Ibadism is a theological sect within Islam that stands alongside the more widely practiced Shi’a and Sunni traditions but isn’t nearly as well known in North America.
A recent conference at U of T aimed to change that by welcoming a diverse range of global scholars to discuss historical and contemporary topics in Ibadism, from the preservation and study of ancient manuscripts to questions of ethics, language, community-building, religious and legal traditions and more.
The Faculty of Arts & Science’s Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS) hosted the 10th annual Conference on Ibadi Studies this past June with support from Oman’s Ministry of Endowments & Religious Affairs. While there are Ibadi Muslims living all over the world, Ibadi communities are largely concentrated in Oman and North Africa.
The conference — “Ibadism and the Study of Islam: A View from the Edge” — looked at the movement’s position on the margins of the larger study of Islam, whose adherents make up an estimated 24 per cent of the world’s population.
“Thinking from the edges allowed us to examine the presumptions that animate most studies of Islam and Muslims today,” says director of the IIS, Professor Anver Emon, a scholar of Islamic legal history appointed to the Faculty of Law and the Department of History.
“When we think of the term ‘Muslim’ we might think of certain ethnic groups, language groups and so on. We also might think of sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shi’as — the dominant sects within Islam. But Ibadi Muslims offer us a third sectarian group that highlights an oft-ignored pluralism within the Islamic tradition.”
Speakers at the conference included Ayman Shihadeh, chair of the British Association for Islamic Studies and a historian of Islamic philosophy and theology; and U of T’s Ruba Kana'an, an assistant professor of Islamic art and architecture at U of T Mississauga’s Department of Visual Studies.
“The conference also offered us an opportunity to get to know Canada’s own Ibadi community,” says Emon. “Many of whom joined us from Montreal.”
Canada, as host of the conference, presents an interesting parallel to the country of Oman, says Emon — where the majority of the population is Ibadi. “Both have neighbouring countries that can sometimes be challenging to engage with. Both often play important behind-the-scenes roles in fostering peace and prosperity regionally and internationally.
“To be the first Canadian host of the Ibadi Conference illustrated the shared sensibilities regionally and globally that both countries play.”