The year 2020 is unlikely to be forgotten any time soon. The current AKU-ISMC students have jokingly taken to referring to themselves as the COVID Cohorts, but in a very real sense, we are all COVID Cohorts now. You may no longer be in an educational institution, but we’ve all had to learn how to communicate and work differently. This has been a productive time at AKU-ISMC, as it has in many institutions. We’ve ramped up our online offering of short courses, research collaborations and outreach events in ways that, frankly, none of us imagined was possible in February 2020. We were genuinely touched by the support and warm reception we received from our long-term audiences (AKA our friends!), but also pleasantly surprised to see just how widespread our reach could be by going online. Suddenly, we were reaching global audiences in real time. We were able to bring together high profile scholars, politicians, community leaders, artists and a host of others in conversations on the most pressing and urgent problems facing the world today. The opportunity to really go into greater depth on contemporary issues didn’t dampen our commitment to understanding the histories that have shaped the contemporary world at all. Instead, we found that the unique interdisciplinary nature of AKU-ISMC has really allowed us to flourish in ways that may have been unimaginable when we relied more on people walking through the entrance of our enviable and beautiful Aga Khan Centre in London’s King’s Cross area.
While the COVID19 “story” is relentless and can be frightening and disheartening, here in AKU-ISMC we have found reason to be optimistic and hopeful for the future. The lessons we’ve learned as a consequence of trying to keep everyone safe have opened new avenues for the future. In 2021, we aim to expand our online short course provision, through repeating our most popular courses multiple times in the year (particularly, the Introduction to Islam, taught by Philip Wood and Decolonising Knowledge by our newest colleague, Sanaa Alimia). We will be preparing a proposal to implement a completely online version of the MA in Muslim Cultures to broaden access to what we believe is a genuinely unique and special educational offering. We will continue to make good use of the conversational formats we’ve found to be both popular and productive. Our series exploring the ways that Pakistan has responded to the COVID19 crisis continues to draw in viewers and emails with suggestions for future conversations (sorry- that series wrapped up in September 2020, but we’ll do others in the future!).
Living with COVID19 is probably the wrong thing to say. None of us wants to live with COVID19—instead, I might like to describe it as living despite COVID19. In other words, we must all make adjustments to our social interactions and our lifestyles to try and save the lives of those around us, but that mustn’t mean shutting everything down. It means thinking creatively about how we can achieve what matters most to us, care for those around us and live full and rewarding lives safely and sanely for the foreseeable future. I sincerely hope that effective vaccines are developed soon, but whether they are or not, I am confident that AKU-ISMC will continue to act in ways that positively impact the world around us. I am equally confident that our AKU-ISMC alumni carry forward the values and skills that were developed and nurtured during your time with us to do exactly the same in your own domains.