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Volunteer Work with Syrian Refugees Deepens Understanding of Sufi Spirituality

To strengthen his dissertation research on the Sufi spiritual movement, History doctoral student Daanish Faruqi traveled to Jordan and Turkey to help Syrian refugee communities through relief foundations operated by Sufi networks.

He was among 19 Duke students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) in 2016-17 for training beyond their core disciplines. His faculty mentor was Engseng Ho. Recently he shared some reflections on his experience:

Both in Jordan (June and July 2016) and in shorter trips to Turkey (July 2016, and again in December 2016), I did considerable work with the Syrian refugee community under the auspices of SKT Welfare, a charitable organization founded and run by the Sufi spiritual movement that is the subject of my academic research.

During my summer in Amman I worked in SKT’s office as a volunteer teacher, tutoring Syrian refugee students in English and offering administrative support to SKT leadership. The key outcome of this experience was the centrality of the spiritual dimensions of Islam in service of social justice, as an animating dictum behind the organization’s charitable arm. This came full circle in my trips to Turkey, where I participated directly in food aid deployments in Reyhanli, near the Syrian/Turkish border.

What we offered was merely a drop in the bucket of the full needs of these communities, but offering even nominal aid—and realizing the remarkable sophistication of SKT leaders and volunteers that culminated in putting together their aid apparatus, and in vetting and surveying entire communities to establish aid delivery quotas—proved deeply edifying. Again, it made painstakingly clear the intimate connection between this group’s spirituality and commitment to worldly service.

All of this will be central as I pursue my dissertation research. This experience will be crucial in helping better piece together the social and humanitarian dimensions of Islamic spirituality more broadly, and in understanding this movement that forms the basis of my dissertation in particular.

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages graduate students to step away from their core research and training to acquire skills, knowledge or co-curricular experiences that will give them new perspectives on their research agendas. Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants are intended to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories.