International conference “Authority and spirituality in Islam: sources of diversity"

The conference “Authority and spirituality in Islam: sources of diversity" aims to bring together scholars and students researching the inner diversity of the Islamic world with its particularities and highlight the reasons and circumstances that have caused the pluralistic character of Islam. The event takes place on the 29th and 30th of November 2022 at the University of Tartu.

The roots of Islamic diversity emerged in controversy over the authority of the community, and the split into Sunni and Shia communities paved the way for subsequent divergences. Further separation into various branches and sects causing the plurality of the Islamic world was, among other reasons, caused by the questions of political leadership and religious authority. Political, philosophical, and theological disputes and cultural differences have added to the plurality of understandings. Principles and means of legitimizing spiritual authority in different regions and eras have led to various understandings of the requirements of spiritual leaders and the emergence of spiritual movements. Construction, legitimation, and expression of religious authority through tradition, beliefs, texts, speeches, practices, and rituals at the individual, community, and state levels are the focus of this conference.

Registration is closed.

Tuesday, 29 November 2022

1 st day, Main Building of the University of Tartu (Ülikooli 18 - the main hall)

9.30-10.00 Registration and coffee

10.00-10.25 Opening and Welcome

Elo Süld, head of Asia Centre

Anneli Saro, Vice Dean for Academic Affairs, Faculty of Arts and Humanities

Roland Karo, head of the School of Theology and Religious Studies

10.30-12.30 1 st Session: Changes and continuity in religious authority

The minority groups such as Alevis and Ahmadis have developed autonomous religious authority systems regarded as “heterodox” by the Islamic schools of jurisprudence. Maintaining these “heterodox” religious leadership systems is based, on the one hand, on tradition, on the other hand, on flexibility for change. At the same time, “orthodox” Muslims, as a minority in European countries, face challenges in conveying and maintaining their familiar systems of authority. In this session, we aim to delve into the relationship between change and continuity and reflect on the communities´ reactions and adaptions to the changes brought on by migration, globalization, and modernization.

Moderator: Oksana Belova-Dalton, The Estonian Academy of Security Sciences

Paper 1: Building spiritual authority through media message: sermons of Mirza Masroor Ahmad Fifth Caliph of Messiah in Ahmadiyya community Elo Süld, University of Tartu

Paper 2: The role and meaning of the Alevi dedes as religious leaders on the example of the Buca cemevi community Helen Haas, University of Tartu

Paper 3: Change and continuity in Estonian Islamic community: dynamics of nations and causes of religious authority in the community Ege Lepa, University of Tartu

12.30-13.30 Lunch break 

(Move to the Senate's hall where the rest of the event takes place)

13.30-15.30 2nd Session: “Texts and speeches of inspiration: creating authority through the word

Oral performances and various texts have been and are still used to establish, confirm and improve understandings about and attitudes towards leadership and authority related to religion. From the Quran, Hadiths, and Sirah to classical literature, Islam has various sources depicting what a rightful and good leader is. In this session, we aim to focus on the question of leadership and followers according to traditional sources and how themes and discourses of traditional sources are implemented in contemporary texts and oral performances in the context of leadership and gaining followers. The methods and techniques of expression and rhetorics in historical and contemporary settings will be highlighted. We will look at the main themes implemented in the discourse about religious authority and how the genre of call and persuasion is implemented for different audiences.

Moderator: Alevtina Solovyeva, University of Tartu

Paper 1: The relationship between authority and poetry: the case of Sheikh Galib and Sultan Selim III Sevda Özden, University of Tallinn

Paper 2: The linguistic and rhetorical methods of establishing authority: comparison of Arabic orations in their widest sense Helen Geršman, University of Tallinn

Paper 3: “Ḥimyar” in pre-and early Islamic poetry Imar Kouchoukali, University of Tartu

15:30 Conclusion of the day Elo Süld, University of Tartu


Wednesday, 30 November 2022

2nd day: Main Building of the University of Tartu (Ülikooli 18 - Senate Hall)

08.50-09.00 Opening Helen Haas, University of Tartu

09.00–11:00 3rd session: Creating and implementing spiritual authority among women in Islam

In contemporary public discourse, Muslim women are often represented as dependent, powerless, and agency-absent. Due to the inner diversity in Islam, the complex question of gender and power has to be considered from various sides. From the life of women in Tatar Muslim communities to the interwoven aspects of gender identity and religion of Indonesian, this topic has more often than a resounding “no” to women’s rights and acts of self-determination. At times, women themselves may become religious experts in their localities and shape their own and community lives. For this reason, we aim to explore women’s understanding of authority and how authority becomes legitimate in hopes of encouraging further thinking and research on Islam's gender and power dynamics.

