Mr Fayyaz Noormohammed, Valedictorian, Class of 2010,

Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations

Chairman Ambassador Dehlavi,
Chief Guest Professor Joshua Silver,
Members of the Board of Trustees,
President Rasul,
Provost William Doe,
Interim Director Dr Topan,
Faculty and staff of ISMC,
Distinguished guests,
Family and friends,
Fellow graduates.

It was over two years ago that as an embryonic cohort we were gathered at ISMC for formal introductions to the course of study ahead. The message, to be honest, was a bit daunting. We were warned the Master of Arts (MA) would be very demanding in all its aspects. This was necessary, we were told, given the Institute's vision. A part of that vision was to approach the study of Muslim cultures in order to support two arguments. The first is that the cultural expressions of Muslim societies over time and space have been and continue to be extremely diverse. Secondly, while many of the expressions of Muslim cultures are particular, so much of it and the processes that govern cultural production are also common to human societies and world civilisations. As a student of an Institute espousing these arguments and the approaches thereof, I felt both trepidation and eagerness.

From our academic courses to cultural excursions and from the Arabic language to the language of field work, endeavours into each have illustrated that so many Muslim societies, including their neighbours and predecessors, are so profoundly interesting precisely because they are far from homogenous. And at the same time, our in-depth study into one group of cultures exemplifies its role and place as a part of world cultures.

From the different literary and diasporic outputs of East Africa's coastal communities to variable anthropological readings into Balinese culture and from divergent views on the impact of ancient Mesopotamia on today's world religions to contesting developmental and gendered perspectives useful to studying contemporary societies, our courses revealed the diversity of cultures from within while pointing to some of the common social, political, and economic processes that underpin all cultural manifestations.

Our cultural trips ranged from visiting museums and galleries in London to strolling through the suqs of Tunis; from being inspired by century-old castles in Edinburgh to touring the very modern Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris; these visits attested to the multifarious ways in which Muslim and non-Muslim lifeways are exhibited and studied.

And finally, perusing over the titles of our dissertations also illuminates the mosaic of relevant themes of interest in and for Muslim societies. Our areas of inquiry ranged from a political and philosophical examination into the notion of freedom in the late Qajar period of Iran to a contemporary and ethnographic case study of ritual and religious practice at a shrine in Pakistan. Indeed, while debating notions like freedom and introspections into religious life are germane to Muslim contexts, they also underpin the perennial efforts of scholarship into a countless number of other societies.

But equally instructive as these tangible engagements with the components of the MA has been our own engagement with each other, as a class of individuals from many parts of the world, Muslim and otherwise, has been formative. From India to Indonesia, from Northern Pakistan to its southern counterpart, from one end of the Persian speaking world to the other, and from both sides of the Canadian-US border, our own diversity serves as a microcosm to that of the Muslim world and beyond. And our convergence at ISMC to study and understand Muslim cultures also serves as an example of one of the instrumental exercises that can translate diversity into the production of something positive. Our divergent intellectual and cultural views provided the background upon which new ideas, friendships, and collaborations came to the fore. These rewards were not borne easily however; at times, our engagements felt like conflicts. But then perhaps such growing pains are necessary to the process of constructing new possibilities from diverse beginnings, and from the important balance that is to be made between the particularities of our selfhood and the aspiration for coherence.

Today, as we proudly stand as AKU graduates, find myself holding feelings nearly identical to those held some two years ago. Trepidation, because we are now responsible to contribute to the realisation of an important vision. Eagerness, because we have been empowered to do so.​


Related Links: