Remembering Shahab Ahmed


The Orkestra Marhabba: haunting Turkish sama’a music. 

Colleagues, students, family and friends of the late Shahab Ahmed gathered on Nov 15  evening at an elegant and dignified memorial where speakers remembered him as a friend, a brother, a scholar, a poet, a translator and a seeker of Truth (his first book, What is Islam? has just been published). 

IMG_8352Shahab Ahmed, Professor of Islamic Studies at Harvard University, who passed away after a brief illness on September 19 this year, is widely acknowledged a brilliant mind and an “extraordinary scholar who redefined Islam” as his colleague and friend Noah Feldman of the Harvard Law School has written.

Shahab translation

From the programme book at the event.

The service featured poetry in Arabic, Persian and Urdu with English translations by the late scholar who was proficient in several languages.

Mohsen Goudarzi, a former student of Prof. Ahmed, recited the Surat an-Nur from the holy Quran in Arabic. The programme book contained an English translation done by Shahab Ahmed himself. Goudarzi also read a poem in Persian by Hafiz.

Prof. Amer Latif of Marlboro College, also a former student of Ahmed’s, termed Ahmed as a “master of synthesis and analysis” who was at heart a poet. He recited an Urdu poem by Faiz, one of Ahmed’s favourite poets. Dr Dana Sajdi read an Arabic excerpt that she along with Shahab Ahmed had translated.

Another former student, Arafat A. Razzaque talked about Shahab Ahmed as a teacher from whom his students learnt so much.

Dr Shahla Ahmed, sister of the late scholar and a medical doctor based in London, talked about her younger brother who always wanted to be “very close to Pakistan”. The parents, both doctors, are in Lahore.

Shahab Ahmed’s wife Nora Lessersohn, a graduate student at Harvard, spoke of Ahmed’s constant search for learning and Truth.

Prof. Noah Feldman talked about the scholarship of Ahmed that was “at the heart” of their friendship. Shahab Ahmed’s research into how orthodoxy is born, or created rather, is particularly relevant in the current times.

The service, held at the Memorial Church in Harvard Yard, began and ended with musical recitals by the Orkestra Marhaba, a small group of musicians who play Turkish ‘samaa’ music.

Note: This is just a bare outline rather than a full report of what people talked about. I sent it on to a wire service in Pakistan that also released it.

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