What do a policy advisor at the US State Department, a lecturer at Oxford University and the Head of Graduate Studies at The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) have in common? All of them have pursued postgraduate studies the IIS.

The Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities (GPISH) offers students two years of challenging and rigorous study at the IIS, including two field trips, a research project, and an Arabic language immersion programme. This prepares them to complete their Master’s degree at a British university.

Sehreen Noor Ali credits the IIS with providing her with “a really strong rooting in scholarship and the ability to talk about it to people who were in policy circles.” This was immensely valuable when her career path led her to the US State Department.

Originally from Washington DC, Noor Ali graduated from GPISH in 2006 and has degrees from Harvard and Brown universities. In 2009, she served on the core team in the US Department of State charged with planning and executing President Barack Obama’s global engagement strategy.

Video presented by TheIsmaili.org, the official website of the Ismaili Muslim community.

“What the IIS gave me the ability to do, was actually understand how to help other people understand what Islam is and isn’t,” says Noor Ali. “It’s not an entity, it’s not an inanimate object, it doesn’t speak,” she continues, “so being able to take those principles that we learned and hopefully share it back with my colleagues was pretty awesome.”

The IIS Department of Graduate Studies is headed by Dr Laila Halani — also a GPISH alumnus. Dr Halani obtained a doctorate from Oxford University and was a Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh before joining the IIS faculty.

“The [GPISH] programme attracts some of the best minds in the community from around the world,” says Dr Halani, who lectures for both the GPISH and the IIS Secondary Teacher Education Programme (STEP). “It is a very competitive programme, which means that for every ten applicants we can only manage to take one.”

The purpose “is to train leaders for the future,” she says. “We have people who will become change agents, who will make a difference to the world they live in, who will come with a different approach and perspective to how we look at Islam, how we deal with issues of contemporary relevance.”

Video presented by TheIsmaili.org, the official website of the Ismaili Muslim community.

The programme has wide appeal, drawing students from countries in Africa, Asia, the Indian subcontinent, North America and Europe, and this diversity provides an asset in itself.

“We have students from the Arab tradition, from the Iranian tradition, from the Tajik tradition, and they come with their perspectives,” explains Dr Halani. “It is that exchange between the students in the classroom that is sometimes even more enriching than what they get from their teachers in the class.”

For Dr Otared Haidar, the IIS exposed her to “leaders in the field of modern Islamic thought,” and made a lasting impact on her career choice. Hailing from Salamiyya, Syria with a background in journalism, Dr Haidar had completed two BA degrees in her home country before joining GPISH.

“I joined the IIS to deepen my knowledge of Islam and to gain a comprehensive overview of the Muslim World,” she says. “The workload was intense, but the course was remarkably stimulating and I still look back at my time at the IIS with great fondness.”

In her third year, she pursued her Masters of Arts in Modern Middle Eastern Studies at Oxford University. Today, Dr Haidar is a full faculty member of the Department of the Islamic World and Middle East Studies at Oxford. She teaches and lectures on a range of courses including language, media translation and literature at undergraduate and post-graduate levels.

Her ongoing association with the Institute continues to make a difference. As a visiting lecturer of Arabic Literature, she has also been involved in designing and teaching courses for the GPISH and STEP programmes at the IIS.

“As a student, my time at the IIS was one of the richest phases of my life,” recalls Dr Haidar. “I made very close friends, with whom I am still in touch, and learnt from the best in the field.”

Applications for the Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities are now being accepted for entry in September 2015. GPISH is a fully funded scholarship programme. The minimum entry requirement for admission is an undergraduate degree of high standing from an accredited university. Applicants must have completed their undergraduate degree by the summer of 2015.

The application deadline is 12 January 2015.

For further information:
» Visit the Graduate Studies section of the IIS website
» Download a GPISH prospectus
» Email admissions@iis.ac.uk to request an application pack