An insight into the lives of new IIS students

In September 2019, 40 new students joined The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) for post-graduate study, arriving from Canada, India, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and the USA. They have embarked on a journey that will expand their horizons, create lifelong friendships, and become part of a global network of alumni that share the unique experience of studying at the IIS. In this photo essay, we meet some of them to learn more about their first impressions and their individual and collective aspirations.

Embarking on a post-graduate degree in a city far from home can be a daunting experience.  Students embarking on this journey at the IIS, are often coming to London for the first time, from all corners of the world.

So why have these students chosen to study on the Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities (GPISH) or the Secondary Teachers Education Programme (STEP), so far from home? Here, we learn of the unique experiences that GPISH and STEP offer to students looking to forge a career with an education rooted in an understanding of Islam. 

STEP student Roshni from India

“When I was accepted onto the STEP programme, I was looking forward to embarking on an intellectual journey which would be enlightening and challenging at the same time. In these two years, I aim to develop myself as an intellectual and historical thinker. Living within a diverse structure, I would like to experience pluralism and understand the positives and also the challenges of building a tolerant society, where each individual is respectful and accepts each other irrespective of social, economic, or cultural background. I want to step out of my niche by working, learning and growing with people who are all a part of the same global family. I really look forward to being mentored by teachers who will, I hope, help me to refine my skills and give my best towards the Imam's vision of quality religious education.”  

All STEP graduates are guaranteed employment with Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Boards upon successful completion of the programme – helping to fulfil the vision of quality religious education for all Ismaili youth worldwide. 

STEP student Hameeda from Lahore, Pakistan

“My aspirations for the next two years are not only to develop myself academically but also personally as an individual. I hope to get the maximum benefit from the knowledge and intellectual capital we have at The Institute of Ismaili Studies and explore myself as a student, as a teacher, and as an educationist. I want to challenge myself in my field of study as well as teaching, in order to push my boundaries. Mawlana Hazar Imam has chosen for the Institute to be located in the centre of London, rather than anywhere else in the world. So, I hope to experience London as a cultural city and at the end of STEP, I want to graduate as a teacher who will not only help students to explore different intellectual avenues but also teach them life skills.”

The course content taught by the IIS allows students to engage in the academic study of Muslim societies and civilisations, with a focus on Ismaili communities around the world.

STEP Student Altaf from Pune, India

“It has always been my ambition to serve the Imam-of-the-Time and the Jamat. Also, it has been my endeavour to take secondary education beyond religious education, so as to help students develop a critical understanding of their faith and the contemporary world. So, what better than shaping the future of our next generation by being a STEP teacher? Before arriving in London, I thought it would be very difficult to adjust to the new city and its culture. But London has many things that make me feel like it is a home away from home. The Aga Khan Centre is a state-of-the-art facility in terms of the seminar rooms, conference rooms, and above all the gardens. It is inexplicable how great a feeling it is to be studying at one of the most beautifully built, intellectual institutes with people of different backgrounds and disciplines. One gets to experience pluralism in its real essence here.”

All students graduating from STEP earn a Master’s and Post-Graduate Diploma from the leading international education providers SOAS and UCL.

STEP Student Suleman Pirani from Pakistan

“I think STEP will provide me a better perspective towards history and provide the tools for finding out how we know what we know. The surprising element about London is you can find many languages on the streets which really put you in an ocean of cultures. The best part about IIS is that you learn about Islamic traditions from scholars with different religious backgrounds, which provides a critical view of Islam. One of the exciting parts of being a student at the IIS is interacting with classmates from different cultures and educational backgrounds and understanding their points of view. I wish to critically analyse contemporary problems and be able to connect them to the instances of the past and transfer my learning to BAI students so as to enrich their knowledge by providing a new lens to view the world.”​

STEP students come to The Institute of Ismaili Studies from all around the world and learn about different cultures and practices both from their studies and directly from their peers.

GPISH student Fariah Bakhsh from Canada

“Studying at the IIS is truly a unique and blessed opportunity. As an Afghan Ismaili living in Quebec Canada, I had the chance to interact and work with individuals from various cultural traditions and religions. These experiences allowed me to grow as an individual and appreciate the diversity in our world. I am happy that at the IIS, I am able to meet and connect with people coming from a variety of backgrounds. I am particularly pleased to have such a diverse cohort and look forward to learning from each other. The Aga Khan Centre is a jewel which I proudly call my place of study and discovery. The Aga Khan Library is where I felt a special connection, and where I will probably spend most of my time. We are very lucky to have access to a large number of books, manuscripts, and other useful resources. I am very excited to be part of GPISH.”

By the time they have completed their time at the IIS, GPISH students will have mastered basic Arabic or Farsi skills to help them study primary source materials.  All students can enhance their skills through a language immersion programme.

GPISH student Zaina from Canada

“I was extremely surprised by how quickly I was able to establish a routine upon my arrival, which, of course, could not have been achieved without having forged positive relationships with fellow cohort members, students from other programmes, staff, and associated affiliates. In addition to the resources and support networks, everyone’s genuine care and concern is inspiring. Our mentors take a sincere interest in us and are continuously championing us, challenging us, and motivating us to discover our full potential.

“Moreover, it has been exceptionally fulfilling to discover that although all of the members in my cohort stem from different backgrounds and experiences, we all share a unique value to empathise, which ultimately shapes our ability to embrace plurality and wholeheartedly connect with one another.”

GPISH students earn an MA in Islamic Studies and Humanities from SOAS, University of London, the only higher education institution in Europe specialising in the study of Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East. 

GPISH student Anum Ameen Hossain from the USA

“When initially accepted into GPISH, I was extremely excited about the potential career opportunities post graduating as being an AKDN employee is an aspiration that I have eagerly been working towards for some time now. I was also enthusiastic about being able to explore London and to live on a new continent. Over the next few years I aspire to develop myself spiritually and professionally and contribute to the wellbeing of my community. Specifically, I want to decide what field I'd like to work in, and potentially pursue a PhD.”

GPISH can act as preparation for a research degree or a stepping stone to a variety of career opportunities. The three-year course continues to be a cutting-edge programme in the field of Islamic Studies and Humanities, while remaining true to the original vision that guided its launch over 25 years ago.

GPISH student Nabila from Canada

“When I was accepted onto GPISH, I was so excited to return to school and study a new discipline, which could both complement and challenge my academic and professional experience. Given that I did not get to learn about the places from which my family or community comes in my earlier schooling, I was eager by the prospect of focusing on my community itself via graduate studies. IIS’s interdisciplinary approach to the study of Islam and its emphasis on minority communities — such as ours — compelled me.”

The Graduate Programme engages students in the critical study of Muslim societies and civilisations across time taught by a diverse cross-disciplinary faculty. Students also develop key skills for lifelong learning and employability.