Ali S. Asani (علي سلطان آساڻي)
Ali Asani is a Kenya-born scholar of Islam, currently the Murray A. Albertson Professor of Middle Eastern Studies and Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures at Harvard University. Asani's scholarship on Islam encompasses Shia and Sufi devotional traditions in South Asia, popular or folk forms of Muslim devotional life, Muslim communities in the West, as well as various aspects of historical and contemporary Islam and Muslim societies across the globe.
Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Asani graduated from Harvard College summa cum laude in Comparative Study of Religion in 1977 and received his PhD from Harvard's Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations in 1984. Since then, he has taught at Harvard across CSR, NELC, Departments of South Asian Studies and African and African-American Studies, offering courses in Urdu-Hindi, Sindhi, Gujarati, and Swahili traditions, and on topics of Islam that include "Understanding Islam and Contemporary Muslim Societies", "Religion, Literature and the Arts in Muslim Cultures", "Muslim Voices in Contemporary World Literatures", "Introduction to Islamic Mysticism (Sufism)", "Ismaili History and Thought", and "Muslim Societies in South Asia: Religion, Culture and Identity". At Harvard University, he served as the Director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard University from 2010-2016.
His books and editions include The Bujh Niranjan: An Ismaili Mystical Poem (Cambridge, MA: 1991), The Harvard Collection of Ismaili Literature in Indic Literatures: A Descriptive Catalog and Finding Aid (Boston, 1992), the co-authored Celebrating Muhammad: Images of the Prophet in Muslim Devotional Poetry (Columbia: 1995) and Al-Ummah: A Handbook for an Identity Development Program for North American Muslim Youth (New York: 1996), Ecstasy and Enlightenment: The Ismaili Devotional Literatures of South Asia (London, 2002), as well as Let's Study Urdu: An Introduction to the Urdu Script & Let's Study Urdu: An Introductory Course (New Haven, 2008). In addition, he has published numerous articles in journals and encyclopedias including The Encyclopedia of Religion, The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, Encyclopedia of South Asian Folklore, and the Muslim Almanac. He also served on the editorial advisory board of the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World and the Encyclopedia of Islam in the United States.
Professor Asani has been an active and energetic voice for improving the understanding of Islam and its role in Muslim societies in the post-Sept 11 world. His role in promoting public knowledge in Islam and Muslim societies transcends the walls of academia. He has conducted workshops for high school and college educators, and has spoken for intercultural understanding at various public forums. He is particularly interested in the arts, broadly defined, as a means by which Muslims experience and express their faith and potential, and as pedagogic bridges to foster better understandings of Islam and its diverse traditions across the world. He has been involved in the Islamic Cultural Studies Initiative, an international professional development program for high school teachers in Kenya, Pakistan and Texas committed to promoting a culturally and historically-based approach to the study of Islam and Muslim societies. He has also served on the American Academy of Religion's Task Force on the teaching of religion in schools and as a consultant for the National Endowment for the Humanities Bridging Cultures Muslim Journeys Bookshelf Project. Asani is recipient of the Harvard Foundation medal for his outstanding contributions to improving intercultural and race relations at Harvard and the nation. More recently he was awarded the Petra C. Shattuck prize for excellence in teaching by Harvard's Division of Continuing Education. In 2020, he received the Harvard Foundation Faculty of the Year Award for going above and beyond his responsibilities to make Harvard a more inclusive place. In 2021, he was recognized by Harvard's Alpha Iota chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for Excellence in Teaching. In the award’s citation, Professor Asani is described as “an amazing and brilliant instructor” and “warm and inclusive community member” who gives his students “the tools to think critically about religion in a way that privileges diverse and marginalized religious traditions and emphasizes inclusivity and religious pluralism”.