Interview with Sabeena Shaikh

PhD Candidate at Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University

1.Tell us a little about yourself.

  • My name is Sabeena Shaikh and I’m a PhD candidate in the Institute of Islamic Studies. Originally, I’m from Texas where I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Texas at Austin. After, I completed my M.A. at Columbia University and then made my way to McGill in the Fall of 2016. My field of study is the intersection of literature, history, and gender/sexuality in the Indian Subcontinent from approximately the 17th– 20th centuries. In particular, I am interested in courtesans who authored poetry in Urdu and Dakkani and have embarked on a project to recover their voices devoid of an exoticizing, fetishizing, and orientalising gaze. Outside of McGill I enjoy teaching Bollywood fitness classes and spending time with Cilantro (Cilly pronounced silly), my rambunctious and adorable dog.
Cilly

2.What made you want to come study at McGill?

  • I was welcomed at McGill by a very enthusiastic and friendly supervisor named Pasha Khan. Aside from the allure of living in a Francophone city in North America, I was immediately drawn to the kind of pluralistic and diverse society I found in Montreal. It is a truly unique place that I am fortunate to call home.

3.How do you enjoy the student life, work life, and social life at McGill?

  • The PhD is sometimes a lonely process, but I have found a good group of colleagues with whom I can celebrate and commiserate. My absolute favorite aspect of the PhD is teaching, and I have been fortunate to instruct and serve as a T.A. [Teaching Assistant] or grader for various courses over the years. While it often makes managing time difficult, I find the most fulfillment from my teaching responsibilities. I think my social life is a bit more active than most PhD students, but perhaps that is because I am naturally an extrovert. McGill has plenty of opportunities to meet, engage, socialize, and interact with other graduate and undergraduate students and its centrality in the city makes it a perfect place to meet young professionals as well.

4.What is your research area?

  • My research area is pre-modern history and literature in South Asia.

5.what drew you to this area of research?

  • I began my language journey as an undergraduate in the Hindi-Urdu Flagship at the University of Texas at Austin. I think I fell in love with Urdu poetry while participating in a study abroad program as a Junior and the rest is history!

6.What are you working on right now, any specific project?

  • Right now, I am reading an 18th century manuscript written by a Deccan courtesan in which there is a very interesting masnavi that seems to be autobiographical. I hope to read this masnavi against the ghazals that this person has authored to say something substantial about their personality.

7.What courses are you currently teaching?

  • Currently I am teaching Introductory Urdu-Hindi and I have a great group of students that make our early 8:30 am class time tolerable.

8.Are/were you involved in any extra curricular activities (i.e. committee service, volunteering, organizing a conference/workshop, etc.)? If yes, tell us about them.

  • I have participated in various extracurricular activities (perhaps why I’m still writing my dissertation!) but the most substantial were perhaps my role as the ISLAC [Islamic Studies Library Advisory Committee] representative for MIISSC [McGill Institute of Islamic Studies Student Council] for which I received funding to provide some renovations in the Islamic Studies library, my role in organizing an Islamic paleography and codicology workshop in 20181, and my role as the president of MIISSC  many times over. Currently I am serving as the BIPOC [Black Indigenous and People of Color] Graduate Network Coordinator for PGSS [Post Graduate Students Society] and learning about equity and inclusion in various departments at McGill. I like to think that I am an engaged member of McGill and particularly the Institute of Islamic Studies because it is a home away from home for me and many others. I’m simply trying to do my part to make our time here more enjoyable, memorable, and impactful.

9.What is –so far– your most vivid memory of your times as a student time at McGill?

  • Every year I look forward to the MIISSC Graduate Student Symposium and some of my favorite memories are from the friendships and conversations I shared with other graduate students from around the world. I also really enjoyed the Islamic Studies Poetry Night I held in 2019 where people recited in Persian, Kurdish, Urdu, French, Arabic, German, Albanian, and so many more languages to give the vibe of a true mushaira (poetry gathering). It was a truly magical evening of polyglots and poetry lovers.

10.Do you have any suggestion or recommendations for other students like yourself? Is there anything you would like to share about your experience of working and studying?

