Islamic Studies Curriculum

I am very honored and excited for the opportunity to help redesign the Islamic Studies curriculum at FIU through my joint appointment in the departments of Religious Studies and Political Science.

My vision for the study of Islamic societies puts an emphasis on the diverse political and philosophical constructs of Islamic thought, and pays attention to the lived realities of Muslims on the ‘periphery’ of Islamic civilization. This is achieved chiefly through interaction with primary texts. Despite approximately 62% of Muslims living today in the Asia-Pacific region, many Islamic studies curriculum in North America and Western Europe focus heavily on the central Islamic lands while giving only cursory acknowledgement to the contributions and development of Islamic thought and civilization outside the Near East. The courses I am developing for the university will attempt to find a more equitable balance to provide students an opportunity to interact with the full diversity of Islamic civilization.

My doctoral research was completed at the University of Edinburgh’s New College School of Divinity, where I examined the religious transformation and evolving identity of an Asian Shi'i Muslim merchant community in Tanzania over two centuries, from their indigenous Indic Hindu-Islam (khōjāpanth) to Near Eastern Islamic orthodoxy. This ethnological research drew upon anthropological and textual approaches to the study of religion during more than a year and a half of fieldwork in Eastern and Southern Africa.

In previous years, my fieldwork surveyed civics education in the Pakistan Studies curriculum of higher-secondary schools in Rawalpindi-Islamabad. Past research affiliations include the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Quiad-i-Azam University in Pakistan. Prior to my appointment at FIU, I taught Religious Studies in the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh, and served as the USNORTHCOM Analyst-in-Residence in the Department of Political Science at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

It is through incisive study that we, as a society, are able to break popular ideological notions of “the other,” particularly those of Islam and Muslims, which have come to predominate in popular discourse over the last decade. The study of complex and diverse worldviews promotes equality and respect of other societies ordered with organizational preferences very different from our own. My hope is to present students at FIU with the beautiful complexity of contemporary Muslim societies and hopefully inspire them to seriously engage with other societies and civilizations outside the Western hemisphere through the study of religion and politics.

Dr. Akhtar