- Course: BA Arabic and Islamic Studies
Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
I was born in Britain and raised in Bahrain, a tiny island country in the Arabian/Persian Gulf. Having spent most of my life in the Middle East, I have always had a general interest in that part of the world but it was only upon moving to Britain in 2011 that I began to delve deeper into the history, politics and religions of the region.
What made you want to apply to your course and to Leeds?
When the time to apply to university came around, I had been planning on a career in healthcare as I had been studying and working in this field for the last three years. However, on an open day at the University of Leeds, my interest in the Middle East led me to a talk by the Arabic, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies staff and I quickly realised that this was what I really wanted to study. It has turned out to be the best decision I have made to date!
I chose to come to Leeds because of the sheer variety of modules available and the freedom to tailor my programme of study to my interests. Another contributing factor was the stunning campus.
What is it that makes you passionate about your area of study?
Initially, my interests lay with the modern history and contemporary politics of the Middle East. Although these fields still interest me greatly, after taking modules in Islamic theology and Early and Medieval Islamic history in my first year, I became fascinated with the intricacies of Islamic thought and understanding how Muslim societies have developed over the centuries and decided to shift my focus to Islamic Studies.
Islamic Studies is still a relatively young and under-researched field so the potential for what is still to be researched and discovered is extremely exciting. Being a Muslim myself, I am also interested in better understanding my tradition and have benefited from the critical perspective that university study entails.
What aspects of the course did you enjoy the most?
The year abroad I spent in Morocco has undoubtedly been a highlight of the course. I hadn’t travelled much before coming to university so the chance to explore a different country, although daunting and challenging at first, was an amazing experience. Being completely immersed in the Arabic language also meant that my language skills greatly improved.
I have really enjoyed the Islamic Studies modules I have taken over the last few years as they are so different to anything I have learnt before. I have also found writing my dissertation a really enjoyable process as it has given me the freedom to research a topic in-depth that interests me.
What would you say about the learning facilities in your School and at the University in general?
The University campus has everything you could ever need. There are several libraries on campus which are home to approximately 2.8 million books, as well as providing access to millions of other books and journals online and, if the library doesn’t have the resource you are looking for, they will most often buy it for you. In addition to the libraries, there are loads of other spots across campus to work. There are also several cafés and the Leeds University Union has plenty of amenities.
What other activities are available for students to take part in outside of their studies, and which ones have you tried out yourself?
The Leeds University Union has hundreds of clubs and societies to get involved with. In my third year, I was the president of the Ahlul Bayt Society and secretary of the Middle Eastern Studies Society. I would encourage everyone to get involved with clubs and societies whilst at university as it is a great way to meet people and by taking on the responsibility of organising events and activities, you also pick up new skills and end up becoming so much more confident.
What do you plan to do now you’ve finished your course, and how do you think the skills and knowledge you’ve developed at Leeds will help with these plans?
Thanks to the support and encouragement I have received from my lecturers, I have decided to pursue a career in academia. I’m planning on spending a few years building on what I’ve learnt at Leeds by studying traditional Islamic studies in a Muslim seminary (ḥawza/madrassa) and then hope to continue onto postgraduate studies. My involvement with the Ahlul Bayt Society has also instilled a great passion for inter and intra faith work in me and I therefore hope to be able to remain involved in that in some capacity as well.
My undergraduate studies at Leeds have certainly helped me develop the critical and analytical skills needed for postgraduate study. Additionally, being able to study the Middle East and Islam from many different approaches within one degree means that I have a good foundation in multiple disciplines along with the benefit of a unique and sought-after language.