Moderator: Kashif Farooqi, University of Tartu

Paper 1: Farah Ossouli and her Women, Life and Freedom Firuza Melville, University of Cambridge

Paper 2: Thinking through the S(k)in: Religious Sensitivity and Belonging of the Transgender Women in Indonesia Terje Toomistu, University of Tartu

11.00-11.30 Coffee break for the participants

11.30-13.30 4th Session: Ethics, spirituality in religious authority: rightful leaders in Islam

Throughout history, one of the main dividers in Islam has been the question of the rightful leader. There have been certain concepts, values, and principles that confirm the legitimacy of leadership in Islam. Blood relations and kinship have also been proposed to make a genuine and rightful leader. In this session, we aim to take a deeper look into the concept of leadership in Islam and put to rest questions regarding the characteristics and requirements of a “rightful” leader. The focus will be on the origins of the demands for a rightful leader as well as the responsibilities and qualities demanded from the leaders themselves.

Moderator: Danila Rygovskiy, University of Tartu

Paper 1: Islamic Leadership in Poland – Imams and Their Relations with Official Muslim Organisations Agata S. Nalborczyk, University of Warsaw

Paper 2: The Philosopher as Religious Authority: al-Ghazali and William James’ Critique of Absolutist Philosophies Abdulkadir Tanis, Independent Researcher

Paper 3: Al-Ḥakīm al-Tirmidhī on the Superiority of the Mystics over the Jurists Samer Dajani, Independent Researcher

13.30-14.30 Lunch 

14.30-15.30 Roundtable Discussion

Samer Dajani, Firuza Melville, Agata S. Nalborczyk. Moderator: Imar Kouchoukali, University of Tartu

Islamic Leadership in Poland – Imams and Their Relations with Official Muslim Organisations 

Agata S. Nalborczyk, University of Warsaw 

Religious leadership is a constituent of every community’s religious life. It is crucial who assumes the leadership, how it is exercised, what is its educational base, and liturgical role. The Polish-Lithuanian Tatars living in Poland have had their imams for centuries. Still, despite extensive academic literature on the Tatars, their history, and the present day, the research on imams or religious leadership is scarce. 

Imams currently working in Poland are associated with specific centers or organizations, and their education varies: from informal, provided by other followers or as part of self-education, to the traditional formal education of imams brought from Muslim countries. The functioning of imams in Poland has always been based more on the institutional authority than the epistemic authority (education and training have been and remains not that important – there are no institutional imam training facilities), it was and is authorized by the community itself by election; however, there were cases where the position of imam was inherited from father to son over several generations. The education of imams was usually poor; inspiring respect from the community or coming from a good family was much more vital. It was not until the 20th century that education started to play a more significant role, but it is clear that completing formal religious education is still unnecessary. 


Change and continuity in Estonian Islamic community: dynamics of nations and causes of religious authority in the community 

Ege Lepa, University of Tartu 

Estonian Islamic community consists of more than fifty nationalities, biggest of those are Tatars, the founders and for centuries the sole representers of Islamic religious community in Estonia. The Soviet immigration policy brought here Muslims from many Central Asian and Caucasian Soviet republics, but it was the Tatar Culture Society, which established and registered in 1988 the restoration of the Estonian Islamic Congregation. With the help of Saudi sponsor, the congregation acquired spacious premises near the Tallinn Airport. Since 2002 the congregation is led by head imam Ildar Muhhamedšin, graduate from the Islamic University of Medina in Saudi Arabia, and has witnessed the conversion of couple of hundred mostly female young Estonians. The face of Estonian Muslim community has also changed significantly because of the growing numbers of exchange students, resident businessmen and immigrants from the Middle East and other Islamic regions. In 2015 the Estonian Islamic Centre was established in Tallinn for more broad-based management of communities´ premises. Today, around 300-400 Muslims are said regularly to attend the Friday prayers at the Islamic Centre and around 1000 people to be present at the most significant religious festivities. 

