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Petra Sijpesteijn

Professor of Arabic

Prof.dr. P.M. Sijpesteijn
+31 71 527 2027

Petra Sijpesteijn is professor of Arabic. Her research concentrates on recovering the experiences of Muslims and non-Muslims living under Islamic rule, using the vast stores of radically under-used documents surviving from the early Islamic world. Starting in 2017, she manages an international research project entitled "Embedding Conquest: Naturalising Muslim Rule in the Early Islamic Empire (600-1000)", funded by the European Research Council.

More information about Petra Sijpesteijn

Leiden Islam Blog


Office hours for students

Tuesdays from 11.00-12.00 hours during term


Petra Sijpesteijn's research concentrates on recovering the experiences of Muslims and non-Muslims living under Islamic rule, using the vast stores of radically under-used documents surviving from the early Islamic world. Starting from Islam’s crucial first centuries, Petra's work explores the many, varied expressions of Islam from its formation up to the present day.

Looking at the transition from the pre-Islamic Byzantine system and its Egyptian variant to an Arab/Muslim state, she examines the extent to which the Arabs built on the ancient societies that preceded them and the innovations they introduced. Recently she has extended this interest to the dynamic historical processes underlying the transition from a conquest society to a lasting Muslim polity in other areas of the Muslim Empire, especially the Iberian peninsula and Central Asia.

Aiming to understand the diversity and unity of the Muslim Empire and its culture, Petra also works on global interactions and the networks that extended from the Mediterranean into Southeast Asia in the pre-modern world, and how the Middle East functioned within them. From material culture and archaeology to theological texts, she is interested in how people, objects and ideas travelled throughout this vast area and the changes they brought about.



In 2017, Petra Sijpesteijn has started an ERC Consolidator Grant project Embedding Conquest: Naturalising Muslim Rule in the Early Islamic Empire (600-1000) which aims to incorporate all available documents reflecting Muslim rule from the first 400 years of Islam, to reconstruct the system of social relations that enabled the crucial transition from a conquest society to a political organism that survived the breakdown of central caliphal control, and remains the region’s benchmark model today. Read more about this project (in Dutch). 

In her earlier ERC Starting Grant project, The Formation of Islam. The view from below (2009-2015) and the monograph that resulted from it, she focused on the history of the formation of Islam and spread after the Arab conquests of the mid-seventh century, using the vastly important but largely neglected papyri from Egypt. 

She is also involved in a collaborative international research project entitled Provinces and Empires: Islamic Egypt in the Ancient World

Teaching activities

Recent courses include the following:


Petra Sijpesteijn studied history and Arabic at Leiden University (MA), the University of Damascus, Cambridge University, Cornell University, and Princeton University (MA, PhD), where she defended her dissertation in Near Eastern Studies in 2004, being awarded the department’s annual prize for best thesis. She was a junior research fellow in Oriental Studies at Christ Church, Oxford (2003-2007), before moving to the CNRS in Paris as a chargée de recherche. In 2007 she was awarded a Starter’s Grant from the European Research Council (ERC).

In 2008 she was appointed full professor on the chair of Arabic language and culture at Leiden University. She was the founding president of the International Society for Arabic Papyrology (2001-2014) and the Andrew H. Mellon research fellow in the papyrus digitisation and cataloguing project at the Austrian National Library (2013-2014). She has held visiting professorships at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences-Sociales (EHESS), Paris, University College London Qatar, and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt. From 2014-2018 she was director of the Leiden University Centre for the Study of Islam (LUCIS). Since 2016 she has been a member of the International Association of Papyrologists.

She regularly appears in the media and participates in public debates to talk about Islamic history and current affairs in the Muslim world.

Key publications

With A.T. Schubert (eds.), Documents and the History of the Early Islamic World. Leiden: Brill, 2014.

Shaping a Muslim State. The World of a Mid-Eighth-Century Egyptian OfficialOxford University Press, 2013.

Why Arabic? Leiden University Press, 2012.

With R. Margariti and A. Sabra (eds.), Histories of the Middle East. Studies in Middle Eastern Society, Economy and Law in Honor of A.L. Udovitch. Leiden: Brill, 2010.

In the media (Dutch)

Boerka en Baard, OVT (VPRO), NPO Radi0 1, 11 December 2016.

Radio-interview with Coen Verbraak in De Kennis van Nu (NTR), NPO Radio 1, 6 December 2015.

Wat is een kalifaat en welke rol speelt de jihad daarin?, De Kennis van Nu (NTR), NPO Radio 5, 19 November 2015.

"Vragen over oude Koranfragmenten". Interview met Dirk Vlasblom in NRC Handelsblad, 31 July 2014.

Islam en Nobelprijzen, Labyrint (VPRO/NTR), NPO Radio 1, February 2013.

"Geen idee wat de islam is", De Volkskrant, 23 January 2010.

"Papyri belichten begintijd islam", Trouw, 9 April 2009.

"Mohammed op snippers", NRC Handelsblad, 4 April 2009.

Professor of Arabic

  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Leiden Institute for Area Studies

Work address

Herta Mohr
Witte Singel 27A
2311 BG Leiden
Room number 1132



  • No relevant ancillary activities
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