Tahera Qutbuddin

Professor of Arabic Literature

Center for Middle Eastern Studies
Pick Hall 212

(773) 834-8786

Ph.D. Harvard University, 1999. Teaching at Chicago since 2002.

Special Interests

Classical Arabic poetry and prose, Fatimid/Ismaili history and literature, Islamic preaching, Arabic in India

Editorial Board Member: (1) Library of Arabic Literature (LAL), NYU Press. (2) Shii Islam: Texts and Studies(SITS), Brill (Leiden) 

Chair, Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities (ISHum)

Scholar with the “Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Lifeproject

My scholarship focuses on intersections of the literary, the religious, and the political in classical Arabic poetry and prose. Using this interdisciplinary approach, I conduct research in the areas of classical Arabic oratory and Islamic preaching (khutba); the Quran, the Hadith traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, and the sermons and sayings of Ali ibn Abi Talib; Fatimid poetry, Tayyibi (and Da’udi Bohra) history and literature, and Arabic in India.


In addition to journal articles, book chapters, and encyclopedia entries on these subjects, I have published the following books: My first monograph was Al-Muʾayyad al-Shirazi and Fatimid Daʿwa Poetry: A Case of Commitment in Classical Arabic Literature (Brill, 2005). I then edited and translated A Treasury of Virtues: Sayings, Sermons, and Teachings of Ali compiled by al-Qadi al-Quda’i, with the One Hundred Proverbs attributed to al-Jahiz (Library of Arabic Literature, NYU Press, 2013). My latest volume is titled Light in the Heavens: Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, a critical edition and translation of al-Quda’i’s Kitab al-Shihab (Library of Arabic Literature, NYU Press, 2016). My currently ongoing monograph project is titled Classical Arabic Oratory: Religion, Politics and Orality-Based Aesthetics of Public Address in the Early Islamic World, for which I was awarded fellowships by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the American Council of Learned Societies. I am also working on an edition and translation of al-Radi’s compilation of Ali’s sermons titled Path of Eloquence (Nahj al-balaghah).

I teach graduate seminars and undergraduate courses in classical Arabic poetry and prose, and over the past several years my literature courses have included pre-Islamic poetry; Abbasid poetry; the poetry of Mutanabbi; Shia poetry; Abbasid prose: Ibn al-Muqaffa', Jahiz, Tawhidi;Badiʿ al-Zaman al-Hamadhani’sMaqamat; Classical Arabic Oration; Nahj al-balaghah; Quran, Hadith and Khutba; Survey of Classical Arabic Literature; Arabic Wisdom Literature; and Women in Classical Arabic Literature. I also teach annually the first quarter of the College Core sequence Islamic Thought and Literature, and every other year a two-quarter sequence on Advanced Arabic Syntax. The dissertations I supervise in classical Arabic literature range widely, and include areas in which I myself write, as well as areas in which I don’t. I also serve as dissertation committee member for NELC students working on Islamic history, Islamic Thought, and Persian Literature, for students in the department of Comparative Literature, and for students in the Divinity School, of which I am an associate faculty member.




  • Light in the Heavens: Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, facing page critical edition and translation of Kitāb al-Shihāb compiled by al-Qāḍī al-Quḍāʿī (d. 454/1062). New York: New York University Press, in the series Library of Arabic Literature, 2016.
  • Treasury of Virtues: Sayings, Sermons, and Teachings of  ‘Ali, facing page edition and translation of the Dustur ma‘alim al-hikam compiled by al-Qadi al-Quda'i, with the Mi' at kalimah (One Hundred Proverbs) attributed to the compilation of al-Jahiz. New York: New York University Press, in the series Library of Arabic Literature, 2013. Table of Contents & Introduction. See also Qutbuddin’s August 29, 2013 interview with M.L. Qualey about the Treasury of Virtues. English-only paperback 2016, with foreword by Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury
  • Al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi and Fatimid Da’wa Poetry: A Case of Commitment in Classical Arabic Literature, 412 pages, volume 57 in the series Islamic History and Civilization, ed. Wadad Kadi and Rotraud Wielandt, Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2005. Table of Contents & Introduction.

