Islamic studies is a topic of significance as modern Australian society seeks to better understand Islam and the role of Muslims in the contemporary world.
Charles Sturt University (CSU) has been actively collaborating with prominent academic scholars to provide courses that bring this understanding to students.
Dr Zuleyha Keskin, Course Director at the Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation (CISAC) at CSU, explained why this is a growth area in contemporary religious studies.
“Issues related to Islam and Muslims have local and global significance right now. Due to a growing Muslim population in Australia as well as Australia’s business and political involvement in Southeast Asia and various Muslim countries, there is a growing interest and need to understand political, social and cultural aspects of contemporary Islam and Muslim societies.”
Partnerships in religious knowledge
With this goal in mind, CSU has forged a strong partnership with the Islamic Sciences and Research Academy (ISRA), home to some of the most respected scholars from the Australian Muslim community. Established in 2009, ISRA is a product of the interfaith dialogue movement in Australia. It is a platform for cooperation between Australian Muslims and educational institutions around Australia. While ISRA has a strong educational and research emphasis, it also focuses on community building and cooperation in religious, social, environmental and many other major areas for Australia and society globally.
CSU’s courses in Islamic studies have been designed in association with ISRA’s advisory committee, meaning that they are informed by the very latest research and knowledge. This means that students, while gaining a profound understanding of the foundations and traditions of the faith, are learning the most contemporary developments in the field.
Community hubs for research and study
This collaboration has yielded not only an evolving suite of courses – from the foundational Bachelor of Islamic Studies to the most recent postgraduate course, the Master of Contemporary Islamic Studies – it has also given rise to CISAC.
CISAC is the result of the partnership between CSU and ISRA. It has two physical locations – in Auburn, New South Wales, and Melbourne, Victoria – that provide a hub for academics to undertake research and deliver online teaching to Islamic studies students. The hubs are also home to support staff who can help students – either in person or remotely.
Zeinab Mourad, a postgraduate student in the Master of Islamic Studies, described her experience.
“The staff at the Islamic Sciences and Research Academy have been very supportive. They run a number of community events and provide resources that have helped me along my study journey. This course has really built for me a secure foundation of knowledge on to which I can expand when working with the community.”
And for Waeza Osman, who is studying the Bachelor of Islamic Studies, proximity to the Melbourne hub enabled her to access the resources and support easily.
“I’ve made use of the library facilities at ISRA to do my assignments as well as organise my study sessions. The staff at ISRA are very supportive and encouraging and prompt in their assistance. Charles Sturt University has an atmosphere of knowledge and spiritual growth and has been a turning point in my career.”
For Dr Keskin, this sense of community combined with the development of knowledge is key to greater social integration.
“I was born in Australia into a Muslim family. Having grown up in a multicultural environment (inner-west Sydney), I have always felt that better understanding of different cultures and religions is key for a harmonious society.
“Courses that deal with contemporary Islam are both timely and needed, and will contribute positively to social cohesion, community and gender relations.
“We think our courses will be an important avenue for learning about the second-largest religion in the world (Islam), and empowering students to build cross-cultural competency for a variety of professions.”