Strengthening our understanding of Islam

It’s a special gift for a special place. McGill’s Institute of Islamic Studies, the first of its kind in North America, has received a generous $1.25-million gift from the State of Qatar to mark the Institute’s 60th anniversary.
His excellency Salem Al-Shafi, the first ambassador from Qatar to Canada, and Principal Heather Munroe-Blum. / Photo: Owen Egan

State of Qatar gives Institute of Islamic Studies $1.25-million gift

By Cynthia Lee

It’s a special gift for a special place. McGill’s Institute of Islamic Studies, the first of its kind in North America, has received a generous $1.25-million gift from the State of Qatar to mark the Institute’s 60th anniversary.

Since Wilfred Cantwell Smith founded the Institute in 1952, it has grown into a major hub for Islamic Studies, well known and just as well-regarded throughout North America for its impressive course offerings, faculty and Islamic Studies Library (ISL).

The gift will go to funding a series of events to commemorate the 60th anniversary throughout the year in the form of exhibits, lectures and visiting scholars. “We believe this contribution will further assist the Institute in carrying on the distinguished role it has played, since its establishment, in advancing research related to Islam and the history and civilization of the Islamic world,” said His Excellency Al-Shafi who was the guest of honour at a reception at the University on Monday. “We also believe that the Institute shares our vision that knowledge and education are key to meet the challenges of our changing world and to provide the tools to better understand the ever-evolving relationship between religion and mankind and how it has contributed to our well-being and the coexistence of peoples.”

Indeed, from its beginnings the work of the Institute has been uniting Muslims and non-Muslims in an attempt to understand Islamic civilisation. Its library has grown from a modest departmental collection to one of the most important in the field,

containing over 110,000 volumes of printed, manuscript and audio-visual


“The State of Qatar has been and is becoming an important player in the Middle East, and has taken on a leadership role in many areas in past years. It’s a small but dynamic country, for example, the founding of Al Jeezera, the Arabic-language news network, was a remarkable highlight in terms of media and its importance in stimulating debate and political change,” says Jamil Ragep, Director of the Institute. “The gift itself shows that the Qataris are very interested in promoting a vigorous scholarly academic discussion of Islam and promoting the study of Islam.”

For Heather Munroe-Blum, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill, the gift will enable the Institute to continue the important work of its visionary founder. “We are deeply appreciative of the State of Qatar’s generous gift, which will help to further the vision of founder Prof. Wilfred Cantwell Smith, who 60 years ago conceived of our Institute of Islamic Studies, then the first of its kind in North America,” she said. “The work of the Institute is even more relevant today, not only in advancing the understanding of Islamic history and Muslim societies, but also to ensure

a plurality of voices in scholarly


“The Islamic world is an important part of the world community and the founding members of the Institute felt that it was crucial that Canadians understand Islam for a variety of reasons: political, economic and from a human standpoint,” said Ragep. “As we know, many immigrants from the Islamic world have settled in Canada, and the Institute has played a vital role in the current relationship between Canada and Islamic world, so we have much to celebrate.”

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Salisu Olawale
11 years ago

Regarding the gift from Qatar, I pray that Almighty God continue to protect, guide, uphold, bless and enriched Sheik Al Thani and the other members of His government because, He is a truthful leader with good heart and good vison, not only for His country but beyond the boundary of State of Qatar. We love him much and may God enriched the country more and more.

jarot wahyudi
11 years ago

We are proud of being McGill’s Instutue of Islamic Studies alumni. The Insttitute has been playing very significant roles in the development of Islamic thought around the world through out its alumni. Donating to this institute like what has been done by Qatar is really “something” that might change the world.
Congratulation and go ahead with other donations for the better future of Islamic Studies.
warmest regards,
jarot, MA, 1997