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Student Testimonials

Thoughts from our Summer Student Program '16 Class Speaker

“Do you know where and with whom I can voice my nonconformity at being little toad so they may let me to be a crocodile?”
Subcomandante Marcos, The Tale of the Nonconformist Little Toad

I have been reading many of the IIIT publications since my undergraduate years in Indonesia. Although they contain many interesting ideas, I had never become convinced that all of would be academically meaningful for me until the Summer of 2016.

The Summer Student Program (SSP) has totally changed my perception. It was my ‘nonconformist little toad’ moment.

Coming from a background in political science, I often try to connect my identity as a scholar and a Muslim to see how it relates to what I am studying. My main goal is to reconnect and give meaning to that. It’s about how I can see things differently, and how I can contribute intellectually as a Muslim to humanity. Starting in our first year in university, we were being put into boxes and confined in a certain way. Here with this program, we are encouraged to open the box. In this period of five weeks, I felt free to try new approaches, to ask different questions, and to challenge my own assumptions regarding my research problem, and see for instance, where Islamic intellectual traditions fall into place. More importantly, I had the privilege to embark on this intellectual journey with great support from professors and my fellow students. Throughout inside and outside classroom discussions, I was able to experience at  first hand of how real a academic collaboration was put into practice.

All the courses at SSP were amazing. Nevertheless, I would like to highlight one of them: the Maqasid Al-Shari’ah course. It is very relevant for me because as a political scientist, we are more familiar with the question of ‘why’ rather than ‘how’. The maqasid approach creates a space for us, ‘the students of context’ to be more involved in the broader discussion of our textual traditions. But at the same time, this methodology also provides a challenge. The challenge is in how to balance our consequentialist considerations with our principles in formulating policies. For me, Maqasid Al-Shari’ah is an invitation for embarking upon further knowledge integration.

The benefits of SSP continue after the conclusion of the program. As one of the SSP 2016 student fellows, I was supported by IIIT to participate in various academic (MESA, AAR) and non-academic events (ISNA, IMSA). This opportunity helps me to expand my social network far beyond my small academic circles. As a result, I feel more motivated to be involved in the Muslim societies.

All in all, SSP did not let me become a ‘crocodile;’ it clearly opened the eyes of ‘a little toad’ like me

A Summer Student Program 2016 Experience

Summer Student Program 2016 Alumni Reflection

By: Shino Yokotsuka, Graduate Research Intern at the Center for Islam and Religious Freedom and Event Management Intern at the Fairfax Institute

During the summer of 2016, I participated in the IIIT & TFI Summer Student Program designed for graduate students enrolled in universities across the United States and Canada. After taking a course on “Islam and Global Politics” taught by Dr. Muqtedar Khan, I came to be more interested in Islamic Thought. Furthermore, my ongoing research on the Muslim immigrant minority in my country, Japan, has motivated me to study Islam and Muslims. In my research project, I reveal a series of challenges Muslim immigrants have been facing in a homogenous Japanese society, suggesting how Japan can move from exclusive homogeneity toward multiculturalism to embrace differences. In addition to cultural and racial homogeneity, restricted religious liberty [1] marginalizes Muslim immigrants in Japan. Through my research project, a question came to my mind: “How can I be any help to Muslim immigrants in Japan without having an adequate understanding of their faith and thought?” That led me to apply for the program.

Before starting this five-week intensive academic program, I felt extremely nervous about whether or not I could keep up with a course and other classmates. My academic background includes political science with a specific focus on comparative refugee & immigration policies, international law, and human rights and minority rights. In other words, my research focus does not exactly lie in Islamic studies. The fact that I am not religiously a Muslim also made me worried; apparently, I have less knowledge about Islam in comparison with other Muslim classmates.

Once the program had started, I found myself enjoying the courses. All staff and professors are so welcoming that I began to feel IIIT and TFI were like my own “home.” The quality of the program is extremely high. The program offers courses taught by prestigious scholars from various universities, including George Mason and Georgetown Universities. One of my favorite courses was “Academic Study of Religion: The Case of Islamic Studies in Western Academia” taught by Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina. Throughout the readings and discussions, I learned how insufficient efforts to know about Islam were paid under the influence of Eurocentrism. Even today, there is a strong tendency to generate simplified and distorted images of Islam, labeling entire Muslim communities and all Muslims as evil terrorists. What strikes me the most in the class was my professor’s comment on the situation. In the class, the professor stated, “Muslims should not distance from ISIS by saying that ISIS is not Islam. We have obligations why ISIS emerged and how we can confront with them.” In Dr. Ovamir Anjum’s class, he showed us how extremists interpret Quran and how they use their distorted interpretations for justification of excessive violence. Actually, I found these courses quite helpful not only for students gaining expertise in Islamic Studies but also those who study international relations, foreign policies, national security, and much more.

