Interview with Syed A. Rizwan

Published: November 5, 2018

Securing a job after graduation is an incredible feat, and we would like to congratulate recent graduate Syed Atif Rizwan on his impressive new position as Assistant Professor of Islamic and Interreligious Studies and Associate Director of Catholic Muslim Studies at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

Syed graduated from UCLA in 2018 with a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies and his area of research examined the beginnings of the use of stoning as punishment for adultery in Islamic criminal laws. At the Catholic Theological Union, he is excited to teach in areas of his expertise and interreligious studies, and to gain administrative skills at an educational institution. We were able to sit down with Syed and ask him a few questions about how his interest in the intersection of ethics and law led him to pursue a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies at UCLA.


When did you first decide you wanted to pursue an academic career in Islamic Studies?

For me, there was no single defining moment that marked my decision to pursue an academic career in Islamic Studies. After spending 8 years working in finance, I took the opportunity to pursue a PhD in Islamic Studies because it was something I had always been interested in and curious about.

Why did you decide to choose UCLA to pursue your Ph.D. in Islamic Studies?

When it came time to decide on which school to attend, Dr. Khaled M. Abou El Fadl, the Omar and Azmeralda Alfi Distinguished Professor in Islamic Law at the UCLA School of Law, played a huge role in my decision. Dr. Abou El Fadl is the Chair of the Islamic Studies Interdepartmental Program at UCLA, and I had read a lot of his work and thought that he would be a good advisor, especially since my interests of study are in Islamic laws and jurisprudence, and the intersection of law and ethics. I also liked the interdisciplinary nature of the program and believed that it would be great exposure to many different topics. Also, UCLA’s reputation as a top school meant a lot to me in terms of all the available resources while in school and down the road after getting my PhD and starting my academic career.

How did you decide to focus your research on the topic that you did?

Because I was interested in the relationship between law and ethics, I ended up taking several legal philosophy classes. Among them was one on the philosophy of punishment, and  I was fascinated by the scholarship and discussions on the justification for punishment. This motivated me to focus on Islamic criminal laws, and raised my curiosity about how the specific capital punishment of stoning became part of the Islamic legal system given that it is not in the Qur’ān.

What research do you plan on working on now that you have graduated?

As far as my future research, I plan to continue working on Islamic criminal laws. I want to learn more about how Muslim legal authorities in pre-modern and modern worlds articulate philosophies of punishment. I am also doing this research within comparative law and interreligious frameworks.


If you are interested in learning more about Syed’s work, he will be speaking about the Shari’a at Elmhurst College on November 5th. He will also be speaking at the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) National Conference on November 16th. He can be contacted at