Dual Master's Degree with Columbia University​


An innovative curriculum that includes two and half years of seminars, tutorials, interdisciplinary electives, and intensive foreign language training. Taught by world-class scholars, students have access to over 100 scholars as well as the distinctive academic resources of both universities. 

Immersed in the vibrant intellectual communities of two of the world’s great cities, students will spend Part 1 of the programme at Columbia University in New York and Part 2 at AKU-ISMC in London

At the heart of the programme is the thesis, an original scholarly work based on empirical research and analysis in which students will be encouraged to carry out field-based or archival research. 

Choose from the extensive list of elective courses spanning different academic disciplines, time periods and regions gives students the freedom to design specially tailored paths in their training. 

Upon completion, graduates receive two Masters degrees in Islamic Studies and Muslim Cultures, one from each institution.​

Students will be well placed to pursue PhD at leading universities or careers in international development, journalism, cultural preservation, public service, and human rights.​

​Programme Description

Students will spend Part 1 of the program at Columbia University in New York, Part 2 at AKU-ISMC in London, and receive degrees from both institutions. 

At the heart of the dual degree programme is a thesis, an original scholarly work based on research and analysis. Immersed in the vibrant intellectual communities of two of the world’s great cities, graduates will be prepared for a wide range of careers in fields such as government, journalism, public policy, international development, and academia.

Students are admitted and their progress monitored by committees composed of faculty members from both universities. Work on the MA thesis commences at Columbia with exposure to theory and method in a variety of fields and disciplines, followed by instruction in specialized seminars selected by the student with the guidance of the program advisor.  This leads to the preliminary formulation of the thesis topic and the identification of potential sources and bibliography. In London, the student deepens the masters project with exposure to a further range of faculty interests, course offerings, and language training, and receives guidance in the later stages the formulation and drafting of the thesis.​

A unique partnership of two leading universities, the dual program unites a cutting-edge scholarly community of over one hundred specialized faculty members and language instructors who provide trans-disciplinary and critical approaches to the study of the religious and intellectual traditions of Islam and the diverse regional histories, cultures, and social formations of Muslim societies around the world. 


Curriculum in New York 

Semesters 1 and 2 

CU-MEI is solely responsible for delivering semesters 1 and 2 in accordance with the aims, objectives and teaching methods at Columbia University. The required 30 credits, taken in semester 1 and 2, include: the required core seminar Foundations to Islamic Studies and Muslim Societies (4 credits); MA Research Seminar (4 credits); and at least six courses that count at least 22 credits (at least three courses within the student’s concentration plus three electives) . 

While the program encourages students to pursue language study and achieve proficiency, there is no language requirement for the Columbia degree. Only one language course, worth no more than 5 credits, may be credited toward the MA degree in Islamic Studies. This course must be in a regional language at the advanced level (3rd year and above) and must be relevant to the student’s scholarly interests.

Students must complete all course work for semesters 1 and 2 at CU-MEI to progress to course work at AKU-ISMC. This full-time course of study at CU-MEI supports students’ academic growth as they prepare for their MA thesis project that will be further developed at AKU-ISMC and completed in semester 5. CU and AKU-ISMC faculty will consult regarding students’ topic choice and help students identify supervisor(s)for their thesis.  

ISCS GR5000: Foundations to Islamic Studies and Muslim Societies (4 credits)

This course provides students with a foundation to the key concepts, theories and debates in the field of Islamic and Muslim studies. Drawing from the expertise of Columbia’s faculty members, the course aims to introduce students to the faculty’s research areas, scholarly inquiries and approaches. Interdisciplinary in scope, Students are exposed to diverse histories, cultures, and social formations of Muslim societies around the world. Interdisciplinary in scope, the course critically addresses scholarly questions and debates in the field, including culture and civilization, religion, secularization, law and authority, nation-states, globalization, minority politics and technology. The course helps students identify their own interests and foci to specialize in throughout the dual degree program. 

ISCS G4990 MA Thesis Research Seminar (4 credits) 

In this course students begin the thesis process. At CU, students identify research areas and survey the relevant literature. After gaining broad exposure to available scholarship, students prepare a thesis project proposal and an annotated bibliography, forming the backbone to more in-depth research carried out during semesters 3, 4, and 5.

