“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
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/>
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.
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.
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.