Current presentation will give an overview of the most significant changes in Estonian Islamic community concerning the religious and administrative leadership during the last century. If for a long time a „monoethnical“ community witnesses the challenge of remarkable immigration and globalization, how and by whom it is then managed or led? How does the changing dynamics of present nationalities and spoken languages effect internal relations of the community and ways the community presents itself to the public? What is the relationship between the oldest Islamic organization – Estonian Islamic Congregation – and other Muslim organizations? What are the causes of religious authority in the community, which finds itself in a whirlwind of change? How is the question of the local religious authority or a religious authority as such interpreted by Tatars and how by other Estonian Islamic nationalities? Current presentation will address these questions by comparing three - Tatar, Estonian coverts´ and immigrant Muslims´ - narratives of change and continuity in their joint religious community.  


Building spiritual authority through media message: sermons of Mirza Masroor Ahmad Fifth Caliph of Messiah in Ahmadiyya community 

Elo Süld, University of Tartu 

Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is an Islamic minority. Often the Ahmadiyyas are not involved in the general discourse of a country or region in Islam; they initiate their own discourse and seek to legitimize their message in society and the community through their media sources. The presentation is based on the Friday service sermons of Mirza Masroor Ahmad (from 2003), Fifth Caliph of Messiah in the Ahmadiyya community, and will show the challenges that the spiritual authority is faced with, what the newfound way of establishing authority looks like in order to secure legitimacy, and what ensures the preservation of the spiritual authority in changing circumstances. The focus is on analyzing the legitimization dynamic of the community leader’s authority of Mirza Masroor Ahmad in the Ahmadiyya community through his media message. 


The role and meaning of the Alevi dedes as religious leaders on the example of the Buca cemevi community 

Helen Haas, University of Tartu 

The Alevis in Turkey are characterized by religious practices and belief system distinct from the Sunni and Shia Muslims. One of the main characteristics of Alevism is the institution of ocak´s (hearth), that is based on the holy lineages believed to descend from the Prophet Muhammad through his son in law ‘Alī ibn Abī Ţālib. Members of the ocak families, the dede´s, used to be/are on the top of the religious and social hierarchy within the Alevi community. Although the institution of dedes is one of the main reasons why Alevism has reached today, the role and meaning of the dedes as transmitters of the religious knowledge and organizers of the community life has weakened through the migration and urbanization process from the villages to urban centres. In 2000, the dedes´ role was described as “non-functional” and “nominal” by Ali Yaman. However, there are examples of revitalization of the dede-talip (leader-follower) relationships and of dedes taking religious responsibility in new settings. In this paper, based on the fieldwork conducted in Buca (Izmir, Turkey) cemevi in 2019, I will show how the dedes have met the challenges of rapid change and kept their authority as religious leaders. We will see how this vital institution has been able to meet the challenges through flexibility and conformation. Also, I will discuss the need for and imaginaries about the dedes as religious leaders from the point of view of the talips (followers). 


The linguistic and rhetorical methods of establishing authority: comparison of Arabic orations in their widest sense 

Helen Geršman, Tallinn University 

The types of Arabic oration or ḫuṭba found among the plethora of messages to the world produced by the representatives of radical Islam vary. Of particular interest is the fact that they vary within the selection of extant pre-Islamic examples of this genre. The composition of orations has also remained somewhat the same. The link between the generations of texts that have emerged in between, lies in the linguistic and rhetorical features that together with the recurring themes, underlie the aim of establishing authority through the connection to the revered past, which, in turn, is naturally linked to the pre-Islamic period through linguistic continuation. The word oration in this presentation denotes a text that was originally intended to be delivered orally or that bears all the signs of such an intention. Thus, the corpus of the analysis includes a selection of messages by radical Islamists (especially Usāma ibn Lādin, Abū Muṣʿab az-Zarqāwī, Abū Bakr al-Baġdādī, etc) from the modern times, their connection with the Qurʾān, the Ḥadīṯ and the Sīra, and examples of pre-Islamic orations. Part of the linguistic analysis is based on a generalised version of rhetorical analysis method which has emerged from Biblical studies and was introduced by Roland Meynet (Rhetorical Analysis: An Introduction to Biblical Rhetoric. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998; and Treatise on Biblical Rhetoric. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2012.) and expanded by Michel Cuypers (Composition of the Qurʾan. London; New Delhi; New York; Sydney: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). 


