This year marked an addition to the Queen’s academic calendar with the introduction of a new Arabic language program with its sights set on an Islamic Studies concentration in the near future. Alistair MacLean, dean of the faculty of Arts and Science, said the origins of the new area of study can be attributed to a combination of sources.
“In Spring 2005 there was a meeting with potential donors who were supportive of a new department of Islamic Studies. Around the same time I was informed of a petition signed by students to introduce a new Islamic Studies department. … I think that there were a number of things that were put together,” he said. “The possibility of having external funding made it go so fast. Factors such as the petition and the faculty pressure, notably history professors Ariel Salzmann and Adnaid Hussain, indicated that there was a wish for it.”
MacLean said that the faculty is placing the program under a three-year trial period.
“At the moment, we have a non-renewable appointment for three years. At that period we’re going to have to access that demand. … The only two factors are the degree of interest and the second issue is how much funding is available. I don’t see any other barriers to this that wouldn’t apply to other departments.”
MacLean said the University has agreed to invest $225,000 into the program over the three- year period.
Arts and Science Associate Dean (Studies) John Pierce said the program is being supported solely by Queen’s funds.
“None of the funding came externally, all the funding came from within the faculty of Arts and Science and the University.”
Pierce said the program has a positive reception from Queen’s students.
“There was certainly a lot of interest. We were turning away people who wanted to sign up because the course was capped at 30 people because it is an instructional language course,” he said. “It’s promising to see this much support for the program.”
Pierce said the faculty of Arts and Science has its sights set on Islamic Studies concentration in the near future.
“We’re working on expanding [Islamic studies] to a minor program. We plan on adding a second year course next year and then ultimately a third year course. …We’re starting out small with the hopes of getting much larger.”
The course, ARAB100, a full–year, introductory level course in Modern Standard Arabic is being taught by PhD candidate Dana Olwan. “The back-story is that there was a petition which was signed by over 3000 signatures. …What’s remarkable is that this was a student-run initiative,” she said. “Students wanted this program and now here it is.”
Olwan said she hopes the course acts as a spring board for further cultural exploration.
“Although ARAB 100 is primarily a language course, we hope to expand the program to touch on all aspects of cultural, social and political aspects of Islamic studies.”
AMS President, Talia Radcliffe said she signed the Arab Studies petition two years ago and was an early supporter of the project. She’s enrolled in ARAB 100.
“I spoke with John Pierce about a year ago and he was very supportive of the idea. I just had that one meeting with him ….It was much to my pleasurable surprise to see this happen.”
Radcliffe said that although the addition of the new Arab Studies course was not directly a result of team RWS’ “Smarter U” election platform, which promise an increase in first-year, half-credit course it acted as an inspiration.
“We didn’t specifically say ‘Let’s get an Arabic language course.’ My interest in the course is what fuelled that aspect of the platform.”
Radcliffe said she sees the creation of the new course as a positive step for Queen’s.
Hassan Tariq, ArtSci ’10, is an international student from Pakistan enrolled in ARAB 100.
Tariq said learning Arabic is his way to get closer to his spiritual beliefs.
“I really wanted to understand my religion much better. … I’m a Muslim and the Koran was originally written in Arabic. , he said, adding that the first language of Pakistan is Urdu.
Tariq said that he will be disappointed if the Arabic Studies program does not expand in the future.
“I think that a 200- and 300-level course should be introduced in order for students to continue learning Arabic, hes said. “If it’s discontinued then we’ll just be out of touch and unable to practice it in the classroom setting.”
Tariq said he was pleased to see the cultural diversity of the student body represented in the class.
“It’s a great environment. You get those from all walks of life represented; it’s great how everyone is coming from every culture and background.”
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