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Sunday Open Thread – IlmFest and Some Parting Thoughts Before Egypt

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A little over two years ago, I attended my first ever Al-Maghrib event: IlmFest. Today, fittingly, IlmFest will be my last Al-Maghrib event for quite a while as, inshAllah, I will soon leave for an extended stay in Egypt. Although I don’t know exactly what to expect during my time in Cairo, I suspect I won’t find the sort of gatherings, seminars, and conferences that Muslims in the West have at their disposal. This is one of the reasons why I penned my inaugural post on MuslimMatters and why I firmly believe that the “best place for Muslims to live” is far from obvious.

The weekly haliqas, weekend seminars, and summer intensives across the United States (and a select few other Western nations) evidence how organizations in Muslim-minority countries are adapting the study of Islam to modern life. In traditional Muslim lands, like Egypt, there are few outlets, if any, that allow one to be a serious student of knowledge while also attending university or working full-time. In the past, Distance learning programs partly filled this void, but such programs lack the social benefits of Islamic institutions in the West.

Beyond serving the academic needs of American Muslims, organizations such as the MSA, Zaytuna, and Al-Maghrib form new social spheres for their constituents. Think about how many close friends and acquaintances you’ve met through being a part of these institutions. In many ways, conference halls and college mussalahs are this generation’s social centers – a distinction once held by brick and mortar masajid for the first generation of Muslim immigrants to the U.S. (As an aside, the longterm effects this shift has on our community would be a great research project.)

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All this is not to say that studying abroad is over-rated or irrational (I like to think I wouldn’t be making this move if that was the case, heh). Notably, the overwhelming majority of current American scholars studied at and attained their degrees from traditional centers of learning across the Muslim world. These overseas institutions similarly draw in foreign students with less lofty ambitions, even with all the domestic resources available to them. I have some ideas as to why that’s the case, but I’ll reserve comment until I’ve undergone this experience firsthand.

So with that, I bid the MuslimMatters audience farewell as I’ll be settling my affairs Stateside and settling in Masry-side over the next few weeks. I pray that my time in Cairo is beneficial and that my experience allows me to be of benefit to others in any small way. Ameen.

Alsalamualaikum Amreeka!

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Youssef Chouhoud is an assistant professor of political science at Christopher Newport University, where he is affiliated with the Reiff Center for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution. Youssef completed his PhD at the Political Science and International Relations program at the University of Southern California as a Provost’s Fellow. His research interests include political attitudes and behavior, survey methodology, and comparative democratization.

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Farhan

    April 18, 2010 at 1:11 PM

    Our masjid has daily classes. We get maybe 15-20 regulars and some that come from time to time. I’m trying to pump it up like Al-Maghrib. Any suggestions?

    • Loga

      April 18, 2010 at 5:10 PM

      AsSalaam alaykum

      I compiled a list of some great places one can seek knowledge without travelling overseas, inshaAllah you find it useful: http://loga-abdullah.blogspot.com/2010/04/going-overseas.html

      BarakAllah fiikum

    • Youssef Chouhoud

      April 19, 2010 at 10:02 AM

      W/Salam Br. Farhan,

      If by pump it up you mean get people more excited about it, then I think you need to emulate what, in my opinion, is one of the chief reasons for Al-Maghrib’s success: agency. That is, don’t let the participants simply be spectators, but have them get involved. The more a program allows students to take some ownership of Islam in America, the more I find it succeeds. W’Allahu Alam

  2. PakistaniMD

    April 18, 2010 at 1:20 PM

    So are you going to Egypt to study @ an University? Or are you going to work?

    If you got into Al-Azhar, then why don’t you tell us… :) !

    • Youssef Chouhoud

      April 19, 2010 at 10:15 AM

      Heh, sorry I wasn’t trying to be coy :)

      Actually, I’ll be going primarily to study Arabic. I’ll look to join a study circle to further my Islamic knowledge, but language will be the only thing I take on through an institution inshAllah just so I don’t spread myself too thin.

      As a side note, I think my comments in the post hold for Arabic study as well since, arguably, the domestic institutions catering to that discipline are even more widely available than those geared toward Islamic study (especially in terms of summer intensives). Yet, in terms of this discipline too the recognized scholars in America almost all studied overseas (specifically in Egypt). Whether the current efforts signal a change remains to be seen. For the moment (and for my specific circumstance) studying Arabic in Egypt just makes sense.

  3. Nahyan

    April 18, 2010 at 1:49 PM

    Ameen to the du’a.
    InshaAllah you benefit greatly from your experience and are a means for benefiting your community.

  4. Amatullah

    April 18, 2010 at 2:18 PM

    Ameen brother Youssef, may Allah ta’ala grant you and your family a safe and beneficial journey. May He grant you barakah in your time while you are there and allow you to squeeze Egypt for all its got! Brace yourself for the heat.

    One of the things I miss most about the West are those classes and weekly gatherings. There’s a saying of the scholars that I love to quote and that is: العلم رحم بين أهله, knowledge is like a kinship between its associates. Those classes are much more than a sharing of information, like you mentioned, you establish these strong bonds with those around you. You will definitely miss those classes, events and halaqaat, but seeking knowledge requires sacrifice and patience and inshaAllah Allah will replace it with something even if it is not the same as an AlMaghrib class. It has made me more thankful for having such a resource and community back home, and gives me comfort knowing I get to return to it inshaAllah.

