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Islamic World Studies program, students blazing trails outside of DePaul community

By Peter Dziedzic
On March 19, 2012

DePaul students participated in this year's regional Model Arab League Conference for the first time in the school's history.

The conference was held in Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan for the regional Model Arab League Conference. On February 25, these students and staff returned to Chicago with not only several awards and congratulations, but with the confidence that this success was due to the formation and preparation offered, in part, by DePaul's Islamic World Studies program.

While this is the first year that DePaul students have participated in the Model Arab League, four of the students returned with awards. Three delegates earned honorable mentions, while Roccaforte earned the "Best Delegate" award.

The Model Arab League, founded in 1983, offers students hands-on experience with the regional and international politics of the Arab World. More than 2000 students from more than 220 schools participated in the University and High School programs in the 2011-12 academic year.

The Model Arab League simulates the meetings and exchanges of the League of Arab States. Students participating in delegations represent one of the 22 member states in both generalized and specialized councils and conduct research, group work, and participation from the students.

Six DePaul students participated in this year's regional conference - Michael Ortolano, Richard Rinehart, Tony Roccaforte, Sarah Rourke, Faraaz Saiduzzaman, and Maryam Salem - alongside Aminah McCloud, department chair of Islamic World Studies, and Khaled Keshk, Islamic World Studies professor.

"This was the students' first time out, and they were extraordinarily prepared with cultural and regional knowledge, which allowed them to succeed," McCloud said.

DePaul students went up against other universities that have been sending delegations for several years and managed to excel in the experience. As all six students are involved in the Islamic World Studies program in some capacity, the formational experience in Islamic World Studies likely contributed to ability for these students to succeed as delegates.

"Because of our IWS experience, we've had a whole different perspective on the issues," Rourke said, "many of the views offered were very top-down and detached, whereas ours was more contextualized. Our involvement in IWS classes and programs helped prepare us for the conference."

"The IWS program is preparing students to become engaged and critical thinkers. The program promotes critical thinking, contextualizing and formulating arguments, and engagement in a variety of scholarly sources and methods," McCloud said.

Since the first DePaul delegation was very successful, the program is expected to continue for next year, and there are hopes that the program will continue to expand beyond the Islamic World Studies program.

"I plan to stay involved next year," Saiduzzman said, who also won a scholarship to participate in the Model Arab League in Lebanon this summer. "We plan to get more students involved and participating."

"We are hoping to involve students from a wide variety of disciplines such as geography, environmental studies, women's and gender studies, and international studies," says McCloud, "since this experience cuts across boundaries, those students from other disciplines would also benefit from this experience."

Islamic World Studies (IWS) plans to continue to expand their programs and curriculum to fit the needs of program students. The Model Arab League delegation is just one of the many programs sponsored and developed by Islamic World Studies. Beyond regular coursework, IWS students have the option of participating in an experiential learning course with Soliya, in which students can engage with students from Arab and Muslim societies. IWS also puts on regular film screenings to contribute to scholarly discourse on campus. IWS students also have the opportunity to get involved with the Council on Islam in America, in which students can engage with some of the leading scholars in the field.

The future of IWS will certainly be defined by the critical work of the department, and the continuing successes of IWS students will hopefully continue to be a reality of the efforts of the department.

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