Professor Mohamed Arkoun challenged the participants through a critique of modern reason vis-à-vis religious reason. From other distinguished faculty members, participants also learnt about the Prophetic and ‘Alid traditions, notions of worship and practice amongst Muslims, and the Symbolism and Legalism of Islamic Law. Dr Farhad Daftary provided an engaging account of the history of the Ismaili community while Dr Sarfaroz Niyozov created an educational encounter with the Ismailis of Central Asia, which was infused with poetic and literary expressions from Central Asia. In his keynote address, Dr Aziz Esmail formulated the intellectual tools through which participants can engage in understanding and responding to contemporary issues, challenges and opportunities that face the Muslim world and develop authentic and purposive responses to them.
The Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University hosted the participants in their distinctive library, which was founded by Professor Wilfred Cantwell Smith in 1952 and houses collections of rare manuscripts relevant to Muslim history and thought. Participants were given the unique opportunity to view a special display of the Institute’s artifacts and texts which was facilitated and narrated by Dr Adam Gacek. Professor Wisnovsky, the Institute’s Director, also gave a talk on new trends in the study of Islam’s rationalistic traditions.
Salima Kassam, an educationist working with ITREB Canada, shared her reflections on the programme in the following words: “The lecturers, the readings, and the opportunity for group work created an environment in which notions of Islam, whether historical or cultural, were brought forward, dissected and discussed in a broad forum to further develop perspectives. This enabled the participants to feel stronger in their ability to articulate their understanding of the faith and then, directly linked to that, their identity. This is an ideal foundational programme in understanding Islam and it provides the stepping stones for further personal, life-long learning, once the 10 days are completed.”