A New Vision for Islamic Pasts and Futures

A New Vision for Islamic Pasts and Futures

By Shahzad Bashir

A groundbreaking view of Islam that goes beyond conventional theological, nativist, and orientalist approaches, presented in an interactive, open-access born-digital format.





A groundbreaking view of Islam that goes beyond conventional theological, nativist, and orientalist approaches, presented in an interactive, open-access born-digital format.

This groundbreaking, born-digital work invites readers to imagine Islam anew. Moving beyond conventional theological, nativist, and orientalist approaches, Shahzad Bashir decenters Islam from a geographical identification with the Middle East, an articulation through men's authority alone, and the assumption that premodern expressions are more authentically Islamic than modern ones. Focusing on time as a human construct, A New Vision for Islamic Pasts and Futures interprets stories and images, paying attention to evidence and methods of interpretation.

Islam, in Bashir's telling, is a vast net of interconnected traces that appear to be different depending on the vantage from which they are seen. Complementing narrative with extensive visual evidence, the multimodal digital form enacts the multiplicity of the project's analyses and perspectives, conferring a shape-shifting quality that bridges the gap between sensing Islam and understanding it, between feeling it as a powerful presence and analyzing it through intellectual means.

This interactive, open-access edition allows readers to enter Islam through a diverse set of doorways, each leading to different time periods across different parts of the world. Bashir discusses Islam as phenomenon and as discourse—observed in the built environment, material objects, paintings, linguistic traces, narratives, and social situations. He draws on literary genres, including epics, devotional poetry and prayers, and modern novels; art and architecture in varied forms; material culture, from luxury objects to cheap trinkets; and such forms of media as photographs, graffiti, and films. The book's layered digital interface allows for an exploration of and engagement with this rich visual material and multimedia evidence not possible in a printed volume.

A collaboration between the MIT Press and the Digital Publications Initiative of Brown University.

Supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the MIT Press, and the Digital Publications Initiative of Brown University.

The URL for this project will be islamicpastsandfutures.org


ISBN: 9780262371919 290 color illus.


  • "Bashir's book magically mimics the very processes by which we associate image, place, speech, and memory to stitch together our sense of the world. A breathtaking sweep of an ancient stepwell glimpsed in the sun begs the eye to slow down, to trace its fractal-like detail, minutiae which in turn invoke narratives of deeds past, transporting the viewer in decidedly non-linear fashion—space, time, the senses, all moving at different emotional speeds, connect fragments of the Islamic world into a significance which can be shared but which will always remain personal. Brilliant."

    Tony K. Stewart

    Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in Humanities, Emeritus, Vanderbilt University, author of The Final Word: the Caitanya Caritamrta and the Grammar of Religious Tradition (Oxford 2010)

  • "Shahzad Bashir has produced an incredible work of scholarship....It is a wide ranging, stunningly original, and incredibly sophisticated exploration of Islamic pasts and futures that is also accessible to the general reader....I can honestly say that I have never read anything quite like it."

    Ethan Kleinberg

    Class of 1958 Distinguished Professor of History and Letters, Wesleyan University, author of Emmanuel Levinas's Talmudic Turn: Philosophy and Jewish Thought (Stanford U Press, 2021) and Haunting History: for a deconstructive approach to the past (Stanford U Press, 2017)

  • "Shahzad Bashir's book will change the way we think and write about our relationship to time. Infused with a commitment to treating studies of and studies from Islam as equally theory-generating and in need of theorizing, Bashir insists that we conceptualize our scholarship in a novel meter. An essential contribution to debates on temporality in history, anthropology, religious studies, and beyond, this beautiful web of narratives, images, videos, and creative academic writing is nothing short of a thrilling scholarly experience."

    Noah Salomon

    University of Virginia, author of For Love of the Prophet: An Ethnography of Sudan's Islamic State

  • “At once a mosaic of entry points into the author's intricate and refreshing views of the Islamic world and a unique web-based interactive experience, this meticulous book moves beyond the Middle East to open up the world with the author guiding the internaut reader on a journey through the prism of time.”

    Lara Baladi

    Artist and educator, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of ABC: A Lesson in History

  • “A capacious overview of “Islam” that uses the dynamism of time as a framing device, Shahzad Bashir's innovative electronic book is like a memory palace in which every locus is itself another memory palace, all together forming an intricate web of intersections, crossovers, and possible narratives.  The format is cutting-edge, the scope breathtaking, and the argument multilayered though robustly consistent.  The whole is a history of thoughts on Islam in all its diverse glory but also its endless crosstemporal confluences, potential reconfigurations, twists, and modern iterations, of which the book itself is but one methodologically astute yet unassumingly subjective example.”

    Nasser Rabbat

    Aga Khan Professor and the Director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT, author ofWriting Egypt, al-Maqrizi and his Historical Project