Henry Newman’s research examines Shii ecumenical thought during the early twentieth century. His projects examines how and why Persian and Arab Shia switched from conceptualizing Sunnis as heretical infidels towards considering them fellow Muslims. During the Persian Constitutional Revolution Shia Muslims began reaching out to the Ottoman Caliph – even addressing him as ‘our caliph’. Later in the years of the First World War, Shii clerics in the Iraqi shrine cities dismissed the difference between Sunnis and Shia. These early years of ecumenical rapprochement laid the path for a fatwa issued in 1959. The fatwa by the then Sheikh al-Azhar, Mahmud Shaltut, recognised Shiism as a fifth school of Islam, equal in status to the existing four Sunni schools. Despite continued sectarian conflict that decision was a game change moment opening the door for Muslim inter-sectarian tolerance.
Henry read Persian with Islamic Studies/History at Christ Church, Oxford; he then studied for a Masters in Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard as a Frank Knox Fellow. He has taught Nineteenth Century Iranian History at the University of York; Middle East politics at Lincoln College, Oxford; a course on Political Islam at Harvard’s Department of Government; and Government and Politics of the Middle East at SOAS. His research is supported by a scholarship from the Wingate Foundation and previously by the Spalding Trust, British Institute of Persian Studies, Sir Richard Stapley Fund and funds from LSE’s Government department. Henry has written occasionally for the Guardian’s Comment is Free as well as for Slate Magazine and the Evening Standard.