  • I am perhaps not the perfect example of this, but I think it’s important to have a life outside of the PhD, to have interests and hobbies where you can unwind and relax and to find a support system on which to rely. Graduate school is difficult, and I am a big believer in celebrating the small wins to stay motivated and excited about your project.

At the end, we would like to thank you for participating in this interview for the library blog, this is greatly appreciated. And we wish you the best of luck in all of your endeavors!

1. see picture 1- 3.

3. Islamic Paleography and Codicology workshop in 2018 poster.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Islamic Studies Library nor McGill University

Palestinian Oral History Archive (POHA)

The POHA project was launched in 2011 and is based at the American University of Beirut (AUB). This project is a “collaboration between the AUB Libraries, the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI), the Nakba Archive and the Arab Resource Center for Popular Arts (AL-JANA).”

The Palestinian Oral History Archive digitizes, indexes, catalogues and provides access to over one thousand audio and video testimonies by Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Through producing a multi-media database of audio-visual interviews, testimonies and life stories, this project aims to document and preserves the collective experience of Palestinians about Nakba (1948-49) where 750,000 Palestinians were displaced and forced to their neighboring Arab countries.  

The beginning of this project goes back to mid- 1990s when Nakba Archive and the Arab Resource Centre for Arts (AL-JANA) started to collect and document these testimonies, by interviewing the members of the first-generation Palestinians refugees in Lebanon. Creation of more than eight hundred video and audio testimonies was the result of their work, which later was incorporated into one collection by POHA.

The value of Oral history collections resides in the fact that it allows for learning about the perspectives and individuals’ narratives that otherwise might not have a voice or not being recorded in the history. (WALBERT, 2011)1. Moreover, at times in history, interview is the only source for collecting information about a place, event or individuals. (Baylor University, 2012)2.

As such this collection is an important resource and Sleiman and Chebaro (2018)3 also mentioned:

This collection is important because it provides a unique primary source on perspectives that are almost not recorded or acknowledge officially. Moreover the oral history gives voice to more people and includes marginalized populations as well as the ordinary people. Palestinian oral history collections have immense potential to contribute to a new historiography of the Nakba since they provide a unique primary source that captures perspectives rarely recorded or acknowledged in official narratives.

POHA organized the collection into four categories:

“1.Uprooting,” constituting the majority of the collection, comprises the entirety of the Nakba Archive series (558 hours of video recordings) and a part of AL-JANA’s (136 hours of audio recording). Here, the focus is on the refugees’ experience of mass displacement during the Nakba, their “uprooting”; this section also comprises accounts of life under the British Mandate and during the 1948–49 war, including the experiences of exile and displacement in Lebanon.

“2.Folktales” (172 hours of audio interviews) encompasses pre-1948 elements of intangible culture in the form of Palestinian folktales, storytelling, traditional songs, proverbs, and poems.

“3.Ayn al-Hilwat” comprises 36 hours of video recordings of women from the ‘Ayn al-Hilwah refugee camp in South Lebanon talking about their occupations, their family lives, and their roles in the establishment of the camp.

“4.Biographies” includes 160 hours of audio, recording the life stories of men and women who played important roles in their communities, or served as models and inspiration there.”

Access the collection from here : https://libraries.aub.edu.lb/poha/Search/Advanced

The interviews are thoroughly indexed and are searchable. Each entry is fully catalogued and has the proper subject(s). Furthermore, each entry has all the details such as the name of the interviewer, interviewee, the duration of the interview and etc.

  1. Walbert, Katheryn, 2011. The value of oral history http://baltimoreuprising2015.org/oralhistorytraining/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Reading-Sheet-1-Lesson-4.pdf Accessed 26 October 2022.
  2. Baylor University Institute for Oral History (2012). Understanding oral history: Why do it? Baylor University Institute for Oral History: http://www.baylor.edu/oralhistory. https://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/66420.pdf Accessed 26 October 2022.
  3. Hana Sleiman & Kaoukab Chebaro (2018) Narrating Palestine: The Palestinian Oral History Archive Project, Journal of Palestine Studies, 47:2, 63-76, DOI: 10.1525/jps.2018.47.2.63

Reading Muslims Project

Reading Muslim is an inter-and multi disciplinary project funded through the university of Toronto’s Connaught Global Challenge Grants Program.

