Universiteit Leiden

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In memoriam Sjoerd van Koningsveld (1943-2021)

We are saddened by the news of the unexpected passing of prof.dr. Pieter Sjoerd van Koningsveld on 28 July 2021.

Sjoerd van Koningsveld was born in Leeuwarden in 1943. He studied Law and Semitic languages (with a concentration on Arabic philology) at the Free University of Amsterdam. This double background can be traced throughout his long and rich career as a scholar and teacher. Van Koningsveld was a superb philologist of Arabic, and produced numerous editions of Arabic texts from al-Andalus (Islamic Spain) and from the Maghrib. He was an expert in Islamic codicology and possessed an encyclopaedic knowledge of Arabic religious literature. 

Keeping up with changes in the field

The early stages of his career were devoted to these aspects of his scholarly interests. His first job in Leiden was with the University Library, where he took care of the very large collection of Arabic manuscripts. In 1974, he was hired by the Leiden Faculty of Theology as lecturer in Islam. In 1976, he obtained his doctorate with a dissertation on the Leiden Arabic-Latin Glossary. In this dissertation, he proved that this glossary was not, as had always been assumed, a tool for Christian students of Islam to master Arabic, but that it was a tool for Arabic-writing Christians in al-Andalus to master Latin. This was but the first in a long list of publications on Islam on the Iberian peninsula, all of which bear the stamp of his great learning.

In the meantime, due to well-known developments, Islam and Muslims had ceased to be a subject of historical interest alone. The immigration of large numbers of Muslims to Europe made the study of Islam a subject of great contemporary social and academic significance. This is where Van Koningsveld’s interest in law, politics and society became salient. Together with his friend and long-time colleague Wasif Shadid, Van Koningsveld pioneered the study of Muslims in Europe. They produced a large body of scholarship that laid the foundations not only for a flourishing academic field – Islam in Europe – but also for social and political engagement. In recognition of the importance of his work, he was appointed Professor of Islam in Western Europe in 1992; he held this position until his retirement in 2008.

Tireless advocate

Van Koningsveld tirelessly argued the case for self-reliance of Muslims in Europe, protecting them from what he rightly perceived to be racist abuse coming under the guise of a critique of their religion, and urging them to rethink how to adapt the practice of their religion to their minority setting in a rapidly secularizing Europe. Alongside a steady stream of superb scholarly publications in this field, and an active role as adviser to the Dutch government and to Muslim communities and organizations, Van Koningsveld was a central figure in several teaching programmes of Islamic Studies in Leiden. He was a charismatic teacher and an inspiring supervisor – many of his doctoral students became lecturers and professors in various places in the Netherlands and abroad. Through his work as a scholar, as a teacher, and as an expert, he has left an indelible imprint on the academic fields in which he was active, and on Dutch society more generally.

While his mother tongue was Frisian, his publications came in a variety of other languages, all of which he spoke with ease: Dutch, English, Arabic, Spanish, German, and French. He had a razor-sharp mind and a great stylistic talent, both as a speaker and as a writer. He will be sorely missed by colleagues and by his many students, as well as by those closest to him: his wife Afifa Aleiby, his sons David and Gijs and his grandsons Valentijn and Floris.

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