The Summer Programme on Islam Returns to the UK
The seventh annual ‘Summer Programme on Islam’ returned to the UK this year and was held in the historic surroundings of Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge. Thirty-six participants from twelve countries (Canada, Iran, Kenya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland, Tajikistan, UAE, UK, and USA) participated in the eight-day programme.
A wide range of speakers, including faculty from the IIS, the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC) and other international academic institutions, travelled to Cambridge to deliver sessions focused on topics as diverse as knowledge societies, perspectives on the Holy Qur’an, Imamah as a model of authority and leadership in Islam, the diversity of worship and practice in Muslim communities, the role of art and architecture in Muslim societies, and cinema as a medium to review and critique cultural paradigms of constructs such as gender.
Participants were also able to interact informally with faculty members, over meals and during evening activities such as a walking tour of Cambridge and punting in the River Cam. Participants undertook several initiatives to share their respective traditions, including organising a Cultural Encounters event in which they spoke about traditions in their different regions.
One of the highlights of the week was a formal dinner, which was attended by leadership from the Ismaili community and the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) institutions as well as representatives of the University of Cambridge such as the Master of Sidney Sussex College, Dame Sandra Dawson, and the Warden of Robinson College, Professor David Yates. During the formal dinner, participants had the opportunity to share their perspectives on the programme. In an address to the invited guests, participant Ayaz Somani noted that, “in our respective abodes, each of us must grapple with a very different environment, shaped by distinct cultural perspectives, traditional influences and geo-political forces, we need an appropriate language with which to engage in our national conversations.” Reflecting on the week, Mr. Somani described the programme as providing “an avenue through which to develop such a language” and by bringing together “a broad range of voices - including senior academics who are authorities in their own fields - with safe spaces to critically examine the dominant constructs of history, tradition and doctrine.”
‘The Summer Programme on Islam’ (SPI) is an annual residential programme of the IIS that brings together a diverse group of Ismailis from different regions and professions to engage in an introductory study of Islam and contemporary issues of Muslim societies.