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  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
 The Japanese Supreme Court has recently affirmed the practice of extensive surveillance of Muslims in Japan. < http://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2016/07/01/japanese-supreme-court-confirms-special-surveillance-of-muslims/>