Sayed Ammar Nakshawani is a professor and the Imam Ali Chair of Shia studies at Hartford Seminary, as well as a Islamic subject matter expert, scholar, and author. He is listed as one of The 500 Most Influential Muslims,. Nakshawani is additionally known for his inter- and intra- faith unity efforts, and has met with a plethora of faith leaders to further these objectives. Nakshawani is a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University's Middle East Institute. Nakshawani is also a philanthropist, committing financial resources to a plethora of social and humanitarian causes.
Nakshawani serves as the Imam Ali Chair of Shia studies at Hartford Seminary, the oldest seminary in the United States, and is the first ever academic chair in the United States devoted to the study of Shi'ism.
Nakshawani also serves as the Special Representative to the United Nations for the Universal Muslim Association of America (UMAA). In this role, he promotes women's rights initiatives, social development, and religious tolerance. Nakshawani uses this position to speak out for the preservation of cultural heritage, historical art and architecture, and ancient literature. As Special Representative, he engages in interfaith dialogue with leaders of a variety of faith communities, and advocates on behalf of Islam to a variety of NGO leaders, governments, elected officials, think tanks, and policy institutes.
Nakshawani has been a strong verbal opponent of ISIS, insisting that world powers unite to directly address the threat posed by the terrorist organization. He has also held large symposiums decrying violence in Ferguson, the 2015 Chapel Hill shooting, the Charlie Hebdo shooting, and was interviewed on British media about the Woolwich terror killing – which he denounced as an act of extremism.
Prior to joining UMAA, Nakshawani served as the Visiting Scholar of Islamic Studies, at the University of Cambridge in England. In this position, he performed extensive research and academic analysis of ancient Islamic texts, which he has discussed at a number of academic forums.
Nakshawani is a member of the International Qurʾanic Studies Association.
Nakshwani was born in 1981 and is the grandson of Murtadha Nakshawani, who served as a representative of Grand Ayatollah Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei in the holy city of Najaf in Iraq. In 1987, his family migrated to England, United Kingdom. He is a direct descendant of Muhammad through Musa al-Kadhim, the seventh Twelver ShiaImam. He is also the nephew of Sheikh Baqir al-Irawani, one of the highest ranking Shiite jurists of the 21st century.
He attended University College London and obtained his BSc in Psychology and Law in 2003, and also studied a one-year diploma course at the London School of Economics. He thereafter obtained his MA from Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran and his doctorate from the University of Exeter.
Nakshawani completed his MA under the supervision of Jassim Hussain, author of The Occultation of the Twelfth Imam. His Phd, Examining the Caliphate of Muawiya b Abi Sufyan, was supervised by Professors Sajjad Rizvi, Rob Gleave and C.E. Bosworth, with a defense involving Prof Robert Hoyland. He has taught courses on Islam and Human Rights, Islam and Pluralism, and Gender Studies through a Quranic Perspective.
He studied in the Islamic Seminaries of Damascus, Syria in the precincts of the sanctuary of Lady Zainab, the granddaughter of Mohammad, from 2009 – 2012. Nakshawani completed studies in Arabic Grammar, Hadith Studies, Logic, Science of Jurisprudence, History, Theology, Mysticism and Quranic Sciences. These subjects included the study of works of classical scholars such as Ibn Aqil, Rumi, Sibawayh, Baladhuri, Tabari, Ibn al-Athir, Masudi, Yaqubi, Baqillani, Qadi Numan, Sijistani, Ibn Arabi, Allama al-Hilli, Sheikh al-Mufid, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, Shahid al-Awwal and Shahid al-Thani, Sharif al-Murtadha and Sharif al-Radhi, Suyuti, Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Qayyim al–Jawziyya, Dhahabi, Kashi, Najashi as well as contemporary scholars such as Sadr, Sobhani, Yazdi, Abdul Hadi al-Fadhli, Taleqani, Beheshti, Khoei, Mutaharri, Shariati, Muzaffar as well as his uncle Baqir al-Irawani.
He studied under Ayatollah Milani, Sheikh Bahmanpour, Sheikh Elmi, Sheikh Vaezi, Dr Toussi, Sheikh Ahmed Qabalan, Sayed Alaa al Halabi, Sheikh Mukhtar al-Tunisi, and Prof Ezzati.
According to a license posted on his website, he holds the intermediate scholarly rank of Hujjat al-Islam.
In 2014, Nakshawani was included in the list of The 500 Most Influential Muslims (also known as The Muslim 500, an annual publication first published in 2009) in the "Preachers and Spiritual Guides" section.
A 2009 report by the Change Institute said that at the age of 27, Nakshawani represented the arrival of a new generation of persuasive and articulate Muslim intellectuals and personalities who are able to gain leverage amongst young Muslim audiences because they speak in a language that appeals to them…an increasingly significant figure amongst Shi'a youth both in the UK and internationally.
