Alumni Case Studies
Yaser Mirdamadi, Iran
"I think the most important lesson I have learnt from my study in ISMC was to recognise, in a much more deeper and nuanced way, cultural and religious diversity among Muslims in the past and present. There is no such thing as Islam but there are only Islams or better to say Muslim cultures. Taking religious and cultural diversity seriously has far-reaching consequences for epistemology of religion, religious studies and for our worldview as a whole. Immanuel Kant once said Hume woke him from his ‘dogmatic slumber’. ISMC did the same for me. For this, if not anything else, I will always be grateful to ISMC."
When I started my MA in Muslim Cultures at AKU-ISMC in July 2008 the institute was still in a Victorian building, somewhere close to the British Museum.
As a student of Islamic studies with seminary background, two years of intense study under Monsef bin Abduljalil, Abdou Filali-Ansary, Farid Panjwani, Sarah Bowen Savant, Aziz Al-Azmeh, and many other professors taught me one life-changing lesson: there is no such thing as Islam; rather there are Islams (with plural ‘s’). Furthermore, despite some similarities between them, Islams by no means can be reduced to a ‘single Islam’––whatever that might mean.
Fundamentalists of all religions, however, tend to either underestimate the phenomenon of religious diversity or even sometimes simply deny it. Irreligious fundamentalists (such as militant atheists) also tend to reduce religions to what they take to be ‘superstitious’ and ‘violent’ aspect of religions. Both religious and irreligious fundamentalists, therefore, are equally reductionist. But no academic scholar of religion, whether personally religiously inclined or otherwise, can get away with this phenomenon and reduce it to this or that aspect of religions.
Equipped with this –– seemingly simple but persistently evasive –– insight I started my PhD at Edinburgh university. In my thesis I further elaborated this insight by focusing on the debates in medieval and contemporary Muslim theologies (again with plural ‘s’) concerning the nature of the Qur’anic revelation.
According to the so-called orthodox theory of the Qur’anic revelation, the Qur’an is the ‘verbatim word’ of God while Muhammad, as the prophet of God, has no role to play in shaping the content and the form of the scripture. His role is only confined to passively receive the revelation and pass it on to human beings. But before ‘orthodoxy’, namely in the first three centuries of Islam, it was barely nothing more than one theory among many others and not even necessarily the most cherished one.
The ‘orthodox’ theory of revelation gradually gained upper hand due to, among other things, some political circumstances. After gaining ascendency, the ‘orthodox’ theory presented itself as ‘the only theory of the Qur’anic revelation worthy of the name’. This made the ‘verbatim word of God’ an ‘unthinkable’ theory –– to use a key term by Mohammad Arkoun –– in Muslim thought.
Diversity, thereby, was substituted by an illusion of unity. As this was only an illusion, some contemporary Muslim theologies have been slowly getting back to the fluidity and flexibility of the early centuries of Muslim intellectual history. This has made the debate regarding the nature of the Qur’anic revelation somewhat open again. Another intenerating chapter of religious diversity has therefore begun.
I have now completed my PhD and for the insight into diversity, more than anything else, I will always remain indebted to my professors at ISMC.
Hinna Hussain, Pakistan
"The intellectual and social exchanges at ISMC really changed my perspective on academic learning into lifelong learning. Besides focusing on continual professional development and reading, I am now contributing to a few causes in the community that I care for. I belong to youth development programs and camps catering to young people from all over Pakistan. Following my deep passion in arts, I became a part of national management at Jubilee Arts International Festival held in Lisbon, Portugal. At present, making full use of my education and passion, I am serving as Joint-Secretary for the Aga Khan Local Education Board for Kharadar Jurisdiction, Karachi where we promote a range of educational programs ranging from ECD to higher and continuing education. In addition, I am strongly associated with AKU-ISMC alumni network. This provides me an opportunity to cherish my memories and helps me to stay connected with the vision of the university as a permanent part of the community. For all the current ISMC students and alumni to-be out there, I believe your circumstances might remain unchanged after the graduation, however, the way you look at them will definitely be transformed. So use this personal and/or intellectual transformation for the refinement of your personality, profession, family, and society as ‘It is your light that lights the world’-Rumi."