Studied Modern and Medieval Languages at the University of Cambridge, Arabic and Turkish at the University of Oxford, and wrote a PhD on Islamic history at the University of Edinburgh.
She has been Professor Emerita of Islamic History at the University of Edinburgh since 2008 and Professorial Fellow (Islamic History), at the University of St Andrews since 2013.
She has held Visiting Fellowships in America and Holland.
She was elected an Honorary Life Fellow at Somerville College, Oxford in 2010 and a Corresponding Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America in 2012. She was awarded the King Faisal International Prize in Islamic Studies in 2005 and the British Academy/ Nayef Al Rodhan Prize for Transcultural Understanding in 2016.
She is a Fellow of the British Academy, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Royal Historical Society.
In 2009 she was awarded an OBE for services to Higher Education and in 2018 she was awarded a CBE for services to the understanding of Islamic history.