Program explores diversity through Islamic studies

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For the past six summers, SFU has offered an introductory program in Muslim Studies at it’s Harbour Centre campus. Now entering its seventh year, the topic for this year’s two-week long program is mysticism and popular culture in Muslim societies and cultures. 

The course will cover both historical and contemporary ideas in Muslim culture and societies, exploring the more generally known Islamic fundamentalism, as well as the mystical interpretations in Muslim cultures that most people are unaware of. 

“In essence, the program aims to provide participants — who include not only university students but also educators, community activists, health and legal professionals — with a grasp of the rich diversity of Muslim beliefs and practices,” said Amyn Sajoo, SFU scholar-in-residence and lecturer for the Centre for Comparative Studies of Muslim Societies and Cultures.

Sajoo explained, “We tend to associate diversity with geographical and cultural variation, which is certainly true of Islam. But there is a pluralism in ways of being Muslim even within particular locales — what scholars call ‘communities of interpretation.’”

The program will run from June 16 to 27; on June 25, a lecture by guest scholar and professor Omid Safi from the University of North Carolina on June 25 on the mystical poet, Rumi, will be open to the public at Harbour Centre. Although registration for this year’s summer course has closed, Safi’s lecture will provide students with an opportunity to experience a preview of what the program is like.

The summer program is taught on the assumption of no prior knowledge of the  “precepts, practices and cultures of the Muslim world,” Sajoo explained. The course includes everything from sessions on history, to legal and ethical frameworks, to key themes in Islam as a faith tradition, as well as its civilizational expressions and much more.

“Participants may well be inspired by their brief encounter with a whole new world of Islam to consider developing a professional interest in various aspects of the subject — from anthropology to history, architecture, or law. Each of these, of course, can lead to an extremely rewarding career,” Sajoo added.

In contemporary politics, the Middle East and Islamic societies are becoming increasingly relevant. “Religion, and especially Islam, is very much in the headlines, though often for the wrong reasons, and we certainly need qualified people to put matters in perspective.

“Moreover, we have a substantial Muslim diaspora here in North America, and the engagement with Islam is no longer just a matter of relating to the Middle East, or Asia, or West Africa. So again, developing a career interest in, say, the sociology of Muslim identities in Canada or Britain is very much in the cards,” Sajoo said.

Overall, Sajoo believes that the program will not only leave students with a better understanding of Muslim cultures overseas, but also within Canadian society. “The program will leave participants, at the end of the fortnight, with a far deeper understanding of the textures of faith and culture that make up Islam, not just in the Middle East, Asia and Africa but also in the Muslim diaspora here in North America,” Sajoo concluded.