Journal Articles and Book Chapters

  • “Qur’an Citation in Early Arabic Oration (Khuṭba): Mnemonic, Liturgical and Testimonial  Functions,” in The Qur’an and Adab: The Shaping of Literary Traditions in Classical Islam, ed. Nuha Alshaar. Oxford: Oxford University Press in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies, Qur’anic Studies Series, 2017, pp. 315-40. PDF
  • “ʿAlī’s Contemplations on this World and the Hereafter in the Context of His Life and Times,” in Essays in Islamic Philology, History, and Philosophy, ed. Alireza Korangy, Wheeler M. Thackston, Roy P.Mottahedeh, and William Granara, in the series Studies in the History and Culture of the Middle East. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2016, pp. 333-53. PDF
  • "The Sermons of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib: At the Confluence of the Core Islamic Teachings of the Qur'an and the Oral, Nature-Based Cultural Ethos of Seventh Century Arabia," Anuario de Estudios Medievales 42/1 (2012), monograph volume titled La predicación medieval: sermones cristianos, judios e islámicos en el Mediterráneo, ed. Linda G. Jones, pp. 201-228. PDF
  • “Fatimid Aspirations of Conquest and Doctrinal Underpinnings in the Poetry of al-Qa’im bi-Amr Allāh, Ibn Hani’ al-Andalusi, Amir Tamim b. al-Mu’izz, and al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi,” in Poetry and History: The Value of Poetry in Reconstructing Arab History, ed. Ramzi Baalbaki, Saleh Said Agha, and Tarif Khalidi, American University of Beirut Press, 2011, pp. 195-246. PDF
  • "Muhammad," in Islam: A Short Guide to the Faith, eds. Roger Allen and Shawkat Toorawa, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Press, 2011, pp. 28-37. PDF
  • "The Da'udi Bohra Tayyibis: Ideology, Literature, Learning and Social Practice," in A Modern History of the Ismailis: Continuity and Change in a Muslim Community, ed. Farhad Daftary, London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2011, pp. 331-54. PDF
  • Khutba: The Evolution of Early Arabic Oration,” in Classical Arabic Humanities in their Own Terms: Festschrift for Wolfhart Heinrichs on his 65 th Birthday, ed. Beatrice Gruendler, Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2008, pp. 176-273. PDF
  • “Arabic in India: A Survey and Classification of its Uses, Compared with Persian,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 127:3 (2007), pp. 315-338. PDF
  • “Ali b. Abi Talib,” in Arabic Literary Culture, 500-925, vol. 311 in series Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. eds. Michael Cooperson and Shawkat Toorawa, Thomson Gale, 2005, pp. 68-76. PDF
  • "Healing the Soul: Perspectives of Medieval Muslim Writers," Harvard Middle Eastern and Islamic Review 2 (1995), pp. 62-87. PDF

Collaborative Works

  • Consorts of the Caliphs: Women and the Court of Baghdad, facing page edition and translation of Nisāʾ al-khulafāʾ by Ibn al-Sāʿī (d. 674/1276), ed. Shawkat Toorawa. New York University Press, Library of Arabic Literature, 2015. Collaborative translation by the editors of the Library of Arabic Literature.

Encyclopedia Entries

  • Idrīs ʿImād al-Dīn,” Encyclopaedia of Islam,3rd ed., ed. Kate Fleet, Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas and Everett Rowson, Leiden: Brill, 2018,part 4, pp. 111-114.
  • “Ibn Abī l-Ḥadīd,” Encyclopaedia of Islam,3rd ed., ed. Kate Fleet, Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas and Everett Rowson, Leiden: Brill, 2018, part 2, pp. 78-81.
  • “Khoṭba,” in Encyclopaedia Iranica, ed. Ehsan Yarshater, online edition, 2013, LINK
  • “Bohras,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE, ed. Kate Fleet, Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas and Everett Rowson,  Brill online, 2013. PDF
  • "Husayn b. ‘Ali (626-80)," in The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought, ed. Gerhard Bowering et al, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012, pp. 227-28.
  • "Fatimids" in Cultural Sociology of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, vol. 2:  Africa, ed. Edward Ramsamy, Sage Publications, 2011, pp. 37-40. PDF
  • "Arabic Literature," in World History Encyclopedia Era 4: Expanding Regional Civilizations 300-1000, ed. Wilfred Bisson, Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2011, pp. 152-56. PDF
  • “India,” in Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics, ed. Kees Versteegh, Brill Academic Publishers, vol. 2, 2006, pp. 325-331. PDF
  • “Women Poets,” in Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia, 2006, ed. Josef Meri, Routledge, vol. 2, pp. 865-867. PDF
  • “ Fatima (al-Zahra’) bint Muhammad,” in Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia, 2006, ed. Josef Meri, Routledge, vol. 1, pp. 248-250. PDF
  • “Zaynab bint Ali,” Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd ed., ed. Lindsay Jones, Macmillan Reference USA, 2005, vol. 14, pp. 9937-9939. PDF