Through this program, I met many great people and made so many friends with diverse backgrounds. After the end of the program, I started missing them very much. I strongly

WSP 2016 Alumni Reflections #2

By: Asha Athman, Senior at George Mason University studying Global Affairs and Arabic

Last winter I was grateful to participate in the IIIT & Fairfax Institute’s Winter Student Program. I was moved to apply because I had yet to take a variety of classes dedicated to Islamic Studies at Mason, and was interested in learning more about Islam from different scholarly perspectives.

In class I was introduced to new and familiar ideas about the Qur’an and Sunna, Islamic law, and Muslim communities abroad and in the United States. Readings and in-class discussions about Hadith science enlightened me on the academic discourse around tracing chains of transmission relaying the actions and thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). My peers and I also had the opportunity to consider different methods of reading the Qur’an and analyzing the complexity of its language and messages. Additionally, the relevance of recognizing Tawhid’s place in the Islamic worldview was emphasized to us. We were able to learn about and digest different movements in Islamic thought and practice, as well as the implications these ideologies had for political developments in the modern and contemporary ages. Furthermore, our time learning about Maqasid Shari’ah with Jasser Auda enabled me to consider my studies of development and public policy under an Islamic analysis. Lastly, our session on American Islam with Nancy Khalil reminded me of the unique way Islam has developed in the U.S., its significance in Black history, and the organizing efforts of American Muslims today.

The Winter Student Program introduced me not only to important ideas in Islamic Scholarship, but also an amazing group of students from all over the country. In and outside of the classroom it was humbling and warming to be surrounded by my peers at IIIT. We were able eat and go out in Fairfax and DC together as we got to know each other during the program. I was inspired by their knowledge, past experiences, and genuine kindness. Building these bonds and relationships also contributed to a great classroom experience and atmosphere. Our teachers and advisors were equally generous, understanding, and brilliant. They were able to make our short, rigorous schedule memorable and engaging.

I recommend this program to any and all students who are curious and eager to learn more about Islamic studies. I promise the Fairfax Institute and IIIT will leave you with treasured memories, teachers, and friends.

Reflections from a WSP 2016 Alumna

By: Katherine Kiskin, Ohio State University, WSP Class of 2016

I came into the IIIT Winter Student Program not knowing what to expect and just wanting a better general, yet more in depth understanding of Islam than what my university’s curriculum could offer. One week later, I graduated the program having just experienced one of the best weeks of my life.

With the program only being a week long we were immersed into the topics such as Qur’anic Worldview, The Sunnah, Maqasid, Islam in America, etc. very fast. I felt that with the topics being so diverse I really got a well-rounded and full circle understanding of Islam that complemented my previous knowledge. These classes were not only engaging due to the content but also because of the elite professors we were so privileged to learn from. These professors came from all different backgrounds and specialties that provided a unique collection of ideas that were truly enlightening.

Not only did I gain knowledge I am extremely grateful for from this program but I made incredible, life-long friendships. The group of my peers that I learned alongside was so intelligent coming from many prestigious universities across the United States. The conversations in class were engaging and interactive and it was humbling to be among such bright individuals. Since we only had a week to spend together we made sure to be very inclusive with everyone and we became very close very fast. I can honestly say we all still keep in contact almost a year later and whenever we are in the same geographical location we make an effort to meet up.

Not only were the friendships I gained from this experience rewarding, but the relationship with the IIIT faculty we all gained were so fulfilling. This is truly an astonishing group of individuals who are so inviting and eager to share Islam and its teachings. IIIT is an institute not only active in the Muslim community but one that makes an effort to integrate itself with the community of Northern Virginia and for that matter the United States altogether.

I would recommend the IIIT Winter or Summer Student Program to anyone who even has the slightest interest in it. It was a remarkable experience with so many gratifying moments that I will remember for my entire life.

Fatima Siwaju

​The IIIT Summer Students’ Program (SSP) was an unforgettable experience for me. This month-long intensive program introduced me to a myriad of topics in Islamic Studies, including Contemporary Islamic Thought, Islamic Jurisprudence, Muslim History and Civilization, Qur’an and Sunnah. I was privileged to learn from a cadre of distinguished academics in the field, in addition to interacting with students from a range of disciplinary orientations, including religious studies, history and the social sciences.

Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of the IIIT SSP was the safe space that it provided for me to explore the theoretical and topical issues that captivated my attention. I have always been interested in the intersection of religion, race and identity, particularly as it relates to Black Muslim communities in the Americas. For my SSP research paper, I looked at Black Muslims’ transition from proto-Islamic movements such as the Nation of Islam to ‘orthodox’ Sunni Islam, with a view to investigating whether Blackamerican Islam, as embedded in the Sunni tradition, provides an adequate discursive space for Black self-authentication. I was fortunate to be selected for a IIIT Research Fellowship at the end of the program to further develop my research.

