On Monday, March 26, Qatar's Ambassador to Canada Salem Al-Shafi announced a sizable donation of $1.25 million to McGill University and its Institute of Islamic Studies, in commemoration of the institute's 60th anniversary this year. Announced during Al-Shafi's visit to McGill on behalf of the State of Qatar last week, the gift will be used to assist the institute in furthering the understanding of Islamic history and culture.
McGill's Institute of Islamic Studies was established in 1952. In a statement released by McGill University, Al-Shafi praised the institute for its historic role in advancing research concerning the people, history, and civilization of the Islamic world.
"The institute shares our vision that knowledge and education are key to [meeting] the challenges of our changing world and [providing] the tools to better understand the ever-evolving relationship between religion and mankind and how it has contributed to our well-being and the coexistence of peoples," he said.
Up until this point, the institute did not have a formal relationship with the State of Qatar, but the Institute of Islamic Studies has received many large donations in its 60 years of existence. Foundations such as the Rockefeller Foundation and Ford Foundation contributed large donations during the institute's early years to support learning and teaching in the program. More recently, the State of Kuwait donated $350,000 to fund scholarships and prizes at the undergraduate and graduate level for students in Islamic studies programs in 2007.
"The success of the Institute of Islamic Studies is important to the State of Qatar because they share an interest in expanding the knowledge of … Islamic religion and culture," Administrative Assistant Andrew Staples said on behalf of Professor Jamil Ragep, Director of the Institute of Islamic Studies. "The international reputation of the Institute of Islamic Studies is well known in the field and the institute is recognized for its unique character in focusing on more than just one region or facet of Islam."
At present, the institute's program offers training in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu languages to both undergraduate and graduate students. Its strengths range from pre-colonial Islamic history, philosophy, theology, and law to Islam in South Asia, Ottoman and Turkish Studies, and Arabic and Persian literature.
The diversity of students' ethnicity provides an international atmosphere that facilitates learning and active cultural interactions. Some of its most successful PhD graduates have landed top-ranking academic jobs at North American institutions such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton as well as many leading Canadian universities.
According to representatives of the institute, this funding will be used to fund conferences, events, and cultural expositions, such as Islamic art and music, in 2012-2013. In addition, a portion of the money will be set aside for graduate student funding so that the program can better sustain itself and support its students in the future.
"The institute is excited about this gift and how it will be used to celebrate both the 60 years of the institute's existence and beyond, as it will continue to fund graduate students' education into the future," Staples said.