    On the other hand, you have resources in Egypt/overseas that are pretty much unheard of back home, so alhamdulillah you have an opportunity that many students only dream of, may Allah azza wa jal make it good for you and your family and grant you tawfeeq in it.

  5. ummousama

    April 18, 2010 at 3:12 PM

    Assalamu alaikum,

    I don’t know where you are going to settle in Egypt but there are certainly many places where to go and learn. You have ma’ahad everywhere where you can either study during the week or at week-ends. You have khairiyaat who have many programs, women’s programs are during the day and men’s programs are during the day. You have many people who organise trips to help the poor and orphans. You have scholars having weekly halaqahs. You can learn Qur’an everywhere, …

    Of course, if you don’t know the Arabic language, then you will have first to learn the language to benefit the most from this country.

    If you look for ilm, there are too many good places for that.

    • Youssef Chouhoud

      April 19, 2010 at 10:35 AM

      JAK for your input!

      One thing you mentioned – helping out the poor and orphans – is something I think that every student who goes abroad to study should look into. Yes, of course there are people right here in America who need help. But, truly, you haven’t seen poverty until you’ve traveled to a “Third World” nation. For as well off as Egypt may be relative to other countries in the region, it’s absolutely heart wrenching how many of the “common” people are forced to live.

      May Allah grant them patience and ease their suffering. Ameen!

  6. ahmed

    April 18, 2010 at 4:08 PM

    Whoever is interested in studying at alazhar please viist studyinegypt.org. For any further inquiries please email me and ill be more than welcome to answer your questions because im currently studying at alzahar.

  7. Wael - IslamicAnswers.com

    April 18, 2010 at 11:31 PM

    Good trip, Insha’Allah. I don’t know if you’ve been to Egypt before, but be prepared for some culture clash. You will be better prepared to deal with shocks and surprises if you stay hydrated, get plenty of rest, and don’t try to do too much until you get acclimated.

  8. Nour

    April 19, 2010 at 9:25 AM

    Assaliam Aleikum brother!
    I am very happy that you will go inshaAllah to Egypt. I love Cairo and if I could I would go to live there, except of course Medinah or Makkah. In Cairo, I think almost in every area have Dar Al-Arkam, which is for forigners and not forigners as well, where you can learn Qur’an tafsir and tajweed. The teachers are excellent and the monthly fee is very symbolic. Usually in every mosque there has circles for studing Quran. And even if you do not know arabic you will learn a lot. There you just have to be careful with the shopping and some every day life things like traveling. First you should take some egyption one who to tell you the prices of everything you need- from food to transportation. Because when you open your mouth immediately the price will jump 100 times more. :)
    And do not trust very much the egyptions. They are very, very kind people, they like very much the foreigners, but I named them- the people with the iron masks, you will never know what is behind their faces. I lived there almost 3 years. My best friends are from there and I really enjoyed my life there.
    The thing which I liked most there is of course the Adhan. This is for the best thing when you live in muslim country. To hear 5 times a day the Adhan! And to be one step from the masjid! This is something priceless! I wish to every muslim to make hijra and to live there where have Adhan, halal food and thousands of muslims. Even though nowhere is perfect, the life in muslim countries is the best option for every muslim. And Egypt is one of these great places. Of course to every one I wish to live in Makkah and Madinah!
    Thats it for me. Please brother send many selam to Egypt from me.
    By the way I will never forget my first going there. When I landed with the airplane from above I saw something amazing which have no compare- thousand of minarets with green lights. Waw, breathtaking!
    Enjoy and Allah to be with you.

    • Youssef Chouhoud

      April 19, 2010 at 10:55 AM

      W/Salam :)

      It’s great to hear that you enjoyed your time in Egypt. Your cautions, and those of Br. Wael above, are ones that I’ve definitely heard and will be mindful of. I know I’m in for some worldly difficulty, but inshAllah the benefit I gain will be a powerful counterweight.

      If you make it back to Egypt, look me up :)

  9. Youssef Chouhoud

    April 19, 2010 at 11:00 AM

    Salam All,

    If anyone has any specific suggestions or contacts I should know about in Egypt, or if you yourself are going to be in Cairo/Alexandria some time during the next year, feel free to drop me a line:

    youssef AT youssefchouhoud DOT com

    JAK!

  10. Muhammad

    April 28, 2010 at 7:30 AM

    Asslam Alikum Brother Youssef,

    That is a pleasant news to find among our Muslims brothers in America who is not only keen to learn his Deen but also courage to travel abroad to learn it. May Allah help you in your trip to Cairo, I found through these replies that you have a fixed plan for your trip and you are right regarding learning Arabic before joining any Islamic Univ. and due that regard you can visit that credit site: http://www.fajr.com/ , also I can offer any help for you starting from June 2010 after my return from my travel. you can mail me as you want.
    I graduated from Al-Azhar Univ. in 2008. , Faculty of Language & translation, Department of Islamic Studies in English. But what is the most important thing you should to know that Meany Muslim Societies also Egyptian society is affected by western styles in many fields so should keep in mind that you will not be in an ideal Muslim community. I said that because what I have experienced before with my dutch friend who came also to Egypt for learning Arabic then to join Islamic University in al- Madinah. I hope that you can get what I mean.

    Your Brother Muhammad from, Cairo, Egypt

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