On 6 September 2018, The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) hosted a celebratory event at the Aga Khan Centre to commemorate the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement between SOAS University of London and the IIS. The Memorandum of Agreement is a formal arrangement whereby SOAS will award MA degrees for the Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities (GPISH) and the Secondary Teacher Education Programme (STEP).

This unique agreement with SOAS means that for the first time since the establishment of GPISH, students who join the programme from September 2019 onwards will receive a double Master’s degree. An MA in Islamic Studies and Humanities will be awarded by SOAS for the first two years of the programme and a second Master’s degree will be conferred after the completion of their third year by a UK degree-granting university of their choice, in a subject area that resonates with the aims of the graduate programme.

In addition, STEP graduates will be awarded an MA in Muslim Societies and Civilisations by SOAS, and a further Post Graduate Diploma in Teaching and Reflective Practice (PGDip), by UCL Institute of Education. Upon completion of STEP, graduates enter careers as professional secondary teachers employed by Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Boards (ITREB), creatively educating Ismaili youth ages 12 to 18 to feel more confident and knowledgeable about their heritage, traditions, faith and practice, and feel a stronger connection and commitment to community.

Reflecting on the formalisation of the partnership, Dr Farhad Daftary, Co-Director of IIS said:
“The accreditation by SOAS is a significant milestone in the history of the IIS’ graduate programmes, and further strengthens our long-standing relationship with an institution that shares our ethos of promoting scholarship and the learning of Muslim cultures and societies. The formalisation of our continued academic partnership will enhance the sharing of knowledge, exchange of ideas and potentially even foster collaborative research and publications in the future. It also gives me great pride that this momentous partnership has coincided with the Diamond Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan, and the 40th anniversary of the IIS.”

The academic partnership between IIS and SOAS will enable students to access prestigious libraries and facilities, as well as new research and knowledge produced by both institutions, which will contribute to the development and growth of future generations of Ismaili intelligentsia, and benefit the HR capacity of the global Jamat as well as the institutional capacity of the Ismaili Imamat.
Both IIS and SOAS have a unified vision to contribute to developing scholarship and towards the production of specialised knowledge — so that today’s societies can better understand and appreciate the richness and pluralism of Muslim cultures.

Commenting on the shared vision of the two institutions, Professor Deborah Johnston, Pro-Director (Learning and Teaching) at SOAS said: “SOAS and The Institute of Ismaili Studies have a history of working together and a shared interest in developing scholarship around the study of Islamic history, tradition and culture from a range of perspectives. Both institutions seek to examine Muslim cultures and societies from a number of disciplines - from the arts and literature to society and politics. SOAS’s move to validate IIS programmes acknowledges their excellent quality and, in particular, we commended IIS on their work around student support and professional development opportunities for staff. Together we look forward to making a significant contribution to enhancing the study of these subjects.”

Underpinned by the vision and guidance of Mawlana Hazar Imam, GPISH and STEP were designed by IIS following extensive consultations with a wide range of stakeholders and experts in the field of Islamic Studies. Both Master’s programmes enable students to undertake a systematic study of their heritage, whilst preparing them to play an integral role in addressing issues which have a contemporary relevance to Muslim societies.

At the IIS graduation ceremony in 2003, Mawlana Hazar Imam said, “It is not a simple matter for any human society with a concern and appreciation of its history to relate its heritage to its contemporary conditions. Traditions evolve in a context, and the context always changes, thus demanding a new understanding of essential principles.”

To facilitate this vision, IIS has always strived towards designing and delivering programmes that could match — and possibly exceed — the quality standards of leaders in the UK Higher Education sector. As a result of these efforts, the work and efforts of the IIS have been consistently rewarded by reviewers, from external examiners and consultants up to the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) — the governing body responsible for the quality assurance of Higher Education institutions.