Reading Muslim project is a Network of academics, scholars and researchers, and is re-examining the place of textuality in the Islamic Studies. This project is aiming to “elevate the understanding of Islam, Muslims and society”, by examining a set of methodological and political questions about the Islam today through the lens of textuality.

  • “Who are the privileged readers of Muslim texts?
  • What is the relationship between texts and Islamic tradition?
  • Who gets to decide the relationship between textuality and orthodoxy?
  • How do texts support the legal and bureaucratic institutions of the modern state in its project of governance?

This project provides access to three different types of content such as articles, podcasts and videos. Each item provides an introduction about the author along with the full access to the content.

“Reading Muslims begins from the premise that consideration of texts and textual methods are indispensable to the study of Islam. Islam began with a book : al-Kitāb, the Qur’anic revelations. From this first textual experience came others: Qur’anic exegesis, the Law, Sufism, etc. Islamic studies scholars, whether Muslim or not, read Muslim texts to understand the Islamic tradition. But they also read Muslim bodies and practices through an ethnographic lens. And, to make things more complicated, they read Muslims as readers of their texts, paying attention to various interpretations within Muslim communities.”

This platform is comprised of four research hubs. Hub 1: Muslims as Readers, Hub, 2: National Security and Anti-Muslim Racism, Hub 3: Reading Practices, Hub 4: Anthropology of Islam. Under each hub researchers and community partners are looking “textuality in Islamic studies and its place in the formation of community identities in dynamic societies.”

Each hub provides a brief introduction to the aspects that will be examined, name of the researchers and community partners as well as access to the various available contents through the Reading Muslims platform.

Moreover, Reading Muslims provides information about their upcoming events on their website.

Digital Ottoman Studies

Digital Ottoman Studies (DOS) is a hub contributing to growing field of Digital Humanities by presenting projects, publications, tools, and events through the lens of Ottoman and Turkish studies.

This website seeks to create a digital network for future projects by bringing together diverse platforms, institutions, studies, and individuals. Thus, DOS provides access to projects and data bases that are created by other organization which includes Ottoman Archives, maps, manuscripts and etc.

Information on DOS is classified into 6 categories of Projects, publications, Tools, Databases, Platforms and under each category, there are sub-categories that direct the users to the respective projects which are encompassing “600-year-old Ottoman Empire’s archival heritage, diverse ethnics and geographical regions., etc.”

The Project category brings together variety of works in GIS, Network Analysis, Text Analysis, Databases, and 3D-AR-VR, each provides access to a wide range of research and academic projects form historical urban and industrial comparative analysis to Mapping Ottoman empire and region, or a digital history research project on Travels in the 19th century Ottoman empire.

Also, users can browse different database projects like Ottoman Inscriptions, Digital History, The Open Islamicate Text Initiative, etc. When possible, the DOS has provided the name of the project managers and then directs the user to the project’s main website.

Moreover, in the Publication tab users can have access a list of published articles, books and dissertations that are classified based on the topic/subject and some are accessible as an open access publication. 

The tab of Databases has organized a list of various type of databases such as Archives, Map collections, manuscripts collections, dictionaries, E-resources, Photo collections, calendar convertors and Gazetteers.

https://www.getty.edu/research/tools/digital_collections/notable/gigord.html

The Platform tab introduces the users to wide range of websites and podcasts including Hazine, Hajj Trail (Game), Ottoman History Podcast, Digital Humanities Turkey

“DOS is founded by Fatma Aladağ and she is coordinating the platform, whilst Assoc. Prof. Yunus Uğur is leading the project.”

Collection of Persian, Mughul and Indian Traditions Miniature Paintings

The Minassian collection consists of numerous precious miniature paintings from the Persian, Mughul and Indian traditions. The manuscripts and miniature paintings of this collection are housed in John Hay Library at Brown University.

