Skip over navigation

Nebil Husayn

  • Near Eastern Studies
Position: Graduate Student
Title: 6th-year graduate student
Office: Jones Hall

A.M., Harvard University (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations)
B.A., University of Virginia (Middle Eastern Studies)
At the University of Virginia, I studied Arabic, Persian and early Islamic history. A Fulbright fellowship in 2004 provided an opportunity to complete research in Syria, where I became the Public Relations Director for the Hashimid Genealogy Trust. In addition to research on the history and segmentation of Hashimid populations, I completed seminary coursework in Arabic, comparative law, history, and theology in Syria and Tarim, Yemen. After spending four years in the Middle East as a researcher and instructor (of Arabic and English), I returned to the United States to earn a Master’s degree from Harvard University and pursue a Ph.D. at Princeton University.
Research Interests
My research broadly encompasses the development of Islamic theology, especially the literary contributions of various minority Muslim theological traditions. I have considered questions related to authoritarianism, Islamic historiography and early legal theories. I am also interested in modern Muslim interpretations of the Quran and hadith.
Over the past two years, I have independently designed and taught a course that investigates debates in both the medieval Islamic tradition and the modern Arab world. I have also served as a teaching assistant in a variety of courses at Princeton ranging from a small seminar about early Islamic theology to larger classes about the modern Middle East.
In a literary and social world of binary sectarian characterizations, I argue that both Sunni and Shi‘i authors conflated pro-‘Alid sentiment in the early Muslim community with Shi‘ism. Part I of my dissertation, entitled “The Memory of ‘Ali b. Abi Talib in the Early Sunni Community,” examines both the biographies and literary contributions of revered pro-‘Alid scholars in the Sunni intellectual tradition who were marginalized as too “Shi‘i” years (sometimes centuries) after their deaths. Part II locates and contextualizes the literature of a second minority that criticized ‘Ali as a heretic or criminal and historically opposed those who appear in Part I. Parts I and II examine the declining popularity, contributions, and eventual demise of minority theological traditions in early Sunnism to frame problems related to the politics of identity, history writing, and the formation of orthodoxy. 
By the ninth century, an emerging Sunni orthodoxy sought to minimize early partisan divisions within the Sunni community. The concluding section, Part III, consists of case studies that indicate an effort to suppress minority pro-‘Alid and anti-‘Alid tendencies in Sunnism and rehabilitate ‘Ali’s image to one that suited orthodoxy. Previous research on portrayals of Ali overlooked these “erased histories” due to a dependency on Sunni meta-narratives from the ‘Abbasid and Mamluk periods. However, this study demonstrates that many influential Sunni texts possess an understudied undercurrent of early authorities who once upheld views of ‘Ali contrary to the sect’s later established tenets. The genealogy of ‘Ali’s portrayals also indicates a chronological transformation that selectively incorporated the literature of predecessors who were considered too radical in the opinion of later Sunnis.
Mechanisms of Authoritarian Rule in Bahrain.” Arab Studies Quarterly 37, no. 1 (2015), pp. 33-53
Research and Conferences
“When ‘Alī was without equal: tafḍīl ‘Alī in proto-Sunnī thought.” Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Nov. 2015.
“Legal Codes Specific to Hāshimids.” The Practical Authority of the Imams and their Representatives, University of Chicago Symposium, Apr. 2015.
“Enmity for ‘Alī and His Family: The Discourse between Anti-‘Alid and Anti-Shī‘ī Sentiment.” Annual Meeting of the Middle East Studies Association, Nov. 2014.
“Treatises on the Salvation of Abu Ṭālib." Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Nov. 2013; Annual Meeting of the Middle East Studies Association, Oct. 2013.
“Contempt for the Canonization of al-Bukhārī and Muslim: ḥadīth skepticism amongst Muslim scholars of the 20th Century.” McGill Institute of Islamic Studies Critical Theory Symposium, 2011.
“Discrepancies in Paternity: ‘Alid Genealogy in Muslim Society” Harvard University, AM Thesis, 2009.
Spring 2015 - Charles N. Hanna and Margaret T. Hanna Grant for Scholarly Travel
Fall 2014 – Assistant in Instruction, “Introduction to the Middle East”
September 2013 - Near Eastern Studies Travel Grant
Summer 2013 - Foreign Languages and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellow
Spring 2012 – Teaching Assistantship, “Introduction to Islamic Theology”
2009-2010 – Foreign Languages and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellow
2004-2005 – US Department of State Fulbright Fellow
2003 – American Institute for Maghrib Studies (AIMS) Fellowship Recipient
2003 – USA Funds Scholarship Winner