„Ḥimyar” in pre- and early Islamic poetry  

Imar Kouchoukali, University of Tartu

By the end of the Umayyad period, the term Ḥimyar had become, next to yaman, one of the primary ways of identifying (pre-Islamic) South Arabia. The term Ḥimyar itself derives from the name of the last independent pre-Islamic South Arabian kingdom and would, in the centuries following, become more-or-less synonymous with pre-Islamic South Arabia as a whole.1 Although it is evident that the term Ḥimyar and Ḥimyarites was already used in the pre-Islamic period, both by inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula and those outside2, it remains unclear at what moment South Arabians began using the term Ḥimyar as a way of self-identification.3 This paper focuses on the usage of the term Ḥimyar in pre- and early Islamic poetry and will look for the first evidence of its usage as a term of self-identification.  

Paret, Rudi. 2008. “The Legendary Futūḥ Literature.” in The expansion of the early Islamic state, The formation of the classical Islamic world, edited by F. M. Donner. Aldershot [England] ; Burlington, VT: Ashgate/Variorum.  

Pseudo-al-Wāqidi, Muḥammad. 1903. Futūḥ Al-Šām. edited by ʿAbdallah al-Šarqāwī. al-Qāhira: al-Maṭbaʿa al-šarifīyya.  


The Philosopher as Religious Authority: al-Ghazali and William James’ Critique of Absolutist Philosophies 

Abdulkadir Tanış, independent researcher 

In Islamic philosophy, al-Ghazali is known for his important criticisms against philosophers being taken as authorities in religious matters. According to him, philosophers express their views on religious and metaphysical issues as if they were absolute truth. However, he underlines that the philosophers' views on these issues are quite different and contradictory. This is because, according to al-Ghazali, the views put forward by philosophers are nothing more than their own assumptions and opinions. Similar views are put forward by the American pragmatist thinker William James, who refers to al-Ghazali in his texts. According to him, an absolutist perspective dominates philosophical systems. However, the fact that what one philosophy accepts as absolute truth is denied by another philosophy shows that these absolute truth claims themselves do not express more than a personal opinion. In other words, these absolute truth claims mean nothing more than the philosophers' own assumptions. 

However, al-Ghazali and James have different attitudes towards the idea of absolute truth itself. Although al-Ghazali denies the claim that philosophers have absolute truth and that they are authorities on religious issues, he does not give up on the idea of absolute truth itself and argues that another source such as revelation can be accepted as an authority for absolute truth. On the other hand, James, differs from al-Ghazali and argues that we should give up the idea of absolute truth on the basis that we are fallible beings. 

In this paper, I will basically make a comparative evaluation of al-Ghazali and James's criticisms of the idea that philosophers can be taken as authorities in religious and metaphysical matters in the sense of having absolute truth. I will also try to elucidate the main point on which these two philosophers differ with respect to the idea of having absolute truth. In conclusion, I will argue that James's view is more convincing, given the circularity of the al-Ghazali claim, i.e., that revelation can be taken as an authority. 


Al-Ḥakīm al-Tirmidhī on the Superiority of the Mystics over the Jurists 

Samer Dajani, independent researcher 

In the formative 3rd and 4th Islamic centuries, the varied schools of thought were vying for the position of leadership and orthodoxy in the Muslim community. Each group was putting forth its arguments for their superiority over the others and the authoritativeness of their knowledge and practice. The mystic and traditionist al-Ḥakīm al-Tirmidhī (d. c. 298/910) was the first author to lay down the arguments for the religious leadership of the mystics. In numerous works, he argued for the superiority of the inward, inspired knowledge of the mystics over the outward, rational knowledge of the jurists. He gave a detailed critique of Qiyās, the tool of analogical reasoning developed by the jurists to solve new problems, and argued for the superiority of spiritual insight. He spoke of the attainment, modality, and role of this inspired knowledge, and the position of leadership it bestowed upon its possessor. This study will give the first full exposition of Tirmidhī’s ideas on the mystical process of Ijtihād, its origins, and a brief outline of its influence. 