“Figure lying on bed in outdoor setting is watched by four other figures. Possible funeral scene. The text that is second from the top, encased in the peachish area, says, in Arabic, “Bismillah e rehman i rahim”.
“Leaf” Minassian Collection of Persian, Mughal, and Indian Miniature Paintings. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library. https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:80654/

This collection is from the estate of Mrs. Adrienne Minassian the daughter of an active art collector and dealer of Islamic and Near-Eastern antiquities, Kirkor Minassian (1874-1944), he was based in New York and Paris in the early 20th century. Mrs. Minassian continued her father’s legacy and she too was one of the few dealers of Islamic art in America. After her passing in a serries of bequests her collection was given to Brown University. To read more about Mrs. Minassian and her Father click here.

This collection is accessible online through the Brown University Center for Digital Scholarship.

The paintings often include text from Persian and Indian tales. Many of the illustrations within the Minassian Collection are depictions of stories from the classical Persian text, Shahnama of Ferdowsi.

Black ink drawing of male bust in profile. Fine line quality, no color used.
“Leaf” Minassian Collection of Persian, Mughal, and Indian Miniature Paintings. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library. https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:80739/

Physical Description: Excellent workmanship on miniature. Image in excellent condition, slight damage to surrounding paper. Paper is rather heavy, but not coarse. Water stain evident on verso. Beautiful specimen. Colors appear as brilliant as inlay. Leaf is very similar to a depiction of Yusof published in Soudavir which is identified as Bukhara style.
“Leaf” Minassian Collection of Persian, Mughal, and Indian Miniature Paintings. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library. https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:80651/

the collection can be browsed based on 3 Thematic Categories of Image and content, Material and Technique and Style and Type. Under each category there are more sub-categories. On the item level a description consisting of an abstract of the item and a note is provided, which present more detailed technical and historic information about the paintings style and content .

From Pen to Printing Press: Ten Centuries of Islamic Book Arts

Is a permanent online exhibit*. This online exhibit is showcasing materials and tools of Islamic literate culture housed in Indiana University collections. It explores various categories of items including Pens, Inks, Modern calligraphies and Marbled papers, Persian and Mughal illustrated manuscripts, Miniature manuscripts and Scroll, Ottoman devotional works.

These various items/topics are presented in five main categories of Writing Implements and Materials, Manuscripts, Paintings and Illustrations, Miniature Manuscripts and Scrolls, Early Printed Books and Modern Revivals. Each category begins with a historical or background information on the topic and its various aspects and continues to introduce some of the significant sample/item in that category. Also, each item comes with detailed information regarding the physical description of the item, content, date and location.  

“This Arabic-Turkish dictionary is the first printed book from the Müteferrika press. This book includes as front matter many of the legal documents the publisher acquired in order to receive permission to produce his printed books. These legal documents have been reproduced as front matter in each copy of this particular book.”

Miniature Qur’an, 19th century, Iran. Available at Lilly Library, Adomeit Miniature Islamic Manuscripts C3.

This online exhibit has also dedicated a section called “Explore Manuscript” to six manuscripts specifically, in order to provide a visual overview of Islamic manuscripts, manuscripts illumination. Some of these six item are religious text some are literary work and they showcase artistic and thematic forms of Islamic book art traditions.

These selected manuscripts are consists of Shamshir Khani (Near Eastern mss Firdawsi Shahnama), Jami’s “Haft Awrang”, a Miniature Qur’an, an Illustrated Prayer Book (Duʿaname), Fragment of Kufic Quran and Qur’an (Juz’ 9 of 30) and their formal and decorative elements such as bindings, illuminated frontispieces, chapter headings, and illustrations have been highlighted.

A Mughal Nobleman

“This single folio painting, extracted from a manuscript or album, depicts a kneeling man in half-profile. The sitter is wearing a highly embroidered robe and bears a dagger upon which his right hand rests. The embroidered robe and ornamented dagger both help identify this person as a high ranking Mughal official. The sitter’s clothing and jewelry are rendered with great detail, as is the bowl and the fabric of the pillow. The background consists of a green hill with scattered trees and a grey cloudy sky. This portrait probably dates from the Jahangir (1605-27) period or the early Shah Jahan (1627-58) period. Jahangir period paintings are recognizable by their forest green backgrounds. Likewise, many albums were made which include the portraits of court officials.”

