Zulfikar A. Hirji

Department of Anthropology

Associate Professor
Graduate Program Director

Office: Vari Hall, 2054C
Phone: (416) 736-2100 Ext: 40142
Emailzhirji@yorku.ca

As an anthropologist and social historian I am interested in how human societies articulate, represent and perform understandings of self, community and other. My research focuses on Muslim societies in a range of historical and contemporary contexts. I am particularly concerned with the diverse ways in which Muslims express and articulate issues of deep human concern as well as matters of daily life. I also interrogate knowledge produced about Muslims, by academics and others. My research interests have lead me to study a range of issues including the production and performance of identity, the role of cultural workers and social movements, the dynamics of family networks and inter-generational migration, the socio-legal formation of communal identity in colonial contexts, and form and context of urban violence in religiously plural societies. I have conducted archival research and multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork in various parts of the world including East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Europe and North America.

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My early ethnographic research was carried out on the East Africa Coast amongst Swahili-speaking Muslim communities. For example in 1999, I carried out ethnographic research amongst men and women who create and produce kofia, male skull-caps, for local and regional markets, particularly between the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa. Such caps are regularly worn, highly valued and are often presented to men at special occasions and religious festivals. The women in these pictures are involved in embroidering kofia, a process that may take up to six months. Hailing from Pakistan, Tehreema Mitha moved to the US in the 1990s, where she started the Tehreema Mitha Dance Company so she could create and choreograph more freely. In her 22-year dance career, Mitha has choreographed over 60 original solo and ensemble works and has a large repertoire of tradition dances passed down through the generations. She ran the only dance company in Pakistan for five years, before moving to the US and is considered the only Muslim woman from Pakistan to run a dance company.“Tehreema’s mother and tutor, Indu Mitha, grew up in India and at the time of Partition in 1949 moved to Pakistan to be with her husband who was soldier in the Pakistan army,” says Hirji. “Tehreema learned the traditions of South Asian Dance, including bharata-natyam, from her mother, but over time, she has also developed contemporary dances, challenging her audiences in Pakistan and now in North America, to rethink their ideas about what constitutes South Asian dance.” Mitha’s dances embody a variety of themes which touch on literature, science, philosophy as well as the joys and complications, confusion and despair of modern times. “For me, the life-histories of Tehreema and her mother, particularly their movements between geo-political spaces and the ruptures caused by such movements as well as the opportunities they provide, exemplify the condition that many Muslims find themselves in today,” says Hirji. “In addition to exploring the extent to which Tehreema’s dance and choreography speak to these issues, I am also interested in Tehreema’s use of the Muslim traditions, particularly written poetry, in her dance. ”The dance Raks e-Rooh (Dance of the Soul) draws upon the mystical texts of the 13th century Sufi Muslim poet Jalal al-din Rumi, Hirji says. Mitha also uses other poets in her wor,k including the Urdu poet-intellectual Ahmad Faiz and the Punjabi Muslim poet-mystic Bulleh Shah. “The embodiment of these texts in her dance is, I believe, a distinctive feature of Tehreema’s work and speaks to issue of how textuality continues to play a critical role in the social and cultural expressions of Muslims. ”In addition to choreographing and dancing, Mitha also composes and produces the music for each dance and designs the costumes. Her dances, whether solos or with the company, move from classical to contemporary, including a what she calls bridging dance which incorporate a bit of both. Mitha’s work has been billed as athletic, intricate, dramatic, intensely emotional and at times humorous. Despite political, religious and cultural obstacles, Mitha has given solo performances in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Norway, China, India, Germany, England, Guatemala and the US.Mitha is one of two recipients of this year’s Kennedy Center Local Dance Commissioning project.

Degrees

DPhil, University of Oxford, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, 2002
MPhil, University of Cambridge, Faculty of Oriental Studies, Department of Islamic Studies, 1997
MA, Institute of Ismaili Studies, Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and the Humanities, Department of Academic Research and Publications, 1996
BA (Joint Honours), McGill University, Faculty of Arts, Departments of Religious Studies and Anthropology, 1989

Professional Leadership

GRADUATE SUPERVISIONS: Doctoral (Supervision) (2) 1. Sharaf Ochurbekov. PhD in Social Anthropology, York University. Proposed topic: Sacred spaces of worship amongst Ismaili Muslims of Tadjikistan (date of registration September 2007) 2. Nayrouz Abu-Hatoum, PhD in Social Anthropology, York University. Proposed topic: State state violence, bordered spaces, and fragmented belonging: the case of apartheid wall in Palestine Masters (Supervision) (1) 1. Danielle Coghlan, MA in Social Anthropology, York University. Proposed topic: Embodiments of memory & re-member-ing: relational aesthetics among artists of exile and diverse sensory phenomena

All Publications

Books

Azimuth Editions in association with Institute of Ismaili Studies and distributed by Thames and Hudson (July 1, 2008) ISBN-10: 1898592268 ISBN-13: 978-1898592266 Co-authored by Dr Farhad Daftary and Professor Zulfikar Hirji, The Ismailis, An Illustrated History contains some 400 images of manuscripts, artifacts and monuments, community documents as well as important historical and contemporary photographs. Based on modern scholarship in the fields of Ismaili and Islamic Studies, the book offers a comprehensive and accessible account of Ismaili history and intellectual achievements, set in the wider contexts of Islamic and world history.

I. B. Tauris in Association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies ISBN-10: 1848853025 See Dr Hirji interviewed as part of the "This is Not a Reading Series" book launch at the Gladstone Hotel.

