Reflections on Studying at Cambridge (3)

Published July 14, 2016 by Mohammad Shomali

MPhil student Mohammad Shomali reflects on his academic year on the University of Cambridge MPhil in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (Specialisation: Muslim-Jewish Relations).

Usually, it takes a few years to feel nostalgic about a certain memory. But, sometimes, it just happens that right in the middle of an experience you step back, look at it, and know that it will be one to cherish for the rest of your life. And that is how I feel about my first year of studying at Cambridge.

I joined the University of Cambridge after almost a decade of being a member of the Islamic Seminary of Iran where I studied and later taught Arabic, Islamic philosophy, jurisprudence, and theology. As an Imam, I had visited many countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, Sweden to give talks and present papers. However, it was still a challenging experience for me to adapt to the lifestyle and academic standards at Cambridge. But, challenges only motivated me more and also I was lucky enough to have the support of the Woolf Institute behind me from the very beginning. I have been supported in every step of my course to the extent that I now consider myself part of the Woolf family.

I am currently in the final weeks of my course and working on my dissertation. It explores ways in which the rights of non-Muslims, and in particular the rights of Jews, are considered and recognised by Islamic jurists and, in particular, Shi'a jurists. In this research, I deal with original and primary sources in Arabic that have not been accessible in Western Academia yet are crucial to our understanding of the history of Muslim-Jewish relations. My research shows that taking these primary resources changes the way we look at Islamic Law.

1 Mohammad (third from right) with fellow students and his supervisor, Dr Esther-Miriam Wagner (third from left)

I have also been participating in extracurricular academic activities organised by the Woolf Institute. These include the Trust in Religious Leadership seminar in London with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. I also attended the Woolf research group seminar and the Muslim-Jewish Relations Panel Series, both organised by the Woolf Institute. "How should faith communities react to violence?", "Islam and Feminism", "Is belief in God irrational" and "Qur'an, revelation or dream" are the titles of some of the other seminars I attended. Furthermore, along with my supervisor and other Woolf scholars, we had a day trip to London to visit the British Museum exhibition: Faith after the Pharaohs, an incredible experience that was made even better by the great information and reflections shared with us by my supervisor.

I have been very lucky to be selected for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship to support my PhD research in the Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies. My PhD project would be a continuation of my current research. This will be another step towards achieving my academic goals.

This article is written by Mohammad Shomali who is completing the MPhil in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (Specialisation: Muslim-Jewish Relations). For further details of the degree programme, visit here.

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