Mason Receives $4 million Commitment to Islamic Studies Center

Aydin to head center

by B.J. Koubaroulis

Mason Receives $4 million Commitment to Islamic Studies Center
Vural Ak has given $4 million to George Mason University.

George Mason University has taken a substantial step forward in becoming the area’s leader in Islamic studies. Provost Peter Stearns announced that Mason has received a $4 million commitment to create the Center for Global Islamic Studies.

“We believe that this center will be a leading provider of instruction and research in Islamic studies worldwide,” Stearns told a crowd of supporters during a signing ceremony on Thursday, October 15, 2009. The creation of the center echoes the university’s excellence in diversity as well as its commitment to the Muslim community.

Of the 30,000 students at Mason, more than 2,000 come either from Muslim American backgrounds or from a country in the Muslim world, Stearns said.

“Given its broader humanistic goals and its close relationship with Muslim communities at the global, national and local level, the George Mason University campus has witnessed rapid growth in general and in the field of Islamic studies in particular,” Stearns said.

Mason has more than 15 professors teaching courses on different aspects of Islam in disciplines such as history, religious studies, political science, international affairs, literature, art history, geography, languages. The Islamic studies minor program, founded in 2001, offers courses in a variety of areas, including Koran and Hadith, Islamic religious life, Islamic history and Muslim society and politics.

Stearns announced that Islamic studies program director Dr. Cemil Aydin will direct the center. His chair is funded by the International Institute of Islamic Thought. Aydin studied at Boğaziçi University, İstanbul University, and the University of Tokyo before receiving his Ph.D. degree at Harvard University in 2002. He joined George Mason University this fall.

Aydin was also a key figure in developing the funding for the new center.

On October 15, 2009, Vural Ak, a Turkish businessman, signed a gift agreement in support of the center. The agreement will last for the next 10 years. He made a $4 million commitment to George Mason University.

Ak, a friend and former college classmate of Dr. Aydin at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, built a successful car rental company in Turkey.  This donation fulfills Ak's wish to contribute to broad education about Islam.

“George Mason has one of the most diverse campuses in the world,” Aydin said. “Here, when we teach about the Muslim world, we are not talking about an unfamiliar religious tradition or parts of the world. Every single classroom here has students from Muslim heritage. Moreover, our students come from relatively cosmopolitan backgrounds. Thus, we have an opportunity to move beyond the simple introductory facts and discuss more complex issues related to Islamic tradition and Muslim societies.”