A younger generation of scholars recently paid tribute to UCLA Professor Emeritus Ismail K. Poonawala at a symposium by presenting new research in a tradition made immeasurably richer by his life’s work as a scholar of Ismaili Shiism. The symposium, “Reflections on Ismaili Studies: Standing on Poonawala’s Shoulders,” was held May 23 at the Faculty Center. The event was organized by the Center for Near Eastern Studies.
A native of the state of Gujarat, India, Professor Poonawala completed an M.A. in Arabic and Urdu at Bombay University, then journeyed to Egypt to complete a second M.A. in Arabic at Cairo University, where he studied with Husain al-Hamdani. In Cairo, he met UCLA Professor Gustave von Grunebaum, the founder of the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies, who encouraged him to apply to UCLA, where he completed a Ph.D. in Islamic studies in 1968.
A specialist in Ismaili studies, Poonawala has contributed a prodigious volume of publications that made many original Ismaili works — from the classical Fatimid Caliphate period (10th–12th centuries) as well as from later periods — available to scholars and Ismailis themselves for the first time, prompting a rethinking of earlier scholarship on the Ismaili tradition.
“The Ismailis,” Poonawala explained at the symposium, “constitute the second largest Shia community in the Muslim world. They are scattered over many parts of the world, including India, Pakistan, East Africa, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Europe and North Africa.”
Professor Poonawala taught at McGill University and served as a research associate at Harvard University before returning to UCLA to teach in 1974.
To read more about the symposium, see this story on the International Institute website.