(This photo of
Lynda Clarke was removed at the explicit request of the subject, August
by Barbara Black
G. Clarke is a scholar of Islamic spirituality, law and literature at
a time when the faith is under intense scrutiny in the West.
Im intrigued by the phenomenon of people rushing out to buy
the Koran, she said. However, if they are trying to understand the
people of the Middle East by reading their holy book, they are missing
People, especially the media, tend to attribute lifestyles to religion.
While people do often express themselves through their religion, their
choices of action are based on underlying material factors, grievances,
and specific situations.
Professor Clarke came to Concordia three years ago, replacing Professor
Sheila McDonough when she retired. Clarke studied at McGill, earning her
doctorate in Islamic studies, with distinction, in 1995. She has a masters
in Islamic studies from McGill, and another masters from the University
of Toronto, in Middle East studies.
Travel and work in the Middle
Though born in Canada, she has travelled widely throughout her life, and
lived in Lebanon, Iran, where she was a translator in Teheran during the
Iran-Iraq War, and Syria. She is a Lebanese citizen.
Her research interests lie in classical and modern Shiism, law,
gender issues, Sufism and comparative mysticism, and Arabic and Persian
Her current project on Shiite law is funded by grants from Concordia
and Quebec. As part of her research, she visits and maintains contact
with the main Shiite seminary at Qum, in Iran, at Najaf, in Iraq,
and others in Lebanon. Currently, she is translating 13th-century Shiite
legal texts and its accompanying commentaries, tracing the constant evolution
of Shiite law all the way up to its preoccupations with such modern
issues as bioethics.
She and Jewish Studies Professor Ira Robinson plan to offer a joint course
on Jewish and Islamic law next year. There are many misconceptions here
about Islam and Arabs, she said.
As a scholar interested in issues of gender, she is a bit suspicious of
Western sympathy for Muslim women, and sees the current concern about
the oppression of Afghani women on the part of the U.S. administration
as politically motivated.
The symbolism of headscarves, for example, is very rich, and subtle differences
are instantly recognized among the wearers. Like dress in general, she
said, the headscarf is an identity marker. It can mean independence,
modesty and dignity.
While Muslims and Arabs have become more numerous and visible in our cities
in recent years, there have always been Arabs in Canada. Arabs,
both Christian and Muslim, homesteaded on the Prairies in the early 1800s,
like other immigrants at the time. The first mosque in Canada was built
The attack on the U.S. on Sept. 11 hit Canadian Muslims very hard, she
said. They felt conflicted, defensive, shocked and anguished
that such a thing would be done in the name of their religion. Clarke
noticed, though, that from the beginning, there was widespread sympathy
for Muslims, and there were few incidents of backlash.
Asked if Islam is changing, Professor Clarke said that the religion became
highly politicized in the 20th century, and this phenomenon continues
Its partly generational, she explained. Nationalist
and leftist ideologies socialism, even communism had been
tried. Now there is a wave [of religious fervour] that started in about
the mid-1970s, but its also linked to left-wing politics. The two
streams come together in places like southern Lebanon.
While she is pleased with Concordias ethnic and religious diversity,
she naturally has a special concern for the Muslim and Arab students at
Concordia, many of whom are recent arrivals or first-generation Canadians.
Theyre finding their place. They want to find room for their
political ideas, and they do it vigorously. They may feel that people
dont know who they are, or they may tend to stick together, but
in general, they are doing very well. It helps that there are large numbers
of them, and they form a community.