Nakshawani served as a Visiting Scholar of Islamic Studies and performed advanced research and academic analysis of historic texts.
Sayed Ammar continues to promote a contemporary understanding of Islam and dispelling myths about Shi'ism through interfaith and intrafaith initiatives under the mentorship of leading scholars in the Muslim World. He travels frequently to Iraq to consult with scholars including Ayatollahs Ali al-Sistani and Bashir al-Najafi, and others. His uncle Mohammad Jawad al-Irawani sits on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's Expediency Discernment Council. He also routinely convenes with al-Sistani's representative Sheikh Fadhel al-Sahlani, in New York City. Sayed Ammar has appeared on news media including TV channels such as the BBC, Ahlulbayt TV, Press TV, Al Zahra, Al Anwar, Kerbala TV, Hidayat, Wilayat, Ahlebayt and Safeer TV.
After the Murder of Lee Rigby, Nakshawani made a "Statement on Woolwich Killing" denouncing the attack and expressing solidarity with the British community, quoting the Quran to point out that the attack was in violation of Islam's religious edicts.
Nakshawani encouraged dialogue, saying "Its time for Muslims to sit with Christians and look at each other through each other's lenses."
He expressed disappointment at the media focus on extremists as "representatives" of Islam, saying that there were much more representative and legitimate interview subjects. Nakshawani says in the statement "We [Muslims] are victims of terrorism."
Sayed Ammar Nakshawani spoke at the Emerge USA Miami Benefit Dinner titled "American Muslims: Breaking Barriers" in May 2014. He spoke of the need for Muslims to become politically involved, and cited the early history of Islam as a model for understanding the concept of "swing states" in US elections.
Sayed Ammar Nakshawani was a speaker at the 2014 Al Baqee Rally, which was held in protest of the destruction of Jannat Al-Baqi' in 1925. Nakshawani spoke for the need to preserve Islamic, Christian, Judaic, Buddhist and all manner of historical locations and monuments. He said that destruction of history was against the tenets of Islam.
The "Muslim Student Association of Columbia University". held a lecture by Imam Ammar Nakshawani on the importance of uniting Sunni and Shia Muslims.
“There needs to be dialogue in order to bridge the gap,” Nakshawani said in his lecture.
“For so many years, when Shiites and Sunnis tried to bridge the gap, the Shiite would look through his lens. The Sunni would look through his.”
In his address, Nakshawani asked the audience to put aside political and theological differences between Sunnis and Shiites and focus on the group’s shared fundamental beliefs, such as the oneness of Allah, Muhammad’s role as the prophet of Allah, and the five pillars of Islam.
"Take off your lenses and see through the eyes of someone else," Nakshawani said.
He criticized he speeches of Sunni and Shiite clerics who use phrases such as "atheist sinners" and "infidels" to incite hatred of other sects.
The "Rumble in Westminster". was a student debate at the University of Westminster on the 15th of June 2009, whose participants were Hayder Al Khoei, Nafeesa Amanat, Ahmed Butt, and Mira Hammad. The judges' panel included a four expert communicators in difficult situations: comedian Jeff Mirza, debater Adam Deen, Sayed Ammar Nakshawani and Professor Tariq Ramadan.
Nakshawani appeared on the November 2010 episode of Press TV's "Islam and Life", speaking about media appearances by Muslims in the 21st century.
Nakshawani was the subject of a profile in EMEL Magazine entitled "Watch this face.". The magazine said "A natural orator, Sayed Ammar combines his knowledge of Islam – acquired from an MA in Islam Studies and a current PhD in Islamic History – with an innate passion to communicate his faith."
Although both have the most-followed lectures on YouTube in the Shia world, with figures in the millions, their differences escalated in 2011 when Nakshawani indirectly attacking Habib saying "We have some disgraceful representatives of our madhhab. On Youtube today you will find people dressed like clerics hiding in a house in London and sending curses on personalities revered by others in Islam. I may disagree with those personalities, but do not talk offensively – people in Peshawar, Bahrain, Iraq, die because of our lecturers. Do not compromise your beliefs, but be tolerant of others' beliefs."
Yassir Habib's television channel Fadak TV then produced a three-part documentary replying to Nakshawani's attack. The differences between the two escalated to the extent it was published in the Daily Mail newspaper.
After the destruction of an important shrine in Syria, Nakshawani wrote in the above book, "Hujr ibn 'Adi al-Kindi (died 660 CE) was a companion of Muhammad. He was sentenced to death by the Umayyad Caliph Muawiyah I for his unwavering support and praise for Ali, the first Imam of the Shias."