By Razi Allah Lone, Class of 2012
Members of the Board of Trustees
Distinguished guests and the graduates of the class of 2012
It was with some trepidation that I undertook the responsibility of speaking on this occasion which marks a major milestone in my and fellow graduates’ lives. I say trepidation because it is a responsibility that requires felicity of expression and inspirational ideas, both of which are not really my forte. Yet, I am honoured to have been chosen to deliver the Valedictorian address. First, let me say that I believe anyone of us could have been standing here; I am the fortunate one probably by dint of having a background in some of the courses we were taught. Otherwise, my classmates are equally qualified to deliver this address. The diversity and richness of thought and perspective that they brought to ISMC, coming from a variety of cultural and ideological backgrounds, was in and of itself sufficient to make the two years of the MA in Muslim cultures a truly memorable experience. Equally fascinating was the learning experience we had at the Institute, thanks to the incredible variety of courses covering an impressive array of fields of knowledge, and the intellectually illuminating lectures by the learned faculty, a few blips notwithstanding. After all, what a boring and sullen place a university would be if there were no blips!
It is perhaps human nature that the true value of an experience or endeavour is realized only after it becomes a part of our past. While many of us may have felt exhausted, disappointed or even angry at times when things did not go the way we thought they should have, there is, however, no gainsaying the fact that our collective experience made the two years at ISMC a time to remember. In the last three months that we have been away from ISMC I have felt, and I am hopeful that I speak on behalf of others, that the memories we had collected over the course of this programme have vividly come back and made us realize the true value of our experience.
This is a unique programme which provided us a window into the mosaic of Muslim cultures, while situating them within the broad framework of historical continuities and discontinuities, and animating them through the other civilizational discourses, particularly of the last three centuries. Too often, we take our own fields of vision as the limits of the world, and become comfortably assured in the soundness and perceived objectivity of our perspectives. At ISMC, we were snapped out of our comfort zones by the countless discussions and debates both inside and out of the classroom. From the orientalist narrative of the history of the Qur’an to the impenetrable prose of Derrida or the disconcerting worldview of the neoliberals, we were challenged to question our own cherished ideas and beliefs as well as the dominant discourses of the day. This enabled us to put ourselves in the place of the ‘other’, which is the first step towards a meaningful engagement with those who are different from us. I must say that some of my views were strengthened despite the criticism and questioning to which they were subjected. But this itself shows that the spirit of enquiry along with a genuine eagerness to learn will either bring us to new ideas or help us in deepening our appreciation for what we sincerely hold to be true.
I am not going to hold forth on the wonderful possibilities that life has to offer us, armed as we now are with an MA. Some of us have already moved on to the next stage of our academic lives and are making ISMC proud. Nevertheless, as we are all well-aware, life is not a neat package that unfolds without any surprises. Many of us come from developing countries, where we are bound to face difficulties in finding opportunities, much less in making a mark. I am actually tempted to say that the world is waiting for us with a club but the fear of sounding inordinately harsh and pessimistic stops me. In a world where the rush to become the next millionaire is all the rage, choosing to pursue a nascent degree programme that does not promise to augment our bank balance has indeed been a brave decision, even if it carried with it the prospect of coming to London. All the same, while I pat myself and my classmates on the back, I must hasten to add that it would have all remained but a dream had it not been for the generous financial support offered by the Aga Khan University. This support, which extended to the excursions, and the language immersion programme, is truly remarkable and I have come across many people who were simply astounded by the generosity of our University. Even for this reason alone, we must make our way in the world carrying with us the ideals of critical reflection, openness, tolerance, compassion and respect for others.
It is essential to acknowledge those who have supported us and contributed to our lives in many ways: our parents who sacrificed so much to see us succeed - now that I am the father of a year old child, I certainly know how hard it is to raise children; our families and friends, who stood by us and were a constant source of motivation and support; and last but certainly not the least, our teachers whose guidance, reflective engagement and compassion were instrumental in bringing us to this stage.
Finally, this valedictory speech would be incomplete without a reference to Google, that most intrusive of life-savers. Yes, I admit that I used Google to find something inspiring and I chanced upon this snippet from Professor Richard Bosworth’s speech delivered at a graduation ceremony at the University of Western Australia. Since I feel it very aptly sums up what ISMC wanted to achieve, I quote with a few changes:
Today you may be wearing a gown and you may boast a degree. I congratulate you on your achievement which is of course a great one. But now the bad news. You can celebrate today but you haven't finished with what you have begun. This university (AKU-ISMC in our case) will have failed you if, in five years, ten years, twenty years, fifty years, wherever you are, whatever you do, whatever you have forged, whatever employment you pursue, you don't stir in your sleep and reach out for a book, an idea, a phrase, a musical expression, an artistic image, that first irritated you as a graduate student and left you feeling pleasingly incomplete. This university will have failed if you haven't been corrupted by philosophy, history, literature, music, art and the rest forever. They should have rendered you humble, they should have rendered you brave. They should have left you seeking.
Congratulations, class of 2012. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.Related Links: