A $2 million Center for Muslim World Studies created thanks to the generous support of Mohsin and Fauzia Jaffer is celebrating its first year of success.
The Mohsin and Fauzia Jaffer Center for Muslim World Studies is housed at Florida International University (FIU) and aims to produce scholarship, research and dialogue to promote understanding of the global Muslim community.
In its first year it has taken on tough issues such as Islamophobia and bullying; the role of the Jewish community in fighting anti-Muslim racism; and prospects for peace in the Middle East. It has also achieved several important milestones, including the expansion of undergraduate and graduate certificate programs in Middle East and Muslim World Studies.
Promoting interfaith dialogue
Looking out to the global Muslim diaspora, the centre is not only the first of its kind in South Florida but leads the way internationally in the study of Muslim issues and communities, advancing the understanding of Muslim history and culture, promoting interfaith dialogue and illuminating issues affecting Muslims worldwide.
Since its creation, the centre has held more than two dozen academic and cultural events for students, faculty and the community, including a roundtable conversation on the then-upcoming midterm elections focused on the importance of the Muslim American vote and a “hijab-a-thon” in collaboration with FIU’s Muslim Student Association that invited women of all faiths to wear a hijab for the day, then reflect on their experiences.
And in a period of continuing tension between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims, the centre is planning a conference this year to highlight the historical connections between the two religions.
The three-day conference dedicated to Muslim-Jewish relations, “Muslim-Jewish Encounter: Texts, Contexts and Contemporary Implications”, will bring together scholars from around the world to explore the historical, cultural, socio-political, economic and geographic linkages that exist between Jews and Muslims.
The project is part of a larger Muslim-Jewish relations initiative at FIU and is intended to foster meaningful dialogue among different religious communities. The conference is a collaboration with the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU and will be held from April 10-12, 2019.
Academically, the Mohsin and Fauzia Jaffer Center for Muslim World Studies focuses on key themes, including the global Muslim diaspora; interfaith dialogue and intra-faith relations; gender and identity; and Islam and security. Its varied and multidisciplinary curriculum incorporates elements of political science, international relations, religious studies, sociology, anthropology, geography, economics, history, law, business, women’s studies and human rights.
It has expanded its course offerings, including a new course on Islamic art and architecture, which will be offered this year. The course will assess how Islamic doctrine manifests itself through art and architecture, providing students with understanding of the theoretical and practical principles unifying Islamic art in a global perspective.
It will also be moving into a soon-to-be constructed campus building.
The centre has welcomed postdoctoral researcher Saeed Moshveghyaganeh, who studies the participation of Muslim women in STEM fields, and visiting assistant professor Carlos Grenier, whose work focuses on Islamic thought in the early Ottoman Empire.
Recent presentations have included an Introduction to Islamic Law by Muslim theologian Yasemin Saib. This lecture addressed misconceptions about Shari’a Law, explaining its origins, legal reasoning and how it has become a contested topic around the world.
Sharing a planet
Dr. Mohsin Jaffer, a physician and founding board member of the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations (COSMOS), and his wife Fauzia, who leads the couple’s charitable foundation, have been involved in the development of a Muslim studies initiative at FIU for several years.
Their motives in donating $2 million to create the Center for Muslim World Studies were to contribute towards creating harmony, peace and understanding globally between different communities.
Dr. Jaffer noted the importance of understanding each other’s cultures, faiths and concerns, and that Muslims make up a quarter of the world’s population but are very often misunderstood as a community.
“The people of this world share one planet,” he said. “We have to live with each other and understand each other. Because when you don’t understand another person, you fear them.”
Dr. Jaffer and the centre’s director, Mohiaddin Mesbahi, added that it seeks to address Islamophobia and misconceptions about Muslims that have hardened since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Educating non-Muslims about Islam in an objective manner can help dismantle such negative perceptions, Mesbahi said.
The centre is about building bridges between communities, and today FIU faculty and students say the Mohsin and Fauzia Jaffer Center for Muslim Studies is serving as such a unifier.
It has more than 100 students in its certificate programme and they say it highlights the similarities of cultures and religions that are often thought to be at odds.
Muslim graduate student Lana Shehadeh said growing up in the United States she had grown accustomed to stares and comments about her hijab, but does not want her two daughters to share such experiences. The Center for Muslim World Studies can help change views, she said.
“I don’t want my kids to grow up in a world where they’re constantly uncomfortable with who they are,” Shehadeh told the LRN news website in Miami. “The centre gives a more favourable and authentic image of Muslims.”
Interaction and exchange
Dr. Jaffer believes that a key to its success is its location in South Florida, where it can interact with people of different ethnicities and religions.
The Miami area “is a springboard to Latin America and also we have a lot interaction with Europe,” he said. “If we have a robust programme here, we can have interaction and exchange with professors and students from all over the world.”
Dr. Jaffer and his wife have previously undertaken many varied charitable projects.
The Mohsin and Fauzia Jaffer Foundation’s aims are to provide charitable medical care and education to the less fortunate the world over. This includes free standing clinics and mobile medical clinics in Africa and Asia, helping to build an elementary school and wells for clean drinking water, and contributions to Sahara’s abused women programme.
In Florida Dr. Jaffer has helped establish a free medical clinic in Miami and supports the Rotary Club’s educational scholarship programmes.
Patients come first
Originally from Kenya, Dr. Jaffer is the president and CEO of Senior Medical Associates, a group of primary care doctors caring for patients over 65, and Stallion Medical Management, which helps physicians achieve greater levels of profitability.
A specialist in geriatric medicine, he has combined his medical background with great commercial astuteness, but his greatest joy is helping people.
His mantra is that patients come first, as he sets out in a message to physicians on the Stallion Medical Management website: “As a practicing physician I have a real understanding of your predicaments and challenges. When we are not stressed by financial and business issues, we can focus on our true passion – helping our patients achieve the best possible health.”
He believes most people have the capacity to live long, healthy lives with vitality and vigour. Dr. Jaffer is one of the most dynamic and engaging speakers on senior health, combining humour, friendly advice and candour to enlighten audiences to a healthier and happier life thanks to insights such as his “10 Pearls of Longevity with Good Health and Happiness”.
Serving the Khoja community
Dr. Jaffer has served the Khoja Community in several positions. He was the founding President of the centre in Miami, has served in many roles at NASIMCO and is a serving elected World Federation Councillor having been in the position for 12 years.