Welcome to my first Principal’s blog post, written as a diverse and interesting year heads towards its end.
I would describe 2014 as a year of change and development for all of us at the College. 2014 started with the approval of the College to work in three main domains: research centres, continue our attempts to restart our successful taught and research post-graduate degrees, and to work as a Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) centre in specific areas, which will contribute to both our research centres and potential post-graduate programmes.
I am also very pleased to report that the College is setting out to create a number of world class research centres in an ambitious plan to enhance our reputation as an independent and internationally recognised, research-led centre of excellence.
I strongly believe that a scientific and research-led study of Islam and Muslim communities and societies in conjunction with other religions and faith communities is desperately needed. This will not only contribute to the academic gap in the field, but it is hoped, to be able to contribute to the global peace and sustainability, at least to some extent. As Stephen Hawking put it correctly once, one wonders whether the earth will be able to manage to survive in the next 100 years, considering the huge challenges it faces today, such as terrorism and pollution.
I am more than happy that we have now established the first research centre: Islamic Diversity, Education and Ethics. Three main research projects have just started in this centre, one theoretical and two empirical. The theoretical project is titled: Social Theory, Religion and Bioethics. Empirical projects are as follows: Bioethics in the Islamic Republic of Iran and Sensation of ‘Islam’ and Public Spaces in Iran.
We have also continued to host internationally recognised scholars and elites in a series of successful Open Lectures, which were initiated in 2010, but have expanded to seven or eight lectures per annum since 2012.
I believe these series of lectures have been very useful.
Firstly, they reflect a factual and correct image of the College: that it is not a sectarian, faith-based or ideologically-driven college, but merely an academic and research oriented higher education institution that demonstrates a wide range of approaches to Islam and Muslims across the world.
Secondly, these series contribute to raising awareness and mutual understanding, not only amongst local academics and ethno-religious communities but also at a global level, considering that these public lectures are recorded and disseminated through our website.
We have also officially launched a total of six SQA-accredited courses we have devised, which highlight our determination to continually seek to advance overall learning and understanding.
These courses, I feel, fit well into our ethos and commitment to teaching and research.
The SQA courses are in Professional Diploma in Islamic Economics and Finance; Advanced Diploma in the Study of Islam and Muslims; Introductory Certificate in Arabic Language; Certificate in Arabic Language; Diploma in Arabic Language and Advanced Diploma in Arabic Language.
A great deal of hard work went into their development so we are confident the six courses will prove as popular and stimulating as our post-graduate programmes, as well as the informal community classes and workshops in the areas of Arabic Language, Islamic Studies and Islamic Banking and Finance we’ve run for many years.
Early in the New Year, a new, 12-week block of Beginners’ Arabic Language classes running through to the end of March starts here at our Blackness Road Campus.
The once-a-week sessions are aimed at professional people as well as school leavers, anyone seeking a leisure course or graduate students.
With new markets opening up in the Middle East knowledge of the Arabic language could prove most beneficial. Even though many companies have executives and personnel fluent in English, taking steps to learn Arabic could be advantageous and give individuals an edge over their competitors.
Potential customers will be pleased and equally impressed if business people here have made an effort to learn Arabic as part of a drive to forge commercial links with the Middle East.
Our tutors will offer expert guidance and insights on the beginners’ language course, which will greatly help learners as they engage in the lessons. At the College, we have successfully run community Arabic classes so we regard this new evening class as very much a continuation of those.
At the time of writing, the College is finalising plans for its Academic Training Programme (ATP) on Multiculturalism and Leadership for female students from the United Arab Emirates, the 19th such educational programme since the first College Summer School in 2003. We hope that this programme will also be accredited by the SQA soon.
The ATP, for third and fourth-year students, is mainly academic in nature but it is enriched with some cultural programmes too. It is highly competitive, demanding and stimulating. What underpins the programme is our aim to advance the students’ overall learning and understanding of globalization and multiculturalism, leadership and management as well as civilizational dialogue.
It is always intriguing to see how the students – many of whom are away from their homes and families for the first time – react and adapt to their time here with us.
The 2014 ATP and the Summer School later in the year both proved to be successful once again. We hope our visitors to both these programmes next year will be equally satisfied.
I would like to emphasise that we are very keen to develop our research centres to focus on the theoretical and empirical study of Islam and Muslims in the ‘global south’ and their relationship with the North. We also look forward to transmitting this research-informed knowledge to a new generation of young scholars in the field in the form of post-graduate studies in the years ahead.
Last, but not least, the College owes a great deal to its Patron, HH Shaikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, for all this success and I would like to express my warmest gratitude to him for all his support.
Dr. Hossein Godazgar