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Why I didn’t want to leave Africa after 12 years – Dr Hakim Elahi, Iranian University don

Can you give us an insight into your background and  that of Al-Mustapha International University? My name is Dr Hakim Elahi. I am the vice…

Can you give us an insight into your background and  that of Al-Mustapha International University?

My name is Dr Hakim Elahi. I am the vice president, International Affairs of Al-Mustapha International University, Qom.  Actually, I was in Ghana for eight years, where I established the Islamic University of Ghana. I was the founder and president of the university. And for two years, I was also the director of Islamic College for Advance Studies in London. I was for four years the director of the Centre for Islamic Studies in Mali.

Actually, we realised that there are as lot of people who want to know about Islam and Islamic sciences. It was because of that we started this university named the Al-Mustapha International University. The university is a private one and it is located in Qom, Islamic Republic of Iran. The university has a lot of branches in different cities in Iran as well as different countries. At the moment, the university has a lot of branches in Qom, Tehran, Mashhad and Isfahan. Also, we have branches in some countries that include the United Kingdom, Indonesia, Ghana, Tajikistan, Germany, among several other American, European and Asian countries.       

The university offers more than 136 courses in different fields in Islamic studies and sciences as well as in social sciences and humanities. But the major focus of the university is Islamic studies, Islamic sciences and humanities. The humanities include Psychology, Sociology, Law, Media, Language, Literature, Administration, Economics, among several other courses with Islamic approach.

At the same time, the university has more than 16, 000 foreign students in Qom. The students come from different countries and are undergoing Bachelor degrees (BA), Masters (MA) and doctoral degrees (PhD). The certificate of the university is issued by the Ministry of Higher Education in Iran. The certificate is also approved and accepted by majority of the universities in the United Kingdom, Europe, Asia and America.

At the moment, our students can continue their education in any other country across the world. In the area of research, there are more than 15 academic magazines and journals that cover hadith (sayings) of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), education, principle of jurisprudence among other Islamic sciences and humanities.

Not only that, at the moment, we have an Open University, which is a distant learning or e-learning Open University. The university offers Bachelors of Art, Master degrees and PhD courses in English and Persian Languages on Morality, Islamic Mysticism, Islamic Studies, Comparative Philosophy between Islam and the West. These are some of the courses in the Open University at the moment.

Also, the university has established a Centre for Short Courses. This centre offers short courses for those people who cannot continue their education in Islamic courses for long time but they want to know about Islam or some other courses with Islamic approach. These courses include the Media, Journalism, Administration and Education among others for one month, two months and up to six months.

The centre also offers Sabbatical courses for lecturers in universities and other tertiary institutions who want to do some research during their leave. They come from across the world to Al-Mustapha University to conduct their researches in our well equipped libraries in various fields of Islamic jurisprudence and humanities. Those who come to benefit from this opportunity are very happy, particularly, with the abundant research materials and conducive environment for learning. It is my belief that our centre for Islamic studies is one of the best in the Middle East, in terms of provision of Islamic sciences and studies.

Is Al-Mustapha International University, which you said is a private institution, profitoriented? If not, how do you source your funds for running your activities?

Actually, the aim of the university is to educate the youth on Islamic sciences and studies. This is our profit. But economically, the university doesn’t want to benefit anything from the students. This is because the university owns some factories and investments and it gets its budgets from their proceeds. There are also some good people who give Zakkat to the university with a view to educate the people about Islam. Their target and benefit is mainly for people to be familiar and educated on Islamic sciences.

You said the university has several branches across Europe, America, Asia and Africa. Are you thinking of establishing a university in Nigeria, which is the largest black nation in the world with significant population of Muslims?  

Actually, Nigeria has a lot of potentialities, particularly with its large population but unfortunately, I don’t know why up to now we couldn’t establish a university in Nigeria. Honestly, one of my aims is to establish a branch of Al-Mustapha International University in Abuja. This is because Nigeria has a lot of opportunities. Even when I was in Ghana, I was dealing with some Nigerians.  I had, at that time, some lecturers from Nigeria in my university, who were teaching administration and religious studies. I hope that very soon we would establish a branch of the university in Nigeria.

What is the standard of this university you are talking about in Africa?

The University in Ghana, for instance, was established with all the necessary standards as the Islamic University of Ghana. The university offers degrees on Religious Studies, Management, Economics, Accountancy and Finance, Law, Journalism and Information Technology when it started. The university has about 800 students. The university students are both Muslims and even Christians. The university accepts students irrespective of their religion, race and nationality. But all students have to pass some Islamic lessons like Quran, Arabic Language, religious education, Islamic ethics, history, Islamic economics and Islamic banking.

