We discovered the diversity of Muslim communities in London in my Religious Diversity and Conflict in Europe course (EU475).
MSc students on EU475.
In this course we actively engaged with the Muslim communities in London. This was done by visits to different Muslim communities. I picked a variety of communities to show the students the diversity in approach to Islam and ethnic communities. Among the most memorable visits were to the Inclusive Mosque Initiative. Students loved meeting female imams and learning about an interpretation of Islam that is inclusive to all kinds of diversity including sexual orientation.
In addition I asked students to interview someone who considers themselves as European, French, British etc Muslims. They could also be ex-Muslims. Students loved talking to someone about the topics we covered. For many of them it was a first conversation with a Muslim and they were fascinated that they could do that – and that the people were just like all other people they knew in some way.
London is an amazing Muslim centre. Much of the debates about progressive Islam originate from here. London is also a home to very radical groups. I felt like if there is any interesting discussion is taking place on Islam, it must have a reflection in London. Furthermore, I wanted to use the class to my selfish research interests and took students along with the communities, institutions I wanted to learn more about.
Students were fascinated by the experience. In my department most students are of Christian or atheist background. Most never visited a mosque, or if they did, they did when they visited Turkey, Tunisia etc during summer vacation. They never had a long conversation about religion with a Muslim. Also even the few Muslim background ones did not know of the extraordinary diversity of Muslim communities in London.
I made these changes to my curriculum last year and I was chosen a runner-up for the Most Inspiring Teaching award. All nomination statements had to do with these engagements. My teaching evaluations also increased dramatically.
These are general comments from the students. They were provided anonymously:
“Prof. Özyürek's class represents one of the highlights of my time at the LSE... the course on Muslims in Europe has shed new light on the origins, difficulties, and struggles that minorities face from an academic perspective based on facts and anthropological theories.”
"the tools for sensitive critical thinking (learned on this course) allowed me to think about how I relate to Islam and Muslims in Europe in my daily life.”
"Esra went above and beyond to offer her students something unique by making one of the summative assignments a report on a European Muslim in London. The take-aways I have from this course are more impactful than anything else at LSE"
I will keep exploring different communities with the students. I feel like I myself only scratched the surface. My advice would be to do something you are excited about and want to explore yourself. You can only reflect your own excitement in your teaching.