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Muslim World Studies Center at FIU
Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs
Florida International University has embarked on an endeavor as timely as it is ambitious: to establish the Muslim World Studies center. There has never been a greater need to deepen our understanding of modern-day Islam and dismantle the stereotypes and misconceptions. The center is devoted to the study of the challenges facing the Muslim world, the promotion of healthy dialogue among the world’s faiths and Islam’s sects, and the production of objective research and analysis to inform national policy. On campus, the center will be a space for Muslim student life and a hub for intellectual and cultural activities for Muslim and non-Muslim students alike. This endeavor is a response to a call from the South Florida community that Florida International University lead the way in the creation of an academic center that brings the power and reach of a major public research university to the current discourse on Islam and global Muslim communities.
Building toward that vision, FIU’s center for Muslim World Studies will be an international center of excellence promoting a multidisciplinary understanding of Islam and its status around the world. It will reach hundreds of students each year, preparing a new generation to face global change with a solid grounding in Islamic issues. The center will also serve as a neutral clearinghouse for unbiased, scholarly discourse.
Five strategic themes will provide the initial concentration of the center:
Global Muslim Diaspora
The Muslim Diaspora is a centuries old journey that continues throughout the world today. One of the fundamental and transformational developments of the 20th and 21st centuries, the diaspora affects virtually every country in the world. The center for Muslim World Studies will bring the Green School’s expertise to bear on the examination of linkages between the Muslim World, Europe, North America, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and Southeast Asia. Miami is home to many diaspora communities and FIU is deeply connected to the study of international migration, exile movement and the evolution of urban communities.
South Florida is home to an abundance of diverse religious communities and centers – from mosques (Sunni, Shi’a and Ismaili) and synagogues, to Hindu, Buddhist and Jain centers of worship and instruction. Members of these vibrant faith communities are frequent visitors to FIU, including lecturers and professors from different sects of Islam. These exchanges build bridges of understanding, communication and respect. The center for Muslim World Studies will draw upon the Green School’s rich faculty expertise to better understand interfaith issues surrounding Islam, the symbiosis of Islam with Christianity and Hinduism, as well as inter-sectarian affairs. The Green School’s unique Muslim-Jewish Relations Initiative will also collaborate with the center to promote conflict resolution and understanding in the context of contemporary politics. Prominent leaders of various faiths will support the center and its mission by participating in conferences and panels on interfaith dialogue.
Sectarianism and Intra-Faith Relations
Just as South Florida is a hub for interfaith interaction, it is also home to many diverse groups within Islam. Throughout history, interactions between these branches have led to misperceptions, animosity and conflict. While we are constantly reminded by the media of conflict between the largest Islamic groups, the Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, there has also been considerable tolerance and cooperation within Islam that largely goes ignored. The center aims to provide a more complete understanding of Islamic intra-faith relations, while maintaining objectivity rooted in academic rigor, balanced public offerings and attention to community feedback.
Islam and Security
Regions within the Muslim world, from the Middle East to South Asia, are experiencing unprecedented challenges from political threats, international interventions, environmental degradation, food and water security, and economic instability. Complex interactions of these factors exacerbate these challenges. The center for Muslim World Studies will harness FIU’s interdisciplinary expertise to provide a holistic analysis of these issues. Such collaborative approaches will produce a more nuanced understanding of issues facing the Muslim world and provide a broad base from which to study multifaceted security challenges confronting these populations.
Gender and Identity
Among the misconceptions surrounding Islam are stereotypes related to gender and identity. What does it mean to be a Muslim in the 21st century? What does it mean to be a Muslim woman today? How has the diaspora influenced contemporary Islam? Through an interdisciplinary approach, the center will address a myriad of related issues, including divorce, polygamy and marital rights; participation of women in religious, social and economic life; morality and ethics; sexuality; expectations and challenges affecting men; and how the diasporic experience has shaped identity. The goal is to gain a more complete understanding of issues facing men and women within Islam and the dynamics shaping Muslim communities throughout the world.
These themes, to be augmented as the program matures, dovetail with SIPA’s regional studies programs and will draw from FIU’s noted strengths in the areas of Law, Women’s Studies, Business, Environment, Arts and Society, Journalism and Communication, and Tourism and Hospitality. To spearhead such inter-disciplinary projects and efforts, the Muslim World Studies center will draw on faculty from across The Steven J. Green School and FIU (see attached list of selected faculty members).