Audio Presentations and Interviews

  • “Wisdom of the Prophet Muhammad,” lecture focused on the collection titled Light in the Heavens (Kitab al-Shihab), in a public panel honoring the life, legacy, and wisdom of the Prophet Muhammad on the occasion of his birth anniversary, organized by the Library of Arabic Literature, and convened at the NYU Abu Dhabi conference center (Abu Dhabi, December 2016). Attached: accompanying handout.
  • “Universal Human Virtues Found in Arabic Literature,” audio podcastand corresponding write up, in my role as a Scholar with the “Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life” project at the University of Chicago (Chicago, November 2016).
  • "Sayings, Sermons, and Teachings of Imam Ali: Islamic Wisdom and Universal Values," invited talk in the public lecture series "Islam in Conversation." Office of Religious Life: Muslim Life Program, Princeton University (Princeton, New Jersey, September 2015).

Courses Taught

  • Classical Arabic poetry (text focused seminars, including: Mutanabbi; Pre-Islamic Poetry; Abbasid Poetry; Classical Poetics; Shi'a Poetry; Introduction to Arabic Poetry)
  • Classical Arabic prose (text focused seminars, including: Maqamat; Khutba; Nahj al-Balagha; Abbasid Prose: Ibn al-Muqaffa', Jahiz, Tawhidi, Badi' al-Zaman)
  • Classical Arabic Literature in Translation (including: Survey of Arabic Literature; Women in Arabic Literature; Arabic Wisdom Literature; Sufi (Mystical) Literature; Sensuality, Madness & Grace: The Prose & Poetry of Love)
  • Advanced Arabic Syntax (focuses on syntax theory and application, and on structure-oriented readings in different genres from the corpus of classical Arabic texts; the course also includes some morphology, prosody, and rhetoric)
  • Islamic Thought and Literature I (covers the period from ca. 600 to 950, concentrating on the career of the Prophet Muhammad; Qur'an and Hadith; the Caliphate; the development of Islamic legal, theological, philosophical, and mystical discourses; sectarian movements; and Arabic literature)


Harvard University - Cambridge, Massachusetts

  • Ph.D. in Arabic Literature with distinction. (1999)
  • A.M. in Arabic Literature. (1994)

Ain Shams University - Cairo, Egypt

  • Tamhidi Magister in Arabic Language & Literature. (1990)
  • License in Arabic Language & Literature (equivalent to 4-year BA degree in the United States; 1988)

Previously Taught at   

  •   Yale University - New Haven, Connecticut (1999-2000)
  •   The University of Utah - Salt Lake City, Utah (2000-2002)                                                                                                    


  • American Council of Learned Societies: ACLS Fellow (2016-2017)
  • The Carnegie Corporation of New York: Carnegie Scholar (2008-09) 
  • The University of Chicago Franke Institute for the Humanities: Franke Fellow (2006-07)


  • “Worship in Ramadan: The Prophet Muhammad’s Sermon at the Onset of Ramadan,” invited speech at Muslim Students Association, University of Chicago (May 2018).
  • "Virtue and Piety in Early Islam: The Sermons of Imam Ali," 2 mini-seminars at the Hyde Park Institute, University of Chicago (February 2018).
  • “Reflections on Taqreeb,” welcome address at special panel of religious leaders hosted by Syedna Taher Fakhruddin, honoring the Dalai Lama with the Syedna Qutbuddin Harmony Prize, at conference on “Ideas of Harmonious Coexistence: Religions and Philosophies of India” hosted by the Qutbi Jubilee Scholarship Program (QJSP) and the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India (December 2017)
  • “The Teachings and Practice of Sayyidna Taher Saifuddin: Pluralist Communal Harmony and Committed Individual Faith,” at conference on “Ideas of Harmonious Coexistence: Religions and Philosophies of India” hosted by the Qutbi Jubilee Scholarship Program (QJSP) and the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India (December 2017).
  • “Piety and Virtue in Early Islam: Two Sermons by Imam Ali,” capstone conference of the 2-year group project titled Virtue, Happiness and the Meaning of Life, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, University of Chicago (October 2017).
  • “Piety and Virtue in Early Islam: Two Sermons by Imam Ali,” capstone conference of the 2-year group project titledVirtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life,funded by the John Templeton Foundation, University of Chicago (October 2017).

