International Studies, Research

Research Profile: Tamir Moustafa, Jarislowsky Chair in Religion and Cultural Change

December 08, 2014

At several junctures in his academic career, International Studies faculty member Tamir Moustafa has received praise for his scholarly research. His first book, The Struggle for Constitutional Power: Law, Politics, and Economic Development in Egypt, was called a “model of outstanding scholarly research” by the Law and Politics Book Review. More recently, his article in Law and Social Inquiry, “Islamic Law, Women’s Rights, and Popular Legal Consciousness in Malaysia,” was named 2014 article of the year by the Law & Courts Section of the American Political Science Association.

Before coming to SFU in 2007, Moustafa completed his PhD in Political Science at the University of Washington, and held an assistant professorship at University of Wisconsin. He’s held fellowships both at Princeton University and in the Islamic Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School, where he established an “Islamic Law and Society” collaborative research network with Dr. Intisar Rabb.

Moustafa, who holds the Stephen Jarislowsky Chair in Religion and Cultural Change, says his interest in politics came at an early age. Growing up in California, he explains that he became curious about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and found in himself a persistent interest in discussing politics. But it was during his undergraduate years at the University of California, San Diego, when he became deeply engaged in an academic treatment of politics in the Middle East.

While his first book focused on Egyptian politics and law, Moustafa’s current work is focused on the politics of Islamic law in Malaysia. In particular, Moustafa examines the various ways that the Malaysian state has manipulated the Islamic legal tradition to strengthen its grip on power; yet he simultaneously explains that progressive activists engage the same legal tradition to frustrate these efforts and to push for progressive change.

Part of this research has brought Moustafa in dialogue with Sisters in Islam, a Muslim feminist group composed of academics, journalists, analysts and activists such as Zainah Anwar, a founding member Moustafa brought to SFU to give the Jarislowsky Lecture in Religion and Cultural Change. As the group explains on their website, they are committed to creating “a public voice and a public space that enable Muslims to engage with their faith in the struggle for justice, human rights, and democracy in the twenty-first century.” Moustafa notes that Sisters in Islam is unique among organizations lobbying for women’s rights in Malaysia because, rather than pursue their activism through a secular frame of reference, they engage with the Islamic legal tradition to mobilize for women’s rights and lobby for progressive changes in the legal system.

Moustafa is also engaged in a related set of issues across a much wider set of countries through his involvement with a cutting-edge international research team that convened for several months this past summer at Bielfeld University in Germany on the theme “Balancing Religious Accommodation and Human Rights in Constitutional Frameworks.”  The main objective of the research group is to bring together constitutional experts and scholars working on religion-state relations in a variety of contexts in order to determine how different constitutional arrangements regarding religion either contribute to, or detract from, the progressive achievement of human rights.