Obituary: John Cooper

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The Independent Online
John Cooper, Islamic scholar: born Brighton, East Sussex 24 August 1947; E.G. Browne Lecturer in Persian Studies, Cambridge University 1990- 98; died Rheims, France 9 January 1998.

John Cooper, E.G. Browne Lecturer in Persian Studies at Cambridge University for the past eight years, had diverse interests rare for an academic. Not only was he accomplished in physiology and psychology, he later studied philosophy, mysticism and theology - and he had an exceptional command of Persian and Arabic to boot. As a typographer he undertook complicated typesetting for Oxford University, especially in Persian and Arabic material. Above all, he was a classical scholar in the tradition of the Islamic philosopher ibn Sina Avicceni.

Cooper graduated in 1970 from St John's College, Oxford, in Psychology and Physiology. For five years he was the director of English language studies at International House, a language school in Casablanca, Morocco, and then did similar work in Iran at an army technical school. In 1976 he moved to Ahwaz, also in Iran, where he lectured in physiology at the university. He began to learn Arabic and Persian and developed an interest in Islamic philosophy which took him in 1977 to the holy city of Qom, the centre of Islamic learning in Iran.

There he studied with prominent Shia Islamic scholars including Ayatollah Dr Mehdi Haeri-Yazdi, the son of the founder of the Theological School in Qom, and lectured in English at the Islamic University (Dar al-Tabligh) founded in the 1970s by Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Kazim Shariatmadari. He also acted, in a voluntary capacity, as an interpreter to Shariatmadari. It was at this time that Cooper embraced Shia Islam.

After his return from Iran, Cooper held a number of posts, including a two-year fellowship at the British Institute of Persian Studies (1982- 84), before in 1990 being appointed Cambridge. He became a member of the Governing Council of the British Institute of Persian Studies and also the general editor of the Islamic Encyclopaedia. He was the author of the two- volume A Manual of Islamic Beliefs and Practice (1990) and the forthcoming Islam and Modernity: Muslim Intellectuals Respond. Among his translations is al-Tabari's Commentary on the Qur'an (volume i, 1987).

John Cooper had an instinctive wisdom which illuminated his students and those who worked with him. He was extremely affable and approachable.

- Zahra Seif-Amirhosseini