Curriculum in London

AKU is part of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). Throughout the London based part of the programme, students will learn about the work of AKDN and have the opportunity to interact with AKDN practitioners. Upon graduation, students will be supported to secure placements with AKDN agencies around the world to put their learning into practice and engage in a unique work experience that will serve as a spring board for their career development or further education.

Semesters 3, 4, and 5

Likewise, AKU-ISMC is solely responsible for delivering semesters 3, 4, and 5 of the program in accordance with its aims, objectives and teaching methods. 

The required 24 credits, taken in semesters 3 and 4, include: three required core courses: Relevance of the Humanities and Social Sciences taken in semester 3 (3 credits); Research Methodology and Thesis Planning I in semester 3 (3 credits); Research Methodology and Thesis Planning II in semester 4 (3 credits); two language courses, one in semester 3 and one in semester 4 (6 credits total); and three electives (9 credits total).

These courses expose students to theoretical frameworks and expand their research and technical skill base in preparation for their thesis, completed during semester 5 (6 credits). 

​Core Courses:

Muslim Societies in a Changing World

Muslim Societies in a Changing World (MSCW) examines the historical setting of modernity and its impact by engaging with various theories and the responses in Muslim societies. It begins with the decline of the Ottoman Empire and expansion of western European countries, and later North America, as colonial powers. This provides the historical backdrop for discussions of, and debates on, the loss of Muslim pre-eminence. The course examines the more tangible, material and physical forms and impact of colonial ru​le as well as the ideas that are usually linked to the conceptualisation of the term “modernity”. It takes into account discussions in Muslim societies as necessary to understand Muslims as producers of modern life. It does this by scrutinising the ideas of individual Muslim intellectuals and religious scholars in the 18th and 19th centuries, their responses to philosophies produced primarily in Europe, and the emergence of various social, political and religious movements in the 20th century. These ideas and movements are placed in a historical context that includes the study of political and social responses within colonial and post-colonial states and societies.​

Research Methods and Thesis Planning I

This course seeks to provide students with the appropriate tools to carry out their respective research projects. Drawing from the AKU-ISMC’s faculty’s active research projects and publications, the students will be introduced to both qualitative and quantitative methods and basic tools needed to develop and undertake historical and contemporary research projects. 

Research Methods and Thesis Planning II​

This course continues to train and consolidate students’ mastery of relevant qualitative and quantitative research methods, but expands to focus on the advanced stages of the Masters thesis. The course proceeds from the twin assumptions that one's work is improved by presenting it to peers, and that there is a lot to learn about research if one understands the research interests of others. Students present their work in a seminar format in order to refine their definition of key concepts, theoretical framework, structure, and arguments of their theses. Students receive criticism and are required to thoughtfully and constructively critique the work of other students. 

Semester 5 

Thesis and Fieldwork (6 credits) 

In the fifth semester, you will prepare a 20,000 word thesis on a theme of your choice. The thesis is worth 6 credits and you must achieve a pass mark in order to graduate.You may undertake an optional field project in a location relevant to your subject matter. AKU-ISMC and CU faculty will consult regarding students’ topic choice and help students identify a thesis supervisor. A second supervisor is optional if the guidance and advice of a second supervisor is wanted or if the thesis spans different academic disciplines. Students are not required to be in residence as they carry out research and write their theses under the guidance of their thesis supervisor. They will maintain their status as full-time students.

As described in the Agreement of Cooperation between the two universities, students in Part 1 will be treated in all respects as regular Master’s students of CU-MEI, entitled to all academic and social benefits normally given to such students and will be obliged to respect the regulations of CU. Likewise, students in Part 2 will be considered regular students at AKU-ISMC.

Summer Language Program

During the summer after completion of semesters 3 & 4, you have the option to travel to a country relevant to your language studies to undertake a three to four-week intensive language course and complete a language-based assignment. This feature exposes you to cultures, communities and ways of life different from those to which you are accustomed. This option provides the opportunity to experience language in its social and lived dimensions while furthering your understanding of diversity and pluralism.​


Preliminary Requirements 

To be considered for admission, applicants are required to meet the eligibility criteria outlined below. 

