Simon Fraser University – Public Affairs and Media Relations
Simon Fraser University
Public Affairs/Media Relations (PAMR)
Contact: Erica Branda, University Advancement, 604.291.3353, email@example.com
New centre to focus on Muslim diversity
A $1 million gift from the Lalji family of West Vancouver is helping to create a new Centre for the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies and Cultures at Simon Fraser University.
The centre will create greater awareness and understanding of the wide range of Muslim societies throughout the world, each with different beliefs and practices.
It will support distinguished visiting scholars, annual scholarly conferences and public lecture series, student scholarships for international study, expanded library holdings and language programs in Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Urdu.
Amin Lalji, a principal of the Larco Group of Companies, says, “In today’s challenging geopolitical environment, with turmoil in Muslim countries such as Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan, we need to promote in the Western World, a better understanding of the people of the Muslim communities.
“By bringing in knowledgeable speakers and lecturers with a deep understanding of Muslim cultures, beliefs and behaviours, it will open our minds to be in a better position to deal with controversial issues in the future,” adds Lalji, who is also chair of the National Committee of the Aga Khan Foundation Canada.
A $5.5 million endowment is required to create and sustain the centre. SFU will provide matching funds of up to $2.5 million. To date, $2 million has been raised from private donations, with another lead gift coming from SFU Board of Governors chair Saida Rasul and her husband, Firoz.
Says SFU President Michael Stevenson, “SFU is particularly fertile ground for this centre. We have already a very strong program in Middle Eastern and Islamic history, an endowed lectureship in Iranian and Persian studies, and courses in Arabic and other languages.
“These activities form a strong base for building an internationally recognized centre for scholarship that embraces the full diversity of Muslim societies and cultures,” Stevenson adds.
Centre for the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies and Cultures
SFU has established North America’s first Centre for the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies and Cultures to encourage greater awareness and understanding of the wide range of Muslim societies throughout the world.
Muslim societies and cultures have increasingly become the focus of public and academic attention, particularly since 9/11. Much of the discussion has centred too narrowly on Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, says the centre’s acting director, SFU historian Derryl MacLean.
MacLean says the new centre will work to redress that imbalance by broadening the discussion to include more comparison and complexity in the study of Muslim societies and cultures from Africa, through the Arab and Persian world, and into Asia and the West.
The new centre will be part of the faculty of arts and social sciences.
The centre may be new, but the university’s roots in Muslim and Islamic studies run deep, says MacLean. Three of SFU’s original 12 history professors were Middle East specialists and the university has maintained that proportion.
The department has introduced a popular concentration in Middle East and Islamic history and now has five specialists in the area.
MacLean focuses on Muslim India, Iran and Central Asia; Thomas Kuhn, on the Ottoman Middle East and Turkey; and André Gerolymatos, an international affairs specialist, has a wide interest in the Muslim world.
Paul Sedra is an Arabist focusing on modernism and education, and Felicitas Becker is a specialist on the spread of Islam in East Africa.
Other university departments are expanding their focus. SFU sociologist Parin Dossa has just published a book on the Iranian women of North Vancouver, while department colleague Yildiz Atasoy, who specializes in Islamic politics, has just completed a new book about Turkey, Islamists and democracy in a Muslim state.