York’s first Noor Fellow in Islamic Studies named



Above: Interior shot of the Noor Cultural Centre

The following article was written by Carrie Brodi, communications officer with the York University Foundation.

York humanities Professor Amila Buturovic (right) has been named the inaugural Noor Fellow in Islamic Studies at York University. The three-year fellowship, made possible by a $500,000 gift from the respected Lakhani family, will enhance the University’s existing Islamic Studies Program in the Division of Humanities, Faculty of Arts, and set new precedents for future relationships between York University and Toronto’s Islamic community.

Toronto’s newly refurbished Noor Cultural Centre is the culmination of a 10-year dream for Hassanali and Noorbanu Lakhani. Arriving in Canada from England (via Kenya some years prior) in 1988, the Lakhanis decided that they would give something back to their new community, the place that would be their “final home,” says their son, Karim Lakhani, who is a member of the York University Foundation Board of Directors.

Below: President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden, left, and York University Foundation President Paul Marcus, right, with Karim and Laila Lakhani at York’s Honour Court

The family, who work together in the hotel industry and jointly own a golf course north of Toronto, began to look for a suitable building that would become the cultural centre some 10 years later.

After an exhaustive search, the Lakhanis chose the former Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, employing the building’s original architect, Raymond Moriyama, to oversee the $3-million renovation. Having designed the original building in the 1960s, Moriyama succeeded in retaining its integrity, while enhancing the structure’s original beauty, Lakhani says.

“When you walk into this building, you almost feel like it’s divine. It’s very serene…a beautiful cathedral, a holy place that is soothing, comforting and wonderful,” says Lakhani. His parents, he says, are “astounded” at the realization of their dream.

Right: Exterior shot of the new centre

The vision for the Noor Cultural Centre, Lakhani says, is to be a focal point of Muslim learning and activity, fostering openness, diversity and intellectual development within the Muslim community and the Greater Toronto Area.

“As far as the study of religion goes, the Noor Centre is not just about the study of Islam – it is also about the study of Christianity and Judaism and other faiths,” Lakhani says. “In the end, what people will find is that we are more similar than we are different.” Lakhani is also a board member of the Canadian Council for Christians and Jews.

The innovative collaboration between the Noor Cultural Centre and York is beneficial on many levels. Buturovic’s appointment allows for the hiring of an additional professor in Islamic Studies, and one new course in Islamic Studies in the 2003-2004 academic year. Additionally, Buturovic will devote time to help the centre develop programs for the Islamic community, including various events and a joint lecture series.

The first lecture in the new Annual York-Noor Lecture Series (in which the same presenter will give a lecture at both York and the Noor Centre on consecutive days) took place on Sept. 28 and 29. Dr. T. Emil Homerin from the University of Rochester spoke on the topic, “Mysticism”.

Along with expanding the study of Islam at York, benefits of the fellowship include the employment of a graduate student in the Islamic Studies Program to aid Buturovic in coordinating events between York and the Noor centre, and the funding of one Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS) in Islamic Studies.

The goal of the fellowship is to provide improved understanding between members of the Islamic Canadian community and members of the greater community and to provide York students with a broader perspective of the study of Islam, including women’s issues and alternate religious doctrines.

“York was a natural choice for us,” Lakhani says. “If you look at York, it is quite representative of the Canadian mosaic. York’s goals of encouraging and developing programs in response to demand, are similar to ours.”

Amila Buturovic holds a BA in Arabic Literature from Sarajevo University and an MA and PhD in Islamic Studies from McGill University, where she specialized in medieval Arabic literary culture.

“Teaching in York’s Division of Humanities gives me a unique opportunity to strengthen the interdisciplinary orientation of my work.” Buturovic said. “I hope that the Noor Fellowship will make that even more possible by supporting the study of Islam at York and expanding academic discussions and events on Islamic issues.”

Left: Detail of centre’s doors

Robert Drummond, dean of the Faculty of Arts, added: “I believe the gift that allowed us to establish the Noor Fellowship is an important step in helping York to develop into a significant locus of scholarship in the study of Islam. The collaboration with the Noor Cultural Centre that the gift helps to foster will be of great value to our students and, we hope, to the community at large.”

The next York-Noor Lecture takes place on Sunday, Nov. 2, from 3 to 5pm, at the Noor Cultural Centre, 123 Wynford Drive, Toronto. The centre will feature Professor Elliot Wolfson of New York University speaking on the topic, “Luminal Darkness: Seeing the Unseen in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Mysticism”; and on Monday, Nov. 3, 12 to 2pm, in room 010 Vanier College, Wolfson’s lecture will be “Wisdom of Illumination and Mystery of Light in Medieval Kabbalah and Sufism”.