  • “Sayyidna Taher Saifuddin’s Two-Pronged Philosophy Combining Pluralist Communal Harmony with Committed Individual Faith: Arabic Poems, Islamic Precedents, and Applications in Pre- and Post-Independence India,” at invited conference on “Taqreeb: Propagation of Harmonious Relations in Mughal, British and Independent India: The Writings and Activism of Syedna Taher Saifuddin, Emperor Akbar, Prince Dara Shikoh, Allama Iqbal, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Abul Kalam Azad and other Religious and Political Muslim Leaders,” hosted by the Qutbi Jubilee Scholarship Program (QJSP) and the University of Calcutta, Kolkata, India (September 2016).
  • "The Karbala Lament Tradition of the Ṭayyibī-Fāṭimī-Ismāʿili (Dāʾūdī Bohra) Community in India: Sayyidnā Ṭāhir Sayf al-Dīn’s Arabic Marthiya “O Prince of Martyrs” (Yā sayyida l-shuhadāʾī),” at invited conference on “Lamenting Karbala: Commemoration, Mourning, and Memory,” hosted by The Shīʿah Institute, at the Warburg Institute, University of London, London (September 2016).
  • “Preservation of Early Arabic Oratorical Texts: Questions of Orality, Authenticity, and Modes of Transmission,” American Oriental Society, Boston, Mass. (March 2016).
  • “Aesthetics of Orality and Tacit Persuasion in Classical Arabic Oration (khuṭba).” Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Yale University (New Haven, Conn., December 2015).  
  • "Sayings, Sermons, and Teachings of Imam Ali: Islamic Wisdom and Universal Values," invited talk in the public lecture series "Islam in Conversation." Office of Religious Life: Muslim Life Program, Princeton University (Princeton, New Jersey, September 2015).
  •  “The History and Usages of Arabic in India Compared with Persian” at invited conference on “Cultural Relations between the Perso-Arab World and India through the Ages,” hosted by the Asiatic Society of Kolkata and the University of Calcutta, in collaboration with the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies and the National Library of India -- Kolkata, India (March 2015). 
  • “Imam Ali’s Preaching of Peace and Pluralism: Exhortations from the Nahj al-balagha (Path of Eloquence) and the Dustur ma’alim al-hikam (Treasury of Virtues),” at invited roundtable conference on “The contribution of Ali ibn Abi Talib's Thought to a Culture of Peace and Intercultural Dialogue,” World Philosophy Day, UNESCO, Paris (November 2014).
  • Panel opening address on “The State of Islamic Studies,” at invited “Islamicate Studies Symposium,” University of Chicago (October 2014).
  • Welcome address on “The State of Ismaili Studies,” at invited conference on “Ismaili Studies,” University of Chicago (October 2014).
  • “Books on Arabic Literature, Diwans, Literary Theory and Dictionaries,” presentation assessing sections of the Torok Catalog Manuscript, in an invited workshop on “The Ottoman Palace Library Inventory of 1502,” Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts (April, 2014).
  • “Principles of Fatimid Esoteric Interpretation: An Analysis Based on the Majalis Mu’ayyadiyya of al-Muʾayyad al-Shirazi (d. 470/1078),” invited conference on “Reason and Esotericism in Shi’i Islam,” University of Chicago (April, 2014). Earlier presented at Middle Eastern Studies Association, Washington, D.C. (November, 2008).
  • “The Influence of the Early Khutba on the Chancery Risala: A Sliding Oral-Written Continuum.” American Oriental Society, Phoenix, Arizona (March, 2014).
  • “Teaching the Qur’an,” invited talk at a U.S. Department of State funded workshop for a group of Pakistani scholars, hosted by the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia (January 2014).
  • “The Experience of Being a Muslim Woman: Spiritual, Social and Intellectual Aspects,” invited talk at the Kennedy Center for International Studies, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah (March 2013).
  • “The Khutba of Sayyida Zaynab at Yazid's Court in Damascus. An Annotated Reading,” invited talk for a panel titled “Modern Social Movements and the Karbala Paradigm,” Columbia University and Barnard College, New York (February 2013).
  • “Al-Madih al-nabawi: Praise-poetry for the Prophet Muhammad: Historical Development, Themes, and Reception,” invited talk for a program titled “Mawlid: An Evening with the Prophet. An artistic celebration of the life of Prophet Muhammad,” University of Chicago (January 2013).
  • “Ethics and Aesthetics of Early Islamic Arabia: Translating the Sayings, Sermons, and Teachings of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib” NYU-Abu Dhabi, New York (May 2012).
  • “Qur’an Citations in EarlyArabic Oration (khut­ba): Mnemonic, Liturgical, and Testimonial Functions,”
    The Qur'an in the Adab Traditions, Institute of Ismaili Studies, London (April 2012).
  • “Poetry as Nexus of History and Ideology: Fatimid Conquests in the Verse of the Imam-Caliph al-Qa’im bi-Amr Allah.” American Oriental Society, Chicago (March, 2011).
  • “A Sermon on Piety Attributed to Ali b. Abi Talib: How the Rhythm of the Classical Arabic Oration Tacitly Persuaded,” Middle Eastern Studies Association, San Diego (November, 2010).  Also presented at an invited conference on “Aesthetics of the Sublime: Religious Texts and Rhetorical Theory,” Orient Institut Beirut and Heidelberg University, Cairo (December, 2012).
  • “The Address of Husayn b. Ali to the Kufan Army in Karbala on the Day of ‘Ashura: Dynamics of Orator-Audience Engagement and Authority Assertion in the Classical Arabic Oration,” American Oriental Society, Saint Louis (March, 2010).
  • “The Art of Arabic Oratory: A Classical Sermon on Piety by Imam Ali,” invited outreach conference on “Beauty in the Worlds of Islam,” University of Texas, Austin (April, 2009).
  • “Nature Imagery in the Classical Arabic Oration (Khutba): Aesthetics of Orality and Persuasion,” American Oriental Society, Chicago (March, 2008).
  • “Al-Mu’ayyad al-Shīrāzī on the Isma’ili ‘Imam of the Age’ and his Authority to Interpret the Qur’an and Shari’a,” invited conference on “The Shaping of Many Islams: Struggle over Authority between God, Texts, and People,” Smith College, Northampton, MA (April, 2008).
  • “Fatimid Aspirations for World Hegemony: Political History and Religious Ideology in the Matrix of Poetry,” invited conference on “The Value of Poetry in Reconstructing Arab/Islamic History,” American University of Beirut, Beirut. (January, 2008).
  • “Contemplations on this World and the Hereafter in the khutbas of Ali in the Nahj al-balagha,” Middle East Studies Association, Boston (November, 2006).
  • "The Early Arabic Khutba (Oration): Terminology, Applications, and Literary Features," American Oriental Society, Seattle. (March, 2006).
  • “Arabic in India: A Sacred Language,” American Oriental Society, San Diego. (March 2004). Also presented at a conference funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, titled “Middle-Eastern Islam from Afar,” Bellagio, Italy. (February, 2003).
  • “Metaphor as Manifestation: Religious Symbolism in Fatimid-Tayyibi Poetry,” American Oriental Society, Nashville, Tennessee. (April, 2003). Also presented at the University of Chicago’s Franke Institute for the Humanities (May, 2003).
  • “Communion with God: Early Attestations of the Munajat Genre in the Poetry of the Fatimid Da’i al-Mu’ayyad," Arabic Colloquium, Yale University. (December 1999).
  • "Fatimid Concepts of the Imamate in the Poetry of al-Mu’ayyad fi al-Din al-Shirazi," Islamic Studies Workshop, Harvard University. (December 1998).