Thinking through the S(k)in: Religious Sensitivity and Belonging of the Transgender Women in Indonesia 

Terje Toomistu, University of Tartu 

Indonesian male-bodied and feminine identified subjects, locally and internationally known as waria, commonly claim to have the heart and soul of a woman. While waria form a visible social group, they suffer from various prevailing stigmas, of which a significant share is tied to some cultural assumptions embedded in the mainstream understanding of Islamic morality. For waria, who depart from the normative assumptions on gender and deploy an alternative subject position, that of a waria, the question of belonging is highly contested at the national level, but equally complicated on the more local communal scales. Against the backdrop of the increasing entanglement of religious practice in daily life in Indonesian society, most waria do not feel comfortable practising their religion in public, some either pay no attention to their religious practice or face it with a sense of guilt. Others, however, describe their subjectivity along the distinction between their bodies and their inner sense of gender as something that genuinely derives from God, as something ‘given’. Consequently, permanent bodily modifications are associated with the notion of sin. These conceptions have enabled a specific form of Indonesian transgender embodiment. The spiritually grounded sentiments in relation to their bodies and the sense of gender on one hand, and the signs of increased focus on embodied expression of religiosity among waria on the other, signal the desire for reimagining belonging to Indonesian (Muslim) society. Religious sensitivity, while being the major cause of anxieties on both personal and societal levels, has provided waria with important frameworks which enhance their relative acceptance of their embodied subjectivity.  


The relationship between authority and poetry: the case of Sheikh Galib and Sultan Selim III 

Sevda Özden, University of Tallinn 

The 18th century was a century in which the Ottoman Empire entered a period of stagnation and innovations were needed. Sultan Selim III, who came to power in a difficult period in 1789, aimed to restore the empire to its good old days by introducing many innovations, but needed support for these innovations to be accepted in society. This century was also a period when Diwan (Court) Literature entered its final period and needed innovation and change, as well as support.  

One of the most important orders that fed the Ottoman Empire spiritually was Mevlewism. Opened in the 13th century by Mewlana Celaleddin Rumi, the tradition of the order, which always had strong relations with the authority, gained a place for itself in this century as well; especially its dervish lodges in Konya and Istanbul became even stronger with the support of the authority. 

The 18th century includes Sheikh Galib, a poet who brought authority, spirituality and poetry together. Sheikh Galib is one of the most powerful poets of Turkish literature and one of those who put the final point on Diwan(Court) poetry, which was entering its last period. He was also the youngest sheikh of Mevlewism, one of the most powerful orders in the spiritual world, and represented this order at the highest level in Istanbul. The reason why we refer to Sheikh Galib with authority is that the Sultan and his entire family were the murshid and close friends of poet. 

Sheikh Galib, as a powerful poet and a Mevlewi at the level of a sheikh, was in very close relations with the palace and its surroundings. Sultan Selim, who wanted to impose the innovations of his period on the people, benefited greatly from the poet's talent; they increased their power by mutually supporting each other. These two individuals, who met in the commonality of spirituality, authority and poetry, constitute the best example for our political and literary life. 

Although Sheikh Galib, one of the most powerful writers of Turkish literature, lived and wrote poetry during the reigns of three sultans, he only presented “kasides” to Sultan Selim, supported the innovations brought by the Sultan to the country with his poems, he ensured that the Sultan gained the support of the Mevlewi community. Likewise, Sultan Selim and his family, repaired and built many places, from Mevlewihane buildings to wells.   

The poet wrote 38 “kaside” and  “tarih” for Sultan Selim in his Divan, and when the poems he wrote for the Sultan's mother and sisters were added to these, the number exceeded fifty. The poems written within the framework of the relationship between Sheikh Galib and Sultan Selim, in which mutual support and benefit were provided, shed light on the political, social, economic and spiritual life of the period. 


