Ismail K. Poonawala received his early education in India. After receiving his MA in Arabic & Urdu from Bombay University in 1959 he joined the Cairo University and obtained his second MA in 1964 by writing a thesis in Arabic. He obtained his PhD in Islamic Studies in 1968 from UCLA under the supervision of Gustave von Grunebaum. He taught at McGill University from 1968 to 1971. Then he moved to Harvard University as a Research Associate working closely with Muhsin Mahdi. He moved back to UCLA in 1974 as an Associate Professor and taught until he retired last July.
A specialist in Ismaili Studies, he is the author of the monumental Biobibliography of Ismaili Literature, a comprehensive survey of Ismaili writings and manuscript collections. He is the editor of several important early Ismaili texts. He has translated into English with full annotation vol. 9 of Tabari’s History dealing with the last years of the Prophet and two volumes of Ismaili law composed by Qadi Nuʿman entitled The Pillars of Islam. He is a regular contributor to Encyclopedia Iranica and the Encyclopedia of Islam. Most recently he has edited the papers delivered at the 19th Giorgio Levi Della Vida Conference in Islamic Studies held by the G.E. von Grunebaum Center for Near Eastern Studies at UCLA and is expected to be released in October.