The Masters in International and Regional Studies - Islamic Studies Specialization welcomed its first cohort in 2020. This year, Islam Jaffal is the newest graduate student to join us in 2021. Below you can get to know Islam, learn more about her journey to graduate school, and why she picked MIRS-Islamic Studies. 

Name: Islam Jaffal

Hometown(s): Beirut, Lebanon and Dearborn, Michigan

Degrees Earned, School, Graduation: Bachelor of Arts, Behavioral Sciences degree, UM-Dearborn, 2021

Current Degree/Program: Master’s in International and Regional Studies – Islamic Studies specialization

Anticipated Graduation Date: May 2023

Tell us a bit about yourself, and why you’re pursuing a MIRS-Islamic Studies Degree?
I was born in Dearborn, Michigan and moved to Lebanon at the age of nine. Since moving back to Michigan, I have grown more interested in learning about the Lebanese Shi’a Muslim community. I am very passionate about promoting cross-sectarian unity, starting at the academic level. Enrolling in the MIRS program with an Islamic Studies specialization is the first step towards my long-term goal of being a scholar and researcher who can hopefully have a positive real-world impact.

How you would describe yourself?
I will forever identify as a student and learner.

What made you pick MIRS Islamic Studies? 
The MIRS Islamic Studies program offers an interdisciplinary study of Islam that will help me prepare for a career in academia. The Global Islamic Studies Center also gives me the opportunity to work with leading scholars in the study of Islamophobia and transnational Shi’ism across different departments at the University of Michigan.

What are your dreams and goals for the future and how do your degrees relate?
My goal is to have an academic career as a scholar and researcher in the study of Islam, particularly of Islamophobia and anti-Shi’a sentiment. I hope to contribute to achieving cross-sectarian unity in the Levant by exploring Shi’ia Muslim history in the region and engaging with various local and diasporic communities. Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Sciences at UM-Dearborn has given me an interdisciplinary base for studying Shi’a Islam today. With the location of the campus, I was also able to integrate myself into the Lebanese Shi’a community in Dearborn. After attaining a MIRS degree in Islamic Studies, I will be further prepared to venture to enroll in a doctoral program.

What class are you most excited to take?
I am most excited to take classes about Islamic history. Since my undergraduate degree was focused more on anthropology and sociology classes, history courses are a welcome change.

What do you love about Islamic Studies?
I love that Islamic Studies is not limited to a single region like other specializations in the MIRS program. One can study Islam in Southeast Asia, Latin America, the United States, and other regions across the world. My interest lies in the Levant and the diasporas of the United States.

When did you know you wanted to attend graduate school, and how did you make your decision?
I always planned to continue my education beyond a bachelor’s degree and my parents encouraged me to do so. Initially, I wanted to be an international human rights lawyer and successfully applied to all the law schools in Michigan. However, I realized that my passion was in academia. After taking anthropology classes about the Middle East and Islam during my undergraduate years, I felt the need to include myself in the academic narrative about my community. I applied to the MIRS program with an Islamic Studies specialization, as it was the perfect choice to help me achieve my goals.

What did you want to do when you were 10?
I loved to read and write from a young age, so I had hoped to become an author of fiction or a published poet. I still aim to fulfill the dream of publishing a book someday, but my interests have shifted since then. If I do write a book, it will be related to Islamic studies.

What is a cause you're passionate about?
I am passionate about human rights and cross-sectarian unity. Coming from a region that has been divided by religious sectarianism, I know that the pain it has caused in my community runs deep. Therefore, I would like to explore the roots of the divide and investigate the role of Western intervention policies on the current state of Southwest Asia.