Farah Ossouli and her Women, Life and Freedom

Firuza Melville, University of Cambridge

My paper will focus on the artwork of one of the most famous contemporary Iranian artists, Farah Ossouli, who is meticulously applying the classical and authentically Persian paradigm of many-centuries of book art to her own ideas and perception of modern Iran and the role of women in society.

I shall concentrate on her East-West series in which she is masterfully reinterpreting the iconic imagery of artists known both in Iran, like Reza Abbasi and in the West, including Michelangelo, Rafael, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Goya, Rembrandt, or Fragonard. In her art she offers her own reading, where she is bringing together and juxtaposing East and West, past and present, tradition and modernity, and most of all - the world of women against the world of domineering men, where women’s rights were violated and suppressed.

Ossouli is turning her ‘miniature’ painting with exceptionally minute details into monumental art of multilayered dimensions and meanings. She combines not only various languages and modes of expression in visual art but brings classical and modern poetic texts to support her ideas - following the tradition of almost 900-year history of illustrated manuscripts. 

Her art is extremely timely and brilliantly resonates the current events happening in Iran at the moment.  

Elo Süld is Lecturer in Islamic studies at the School of Theology and Religious Studies. In her research, she focusses on the dialogue between religions, the historical and present-day context of Islam, and problems in Islamic countries. Since 2008, she has lectured on several Islam-related subjects at the School of Theology and Religious Studies, e.g. Introduction to the Islam, Interfaith Dialogue: Internal Pluralism and the Historical Interpretation of Islam, Islam in Modern Times, Pluralism in Islam, etc. She organizes training courses on the culture and religion of Islamic countries. She is the head of University of Tartu Asia Centre.   

Firuza Melville is a graduate (hons.) of St Petersburg University, where she received her Ph.D. in Persian Literature, Art and Islamic Studies, and taught until 2005. She left St Petersburg as an Associate Professor for Oxford where she was teaching Persian literature at the Faculty of Oriental Studies. Dr Melville was also a Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford where she was Tutor, Supervisor and Director of Studies for all undergraduate and graduate students reading Oriental studies, and Curator of the Ferdawsi Library and the Persian manuscript collection. In 2010 she moved to Cambridge as Iran Heritage Foundation Research Fellow at Pembroke College. Since 2013 she is Director of Research of the Cambridge Shahnameh Centre for Persian Studies. She has been AMES Director of Studies in Pembroke College, Peterhouse and Corpus Christi. Her research interests include mediaeval Persian book art, Persian literature, contemporary Iranian art, Russian cultural Orientalism in Central Asia and the Caucasus, and the history of Russo-Persian diplomacy of the early Qajar period 

Agata S. Nalborczyk is a Professor (Associate) in religious studies/Islamic studies and a head of the Department for European Islam Studies at the Faculty of Oriental Studies (University of Warsaw, Poland). She holds an MA in Iranian Studies and in Arabic and Islamic Studies, a Ph.D. in Arabic Studies, and a degree of habilitated Dr. in religious studies – Islamic studies. She serves on the Editorial Board of the series Annotated Legal Documents on Islam in Europe (Brill; since 2014), of the journal Sociology of Religion (Oxford University Press) and Studia Religiologica (Jagiellonian University). She is an author and editorial advisor by the “Yearbook of Muslims in Europe” (Brill; since 2009). Her research focuses on Islam in Europe (esp. Poland, Central, and Eastern Europe), the legal status and history of European Muslim minorities, Polish-Lithuanian Tatars, Islamic religious leaders in Europe, the image of Islam and Muslims in Europe, and gender issues in Islam. She is a PI of the long-term project “Cultural transfer as the transdisciplinary element of the science of intercultural relations, as exemplified by the impact of Arabic culture on the cultural heritage of Poland” (2016-2022; National Humanities Development Programme). 

