Belal Ghafoor – From one capital to another: (I would go) 400 miles2 July 2019
I write this in the glorious summer sunshine of South Wales deliberating over the past nine months at the Islam-UK Centre. As a Jameel scholar privileged to undertake the MA Islam in Contemporary Britain, I have had an extremely fruitful year. I was aware of the Islam-UK Centre for many years, but after coming (perhaps not walking…) 400 miles from Edinburgh to be here, witnessing first-hand the tremendous working environment and contribution of the centre has been an eye-opening pleasure.
The course has certainly delivered beyond my expectations, in particular the expertise of the lecturers and their professional yet friendly approach. The lectures were engaging and allowed plenty of time for discussion. We had a good mix of students from various backgrounds who all brought their knowledge and experience to the lectures.
As a post-graduate student, one of the main concerns is having a pleasant formal and informal working environment with like-minded sociable colleagues. The vibrant feel at the centre facilitated a number of events taking place regularly alongside the formal teaching: monthly reading groups allowed for more relaxed discussions on topics of interest related to our studies. On a more formal note, in January 2019 I was honoured to present my MA dissertation research design at the Conference on Leadership, Authority and Representation in British Muslim Communities. The conference brought together some of the most prominent figures in the field into one room and offered us a brilliant opportunity to engage with cultured academics as well as long serving community members.
As Jameel scholars, we have the opportunity to engage with the local community. The community engagement programme offered me an opportunity to utilise my skills within the local community. I had the honour to help a newly-arrived learned Arab scholar improve his English in order for him to convey his knowledge better. Using my Arabic language skills, I was able to help him with area specific lexicon; I hope my little effort will contribute towards many locals benefitting from the learned scholar.
During the year, I’ve been invited to deliver some public speeches. The Islamic Society of Cardiff University invited me to speak on ‘Recharging the faith’ in December 2018 and share some advice with fellow students. It was nice way to end the term, and the meal after was not too bad either. I was also invited to speak at a few mosques around Cardiff, sometimes to deliver the Friday sermon and on other occasions to deliver a public talk. Cardiff ISoc also run enjoyable football sessions for both competitive and casual players. A knee ligament injury sustained in October put me on the side-lines for three months, but from January onwards I regularly attended the weekly Thursday night football. Aside from the game, it was an enjoyable opportunity to get together and relax at the end of the week with fellow students of Cardiff University. Fellow students were always curious to find out what I was studying and surprised that such a bespoke degree was available at their own university.
The centre organises a Public Seminar Series which, along with being informative, pertinent and engaging, allowed us students the time to sit with the guest speakers before and after the event. Having dinner with the guests offered us the chance to gain more insight into their knowledge and experience in the field. Our final speaker, James Fergusson, gave a stimulating talk on his book Al-Britannia, My Country in which he highlighted the positive contributions made by British Muslims. As with all the seminars, we went for a meal after the talk during which we discovered that James and I don’t live too far apart in Edinburgh. We had a wonderful discussion and decided to meet in Edinburgh when I was next up. So in June 2019, whilst I was up in Edinburgh for my Eid holiday, I contacted James and we had a lovely chat over some Eid food (of course).
With a couple of months left to work on my dissertation, I reflect back on an eventful year both in terms of formal study and extracurricular activities. I’m extremely glad to have made the decision to apply to the MA Islam in Contemporary Britain and grateful for the Jameel Scholarship which has facilitated my study and stay in Cardiff.