“Our student body personified a colourful, multicultural mosaic. The rich diversity represented at the Summer Programme on Islam makes it possible to extend a concept like pluralism beyond theoretical boundaries to a shared experience.” (SPI 09 participant).

The programme provided a structured intellectual forum for an introductory study of Islam to reflect on contemporary issues relevant to Muslim societies. The participants engaged with a wide range of topics, such as knowledge societies, pluralism, globalisation and Muslim identity, perspectives on the Holy Qur’an, Imamah as a model of authority and leadership in Islam, the Prophetic tradition, esoteric traditions in Islam, law and its Muslim contexts, and the role of architecture in Muslim societies. The speakers, who included faculty from the IIS, the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC), Aiglemont, Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), Harvard University and Amherst College, travelled to Cambridge to deliver the sessions.

“The faculty members have carefully nurtured an enabling space that has encouraged the free flow of ideas in a non-judgmental, safe learning environment. This has encouraged the pushing of intellectual boundaries to examine, discuss and debate the very basis of our beliefs and biases. The faculty, comprising of senior academics who are authorities in their respective fields, have patiently deconstructed and rebuilt concepts, encouraging critical reflection and analysis.” (SPI 09 participant).

Apart from formal sessions, participants benefitted from informal interaction with faculty members over meals, tea breaks and during evening activities such as a walking tour of Cambridge and punting on the River Cam. The evening activities included a film which explored how cinema is utilised as a medium to review and critique gender-specific cultural paradigms. Participants also took the opportunity to share their respective traditions, such as organising a Confluence of Cultures event in which they presented expressions of various traditions through song and dance.

“With the (historic) city of Cambridge serving as an inspiring backdrop, the Summer Programme on Islam has empowered us with perspectives and tools of articulation that will enable us to engage within our respective social, cultural and political contexts. To encapsulate, the experience was an ‘intellectual metamorphosis’.” (SPI 09 participant).

One of the highlights of the week was the formal dinner attended by leadership from the Ismaili community and the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). Mr Craig Bradley, Senior Manager for Strategy and Planning of the Aga Khan Academies, delivered the keynote address. During the formal dinner, participants also had the opportunity to share their perspectives on the programme.

The week ended at the Ismaili Centre, London, where Dr Aziz Esmail, a governor of the IIS, delivered the keynote address to the participants to culminate the programme.