The Summer Programme introduced participants to a deeper understanding of Islam and the Shi‘a Ismaili Tariqah within the broader intellectual, historical, social and political context of human civilisations. The extensive readings and daily programming challenged participants to consider new perspectives on issues of identity, religious practices, modernity, pluralism and civil society. Daily sessions began with interactive lectures by IIS scholars that encouraged dialogue. Group activities encouraged critical reflection, analysis and discourse on a broad range of topics as they related to Islam, including ritual life, art and architecture, the Holy Qur’an, and gender.
Professor Azim Nanji launched the thought-provoking programme with an overview of the history of Muslim societies, followed by Professor Ali Asani’s discussion on “What is Islam? Who is a Muslim?” This was followed by Professor Hanna Kassis’ informative presentation on the Holy Qur’an, which was followed by a question and answer session. The session by Dr Shainool Jiwa clarified important periods in Shi‘a history and provided a workshop that helped participants identify and recognize variations in Shi‘a, Sunni and Sufi interpretations of the Holy Qur’an. Group activities engaged participants to deconstruct media stereotypes of Muslims in the post-September 11th era, with an emphasis on “reconstruction” through informed knowledge and improved understanding of Muslim societies as well as their intellectual and artistic contributions to peaceful and pluralistic civil societies.
Professor Mohamed Arkoun sought to inspire participants with his challenging discussion of the three “jumps” of modernity and the “tele-techno-scientific” reasoning that prevails in many contemporary societies. From various other faculty members, participants also learned about the Prophetic and ‘Alid traditions, ethics and law in Islam as well as interpretations of sameness and difference, and how these related to the notion of pluralism. Dr Sarfaroz Niyozov gave an energetic and eye-opening talk on the Ismailis of Central Asia, infused with examples of poetry and literature.
McGill University made its contribution to the programme by inviting participants to an informative visit facilitated by Dr Adam Gacek of the Institute of Islamic Studies library, founded by Professor Wilfred Cantwell Smith in 1952, which houses collections of rare manuscripts relevant to Muslim history and thought. Professor Wisnovsky, the Institute’s Director, also gave a talk on new trends in the study of Islam’s rationalistic traditions.
At an international symposium at the University of Évora entitled “Cosmopolitan Society, Human Safety and Rights in Plural and Peaceful Society” on 12th February 2006, His Highness the Aga Khan remarked:
An important goal of quality education is to equip each generation to participate effectively in what has been called “the great conversation” of our times. This means, on the one hand, being unafraid of controversy. But it also means being sensitive to the values and outlooks of others.
More recently, at the laying of the foundation stone for the Aga Khan Academy in Hyderabad, India on 22nd September 2006, His Highness observed that it is not the clash of civilisations that is to blame for the current conflicts in the world, but a “clash of ignorance.” In this context, the Summer Programme on Islam seeks to prepare participants to engage knowledgeably in the “great conversation of our times,” and to equip them to begin to address this “clash of ignorance” in their respective environments.