Professor Shafique Virani is an award-winning author and internationally recognized public speaker who has addressed people from over 50 countries and audiences of over 15,000. Describing him as “a visionary,” UNESCO honored him for dedicating his efforts “to the cause of extending the frontiers of knowledge and the welfare of humankind.”
After receiving his PhD from Harvard University, he served on the faculty at Harvard, was the Head of World Humanities at Zayed University in the UAE, and is now the Chair of the Department of Historical Studies, Director of the Centre for South Asian Civilizations, and holds the title of Distinguished Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Toronto. Through his scholarship, teaching and humanitarian work, he champions the cause of pluralism, fostering greater mutual understanding between the West and the Muslim world. He has received awards from scholarly organizations around the globe, including an International Book of the Year prize and recognition from the Middle East Studies Association of North America, the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies, the Foundation for Iranian Studies, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The Laurier Institution has described him as one of “the world’s most renowned scholars in Islamic studies.”
Professor Virani is a passionate teacher. His teaching experience spans not only a diversity of subject matters but educational contexts as well. He has taught boatmen on the banks of the Ganges in Benares and members of the royal family in Abu Dhabi, Afghan refugee children in Calgary and Indonesian mullahs at McGill, troubled teenagers from inner-city high schools and both graduate and undergraduate students at Harvard. He loves teaching and has enjoyed learning from students of incredibly diverse backgrounds, in many countries and a variety of languages. The recipient of the highest teaching honors of the American Academy of Religion and the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA), along with numerous other pedagogical awards, Professor Virani has pioneered the incorporation of multimedia and computer innovations in the curriculum to supplement traditional teaching methods. He is the first professor in North America to incorporate the iClicker classroom response system into the teaching of History and Religion, and has pioneered an online research intensive course in Islamic Studies.
The Chronicle of Higher Education highlights Professor Virani’s impact in his classes, and literally hundreds of student letters testify that his inspired teaching makes students want to learn for the pure joy of learning. One of his students writes, “I was amazed to see a number of people attending his class, who were not even enrolled...but attended just to listen to his lectures.” He brings the real world to students through high-profile “talk shows” with prominent guests, including Oscar nominee Mira Nair, media gurus Haroon Siddiqui and Eric Margolis, and Canadian cultural icons Zarqa Nawaz and Zaib Shaikh from the CBC hit television show, Little Mosque on the Prairie. One student writes: “[His] class is like a Socratic dialogue, Oprah, and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire combined!”
Professor Virani leads the “Virani Dream Team,” the University of Toronto’s largest Humanities research group. The University’s Research & Innovation Report commends the “intriguing and socially relevant subject matter” for “contributing to cultural diversity and understanding” and the initiatives that “bring together multiple academic departments.” The report concludes, “Virani’s passion for his work is obviously contagious, and he, in turn, delights in the motivation of a brilliant team.” Professor Virani loves doing volunteer work, particularly in the field of education. He founded an Arabic summer camp for Syrian youth in the mountains of al-Khawabi and also sits on the governing committee of the Madrasa Resource Centres of East Africa, which reach out disadvantaged communities in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Zanzibar.
OCUFA’s citation upon awarding him its highest pedagogical honor quotes the past chair of the Department of Historical Studies, who wrote, “Shafique Virani’s achievement in the classroom is not simply to successfully teach the material. It is to transform lives.”