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.