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Alumnus Interview: Michael Rozek

A photo of Michael Rozek.
A photo of Michael Rozek.


Michael Rozek, MA History 2017, has been awarded a prestigious Alwaleed Studentship and will begin his PhD studies at the University of Edinburgh in September 2018. We were eager to talk with him about his plans.

Please tell us about the program to which you have been admitted, and the fellowship you have been awarded.

The program to which I have been admitted is in the College of Divinity of the New College at the University of Edinburgh. The degree pursuit is a PhD in Islamic Studies: Christian-Muslim Relations. I will be working with Dr. Mona Siddiqui as my primary supervisor in the College of Divinity and Dr. Jaakko Hameen-Anttila as my secondary supervisor in the College of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. The fellowship I have been awarded is the Alwaleed Centre PhD studentship. Each studentship will cover the required fee to the University of Edinburgh (either UK/EU or international), a living allowance of £14,553 for 2018-19 (increasing in-line with Research Council UK rates thereafter) and a yearly research budget of £1000. The HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Centre for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World is an endowed Centre within the University of Edinburgh’s Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. Established in 2010, the Centre is devoted to research, outreach, and knowledge transfer in the field of Islamic Studies and is part of a unique network of six academic Centres established by the HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Foundation: two in the United States (the universities of Harvard and Georgetown), two in the United Kingdom (the universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge), and two in the Middle East (the American University of Beirut and the American University in Cairo). All six Centres are devoted to the improvement of mutual understanding between the Muslim World and the West.

Tell us about your research project. How does it build on your Master’s thesis?

My research seeks to enhance and expand upon my MA thesis research and to explore the changes of Christians’ social-religious life and legal liberties concerning religious apologetic discourse, dialogue, and debate from the from the first interactions with Arab-Muslims during the conquests in the seventh century to the ‘Abbasid era through the late eleventh century. In my MA thesis, I focused on a timeframe from c. 630-850. However, the PhD plan will extend that scope and sequence into the late eleventh century. Examining the development of Christians’ interfaith encounters over time and their effects within Muslim communities, apologetic dialogue and disputation generated a serious concern of apostasy, in which later Islamic legal scholars particularly emphasized and restricted Christian apologetic proselytization in standardized Islamic law codes and case laws. The Christian apologetic texts within this study include theological treatises, question-and-answer dialogical tracts, epistolary exchanges, and disputation texts in the genre of ‘The Monk in the Emir’s Majlis.’ The research question is: Why did later Islamic legal scholars in the ‘Abbasid period particularly restrict Christians from engaging in religious apologetic proselytization and promulgation?

This thesis suggests that while Christian apologetics did not play the central role in the gradual restriction of social-religious and legal liberties, they made a significant impact in that restriction. Christian social-religious apologetic liberties did not immediately begin in conflict or legal restraint, but rather gradually developed and became restricted over time. This thesis aims to show why Islamic legal scholars and jurists particularly restricted Christians from engaging in public apologetic debate, dialogue, and proselytization, as reflected in later Islamic legal texts. The reason why Islamic legal scholars and jurists particularly restricted Christians from engaging in apologetic debate, dialogue, and proselytization, as reflected in later Islamic legal texts was because Christian apologetic theological themes challenged the authenticity of the Qur’an, the Prophet Muhammad, and the beliefs of the Islamic confessional community, possibly disparaging Islamic religious tenets and facilitating possible conversion or apostasy.

I will investigate case studies to examine the development of particular Christian apologetic texts, discourses, debates, and developed theological themes within, against, and alongside Christian hagiographies, martyrologies, and individual Islamic legal cases and laws during the transition from the Umayyad to the ‘Abbasid caliphates from the mid-eighth through the mid-ninth centuries. In my MA thesis I argued and indicated that Christian apologetics increased in quality and quantity over time and, thus, must have affected Christian social-religious restrictions concerning apologetic discourse, as indicated in the Shurūt ‘Umar, yet I never examined and proved that idea to specific individual legal codes from multiple Islamic legal scholars and other competing legal schools throughout the Islamic Caliphate. Moreover, I did not make specific, direct connections to those multiple legal texts and Christian apologetics and martyrologies. As distinct and dissimilar from my MA thesis, I plan on exploring specific case studies and Islamic dhimmīlegal codes concerning and addressing Christian apologetics from Imam Ibn Hanbal, Imam al-Shāfi’ī, Imam al-Malaki, and Abū Yūsuf, representing Hanafi thought, as well as Abū ‘Ubayd’s Kitāb al-Amwāl, Shaybānī’s Siyar: The Islamic Law of Nations, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīya’s Ahkām ahl al-Dhimma, Abū Yusūf’s Kitāb al-Kharaj, and the early catalogue of dhimmī legal concerns in the collected of traditions compiled by ‘Abd al-Razzaq’s Al-Musannaf, and Kitāb Ahl al-Kitāb in the late eighth and early ninth centuries

What is going on in the field of Islamic history? Do you have any recommendations for readers who would like to learn about these developments?

The field of Islamic history has been burgeoning in the Late Antiquity/Early Medieval eras in general, but has particularly gained traction in terms of Christian-Muslim relations, dhimmitude, life ways, and theological interactions from the early conquests up through the time of the first crusade. The field of Islamic history has been seriously reexamined and reconsidered since the 1980s due to the groundbreaking work of Michael Cook and Patricia Crone, who have both challenged the standard narratives of Islamic historical sources.

The earliest Muslim sources postdate the events they purport to describe by a century or later. Non-Muslims sources, however, date closer to the events they describe and bear first hand testimony to the emergence and effects of the early Arab-Muslim conquests and the construction of the early Islamic Empire. Because of the lateness and distance of Muslim sources, non-Muslim sources cannot be discarded or divorced as insignificant evidence from the canon of literature in the Late Antique to Medieval Islamic periods. Some historians might argue that early non-Muslim sources are biased in their depiction and analysis of the Arab-Muslim conquerors. However, later Muslim sources could be just as bias in their historical narratives of the past, and retrojected themselves as invincible conquerors on the populations they conquered. Also, given the lateness of Muslim sources, they may have been embellished or exaggerated in order to establish a religious tradition to convey what later Muslims wanted future audiences to think of themselves, their history, and religious convention. Thus, later Muslim sources could have been used as propaganda and altered based on sectarian divisions for social, cultural, and political reasons. Nevertheless, because Muslim sources tell us how Muslims viewed themselves and wanted to be viewed, they are significant for that very reason.

Conclusively, non-Muslim sources are more contemporaneous to the events they describe than Muslim sources, and help clarify Muslim sources by providing historians with a more accurate avenue into the early Islamic period ranging from the mid 7th to the late 8th century. Robert Hoyland, Andrew Rippen, John Wansbrough, Sidney Griffith, and Michael Penn have carried on this reexamined historical perspective, which has led to further groundbreaking historical and religious discoveries.

Michael's recommended reading on early Islamic history:

  • Cameron, Averil and Robert Hoyland ed. Doctrine and Debate in the East Christian World, 300-1500. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2011.
  • Crone, Patricia and Michael Cook. Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977.Slaves on
  • ———. Horses: The Evolution of the Islamic Polity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980.
  • Griffith, Sidney H. The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2010.
  • Hoyland, Robert G. Seeing Islam As Others Saw It: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam. Princeton, N.J.: The Darwin Press, 1997.
  • ———. Muslims and Others in Early Islamic Society. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2004.
  • ———. In God’s Path: The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.
  • Levy-Rubin, Milka. Non-Muslims in the Early Islamic Empire: From Surrender to Coexistence. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  • ———.“Shurūt ‘Umar: From Early Harbingers to Systematic Enforcement.” In Beyond Religious Borders: Interaction and Intellectual Exchange in the Medieval Islamic World, 30-44. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.
  • Penn, Michael Philip. Envisioning Islam: Syriac Christians and the Early Muslim World. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015.
  • ———. When Christians First Met Muslims: A Sourcebook of the Earliest Syriac Writings on Islam. Oakland: University of California Press, 2015.
  • Rippin, Andrew. Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. New York: Routledge Press, 1990.
  • Siddiqui, Mona. Christians, Muslims, and Jesus. Princeton, N.J.: Yale University Press, 2014.
  • Simonsohn, Uriel I. A Common Justice: The Legal Allegiances of Christians and Jews Under Early Islam. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.

What have you been doing since you earned your MA?

Since achieving my MA in history at EMU, I have been working as an Upper School teacher at a private Classical academy in Waterford, Michigan. I have been teaching high school Ancient history, Medieval history, Latin and Ancient Greek languages, Logic, and Philosophy for the past 3-4 years.

I served as an Upper School Department Head and was responsible for development and implementation of Classical curriculum from 7th through 12th grade levels. Also, I was responsible for the oversight of weekly and daily submissions of graded assignments and tests among Upper School faculty. I was also responsible for the oversight of weekly lesson plans from Upper School faculty in order to ensure academic excellence and preparedness. I was responsible for governing school academic and administrative policy and curriculum guidelines in monthly faculty meetings with staff and teachers. I was also responsible for moderating and administrating meetings between faculty, parents, and students.

What are your career goals?

My career goals are to successfully complete my PhD at the University of Edinburgh in Islamic Studies: Christian-Muslim Relations and teach at a university or private college. Moreover, another career goal is to publish for both the academic and non-academic audiences in order to share my research discoveries. I anticipate my research will enhance the discourse for both academics and religious affiliates; I similarly hope it will contribute to the interdisciplinary fields of Late Antique history, Comparative Religions, and both the current and future Christian-Muslim relations and dialogues throughout the world.

How did your graduate studies at EMU help you develop as a scholar?
The Department of History and Philosophy graduate studies at EMU has helped me develop as a scholar in many ways. The professors in the history department are world-class scholars who influenced and impacted my intellectual development. Their intellectual capital and expertise in multiple subject areas molded my knowledge and perspective of history and philosophy, and also facilitated my growth as a student, teacher, and scholar.

I had the opportunity to serve as a graduate assistant for the Department of History and Philosophy during my second year at EMU. By working alongside professors in the classroom and in the department, I gained first-hand experience of educating students at the college level, assisting in the discussion and analysis of grading papers and exams, as well as preparing multiple lectures on historical content and exam preparations for courses on the grounds and online. Professors were there to give me honest positive and negative feedback, which has been invaluable. This, no doubt, has greatly impacted and influenced my career in secondary education and will greatly serve me in my pursuit into post-secondary education.

The attention and devotion of professors at EMU cannot go unmentioned. Throughout my graduate studies in history, I became more exposed to various subject areas and alternative ways of thinking about the fields of history, philosophy, comparative religious studies, and epistemology. What prepared me most for my success were the historical research methods and historiography courses. Inside the classroom both of these courses trained me to deeply examine and analyze primary and secondary source literature within the field of history. Outside the classroom professors went out of their way to answer students’ questions from lectures and Socratic discussions. These discussions carried on into regular meetings over coffee or lunch, which helped sharpen and shape my own MA research. I am very thankful for my professors’ time, effort, and energy at EMU and will carry their knowledge with me overseas as I pursue my PhD.

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