Exploring Community-Engaged Models of Teaching and Learning in the Islamic Studies Classroom: An Introduction
by Homayra Ziad, Hussein Rashid, & Shawntay Stocks
Editors’ Note: We will be posting short essays by members of the cohort that worked together on this project. The first two are from Celene Ibrahim and Mahjabeen Dhala. Others will be posted together at this page.
The Program in Islamic Studies at Johns Hopkins University, with the support of a yearlong grant from the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion and in partnership with the Hopkins’ Center for Social Concern, brought together a cohort of publicly engaged scholars and scholar-activists from around the country to explore and pilot community-engaged models of teaching and research in the Islamic Studies classroom.
We began with questions such as: How do we, as educators, draw on the rich cultural resources in our midst (including in our own classrooms) to offer robust experiential teaching and learning about Islam that reframes a conversation so long defined by polarities? How do we integrate a community-engaged curriculum into our classrooms and programs that introduces students to lived religion and encourages critical consciousness and sustained, impactful connections with the organizations and communities that surround and support us?
The project was co-directed by Homayra Ziad, Hussein Rashid, and Shawntay Stocks. We saw this convening as a place to learn, reflect and share ideas for those of us who embrace teaching and learning as political acts, who identify as scholar activist or scholar advocates, who are committed to teaching as a liberationist practice and need time to think through how that looks and feels, and who personally work in many different spaces at once with multiple positionalities.
We are simultaneously scholars and in community. We recognize that institutions of higher education can often take a paternalistic or even extractive stance towards the communities in which they are based. We also recognize that money is not the only resource that matters, and that communities are resource-rich in relationships and knowledge. We also value the pedagogy of experience and understand that knowledge comes in many containers. The directors of this project believe that the methodology of community-engaged learning has great potential for addressing the learning needs of students in Islamic Studies, as literature on teaching Islam demonstrates a universal need on the part of instructors to interrupt essentialism and binary thinking, unsettle assumptions, and create the conditions for self-reflection for students and faculty alike.
In its radical affirmation of the value of experience, community-engaged learning can narrow or even close the conventional gap between textual representation and the “real” world, between reading and encountering “the other” as subject/agent. However, what started as a marginal, radical practice originating in adult education in the 1950s has become ubiquitous in higher education settings. And while this marks acceptance of community-engaged teaching and learning as a pedagogy that furthers discipline-based education, it also means the domestication of its original social justice concerns.
The first goal of this project was to bring into conversation and create a supportive network of faculty in Islamic Studies who are already integrating community-engaged learning into their pedagogy, and to develop and share best practices. The second goal was to learn by doing and reflecting, with the concomitant goal of creating resources for faculty through the publication of case studies that would add to the literature on teaching about Islam in American higher education, much of it produced after 9/11. A third goal was not only to open up the potential of community-engaged learning for teaching on Islam, but to become familiar with the history and cutting edge of this practice as a tool for social justice, and with strategies for doing this kind of learning in partnership with and responsive to the needs of community stakeholders.
We hoped that engagement with Islamic Studies would also bring a new lens and new communities into the practice of community-engaged learning, to augment and enrich its assumptions and methodology. We intended a significant part of the work to be self-reflective, that is, getting connected to our stake in this work and how and why we position ourselves in the work.
For all of us in the project, this conversation has always been a live one. From the moment we entered graduate school, we were concerned with the moral responsibility of being an educator and concerned about the applications and implications of our research in the public square. But we also know from long experience that academia is not always friendly to the public scholar or scholar activist/advocate. The decision to do this work poses challenges and raises ethical questions for each of us. What is at stake for each one of us as scholars, educators, and citizens of a particular campus community when we commit to being advocates for a particular position in the public square? And what is at stake if we do not commit? We hoped this work would further clarify what was at stake for all of us in this conversation and where each of us draw lines in the sand, as well as encourage the sharing of resources and support among those of us committed to community-engaged teaching and learning.
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Homayra Ziad is a writer, a dreamer, a scholar-activist, and a mother. She is trained as a generalist in classical and modern Islam, with a specialization in Sufism and Indo-Persian textual traditions, and her research explores the creation of religious selfhood and subjectivity and its relationship to language, as well as pre-modern and modern interpretation of the Qur’an. Since receiving her doctorate in Religious Studies from Yale University, she has been an educator in multiple contexts and a practitioner of community-engaged teaching and scholarship. At Trinity College, she served on the Community Learning Initiatives advisory committee and guided students in community-based learning in Hartford, CT. At Johns Hopkins, she directs the Program in Islamic Studies.
Hussein Rashid, PhD, is a native New Yorker whose pop culture worldview is shaped by Star Wars. His idea of fun is getting into the minutiae of speculative fiction, without ostracizing anyone. His academic interests means that he knows that Jabba the Hutt trades in Orientalist stereotypes, and that Hermione really should’ve been the main character of the series, but patriarchy got in the way.
On weekends, you can find him with a good cup of tea, a deerstalker cap, and an (empty) meerschaum pipe, in the library, having second breakfast with his friend Gandalf.
Dr. Shawntay Stocks has over a decade of experience in service and community-based learning, coordinating service and diversity programs, and teaching. Dr. Stocks obtained her Bachelor’s degree in History from Guilford College, Master’s degree in English and African-American Literature from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, and her Ph.D. in the Language, Literacy and Culture program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Her dissertation research focused on faculty diversity within higher education. Dr. Stocks is trained in Critical Participatory Action Research (CPAR) which she utilizes in planning and executing training in areas of diversity, equity, inclusion, and community-based learning. Additionally, Dr. Stocks uses her poetry as a reflective tool within her workshops and trainings.