* “This permanent online exhibit is an adaptation of the Indiana University Art Museum special exhibition, From Pen to Printing Press: Ten Centuries of Islamic Book Arts on display March 7-May 10, 2009.” https://web.archive.org/web/20180521060600/http://www.iub.edu/~iuam/online_modules/islamic_book_arts/exhibit/index.html

MuslimARC (Anti Racism Collaborative)

Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC) is a human rights education organization attempting to raise awareness and provide training for Muslim communities about racial justice as well as Islamophobia and systemic racism. In an effort to address racism, MuslimARC provides and deliver education in the form of trainings or workshops on various forms of racism of internalized, interpersonal and institutional form.

“vision is Education for Liberation. We work to create spaces for learning and developing racial equity, connect people across multi-ethnic networks, and cultivate solutions for racial equity.”

MuslimARC objective is to give more voice to “four groups who are marginalized in the discourse on Islam in North America”

Black Muslims, recognizing the diverse experiences of the African Diaspora that includes descendants of victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the Americas, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latinos, and African immigrants.

Latino Muslims, recognizing the diverse identities of people from Central and South America and Spanish-speaking former colonies.

Muslims who are Refugees, particularly from non-Arab countries such as Cham, Bosnian, Syrian, and Somali communities, who may not have access to the same resources as other groups.

Muslims from other underrepresented ethnic backgrounds in North American Muslim leadership, especially where those identities intersect with class identity

Providing critical resources to advance racial justice is part of their commitment, thus MuslimARC has provided a wide range of resources including articles, audiovisual recordings, toolkits, papers, research, khutbahs, reading lists, an anti-racism glossary, a directory of experts, etc.

Due to challenging and complex nature of Muslim anti-racism topic, a background knowledge is required to be able to make sense of the complex intersections of race, class, culture, language, religious identity, and gender. Therefore, MuslimARC presents a list of materials that will help to better understand “how race and racism is understood, the history of Muslim societies, in particular Muslim communities in the West, and common methods for anti-racism.”  

Moreover, the MuslimARC also has a weblog, reMARC, a platform for deeper reflection on the impact of race on shaping Muslim identities.

The Near Eastern collection at The Royal Danish Library

The Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen is the national library of Denmark and the university library of the University of Copenhagen. It is among the largest libraries in the world and the largest in the Nordic countries. The library’s collection of manuscripts date from the Middle Ages to the present. Some of these are available online and others can be viewed in the reading room.

Oriental Collection

The Oriental collection consists of manuscripts, printed works, and other material originating in non-western language areas and cultures, mostly Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. With a few exceptions, the works in the Oriental collection are written in non-western languages like Arabic, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Sanskrit, Tamil, and Turkish.

Oriental digitized materials

Digital editions from the Oriental Collection are chosen for their beauty, rarity, calligraphy, bindings etc. The Near Eastern collection comprises 515 Arabic, 450 Iranian (43 are Avestan), and 100 Turkish manuscripts. The oldest items date from the 10th century C.E. (Qur’ân mss. in Kufi script). The numbers of printed books for lending in Near Eastern languages are: Arabic 5500,  Persian 1850, Turkish 5330, and Caucasian languages 600 (mainly Armenian and Georgian)

Digitized Arabic materials

Digitized Arabic materials fall under the following categories:

  • Qur’an and other religious texts
  • Shafi’i fiqh
  • Shi’a works
  • Linguistics 
  • Literature
  • History
  • Medicine and natural science
  • Magic
  • Printed books: literature

Digitized Persian materials

  • Manuscripts
  • Avesta and Pahlavi
  • Printed books 

The digital collection viewer provides full description of the manuscript and allows users to download, print, zoom in/out and share on Twitter and Facebook.

The Center for the Great Islamic Encyclopaedia (A Center for Islamic and Iranian Studies)

The Center for the Great Islamic Encyclopaedia started in 1981 as a scientific research institution aiming to publish general and specialized encyclopedia.

