Asma Afsaruddin

Asma Afsaruddin

Professor, Near Eastern Languages and Cultures

Adjunct Professor, Religious Studies

Affiliate Professor, Gender Studies


  • Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University, 1993

Research interests

  • Islamic religious and political thought, pre-modern and modern
  • Qur'an exegesis and hadith criticism
  • War and peace in Islamic thought and tradition
  • Inter-faith relations
  • Islamic feminism(s)
  • Pluralism and reform in Islamic thought
  • Contemporary Islamic movements

About Asma Afsaruddin

My most recent book is titled Contemporary Issues in Islam (2015) which addresses some key issues of particular relevance in the contemporary period for Islam and Muslims. These issues include Muslim reactions to secular modernity, political Islam, religious extremism and militancy, gender, and inter-faith relation. The book also discusses the predicament of Western Muslims as they combat Islamophobia and make their mark primarily in the United States and western Europe. Prior to that I published the monograph Striving in the Path of God: Jihad and Martyrdom in Islamic Thought and Praxis (2013), after researching its content for eight years, aided by Carnegie and Guggenheim fellowships. The book focuses on a shifting trajectory of the meanings of jihad and of the related concepts of “martyr” and “martyrdom” from the earliest period of Islam through the late medieval period and down to our present time. It retrieves a broad spectrum of meanings assigned to the term jihad and its derivatives in the Qur’an, especially as reflected diachronically in exegetical works. Additionally, I look at hadith works (containing the statements of the Prophet Muhammad), later fada’il al-jihad (“excellences of jihad”) works, and standard legal treatises on the topic, as well as contemporary literature on jihad, terrorism, and so-called “martyrdom operations.” Currently I am completing a volume on Jihad for Oxford University Press’s What Everyone Needs to Know series and editing the Oxford Handbook on Islam and Women. In the past I was a senior editor for the Oxford Encyclopedia of Women and Islam and served on the editorial boards of the International Journal for Middle East Studies, Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, Blackwell’s Religion Compass (Islam Section), the Oxford Dictionary of Islam, the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World, and Routledge’s Medieval Islamic Civilization.


Jihad: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019 (forthcoming)

(Editor) Oxford Handbook of Islam and Women. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020 (forthcoming)

Contemporary Issues in Islam. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015 Honorable Mention, British-Kuwaiti Friendship Society, 2016

Striving in the Path of God: Jihad and Martyrdom in Islamic Thought and Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013Winner of the World Book Prize awarded by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, Iran (2015) Runner-up for the British-Kuwaiti Friendship Society Book Prize (2014) Currently being translated into Bahasa Indonesian

The First Muslims: History and Memory. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2008. Translated into Bahasa Malay as Golongan Muslim Pertama: Sejarah dan Memori. Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Renaissance Front, 2018 Translated into Turkish as Ilk Müslümanlar: Tarih ve Bellek. Istanbul: Tuti Kitap, 2014

Excellence and Precedence: Medieval Islamic Discourse on Legitimate Leadership. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2002.

(Editor) Hermeneutics and Honor: Negotiating Female Public Space in Islamic/ate Societies. Middle East Monograph Series. Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University, 1999.

(Co-editor) Humanism, Culture and Language in the Near East: Essays in Honor of Georg Krotkoff. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1997.

Recent articles & other publications

“Martyrdom and Its Contestations in the Formative Period of Islam” in Martyrdom, Self-Sacrifice and Self-Immolation: Religious Perspectives on Suicide. Ed. Margo Kitts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. Pp. 85-105

“Martyrdom and Its Contestations in the Formative Period of Islam” in Martyrdom, Self-Sacrifice and Self-Immolation: Religious Perspectives on Suicide. Ed. Margo Kitts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. Pp. 85-105

“Loyalty and Obedience to the Ruler: Religious Obligation or Practical Necessity” in The Muslim World. Ed. Armando Salvatore et al. Oxford: John Wiley & Sons, 2018. Pp. 235-252

“Shari‘a and Fiqh” in the Oxford Handbook of American Islam. Ed. Jane Smith and Yvonne Haddad. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. 174-186

“Martyrdom in Islam: A Historical Survey” in Terrorism, Martyrdom, and Religion: European Perspectives in Global Context. Eds. Dominic Janes and Alex Houen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. 40-58

“Early Women Exemplars and the Construction of Gendered Space: (Re-)Defining Feminine Moral Excellence,” in Harem Histories, ed. Marilyn Booth. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010. Pp. 23-48.

“Where Heaven and Earth Meet: Remembering Muhammad as Head of State,” in The Cambridge Companion to Muhammad. Ed. Jonathan Brockopp. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Pp. 180-198.

“The Hermeneutics of Inter-Faith Relations: Retrieving Moderation and Pluralism as Universal Principles in Qur’anic Exegeses,” Journal of Religious Ethics 37,Wiley, 2009. Pp.331-54.

Recent courses

  • Islam and Modernity
  • War and Peace in the Islamic Tradition
  • Islamic Feminism(s)
  • The Golden Age of Islamic Civilization
  • Qur’an Commentaries
  • Hadith Sciences

Awards & Honors

  • Carnegie Corporation Scholars Grant
  • Harry Frank Guggenheim Fellowship
  • American Research Institute of Turkey research grant
  • Center for Arabic Study Abroad III Fellowship for professors
  • Kraemer Middle East Distinguished Scholar–in--Residence at the College of William and Mary, 2012
  • 2016 Sidddiqi lecturer, Department of Religion, University of Tennessee, Knoxville