The Institute of Islamic Studies
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McGill University’s Institute of Islamic Studies was founded, along with the Institute of Islamic Studies Library (ISL), in 1952, and since 1983 both have been housed on the main campus in Morrice Hall.
Until 1 June 2001, the Institute was a teaching unit of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research. It is now part of the Faculty of Arts, with its main focus being the disciplined study of Islamic civilization throughout the scope of its history and geographical spread. In its academic programs, it gives attention to the origins of Islam, to the rise of the civilization in which Islamic faith was the vivifying factor, to the forces which shaped the civilization, and the changes it has undergone. It is also concerned with the contemporary dynamics of the Islamic world as Muslims seek to relate their heritage from the past to the present. Courses, seminars and possibilities for research are offered in: Islamic languages (Arabic, Turkish, Persian and Urdu), in Islamic history, in the social and economic institutions of Islam, in Islamic thought, and in modern developments in various regions of the Islamic world.
The work of the Institute is carried out as a joint effort, uniting Muslims and non-Muslims in an attempt to understand Islamic civilization. The teaching staff and students of the Institute include Muslims and non-Muslims from a variety of countries: Canada, U.S.A., France, Romania, Ukraine, Korea, Turkey, Egypt, Ghana, Indonesia, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Kenya, India, Tunis, etc… This strongly-international atmosphere at the Institute provides an opportunity for face-to-face exchange among scholars at various levels. Frequently during the academic year, the Institute invites prominent scholars in the field of Islamic Studies to give lectures which are open to the public.
Throughout its history, the Institute has provided a special outreach service that has brought students to the Institute from a number of African, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries. An important feature of such efforts has been the exchange of visiting professors, which has developed firm links with many important Muslim universities. These have been supported by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Aga Khan Foundation, and the Alavi Foundation, among others.
The Islamic Studies Library (ISL), has grown from a modest departmental collection to one of the most important in the field, containing over 110,000 volumes. The ISL is a research library, intended to be of primary use to post-graduate students and faculty, with a reference section at its centre. The ISL’s collection can be divided into three major categories: printed, manuscript and audio-visual materials. All three categories consist of materials in European and Islamic languages: English, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Russian, on the one hand, and Arabic, Persian, Turkish (Ottoman and modern), Urdu and Indonesian on the other. The collection is primarily a reflection of the academic interests of the Institute, and teaching and research in Qur’anic Exegesis, Tradition, Jurisprudence, Philosophy, Theology, Sufism, Shiite Thought, History and Modern Development in the Muslim world, as well as instruction in the various Islamic languages.

History of the Institute
The Continent’s first Institute of Islamic Studies was established at McGill University in 1952 by Wilfred Cantwell Smith.
After obtaining, in 1939, his BA in Oriental Languages from the University of Toronto, Smith worked for seven years as a missionary in India teaching Indian and Islamic history. During that time in Lahore, he was ordained in the United Church of North India and published his first book, Modern Islam in India: A Social Analysis, which was banned in India due to its communist approach. Smith also witnessed the bloody partition of India and Pakistan, and it was this consciousness that pervaded his outlook on the teaching and practice of religion, notes Sheila McDonough, a former student of Smith and retired professor of religion at Concordia University.
After obtaining his PhD from Princeton University in 1948, Smith was hired by the McGill Faculty of Divinity as the WM Birks Professor of Comparative Religion where he pursued his interest in Islam and seized the opportunity to found the McGill Institute of Islamic Studies. Professor Smith placed great emphasis on religion since he was convinced that the history of the Muslim people could not be understood without recognizing that religion was the key, as well as the most important single force in the formation and development of the Islamic civilization.
Smith also believed that a long range study of the processes at work in the modern Muslim world could not be achieved by non-Muslims studying in a non-Muslim institution without the presence of Muslims. He therefore founded the Institute, including the library, in response to the dilemma of how to study these processes in way that would involve Muslims and non-Muslims alike and would use the best of contemporary scholarly methods to approach the data of the tumultuous Muslim world. Each day, Smith would organize a four o’clock tea in which East would meet West as all members of the Institute — students, librarians and faculty — would gather together for a time of discussion in order to foster mutual understanding.
One of Smith’s greatest gifts to McGill is the creation of the Islamic Studies Library. Beginning with only 250 books, the library now holds more than 110,000 volumes, half of them in Islamic Languages, and a collection of periodicals not easily found elsewhere. Thanks to Professor Smith, the ISL is counted among the major North American collections in Islamic Studies


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