Hosting intellectual discourses on Islam that highlight contemporary Islamic studies is a crucial part of the mandate of the College of Islamic Studies (CIS) at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) in educating ethical change leaders of tomorrow.
In keeping with this objective, CIS recently organized a unique makerspace initiative – the Ethics Co-Lab – to promote understanding of the United Nations (UN)’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and tie them into ethical practices and religion.
Leading the makerspace initiative from CIS’s side, Dr. M. Evren Tok, Assistant Dean of Innovation and Community Advancement at CIS, said, “The Ethics Co-Lab is a fertile ground to bring together different programs around Islamic studies and culture. Raising and shaping future leaders is important, but it is even more important to ensure that these leaders are imbued with values that equip them to take on global problems with a strong moral stance. This is also in tune with the philosophy of Qatar Foundation and all the entities here towards the greater goal of enhancing morally resilient human potential.”
CIS at HBKU offers five academic degrees at the Master and PhD levels. The commonality of the programs is that they all, in some way, relate to the moral judgement of individuals, and the factors – both internal and external – which influence their ethical decision-making. This may be at the individual level but also at the family, organizational, national, and global level.
“As Muslims and students of the world, we are confronted by poverty, inequality, unsustainable practices, lack of peace, injustice, and countless other issues that affect our health, wellbeing, and security. We want to give students exposure to these problems so they are able to map and identify the underlying issues, and afterward, offer solutions from perspectives fueled by Islamic values, morality, and ethics,” said Dr. Tok.
The Ethics Co-Lab ran for six days in the final week of January 2019, and saw the participation of 21 students alongside 10 mentors. It was hailed as a unique event for its efforts to foster greater awareness of the SDGs among students at a postgraduate level. The initiative was open to all CIS students from each of the different programs, an attempt to represent cross-disciplinary viewpoints, and include perspectives that bring together religion and the SDGs.
“There is a growing attentiveness to the United Nations’ SDGs, especially at the high school level, and a good example is Qatar Academy’s programs – but at the postgraduate level, we are lagging behind. Through the Ethics Co-lab, we successfully created four innovative projects at the end of six days, which support the SDGs in creative ways,” said Dr. Tok.
The Ethics Co-lab made use of a unique teaching platform (or pedagogy) that ‘integrates ethics and religion through innovation in its approach to global affairs.’ The event’s different sessions pulled together elements from each of the multidisciplinary programs offered by CIS, including Islamic Finance
and Economy; Islamic Arts, Architecture and Urbanism; and Islamic Studies. A session on blockchain technology highlighted how financial technologies are resonating well with Islamic banking financial products and instruments. In another session, five students representing CIS’s Islamic Art, Architecture, and Urbanism program suggested different ways of approaching issues related to urbanization, cities, and increasing points of inequality, stating that these were not only national problems but also urban problems. Students from the comparative religions program shared how different religions deal with environmental or social justice.
Participants also drew on the rich guidance and leadership of 10 mentors, from social entrepreneurs to business incubating agents, and from across four continents.
“At first glance, the collaboration efforts would seem unusual,” commented Dr. Tok. “However, one needs to understand that in dealing with contemporary global problems, especially SDGs, a certain set of skills and entrepreneurial capabilities are needed. These may include designing products, product innovation, service innovation etc. We are a college that promotes interdisciplinary studies and so this cross-collaboration has put all of us on the same page.”
At the end of six intensive days, four projects featuring innovative solutions were put forward by the participating students. One was a toilet system for refugee camps that is compatible with Islamic values; this project was presented to the Qatar Fund for Development and will be part of their next incubation process. A second project was an environmental kit for children that includes stories and games about sustainability and environmental issues portrayed through a religious perspective. A third project was a policy suggestion for governments and municipalities, specifically in sub-Saharan Africa, to invest in clean cooking ovens which reduce harmful emissions during food preparation.
One major aspect of the makerspace initiative was acquainting students with the various tools needed to becoming an entrepreneur. “We gave participants the necessary mechanisms and perspectives, and they made the connection to the SDGs. We wanted them to engage with the problem or challenge, integrate their insights and values, then find a strategic solution that adds value,” Dr. Tok explained.
As a result of the Ethics Co-lab, CIS is in the process of producing educational material in the form of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), as well as written material for use in classes. As for the future, CIS hopes that the Ethics Co-lab will become a signature program. Plans are in the works to expand the event, and communication with stakeholders is underway for the inclusion of local and international actors. This would provide participants with hands-on knowledge of the challenges and reduce the theoretical aspect. Dr. Tok also expressed the hope that students from other colleges would be invited to participate in the event, anticipating that their diversity and different areas of expertise will make the experience even richer. “This is the wonder of education – you never stop learning,” he concluded.