I was honored to come back to Duke, where my education started, to lead the Duke Islamic Studies Center.
In this capacity, I have been working with the other faculty members here to help expand and deepen a program that is committed to a civilizational engagement with Islam, one that takes all fourteen centuries of Islam seriously, and approaches the study of Islam and Muslims in a global and interdisciplinary way that is Duke’s hallmark.
We have a wonderful opportunity to further develop a rigorous academic program that will be relevant, publicly engaged, and speaks to contemporary demands and debates surrounding the global discourse around Islam and Muslims.
Building on the pioneering vision of Bruce Lawrence, Duke has become recognized as an international leader in Islamic studies. We have a number of the leading scholars in the world who are doing research on a number of aspects dealing with Islam as a lived religious tradition and Muslims in a wide variety of majority and minority contexts. We have tremendous strengths in religious studies, Middle Eastern studies, Slavic and Eurasian Studies, Arabic, Turkish, African Islam, Cultural Anthropology, Women’s Studies, Political Science, Economics, Sociology, Public Policy and more. Part of my task has been to translate this wide-ranging expertise into exciting events, academic conferences, and multi-disciplinary graduate programs.
We also have a wonderful partnership with the University of North Carolina in Islamic studies, and will seek to move the Duke-UNC partnership even closer to one another in this area. We hope to begin our Master’s level program starting in Fall 2017.
We will continue and expand the public projection of our scholarship, as part of our projects such as Muslim Lives, and the ARCUS project on Islam and sexuality. There is a fierce urgency surrounding the public and scholarly demand for accurate information regarding Islam and Muslims, and it is up to us at Duke to continue to meet this challenge with answers that are truthful, challenging, relevant, and accessible.
Let me share one anecdote. I recently published a book on the life and legacy of Prophet Muhammad. In the course of my research, I came across two prayers of Muhammad that somehow seem pertinent to the collective challenges that all of us face today, as Muslims—often in very difficult circumstances—dominate the world’s headlines. In the first prayer, Muhammad prays to God to “increase me in knowledge.” In the second prayer, he prays to be delivered from “a knowledge that benefits not.” At Duke, we are extraordinarily privileged to have a rich community of scholars of Islam and the Middle East. The challenge before us is to continue to translate our scholarly expertise in a way that transforms and uplifts us, our students, and the public at large. May we grow as a community, and may we grow in producing a knowledge that is efficacious, transformative, and above all, beneficial.
Duke is the place where I received all my training. I have celebrated five national basketball championships during my Duke life. So this has been, in a real sense, also a homecoming for me. I ask for your prayers and good wishes in this transition and new beginning. I also welcome any ideas, networking possibilities, resources, and support in creating what we all hope will continue to be a pioneering program for the study of Islam.