To achieve their goal a group of scholars and researchers from different fields were called and after carefully studying best practices in the world of encyclopedias, Great Islamic Encyclopaedia- دائرة‌المعارف بزرگ اسلامی was compiled as their first project. Later the center expanded to a research institution with a broader mandate in research and publishing and developed a digital library as well as published various other encyclopedias in different topics such as culture, Iran’s folk culture, Islam, Iran’s Geography, etc.

Some of their encyclopedias are open access and available via The center’s website, Encyclopedias such as:

Image credit : https://wikinoor.ir

Encyclopedia of Iran which is a resource about Iran’s folklore culture and provides information about values, customs, beliefs, superstitions in Iran’s society as well as documenting the oral culture for historical and sociological research. So far 6 volumes are published, this encyclopedia is published in Persian language however each entry has a roman phonetics as well as a label with the corresponding topic of the entry or name of the Author of that entry.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 3.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Encyclopaedia_Islamica-farsi.jpg
Image credit: https://fa.wikipedia.org

Great Islamic Encyclopaedia- دائرة‌المعارف بزرگ اسلامی which is known to be a comprehensive encyclopedia on Islamic topics is also available online. This encyclopedia has been translated to English, Arabic as well but only the one in Persian is accessible online. Each entry besides providing access to the entry article, also provides corresponding volume number in the print version for that article. Islamic Studies Library of McGill has the print version of the book and can be accessed here   .

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 4-1024x419.jpg

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is home-top-05.jpg

دانشنامۀ فرهنگ مردم ایران  is another open access resource from this center, encyclopedia of Iranian people culture, which explores various aspects of Iranian culture from past to contemporary era and is a useful resource for sociological, historical and anthropological research.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is home-top-06.jpg

دانشنامه تهران بزرگ  The Greater Tehran Encyclopedia is a detailed and specialized encyclopedia designed to compile a comprehensive, credible information about  all aspects of the material and spiritual life of Greater Tehran. It is estimated that the Great Encyclopedia of Tehran will contain about 12,000 articles, which will cover various topics from the aspects of political, social and cultural life of Greater Tehran, especially in the last 200 years.

The Centre for the Great Islamic Encyclopaedia website also lists the most recent added articles from each of the mentioned encyclopedias as well as the most viewed articles, access here.

Khazaaen

Khazaaen archive is a voluntary independent association, centered in Jerusalem, where it first started as an initiative in October of 2016. Khazaaen considers itself as a societal project where people’s efforts contribute in building the archive.

“Each paper has a story”

The archive is interested in gathering ephemera materials; which is basically any material that was produced for a short-term and specific objectives. Khazaaen has managed to gather up to 60 thousand documents, where most of the materials are either daily publications, advertisements, brochures, pamphlets, posters, business cards, postal cards, wedding invitations, commercial, political, or artistic. Khazaaen believes it’s important to gather such materials as they serve as basic information in understanding local and social histories and a collective memory of the society’s day-to-day interactions. Moreover, these materials contain honest and real information about certain events in certain points in history and they enable us to understand the social experience and the alterations that occurred across different eras.

Individual Contributors/ People’s cabinet (khazaneh)

Khazaaen has several collection centers located in Amman, Beirut, Doha, and Algeria. The Technical Team will sort out received materials and make a second copy to send it to another archive in order to have back-up copies. Then scan the original and create a digital surrogate. Hard copies are kept in antioxidant files to preserve them.

Ottoman Archive
77 Materials
British Mandate Archive
1201 Materials
Palestinian Publications Archive
3785 Materials
The memory in 5304 Materials

Khazaaen hopes that it would be able to protect and preserve as many of the daily publications as possible and make these materials available to researchers and the public. In addition, Khazaaen aspires that its digital archive will contribute in starting a social and cultural discussion around critical political and societal issues in the hope of creating a better tomorrow.

All the material made available on Khazaaen’s website have been uploaded with special permissions and agreements with different institutions and individuals with the aim of making it available to the public. To read more, check Terms of use.