My participation in IIIT SSP definitely encouraged me to continue exploring questions surrounding religion, race and identity. I will commence my PhD in Anthropology at Princeton University, where I intend to pursue research in this area. I would recommend this program to anyone eager to study Islam and Muslim communities through a multidisciplinary lens in a stimulating academic environment.

Summer Student Program Reflections

I was a student in the Summer Student Program of 2013. The program complimented the BA degree in Public Policy with minors in African Studies, Jewish Studies, and Islamic Studies which I had received a few weeks before from the University of Delaware. Coursework in Islamic Jurisprudence and Contemporary Islamic Thought allowed me to explore perspectives of Islam that I had yet to explore within my own university. Coursework concerning Islamic global affairs and in Islamic political movements deepened my passion for the intersection of politics and religion. I was able to take what I learned in the classroom and then explore it through the alternative lens of gender within my final proposal. I was very privileged to have a community of scholars who allowed me to do so and who supported my interests.

With the advice of IIIT scholars and with financial help from IIIT, I was then able to move to Amman and pursue Modern Standard Arabic for three terms at Qasid Arabic Institute. After living in Amman for a year, I then moved to London to pursue an MA degree in Middle Eastern Studies where I continued to pursue the intersections of politics, religion, and gender. I do not think I would have moved to Amman or applied for a degree at SOAS after if not for the initial encouragement and support of IIIT.

I aspire to pursue a PhD in the coming years so I can continue to pursue the intersections of religion, gender, and politics either in the United Kingdom or in the United States. I continue to maintain contact with both my peers in IIIT and the scholars who assisted me at IIIT.

Muhammad Siddiqui

Last summer, I had the privilege to participate in the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) Summer Student Program (SSP). Although I was nervous as the youngest student in my cohort, IIIT’s ethos of intellectualism quickly eased my anxiety by cultivating a collaborative learning environment where stimulating classroom lectures led to passionate discourse among students. Thus, I am forever indebted my colleagues and the renowned scholars who facilitated our deeper inquiry into the depths of the Islamic tradition, different epistemological and methodological approaches for its study, and its role in grappling with contemporary challenges. I echo my colleague Jibreel Delgado in saying that the scholarly networks and friendships we developed that summer will continue to enhance our personal and professional growth for years to come.

In his previous post, Jibreel aptly summarized the plethora of academic and civic engagement opportunities during the program. As an aspiring young scholar, I also benefited tremendously from the Summer Institute for Scholars where I learned to emulate quality scholarship and intellectual exchange. While the diversity in backgrounds led to fascinating debates, the participants’ mutual respect and sincerity struck the hearts of all in attendance. Thus, I felt a profound sense of spiritual and intellectual synergy as we sat together after the evening prayer to reflect on both programs at the commencement dinner hosted graciously by Dr. Jamal Barzinji. As a Muslim student, while my undergraduate training taught me valuable critical thinking skills and fostered an itch to ask difficult questions, it was refreshing to connect those academic pursuits with my own spiritual development.

At the end of the program, I was honored to have been selected as one of four recipients of the IIIT Student Research Fellowship award. The fellowship enabled me to further develop my research on the relationship between religion and state policy in post-revolutionary Iran by examining its regulated system of donor compensation. With the mentorship of our summer faculty and other IIIT scholars, I was able to present this project at my alma mater, Wake Forest University, and the international Social Policy in the Middle East and North Africa conference hosted by the United Kingdom’s University of Bath. The venue was the historic Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute and participants included ministers, non-profit leaders, policy makers and academics from across the MENA region. At the conference, I was surprised by the interest in my analysis of religion which demonstrates the critical need for such scholarship to inform government policies. Hence, I plan to return to the D.C. area as a federal analyst for Deloitte Consulting where I hope to enhance my academic study with practical experience in the realm of public policy.

In collaboration with my fellow award recipient, Courtney Dorroll, I also published in the American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences (AJISS) on this past year’s IIIT panels at the annual Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) convention in Detroit. Our collaborative efforts then culminated in my visit to Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. During this visit, we facilitated discussions regarding Muslim life on southern college campuses with three sections of Courtney’s World Religions course and a group of students studying Interfaith Engagement. Then, with the support of Wofford’s Office of the Chaplain and Muslim Students Association, I had the privilege to lead Wofford’s first public Muslim Friday Prayer and contribute on a panel titled Muslim in the American South: Engaging Religious Difference in Post-9/11 America. Ultimately, IIIT’s SSP paved the way for these achievements and I am excited for the future of this promising program.