GPISH student Fatima Aysha shares her journey as a student so far.
There is a line in Arabic by the poet Al-Mutanabbi (d. 965) that says:
عَلى قَدرِ أَهلِ العَزمِ تَأتي العَزائِمُ
Ambitions emerge to the measure of one’s resolve.
This line is one of my favorites, though I love the rest of the poem. It captures the journey towards knowledge that every student embarks upon, guided by their unique ambitions and determination.
My journey began when I joined the GPISH program in 2022 coming from Syria. Reflecting on my first year in GPISH, I would admit it has been a challenging experience, at least for me, yet worth every minute spent as a student here.
The program's difficulty level was initially challenging for me because I had not previously studied in English or a related field before joining. With time it became easier or perhaps I got used to it. The curriculum in the first year primarily focused on the historical aspects of Islam but also included philosophy and sociology. The modules were not just informative, but transformative as they change your perspective about Islamic studies.
Discussions in class expand one’s horizon to an elevated critical thinking level, especially within a diverse multicultural group of students. We were encouraged to ask questions and to share our ideas without worrying about what is right or wrong, because simply there is not such a delineation. What was challenging for me was the clash between my personal belief and scholarly thinking. When you study and discuss what you have always been told is something rigid or a red line to question, it challenges the flexibility of your mind and poses more questions that might impact your belief system. In my case it did not, maybe because from the beginning my purpose in coming here was to seek answers about Islamic history and ideologies, aiming to understand how they intersected with violence in the Syrian context, rather than to challenge my own beliefs.
When it comes to social life it might feel a bit unusual at times, but it is truly a blessing. By “unusual” I do not mean in a negative way; quite the opposite, you suddenly find yourself surrounded by wonderful people who are both different yet like you. We come from various backgrounds, but we all feel like we know each other and share so many ideas together.
Meeting new people was not challenging for me; instead, it made me more open to others. Honestly, I never expected to become friends with my cohort mates as quickly as it happened. They are my friends now; each with their unique qualities. I am also grateful for the friends I have made from other cohorts and programs. The experience of studying and living with them is enriching; we always share food, find similar words and games, listen to songs in all our languages, and dance together. They have become a family away from family.
Furthermore, the Aga Khan center building itself is another cherished element of student life here, the ninth-floor Garden of Life is the most beautiful. It is the best place to have a break and take a deep breath, especially when you spend the entire day in the library. It is also the photography studio for most of the students. The library is another favorite spot of mine. I appreciate its diverse seating options, with colorful chairs and sofas, and that fact that you can enjoy the sun while studying when it is sunny. The student lounge, however, acts as the primary hub for communication and entertainment, serving IIS and AKU-ISMC students.
In summary, after a year here, my GPISH journey so far has been a perspective-changing experience with ambition, discovery, and meaningful connections. It is a journey I am grateful to have started and one that continues to shape my path towards knowledge.