترسانةَ الآلامِ  إلى غسان كنفاني



سأزوِّدُ القُدسَ  بالحُبِّ

أدقُّ جرسًا في كنيسةٍ داخلَها


وأمشي وراء مساءٍ إسْكَندِنافِيٍ لا يعتكر

سَيكُفّ عني غسان كنفاني

 وقد يعفو

حين أستدفئ بالمخيَّمِ في الثلج الباهر

ومن أحضانِ البلاستيك أُنقِذُه

إذ هو أمام بيتي ينتظر التكرير


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