Upcoming Courses

TermCourse NumberSectionTitleType 
Fall/Winter 2016-2017 AP/ANTH3570 6.0  Anthropology, Islam and Muslim Societies LECT  


As an anthropologist and social historian I am interested in how human societies articulate, represent and perform understandings of self, community and other. My research focuses on Muslim societies in a range of historical and contemporary contexts. I am particularly concerned with the diverse ways in which Muslims express and articulate issues of deep human concern as well as matters of daily life. I also interrogate knowledge produced about Muslims, by academics and others. My research interests have lead me to study a range of issues including the production and performance of identity, the role of cultural workers and social movements, the dynamics of family networks and inter-generational migration, the socio-legal formation of communal identity in colonial contexts, and form and context of urban violence in religiously plural societies. I have conducted archival research and multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork in various parts of the world including East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Europe and North America.


My early ethnographic research was carried out on the East Africa Coast amongst Swahili-speaking Muslim communities. For example in 1999, I carried out ethnographic research amongst men and women who create and produce kofia, male skull-caps, for local and regional markets, particularly between the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa. Such caps are regularly worn, highly valued and are often presented to men at special occasions and religious festivals. The women in these pictures are involved in embroidering kofia, a process that may take up to six months. Hailing from Pakistan, Tehreema Mitha moved to the US in the 1990s, where she started the Tehreema Mitha Dance Company so she could create and choreograph more freely. In her 22-year dance career, Mitha has choreographed over 60 original solo and ensemble works and has a large repertoire of tradition dances passed down through the generations. She ran the only dance company in Pakistan for five years, before moving to the US and is considered the only Muslim woman from Pakistan to run a dance company.“Tehreema’s mother and tutor, Indu Mitha, grew up in India and at the time of Partition in 1949 moved to Pakistan to be with her husband who was soldier in the Pakistan army,” says Hirji. “Tehreema learned the traditions of South Asian Dance, including bharata-natyam, from her mother, but over time, she has also developed contemporary dances, challenging her audiences in Pakistan and now in North America, to rethink their ideas about what constitutes South Asian dance.” Mitha’s dances embody a variety of themes which touch on literature, science, philosophy as well as the joys and complications, confusion and despair of modern times. “For me, the life-histories of Tehreema and her mother, particularly their movements between geo-political spaces and the ruptures caused by such movements as well as the opportunities they provide, exemplify the condition that many Muslims find themselves in today,” says Hirji. “In addition to exploring the extent to which Tehreema’s dance and choreography speak to these issues, I am also interested in Tehreema’s use of the Muslim traditions, particularly written poetry, in her dance. ”The dance Raks e-Rooh (Dance of the Soul) draws upon the mystical texts of the 13th century Sufi Muslim poet Jalal al-din Rumi, Hirji says. Mitha also uses other poets in her wor,k including the Urdu poet-intellectual Ahmad Faiz and the Punjabi Muslim poet-mystic Bulleh Shah. “The embodiment of these texts in her dance is, I believe, a distinctive feature of Tehreema’s work and speaks to issue of how textuality continues to play a critical role in the social and cultural expressions of Muslims. ”In addition to choreographing and dancing, Mitha also composes and produces the music for each dance and designs the costumes. Her dances, whether solos or with the company, move from classical to contemporary, including a what she calls bridging dance which incorporate a bit of both. Mitha’s work has been billed as athletic, intricate, dramatic, intensely emotional and at times humorous. Despite political, religious and cultural obstacles, Mitha has given solo performances in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Norway, China, India, Germany, England, Guatemala and the US.Mitha is one of two recipients of this year’s Kennedy Center Local Dance Commissioning project.

Degrees

DPhil, University of Oxford, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, 2002
MPhil, University of Cambridge, Faculty of Oriental Studies, Department of Islamic Studies, 1997
MA, Institute of Ismaili Studies, Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and the Humanities, Department of Academic Research and Publications, 1996
BA (Joint Honours), McGill University, Faculty of Arts, Departments of Religious Studies and Anthropology, 1989

Professional Leadership



GRADUATE SUPERVISIONS: Doctoral (Supervision) (2) 1. Sharaf Ochurbekov. PhD in Social Anthropology, York University. Proposed topic: Sacred spaces of worship amongst Ismaili Muslims of Tadjikistan (date of registration September 2007) 2. Nayrouz Abu-Hatoum, PhD in Social Anthropology, York University. Proposed topic: State state violence, bordered spaces, and fragmented belonging: the case of apartheid wall in Palestine Masters (Supervision) (1) 1. Danielle Coghlan, MA in Social Anthropology, York University. Proposed topic: Embodiments of memory & re-member-ing: relational aesthetics among artists of exile and diverse sensory phenomena

All Publications

Books

Azimuth Editions in association with Institute of Ismaili Studies and distributed by Thames and Hudson (July 1, 2008) ISBN-10: 1898592268 ISBN-13: 978-1898592266 Co-authored by Dr Farhad Daftary and Professor Zulfikar Hirji, The Ismailis, An Illustrated History contains some 400 images of manuscripts, artifacts and monuments, community documents as well as important historical and contemporary photographs. Based on modern scholarship in the fields of Ismaili and Islamic Studies, the book offers a comprehensive and accessible account of Ismaili history and intellectual achievements, set in the wider contexts of Islamic and world history.

I. B. Tauris in Association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies ISBN-10: 1848853025 See Dr Hirji interviewed as part of the "This is Not a Reading Series" book launch at the Gladstone Hotel.


Teaching:

Upcoming Courses

TermCourse NumberSectionTitleType 
Fall/Winter 2016-2017 AP/ANTH3570 6.0  Anthropology, Islam and Muslim Societies LECT