New Islamic Studies and Arabic Minor Emerges

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Swarthmore will soon have a new minor: Islamic Studies and Arabic. Though the requirements for the minor are still being finalized, they will be interdisciplinary and include rudimentary knowledge of Arabic.

Tariq al-Jamil, Assistant Professor of Religion, hopes that Swarthmore’s Islamic Studies and Arabic program will serve as an example for other schools. “I’m really excited about the program and its possibilities; it has the potential to be one of a kind in a liberal arts context,” said al-Jamil. “It’s important to recognize that no other school of this size has anything else like this—we have the potential to be a model for other programs.”

Swarthmore’s Islamic Studies program has been in development for years, long before 9/11.

“The college has been directing resources towards Islamic Studies before I came,” said Farha Ghannam, an associate professor of Anthropology. “This was before September 11th, and there was [already] this interest to make sure that we have people teaching about Islam.”

Walid Hamarneh, assistant professor of Arabic, believes that a basic knowledge of Arabic will further students’ understanding of Islam. “There is a special position for the study of Arabic in Islam,” said Hamarneh. “Because the basic texts are in that language, and anyone who wants to understand the principles of the religion will to access them in that language.”

Ghannam, al-Jamil, and Hamarneh all hope that the college will hire new faculty members who can expose students to Islam from a historical and political science perspective. “The missing link is that we’d like for them [students] to learn about the history and politics,” said Ghannam. “We want, in the future, to have a historian and political scientist in order to learn about the issues.”

This desire is echoed by Ailya Vajid ’09, who plans to pursue the Islamic Studies and Arabic minor. “I love the professors who are teaching the classes; however, all the offerings I can take towards Islamic studies besides language are in religion department, with a couple in the sociology and anthropology department, and I wish there were a way to broaden my perspective and take classes in say, history or even political science,” said Vajid.

Susannah Gund ’08 has taken Arabic since it was first introduced at Swarthmore, and wrote her thesis in Morocco. “I have been really fascinated by the Arabic language. There’s a saying that the Arabic language is an ocean; it’s a very beautiful language. With studying it I’ve tried to learn as much as I can about Islam,” said Gund.

As for the reasons why there is a need for this new minor, Professor al-Jamil believes one is that an understanding of Islam is essential to a liberal-arts education. “I think its [Islam’s] connection to a liberal arts education is that the goal of liberal arts is to ultimately be conversant to be in the social and political world,” said al-Jamil. “This will require good citizens know something about Islam and Muslims.”


  1. i think this is a really good idea, but why call it Islamic studies? I think it would be a better idea to call it Middle Eastern Studies (or whatever you wanna call it, just something thats more of a regional or geographic proxy than a religious one), and cross list classes about islam into both middle eastern studies and religious studies. It seems like that would be alot better for students who are interested in the middle east but arent particularly interested in Islam. I dont think theres alot to say about the middle east that isnt at least rometely tangentially related/pertinant/affected by islam, but i feel like calling it islamic studies gives people a different specific picture of what the department would be about.

  2. Well, what about students who are interested in Islam, but not particularly the Middle East? Islam encompasses a pretty wide geographic area, like Indonesia or Pakistan, that don’t qualify as the ‘Middle East’

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