Why earn a second Ph.D.? SBTS Islamic studies professor says it will ‘help and empower’ his students
A professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary graduated last month with a doctor of philosophy degree — the second Ph.D. he has earned in the past five years. Ayman S. Ibrahim, Bill and Connie Jenkins Associate Professor of Islamic Studies, earned the degree from the University of Haifa in Mount Carmel, Israel, a leading university in the fields of Arabic and Islamic studies. He earned his first doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, in 2014.
In addition to teaching, Ibrahim leads the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam, a resource center on the campus of Southern Seminary intended to establish a scholarly, Christian perspective of Islam.
Ibrahim, who is already an Islamic studies scholar, said he earned the second terminal degree not only for academic inquiry or professional advancement, but also to aid his students — many of whom will work in ministries focused on reaching Muslim people groups with the gospel.
“When I started studying for my first Ph.D., I fell in love with Islamic history,” Ibrahim said in an interview. “I wanted to study Islamic history in depth, and to interact with my Muslim friends in a deeper way. I wanted to be informed. I wanted to ask hard questions about Islam.
“My second Ph.D. research expands and deepens my understanding of Islam — this goes directly to help and empower my students,” Ibrahim explained. “I love telling my students of the various Muslim and non-Muslim arguments about Islam and asking them to study them well and adopt what I call a critical-theological approach to Islam, in which we not only become critical evaluators and solid scholars of Islam, but also theologians and biblically centered researchers who explore ideas and arguments from a Christian worldview.”
In the program at Haifa, Ibrahim explored over 500 documents from early Muslim history, including primary sources from more than 100 classical Muslim historians, to learn how Muslims explained the emergence of their religion.
Ibrahim accomplished his work in a dissertation titled, “Conversion Topoi: A Critical Analysis of the Portrayal of Conversion to Islam in Early Islamic Historiography.” He said his goal was to “create a vivid picture of conversion to Islam as early Muslim historians sought to depict it.”
“The readers of my work will wrestle with the Muslim sources’ reliability, and will ask whether Islam actually spread by the sword and deduce unconventional meanings of conversion,” Ibrahim said. “My readers will unearth the hidden link between historical narratives and historians’ religious sympathies and political agendas.”
That Ibrahim put this amount of work into earning multiple degrees speaks to his commitment to theological education, according to Randy Stinson, who is provost of Southern Seminary.
“Dr. Ibrahim is one of the top scholars in Islamic studies,” said Stinson. “His hard work and dedication to this field of study translates to the classroom as a passionate and knowledgeable teacher to students here at Southern. Any student who sits under the teaching of Dr. Ibrahim will benefit from his research and understanding of Islam and be prepared to take the gospel forth to the nations.”
Ibrahim is in talks about publishing his research with a major university press. His research at Fuller Seminary focused on the first two decades in Islamic history and was published as an academic book titled The Stated Motivations for the Early Islamic Expansion in 2018.
More information about the Jenkins Center is available at jenkins.sbts.edu. Ibrahim also leads an academic master’s degree program in Islamic studies; more information about that program is available at www.sbts.edu/academics.