Monday, April 13, 2015

Conference on Education - Morocco ‘14

(c) Jibreel Delgado 2014

From December 5th to the 6th, 2014, IIIT in Morocco cosponsored an event along with Abdelmalek Essaadi University, the Graduate School for Teaching in Tetouan, the Moroccan Center for Studies and Educational Research, and the Values and Knowledge Research Group. The name of the event was The International Symposium on Higher Education and Scientific Research in Islamic Studies: A Forward-Looking Vision in Light of Contemporary Transformations. Scholars from Indonesia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, France, Algeria, Tunisia, as well as Morocco, participated in the symposium. The conference consisted of five sessions over the span of two days with discussions regarding developments in Islamic higher education throughout the Muslim world as well as Europe.

Dr. Umar Kasule, General Secretary of the IIIT gave a talk in the opening session of the symposium on the importance of organizing such gatherings where scholars and teachers can share their experiences in the hopes of progress in the field of Islamic education. He also gave a talk, in one of the sessions on international experiences in the formation and research in Islamic Studies, about the experience of the IIIT with the International Islamic University in Malaysia. In the same session, Dr. Toufic Awji, Director of the Center for the Study of Knowledge and Civilization in Lebanon, spoke of the experiences of the IIIT in the formation of the Master’s Program in Contemporary Islamic Thought at the University of Beirut.

Awards were also given out to several leading figures in the field of Islamic education, including Dr. Fathi Malkawi, Regional Director of the IIIT in Jordan. Dr. Malkawi also gave a talk at the first session on general trends and insights on Islamic Studies.  The conference closed with a tour of the historic city of Tetouan in northern Morocco, a place known for its long history of Islamic scholarship.

One rather disconcerting episode of the conference occurred during the opening panel when all those seated on stage were given a moment to speak except for the one female scholar. When it seemed to be her turn, a guest from Saudi Arabia seated in the front row arose and walked up to a nearby podium to speak for the next ten minutes about his understanding of Islamic higher education.

I was also dismayed to find there was not a single representative from the US invited to speak about the state of Islamic Studies in our little corner of the world. Dr. Khalid Samadi, the Director of the Moroccan Center for Educational Studies and Research, declined to comment on either matter.

IIIT Hosts Reception at MESA ‘14

On November 23, 2014, IIIT hosted a reception at the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) annual meeting in Washington, DC. Dr. Ermin Sinanovic, Director of Research and Academic Programs – IIIT, presented a brief history of the IIIT to those attending, and discussed the many opportunities and activities offered by the Institute, including research grants, residential fellowships, the Summer Student Program held in Virginia along with similar programs in Turkey and Bosnia, the Summer Institute for Scholars, as well as the opportunity for publication of monographs through the IIIT Press and articles via one of its two peer-reviewed journals in Arabic and English. In addition to this, Dr. Sinanovic also mentioned possible future ventures being developed, such as a postdoctoral fellowship. He then introduced the first guest speaker, Prof. John Voll, Professor of Islamic History and Associate Director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University.

Dr. Voll pointed out the manner in which the IIIT has developed intellectually since its inception in 1981 with its ever-increasing emphasis on the study of maqasid al-sharia (the higher objectives of Islamic Law). He also discussed his experience as a teacher of Muslim History and Civilization for the IIIT Summer Student Program this year, describing this year’s students, coming numerous varied cultural as well as academic backgrounds, not as “international,” but as true exemplars of global cosmopolitanism.

Dr. Mustafa Gökçek, Associate Professor of History at Niagara University and IIIT Resident Fellow spoke positively of his time as a resident at the IIIT headquarters in Herndon, Virginia and of the familial and collegial atmosphere. 

Dr. Jack Brown, associate professor at Georgetown, could not make it, but sent a statement which Dr. Sinanovic read to the audience and in which Dr. Brown spoke highly of the students in his course on Prophetic Sunna taught at the summer program, describing them as both academics and activists.

Three attendees of the Summer Students Program also spoke on their experiences with the IIIT. David Warren, PhD Student at the University of Manchester, spoke of how he met his current wife during his time as a student with the IIIT while Jibreel Delgado, PhD Student at the University of Arizona, highlighted the high caliber of scholars working as instructors in the program as well as connections made with scholars during the Summer Institute for Scholars scheduled in tandem with the student program. Dr. Samy Ayoub, postdoctoral fellow at UC Santa Barbara, discussed his relationship with the IIIT, first as a student in the Summer Student Program and then, this year, as a scholar for the Summer Institute.

Finally, Dr. Emad Shahin, Visiting Professor at Georgetown University, talked about his long relationship with the IIIT going back to 1983, and the ideas on cultural exchange, and the bridging between two paradigms that attracted him to the Institute all those years ago. He then called upon the IIIT to focus its efforts of studies into the future of the Islamic world and potential courses of action.