News story

IIS Awards Zahid Ali Scholarship

3rd October 2013

The Institute of Ismaili Studies is pleased to announce that it has awarded the Zahid Ali Scholarship to Dr Sean W. Anthony, Assistant Professor of Islamic History in the Department of History at the University of Oregon.

The Zahid Ali Scholarship was established in 1997 by the IIS in the name of Professor Zahid Ali (1888-1958), a pioneer of modern Ismaili Studies, at the bequest of Professor Zahid Ali’s son, the late Professor Abid Ali, and his family.

Belonging to a prominent Bohra Ismaili family from India, Professor Zahid Ali was educated at the University of Oxford and later taught at the Nizam College in Hyderabad, India. He produced some of the first modern studies on Ismaili history and doctrines, based on primary Ismaili sources which were published in Urdu in 1948 and 1954.

The current recipient of the scholarship, Dr Sean W. Anthony’s current project, The Apocalyptic Origins of Shi‘i Esotericism, aims to explore the reasons behind why Shi‘i Islam eventually came to be viewed as a sectarian movement during the Umayyad and early Abbasid periods (ca.661-809 CE). Central to the project’s argument is that one of the most important, determining factors for the creation of Shi‘i identity is the reverence accorded to members of Prophet Muhammad’s family, not merely as worthy of respect because of their kinship with Prophet Muhammad, but also as vanguards of an impending climax of history in which justice would triumph over injustice and as stewards of an esoteric knowledge about these events inherited from Prophet Muhammad.

Dr Anthony’s project explores how these ideas reflect an unmatched openness to the currents of late-antique apocalypticism and it’s politically transformative possibilities, as manifested most prominently in the messianic and millenarian hopes promulgated during the revolt of al-Mukhtar al-Thaqafi and the ‘Abbasid Revolution.

The project will also include the first complete, annotated translation of two hitherto neglected apocalypses from the Shi‘i tradition dating to the ninth century CE: the first being ‘the Mufaddal Apocalypse’, a text preserved in the Hidaya al-kubra of al-Khasibi (d. 969 CE) that ostensibly contains the dialogues of Imaminfo-icon Ja‘far al-Sadiq with his disciple Mufaddal b. ‘Umar al-Ju‘fi (fl. late eighth century CE); and the second being the so-called ‘Jabir-Apocalypse’ preserved in the anonymous esoteric text known as Umm al-Kitab (ca. 12th century CE).

Dr Sean Anthony specialises in the history of religious movements and the evolution of early Islamic polity from the 7th through to the 9th centuries CE. His more recent publications include a monograph titled The Caliphinfo-icon and the Heretic: Ibn Saba’ and the Origins of Shi‘isminfo-icon (Leiden, 2011), a study which examines Shi‘i origins through the lens of the legends and stories about one of its earliest and most controversial figures ‘Abd Allah b. Saba’ (fl. Mid-7th century CE) and his followers known as the Saba’iyya.

The Zahid Ali Scholarship, in the amount of £5000, is awarded once every five years to a scholar working in the field of Classical Arabic Literature who intends to use the award to carry-out research on a topic of relevance to Ismaili and broader Shi‘i studies.

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