By Gohar Grigorian
A steady stream of visitors from the Islamic world arrived at UCLA this fall, interested to meet with faculty and staff to see how Islam is taught in a major secular Western university, and to consult on other aspects of educational curriculum. Representing colleges and universities, education ministries, and secondary schools and Islamic madrasas, the visitors came from Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the West Bank, Yemen, Oman, Morocco, and India.
Deans, Professors, and Ministry Officials
First, on September 16, came nine university deans, professors and lecturers, and government education ministry officials. The group included Dr. Khalid Ahmed Abdulla Buqahoos, dean of the college of education at the University of Bahrain; Ms. Nadia Safwat Ahmed El Khamisy of Mansoura University, Egypt; Mr. Khalil Alkorm, a lecturer at Kay Academic College of Education in Israel; Mr. Ibrahim Abdulla M.Y. Almohammadi, vice principal of a boys' school in Qatar; Mr. Saad N. A. Aldwayan of King Saud University, Saudi Arabia; Mohammed A. Harbi, general educational inspector for school management in Saudi Arabia; Dr. Ahmad Ali Kanaan, head of curriculum and teaching methodologies at the Faculty of Education of Damascus University; Ms. Hanan Mohammed Sharabati, of the Ministry of Education for the West Bank; and Mr. Mohammed Yahka Al-Fakih of Dhamar University, Yemen. All four of the delegations were sponsored by the U.S. State Department, and hosted during their visit to the campus by the International Institute's International Visitors Bureau.
The aim of the September 16 group was to study education programs in the United States. At UCLA they met with Prof. Leonard Binder, political scientist and director of the Center for Near Eastern Studies; Jonathan Friedlander, Near East Center assistant director and outreach director for the International Institute; Prof. Val Rust of the Graduate School of Education and director of UCLA's Education Abroad Program; Prof. Afaf Marsot, a Middle East specialist in the History Department; Donna Brinton, lecturer in Applied Linguistics and Teaching English as a Second Language Department; and Kathryn Paul, public affairs analyst at the Language Resource Center.
The visitors were interested in current theories and practice in teacher education, and in how in-service and other after-degree training was conducted in the United States. They also were looking at how foreign language training was done, how schools differ between the public system and private schools and those in urban versus rural settings, and opportunities for international exchanges.
Jonathan Friedlander told them that there are currently 250 students enrolled in Middle East Studies degree programs at UCLA. The university offers both an MA and Ph.D. in Islamic Studies, and is the only American public university that does so. The visitors asked if the Near Eastern Center has any official advisory role for the U.S. government and were told that it does not, although individual faculty members are sometimes asked for advice by government officials.
Donna Brinton, academic coordinator for UCLA's English as a Second Language program, told the visitors that she had recently been in Syria and Lebanon and that UCLA was training 93 teachers in Syria.
Madrasa Teachers and Administrators from India
On October 3 a group of ten Muslim senior teachers or administrators of madrases, Islamic schools, from across India came for a visit. Most of these are equivalent in their student body to American K-12 institutions, and have as their principal focus the teaching of the Quran, although a number of the madrasas teach some modern subjects. The visitors came from seven Indian states as well as the capital at Delhi: Uttar Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Madya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan. They requested to hear a report on Islamic studies at UCLA.
The ten came from a wide variety of institutions such as the Jamiatul Falah school in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, represented by its assistant education director, Mr. Maqbool Ahmad; the others were Mr. Mohammad Moazzam Ahmed, assistant imam of the historic Fatehpuri Mosque in Delhi; Mr. Muqtada Hasan, rector of the Jamiah Salafiah madrasa in Varanasi (formerly Benares), Uttar Pradesh; Dr. Gulam Syed Murthuza Pasha Khadri, the vice president of the Tamil Nadu Urdu Foundation; Dr. Mohammad Halim Khan, founder and chairman of the Madhya Pradesh Madrasa Board; Mr. Mohammad Abu Bakar Maulana, a senior teacher at the Madrasa Hussainia in the city of Ranchi, Jharkhand state; Dr. Jamaluddeen Kunnakkadan Bahauddeen Muhammed, vice principal of the Darul Huda Islamic Academy in Tirurangada, Malappuram District, Kerala; Mr. Abdullah Saud, general secretary of the Jamiah Salafiah, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh; Mr. Atherali Sayed, general secretary of the Darul-Uloom Mohammadia madrasa in Mumbai, Maharashtra; and Mr. Mohammed Ziaur Rahim, rector of the Jamea-tul-Hidaya in Jaipur, Rajasthan.
The group had said its aim was to help modernize the traditional madrasa curriculum to provide their graduates with skills for careers in contemporary society. While in the United States they visited a number of religious schools, including Jewish and Christian ones as well as Islamic institutions. Most of their American visit was devoted to primary and secondary schools, but they included several institutions of higher learning such as UCLA.
Some of their interests included how to teach science fairly in a faith-based school, how government can support religious schools while keeping the schools separated from state policy, and how much autonomy should be given to student organizations.
While at UCLA the Indian group met with Jonathan Friedlander.
Three Visitors from King Abdul Aziz University
On October 6, three professors arrived from King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. This institution was founded as a private university in 1967 but was converted to a state school in 1971. It has grown to an enrollment of some 37,000 students. It awards Bachelor and Masters degrees in many subjects, and offers doctorates in Earth Sciences and Education. The visitors were Dr. Ahmed Muh'd A. Al-Ahdl, Dr. Ali Ibraheem A. Alnajim, and Dr. Fyaez Ahmed H. Habis.
This group was particularly interested in the religious qualifications of UCLA faculty who taught courses on the Middle East and on Islam. While on campus they met with Prof. Scott Bartchy of the History Department, director of the Center for the Study of Religion, as well as with Diane James, the Near Eastern Center's editor, and Mariam Jukaku, president of the UCLA Muslim Student Association.
Seven from the Middle East and North Africa
On October 13 a delegation of seven education specialists, principally from the state ministries, arrived from six countries for briefings on current trends in secondary education research. They were Dr. Latifa Ali Almannai and Mr. Mohamed Saleh Abdulla Alhaddad of the Ministry of Education of Bahrain; Ms. Nihaya Hamdane Yahya, principal of an Arab experimental school in Yaffa, Israel; Mr. Mohammed Fousshi, an Education Department inspector from Morocco; Mr. Ibrahim Said Al Rawahi, social studies administrator from the Ministry of Education of Muscat in Oman; Mr. Ali Mohammad A. Alqarni, English language supervisor from the Saudi Ministry of Education; and Ms. Rajaa Selman Safia, an English instructor in the city Directorate of Education in Lattakia, Syria.
This group met with Prof. Allen Roberts, an art historian and director of the Center for African Studies. The meeting included Near Eastern Center Assistant Director Jonathan Friedlander, and Barbara Gaerlan, assistant director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies. The visitors had a lively interest in the daily lives of Muslim communities in the U.S., in how school principals are trained, in college counseling for secondary school students, and in the use of technology in the classroom.
Each of the visiting Muslim groups asked a lot of questions about the International Institute's recent summer program for K-12 teachers on "Islam in the Contemporary World." Allen Roberts had taught a segment of that program on the Senegalese Muslim holy man Amadou Bamba.