Terje Toomistu is an anthropologist and a documentary film-maker, a Research Fellow at the University of Tartu’s Department of Ethnology, whose prime areas of focus are gender, mobility, and affect. She has been a Fulbright Fellow at the University of California Berkeley and a visiting researcher at the University of Amsterdam, Department of Anthropology. She received her Ph.D. degree in Ethnology as well as two MA degrees (cum laude) in Ethnology and in Communication Studies from the University of Tartu. Her doctoral research that focused on the Indonesian community of waria from the perspective of feminist anthropology was awarded the 1st prize at the Estonian national contest for university students in the area of Humanities and Arts in 2020. She often deploys artistic methods in her research. She has curated exhibitions in U.K., Germany, Canada, and Sweden and given lectures and seminars at universities internationally. With a filmography including “Homing Beyond” (2022), „Veins of the Amazon“ (2021, co-directed with Alvaro Sarmiento and Diego Sarmiento), an award-winning „Soviet Hippies“ (2017), and „Wariazone“ (2011, co-directed with Kiwa), her work as a documentary film-maker has been featured widely in the international press, including The Guardian and The Economist. 

Abdulkadir Tanış is an independent researcher in the philosophy of religion. He graduated from Dicle University, Faculty of Theology, in 2006. He completed his master’s degree at Ankara University, Department of Philosophy and Religious Sciences (Philosophy of Religion) in 2011 with the thesis titled Alvin Plantinga’s Defense of Ontological Argument and his Ph.D. degree at the same university with the thesis titled Pragmatic Understanding of Faith in 2017. As an assistant professor, he taught several courses in the philosophy of religion at Hitit University for two years. In addition to the philosophy of religion, his research interests include Islamic philosophy and theology, epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and philosophy of mind. 

Ege Lepa holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of Tartu. Her research is focused on the internal dynamics of the Estonian Islamic community, the influence of historical background on current developments and ways a changing community deals with newcomers, and how those adapt to a local network of Islamic organizations. She has published articles on Tatar religious identity-building and Estonian Islamic community´s historical and social development. 

Helen Geršman is a lecturer in Middle Eastern Studies and Head of Asian Studies at Tallinn University, Estonia. Obtaining additional qualifications at various universities in Europe and the Middle East, she finished her Ph.D. in Studies of Cultures at Tallinn University. The Ph.D. thesis was a study on the rhetoric of Usāma ibn Lādin’s messages to the world. Currently, her main research interests are a combination of rhetorical analysis and Arabic oration as a genre, which can be traced back to the pre-Islamic period. 

Samer Dajani is an Independent Researcher. He received his BA in Arab & Islamic Civilizations from the American University in Cairo, followed by an MA and Ph.D. in the field of Islamic Studies from SOAS, University of London. He was Research Fellow at Cambridge Muslim College and Lecturer at the Muslim College in London. His research interests include Hadith, Sufism, and Jurisprudence, especially the different methodologies of the Sunni schools of jurisprudence. He is the author of Sufis and Sharīʿa: The Forgotten School of Mercy (Edinburgh University Press, Nov 2022). 

Sevda Özden acquired her BA in Turkish Language and Literature and continued her MA  studies in the field of Classical Turkish Literature. She got her Ph.D. degree at İstanbul University in the same study area, defending her thesis “Analyses of Sheikh Galib’s Diwan”. She worked as a lecturer at the Research and Application Center for the Instruction of Turkish Language at Gazi University. She was assigned to the University of Tallinn as a visiting lecturer in 2018 and is currently holding the position of lecturer of Turkish Language and Literature at the University of Tallinn. Her study areas are Classical Turkish literature, Ottoman Turkish, manuscripts, poetry, and Turkish for foreigners. 

Imar Koutchoukali is a junior research fellow and a doctoral candidate at the University of Tartu (BA Leiden University, MA Tallinn University). His research focuses on South Arabia in late antiquity, particularly on the transition between the late pre-Islamic and early Islamic periods. 

Helen Haas is s doctoral student in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Tartu. Her main research interests are diversity in Islam, interfaith dialogue, and religious minorities. She acquired her BA from the University of Tallinn with a degree in Oriental Philology, specializing in the Turkish language. In her MA thesis (University of Tartu), she focused on Christian converts in Turkey. Her Ph.D. research is based on fieldwork among the Alevi community in Izmir (Turkey), where she focused on beliefs and practices concerning the Anatolian saint Hacı Bektaş Veli. She has been chosen as a junior research fellow (2020, 2021) in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Tartu. Currently, she is working in the Asia Centre as a coordinator of Middle-Eastern affairs.  

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