Celebrating Aron Zysow’s Scholarship

Aron Zysow (Harvard JD & PhD, 1984), the eminent scholar of Islamic law and theology, turns 70 this year. To celebrate his intellectual generosity and his immense contributions to Islamic studies, a group of his long-time friends gathered at Harvard Law School on May 6 for a one-day symposium on a topic close to Aron’s heart: books. Participants presented and discussed interesting works of Islamic scholarship spanning the seventh to twentieth centuries. Joseph Lowry (University of Pennsylvania) analyzed the position of legal verses in the longest chapter of the Quran; Joseph Witztum (Hebrew University) demonstrated an early Muslim exegete’s method of integrating Christian and Jewish prophetic lore; Ahmed El Shamsy (University of Chicago) sketched the ninth-century textual genealogy of Islamic legal theory; Peri Bearman (retired from the Islamic Legal Studies Program) presented a tenth-century Central Asian text on law and later mutations of its use as a popular religious manual; Kevin Reinhart (Dartmouth) discussed the influence of philosophical terminology on fifteenth-century Ottoman legal thought; Himmet Taskomur (Harvard University) outlined debates regarding cash endowments in sixteenth-century Ottoman law and the role of custom in these debates; and Brinkley Messick (Columbia University) presented evidence of the usage of legal decisions by Zaydi Imams as precedent in Yemeni courts.

The highlight of the event was Zysow’s autobiographical account of how he came to develop an interest in Islamic thought as a classics major at Harvard. He described his studies with scholars such as Abdelhamid Sabra, Muhsin Mahdi, and George Makdisi; his research in Egypt and encounters with scholars such as Abd al-Ghani Abd al-Khaliq; the year he spent at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem; and subsequent research in Yemen. Finally, Zysow offered some thoughts on approaches to the study of the Islamic intellectual tradition.

The event was cosponsored by the Islamic Legal Studies Program: SHARIAsource, the Islamic Legal Studies Program: Law and Social Change, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, and the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program.