1.a Qualification Requirement

A Bachelor’s degree or an equivalent qualification, preferably in the humanities or social sciences, from an accredited university. The level required for admission will normally be at least an upper second-class honors degree from a British university (or equivalent), or a GPA of at least 3.0 in the North American system. However, the joint Admissions Committee is entitled to relax this condition in the light of other relevant factors, for example, substantial and relevant professional experience or certain life experiences. ​

1.b English Proficiency Requirement

The following applicants must complete the English proficiency requirement:

  • applicants whose native language is not English and who have received an undergraduate degree from an institution in a country where the official language is not English

  • applicants who have received an undergraduate degree from a non-English speaking country and are now studying at the graduate level in an English-speaking country.

The only recognized qualifications are:
--IELTS for UKVI: Overall band score: 7.5 (with a minimum of 5.5 in all four components)


Applicants who have studied for at least two years at an institution in a country where the official language is English and earned the undergraduate (or bachelor’s) degree at that institution are not required to complete the English proficiency requirement.

Students who have earned a Master’s degree—but not an undergraduate or bachelor’s degree—in the U.S. or another country whose official language is English are required to complete the English proficiency requirement; however, students who previously earned a qualifying score on the TOEFL or IELTS may be eligible to fulfill the GSAS English proficiency requirement by following these procedures.​

1.c Language Proficiency 

Proficiency in regional languages is not a requirement for admission to the dual degree program. However, language skills are important for Islamic Studies and are a preferred admissions criterion. Students are encouraged to enhance their language capacity at Columbia and throughout the dual degree, culminating in the completion of AKU's six-credit language requirement. ​

1.d       GREs are not required.

Application Requirements​

2. Application Materials​

2.a Complete Online Application

All prospective students must apply using the online application at Columbia University GSAS. Deadline for Regular Admission: March 31st 2020​

Note: students progressing from the first year in New York to the second year in London must provide their information to AKU by filling out an online application. ​

2.b Statement of Academic Purpose

The statement of academic purpose allows the joint Admissions Committee to evaluate the applicant’s ability to succeed academically and the reasons they wish to take the dual degree. It should briefly describe the applicant’s academic and/or professional background (relevant coursework, professional experience or other activity pertaining to your academic interests); indicate plans for graduate study.. The statement must not exceed 3 double-spaced pages. ​

2.c Academic Transcript(s)

Applicants should upload a transcript or record (e.g., web-based transcripts, mark sheets, relevé de notes) of all academic work from each post-secondary institution they have attended. If a document is not in English, a fully certified translation must be provided. The translation must include details of the translator and confirm that it is an accurate translation of the original. It must be dated and include the original signature of the translator.​

2.d Curriculum Vitae or Resume​

2.e Two letters of recommendation

Referees must be familiar with your academic and/or professional work to date. If you have recently received an academic degree or have recent academic experience, letters of recommendation from faculty are preferred. If you have not been enrolled in an academic program in recent years, professional recommendations are acceptable.​

2.f Writing Sample

The writing sample should be 8-10 pages long, preferably a paper written for a course pertaining to the general field of Islamic studies or the study of Muslim societies. Alternatively, applicants may provide a focused essay written in an academic style that examines an article, book, exhibit, or event relevant to their field of interest.​


The Aga Khan University (AKU) / Columbia University (CU) Dual Degree Student Fellowship ​


AKU’s Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations and CU’s Middle East Institute will automatically consider all applicants to the Dual Degree program to be candidates for the AKU/CU Student Fellowship, a full funding opportunity. If you are chosen for this fellowship, we will notify you upon admission to the program. 

The Fellowship provides multi-year full funding support to a select student in the Islamic Studies and Muslim Cultures Dual Degree Masters Program awarded by AKU & CU. Applicants will be notified of his/her funding award upon admission to the program. Award decisions will be made on the basis of academic merit. When possible, preference will be given to students from Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East and South Asia. ​


Open to all applicants to the Dual Degree MA program, providing they meet admissions criteria. ​​​​