Ruba Kana’an

Ruba Kana’an

Assistant Professor & Associate Chair
Islamic Art and Architecture

I am a historian of Islamic art. My primary research focuses on the Intersections between art, artists, art production, and law in historical and contemporary contexts. I use archival, textual and field-based research in my work. I have conducted research in Jordan, Palestine, Turkey, Yemen, Oman, East Africa, Egypt and Syria. Theoretically, my research engages with Bruno Latour’s object-networks and Henri Lefebvre’s production of space, among other frameworks. My publications address questions about the formation and meanings of mosque architecture, metalwork, and civic space in pre-modern Muslim societies.

My professional experience spans the worlds of academia, architectural practice, museums, and community-based art education. Before joining the Faculty of Visual Studies at UTM, I taught various aspects of Islamic art and architecture at the graduate and undergraduate levels in the UK and Canada. In 2007, I pioneered the on-line teaching of Islamic art at Oxford University by developing and teaching Oxford’s first accredited on-line course in Islamic Art and Architecture. Between 2011 and 2017 I worked at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. I was a founding member of the AKM’s leadership team and worked closely with the museum’s Islamic art collection in the areas of museum management, research, education for all levels of learners, scholarly programs, publications and community engagement and programming.

I am passionate about teaching and learning and believe that the arts provides students opportunities to explore many different world views and think critically about contemporary and historical questions concerning the diverse and changing contexts in which art is produced, consumed and imagined.

Current Research Projects

My research explores how the understanding of the art and architecture of Muslim societies is transformed and, at times, enhanced by examining juridical and theological textual sources in a variety of languages including Arabic, Ottoman Turkish, and Persian. I am currently researching and writing a book on the function and symbolism of the architecture of Friday mosques. The book discusses the contexts in which Friday mosques in Damascus, Baghdad, Cordova, Fez, Cairo, Isfahan, Istanbul, and Muscat were established and the extensive legal debates concerning their construction, decoration, function and meaning.

Courses Taught

FAH281: An Introduction to Islamic Art and Architecture
FAH495: Islamic Art and the Museum
FAH395: From China to Baghdad: Art Encounters on the Silk Road
FAH390: Painting and Figural Images in Islamic Art

DPhil, Islamic Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford
MPhil, Islamic Art and Architecture, University of Oxford
B.Sc., Architectural Engineering, University of Jordan


In Progress - “A Talismanic Shirt from West Africa in the Collection of the Textile Museum Canada”, in Approaches to the Qur’an in Sub-Saharan Africa, edited by Zulfikar Hirji, Oxford University Press. Accepted.  

2017 - “The Social and Economic History of Metalwork. 1050-1250,” with James W. Allan. A Companion to Islamic Art and Architecture, edited by Gulru Necipoglu and Finbarr B. Flood, Blackwell Companions to Art History, Wiley-Blackwell. vol. 1, pp. 453-477 

2015 - Learning at the Aga Khan Museum, A Curriculum Resource Guide for Teachers. Grades 1-8, (co-authored with Patricia Bentley) The Aga Khan Museum (ISBN: 978-1-926473-06-2). 168 pages.

2014 - “Highlights in the Permanent Collection” including 100 catalogue entries in Pattern and Light, Aga Khan Museum (ed.) Ruba Kana’an, Skira Rizzoli and the Aga Khan Museum, pp. 56-169.

2013 - “The Biography of a Thirteenth-century Brass Ewer from Mosul” in God Is Beautiful; He Loves Beauty: The Object in Islamic Art and Culture, Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom (eds.), Yale University Press, pp. 179-193.

2012 - “Patron and Craftsman of the Freer Mosul Ewer of 1232: a Historical and Legal Interpretation of the Roles of tilmidh and ghulam in Islamic Metalwork” Ars Orientalis, vol. 42, pp. 67-78.

2011 - “The Mosque” in Islam: a Short Guide to the Faith, Roger Allen and Shawkat M. Toorawa (eds.),William B. Eerdmans, pp. 87-92

2009 - “The de jure artist of the Bobrinski Bucket: production and patronage of pre-Mongol metalwork in Khurasan and Transoxiana,” Islamic Law and Society, vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 175-201.

2008  - “The Carved-Stucco Mihrabs of Oman: Form, Style and Influences,” in Islamic Art in Oman, A. al-Salimi, H. Gaube and L. Korn (eds.), Mazoon Publishing, pp. 230-259.

2006     “History and Techniques of Architectural Decoration in Islam,” in Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures, H. Selin (ed.), Springer, pp. 187-199.