Islam Jaffal is a recent MA graduate from the Masters in International and Regional Studies Program at the University of Michigan, specializing in Islamic Studies. She studied Lebanese Shi’i Muslim history and focused on Islamic scholarship and its role in anti-colonial and anti-imperial resistance in the Levant in the first half of the twentieth century. She is also interested in inter-sectarian attitudes and relations in Lebanon.
Name: Islam Jaffal
Degree, Minor, Graduation Year: Masters in International and Regional Studies, Islamic Studies Specialization, 2023
Hometown(s): Dearborn, Michigan and Beirut, Lebanon
How you would describe yourself: Student and avid reader
Tell us about your Summer, where and when did your Fellowship take place?
Over the summer of 2022, l traveled to Lebanon to conduct research for my thesis, which looks at the reactions and responses of Shi’i Muslim intellectuals to the occupation of Palestine and the independence of Lebanon in the 1940s. I visited the American University of Beirut’s archives where I was able to access original copies of the Shi‘i journal, al-‘Irfan. These copies will serve as the primary sources for my research. I also went to the Institute for Palestine Studies in Beirut and the al-A‘lamy Foundation for Publications where I collected a variety of secondary sources that I would have otherwise been unable to access in the United States. Furthermore, I met with Lebanese scholars including renowned historian Sa‘dun Hamade who provided invaluable information and advice about my thesis topic. Finally, I visited various Shi’i mosques across Lebanon such as Masjid al-Shaheed al-Awwal in ‘Aramta, Jabal ‘Amil.
Tell us about you and your background:
I graduated from the University of Michigan – Dearborn in 2021 with a Bachelor of Arts in Behavioral Sciences. I am a recent graduate from the Masters in International and Regional Studies Program at the University of Michigan, specializing in Islamic Studies. I studied Lebanese Shi’i Muslim history and focusing on Islamic scholarship and its role anti-colonial resistance in the Levant in the first half of the twentieth century. I am also interested in inter-sectarian attitudes and relations in Lebanon.
How did the GISC 2022 Summer Fellowship help you?
Without the GISC 2022 Summer Fellowship, I would have been unable to travel to Lebanon and conduct the necessary research for my thesis. The funds from the fellowship helped cover ticket expenses, housing, transportation, and food throughout my stay. I feel that the fellowship makes research-related travel more accessible to students at the University of Michigan, and therefore, opens opportunities to study topics they otherwise would not have been able research.
What experiences during the summer inspired you?
I was really inspired by my meeting with Lebanese historian Sa‘dun Hamade who provided invaluable advice and even allowed me to peruse his personal library. We discussed various topics relating to Shi‘i Muslim history in Lebanon from the early Ottoman era to World War II. He highlighted gaps in the literature that I could address with my research and brought my attention to important and relevant Arabic-language secondary sources. Since my thesis is concerned with Shi‘i Muslim responses to the occupation of Palestine and Lebanese independence, he pointed out key events and moments of resistance, such as the Battle of Malikia in 1948. Speaking with Dr. Hamade reminded me of the importance of addressing these topics and reinforced my commitment to learning about this crucial but understudied part of history.
What did this fellowship allow you to do?
This fellowship allowed me to access the primary source material that I will be using for my master’s thesis, which are original copies of the Shi‘i Muslim academic journal al-‘Irfan. This journal is crucial for understanding intellectual responses to key events in 1940s Lebanon, including the occupation of Palestine, the invasion of Lebanon by Zionist forces, and Lebanese independence. It also allowed me to meet with and consult local scholars whose voices are critical in understanding Lebanese history. Moreover, I gathered a sizeable amount of Arabic-language secondary sources that I was unable to locate and access in the United States.
How do you see this fellowship impacting your future?
Without this fellowship I likely would have been unable to pursue this particular topic because travelling to Lebanon allowed me to access the primary source material for my thesis. It has allowed me to explore my academic interests and, in turn, will shape my future academic pursuits. By being able to engage with Lebanese Shi‘i history, I now know how I would like to expand my research as I progress in my academic career. For example, due to my research, I am now interested in learning more about Shi‘i Muslims under Ottoman rule and the formation of inter-sectarian attitudes in Lebanon.
What drew you to the 2022 GISC Summer Fellowship and how was your experience?
I learned about the GISC Summer Fellowship through the staff at the Global Islamic Studies Center and was drawn towards the idea of using my summer to get a head start on research for my thesis. Because of this opportunity, I was able to alter my thesis topic slightly and pursue my research interests.
Wondering how this can be you? All students currently enrolled at the University of Michigan in an undergraduate or graduate/professional degree program (master's or doctoral level) are eligible to apply for the GISC’s Fellowship Funding.
The GISC Fellowship Funding may be used for the following:
- Language training - to offset costs of program fees for language learning.
- Research support - to offset costs for an original project supporting Senior, Master’s, or Doctoral thesis completion.
- Travel expenses (graduate students only) - associated with conducting original research or language training