Do you have an idea of the percentage of African students studying in Al-Mustapha University in Iran?  

I don’t know exactly the percentage of students from Africa. But I know that there are a lot of them from Africa, particularly Nigeria as well as Ghana, Mali, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Ivory Coast and many other countries who are currently undergoing various courses in the university. But majority of the students are from West Africa.

But not many people in Africa, particularly in Nigeria are aware of these educational opportunities offered by your country. 

As you know, there are a lot of misunderstanding about Islam and Islamic sciences. And we are facing a lot of problems based on these issues of misunderstanding of Islam. Islam is the religion of peace; it is the religion of nature, religion of logic, religion of rationality and mentality. This is why we are providing the opportunity for people from all parts of the world to know.  But there are some other people who think Islam  is attacking or fighting some other people. This is exactly a very bad understanding of Islam.

The aim is to provide opportunity for the people and those who want to learn Islam as a religion of rationality, knowledge and mutual understanding. Unfortunately, because of so many factors we couldn’t provide adequate publicity to the abundant opportunities being provided by the university. But it is my belief that things would definitely change. We are surely going to diversify our frontiers and get many young people to come and continue their education in our university.

What is the starting point for a Nigerian student who wants admission into the university?

First of all, the condition and regulation of the university is like other universities across the world. There is no difference between Al-Mustapha University and any other university across the world. Whoever wants to come and apply in our university has to log into our website and fill the application from online and send it to the university. And after, they would reply his application.

There are three types of applicants. The first one is that the university will provide full scholarship to the student. The student would go to Iran and will benefit from either single or couple accommodation, we have both of them. They would be given bursary allowance as they continue with their studies. But when the students complete their BAs, MAs or PhDs, depending on their choice, they should teach as lecturers in the university for certain years.

The second category is half scholarship. This means that the student won’t pay anything as tuition for their education. Education would be free for them but they would take care of themselves while in Iran.  They won’t pay anything but they won’t be given any bursary allowance from the university. They have to pay for their accommodation, their food and other things.

The third category is that the students should provide everything for themselves. They have to pay for even their education. But we have hundreds of students from Africa undergoing studies in Iran on the full scholarship and some on half scholarship.

I am not talking because I am the vice president of the university, but I am talking as someone with deep knowledge of the university. Really, this a golden opportunity provided by the Al-Mustapha International University for those who want to learn about Islamic sciences in academic manner. I am therefore calling on academics, intellectuals, Ulama, scholars and knowledge seekers to come and join the university. They would definitely benefit tremendously from the versatility of knowledge in Islamic science and humanity by becoming eminent in their various fields of endeavour.

Having spent over 12 years in Africa as an academic and university administrator, I would like you to share with us your experiences particularly as someone from the Middle East.

I left my country to Africa since 1994. And I was in Africa up to 2006. I traveled to different African countries. I spent roughly 12 years in Africa. And my experiences are memorable. I enjoyed in Africa. I benefited a lot from Africa. At a time, I even preferred Africa than my country. I left Africa to the United Kingdom, but all the time I wanted to come back to Africa. Even my family, though the infrastructure in Europe is better than Africa, my wife and children never wanted to stay in Europe, they wanted to go back to Africa. This is baffling because most Africans want to go to Europe.

But in our own case, we wanted to come back to Africa. Africa is a land of peace. Africa is a land of dignity, respect and humbleness. The people in Africa, once they understand you, they respect you. If you help them, any type of help, they would respect you. Never would they forget you. Africa is the land of action. I think the heart of Africans is pure. Their hearts are not dirty. They don’t want to cheat you. They are not hypocrites. They support you because of you, not because of anything else. They listen to you.

The most important thing which I think the government and people in Africa should pay attention to, is that they have to take care of their people more than anything else. It is my advice to African leaders that they shouldn’t think that Europe is better than Africa. They shouldn’t think of opening   bank accounts or investments in Europe. Africans should invest in Africa. If they have to establish anything or build anything, they should do it in Africa. If African leaders imbibe this idea, I think majority of problems in Africa would be solved. If the governments get any support from any country, they should spend it for their people. They should also encourage their business and development partners from Europe, America, and even Asia to invest in Africa by setting up industries and factories for the benefit of the people.

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