Muslim students this week are making efforts to educate the campus about their religion. But for some, the study of Islam is the focus for their entire academic and career plans.
Each year, approximately 20 graduate students pursue master's and doctoral degrees in Islamic studies. The interdepartmental Islamic studies program is one of two in North America – the other is at McGill University in Canada. The program prepares students for university teaching positions in fields related to Islam, as well as other careers.
"It is not the study of Islam just from a religious point of view," said Michael Morony, the Islamic Studies Program Chair, referring to the uniqueness of the program.
Students can study Islam from a social science or literature angle, he said.
Participants can also take classes in different departments and are only required to take one core course offered through the program.
The Islamic studies program attracts applicants from various backgrounds, including students from the Middle East, Indonesia, Egypt and other foreign countries. At least 50 percent of the students in the program are not Muslim, said Diane James, the program counselor.
Recent applications to the program reveal a growing interest in Islam among American students since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, James added.
In light of the current political climate, students applying to the program are stressing their desire to promote coexistence and peaceful cooperation, she said.
While the program, sponsored by the UCLA International Institute, has lasted since its establishment in the late 1950s, it has faced financial and administrative difficulties. One of the main problems is that the program lacks necessary funding, which at times prevents it from competing with other institutions, Morony said.
"We lose some of the best applicants to other universities that can give them multi-year packages," he said. "We have rich possibilities here, but we don't have the resources to support the students."
Funding problems are also preventing the establishment of teaching assistant positions for Islamic studies students, Morony said. Because the program does not offer its own courses, Islamic studies graduate students need to compete with graduate students in other departments for TA positions.
Last fall, the Graduate Council of the Academic Senate reviewed the program and called for revisions, Morony said. In response to this review, the implementation of a core curriculum of three courses is under consideration.
The current lack of a core curriculum and the amount of flexibility in the program, first-year Islamic studies doctoral student Ayman Shabana said, are drawbacks that particularly affect students who are not clear as to what direction they want to pursue with their research.
Though Shabana is still finalizing his research plans, he knows he wants to complete his dissertation on a topic relating to Islamic law.
Shabana, who applied to other institutions as well, said he chose to come to UCLA because of its prestigious ranking and faculty.
"I feel that (the Islamic studies program) is unique, but in order to keep that status, you need a lot of support and investment so that this investment will translate into good support for the students and the hiring of ... specialized professors," he added.
One encouraging factor for Islamic studies students is the growing job markets for specialists in Islam and related fields.
"There are more jobs out there in the last 10 years than there ever were before," Morony said.
This increase in job opportunities may make it possible for the program to train and graduate more students each year, Morony added, though he stressed that an increase in financial support is his primary concern.
Resources are also available on campus for undergraduates who want to study Islam. The Middle Eastern and North African Studies program, also sponsored by the International Institute, allows students to study the history, languages and cultures from that region.
In addition, the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures offers an undergraduate minor in Arabic and Islamic studies.
Muizz Rafique, a fourth-year business and economic student, completed an Arabic and Islamic studies minor because studying Arabic fulfilled his personal interests.
"Since the Koran is revealed in Arabic, I myself was motivated to learn Arabic," he said.
While he could read Arabic because certain religious blessings are done in Arabic, he didn't understand it prior to taking courses at UCLA.