Graduate Theological Union




Master of Arts in Islamic Studies Students

Entering Class of 2010-2011 (Islamic Studies Program’s First Year)

  • Shawn Cabalsi (Currently on leave from the MA program)
  • Deenaz Kanji (Entering 3rd year Fall 2012)
  • John Rhodus (Graduated Spring 2012)
  • James Whipple (Graduating Fall 2012)
  • Fateme Montazeri (Moved from the M.A. program directly to GTU’s PhD program)

Deenaz Kanji

Deenaz has been residing in Dubai, UAE, since 2008. She returned to academic life after an absence of 27 years; her first degree was an Honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies, from the University of Exeter, England completed in 1984. For the past 20 years, Deenaz has been working professionally in the field of teaching, teacher education, and curriculum writing in Islam. Her core interest is in presenting Muslim civilization as a continuum of 1400 years of cultural experiences in diverse historical and geographical settings, through the lenses of art, architecture, and literature. Her focus in the M.A. program at CIS is to look at Muslim practices and expressions of spirituality in under-represented areas of the Muslim world, such as Bosnia, East and West Africa. Her goal is to earn a doctorate degree. Ideally, she would like to work with policy-making institutions that deal with the Muslim world to promote a fairer understanding of Muslim societies. Currently, she is an Executive Officer for a non-profit organization, within the Aga Khan Development Network.

John F Rhodus, Jr.

John was born in Kansas City, Missouri. At the age of 19, he embraced Islam while living in Santa Clara, California. He began his study of Islam with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and visiting Mauritanian scholars. In 1998, John traveled to Mauritania to pursue a full-time course of study. In 2000, John moved to Tarim, Yemen to continue his studies at the prestigious learning institute, Dar al-Mustafa. There, he spent his formative years studying with the renowned scholars, Habib 'Umar bin Hafiz and Habib ‘Ali al-Jifri, along with other local scholars.

In the latter part of 2005, John returned to the U.S. and served as a full-time teacher at Zaytuna Institute. In 2010, he completed his Bachelor of Arts in Near Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. In May 2012 John became the first student to graduate with a Masters Degree in Islamic Studies at the Graduate Theological Union. His academic focus at GTU was in the realm of theology and Sufism. He hopes to apply his acquired skills in both the academic and public spheres. John has been accepted to the University of Cambridge for a PhD program in the Department of Divinity and plans to relocate this fall.

James Whipple

A published spoken-word artist, James, whose stage name is Baraka Blue, is combining his musical and poetic talents to address the spiritual needs of our time. His research interests include Sufism, multi-media, poetry and music, with geographic interests in West Africa and the United States. James will be graduating with a Master’s degree in Islamic Studies from the GTU in the fall of 2012.

Fateme Montazeri

Fateme is an international student from Iran. With prior degrees in Islamic Studies and Visual Arts, she spent her first year in the CIS MA in Islamic Studies program to prepare for doctoral studies in Art and Religion, which she will began at GTU in September 2011. Montazeri, interested in art from a young age, and herself a calligrapher, came to the U.S. with her husband from Tehran, Iran. Both wanted to study art. When reviewing UC Berkeley’s catalog in art history, she came upon a link to the GTU. Most interesting to her was the great range in class offerings, from different faith traditions, to religion and art. GTU was such a good fit for her doctoral studies that she elevated out of the MA program and into GTU’s PhD program within one year.

Entering Class of 2011-2012 (Islamic Studies Program’s Second Year)

  • Farah Nabil El-Sharif (Graduating Fall 2012)
  • Sarah Nicole Crawford (Entering 2nd year Fall 2012)
  • Sarah Lynne Heddon (Entering 2nd year Fall 2012)
  • Rabail Rania Shah (Entering 2nd year Fall 2012)
  • Asif Ali Sheikh (Entering 2nd year Fall 2012)
  • Sundiata Al Rashid (Entering 2nd year Fall 2012)

Farah El-Sharif

Farah is from Amman, Jordan, where she earned an International Baccalaureate (IB) degree and then attended the American University in Cairo on full scholarship for her freshman year in college. She then transferred to Georgetown University in Washington DC, where she graduated from the School of Foreign Service with a degree in Culture and Politics. Upon her graduation, Farah was the Muslim Students Association president at Georgetown, and the student speaker at the honors graduation ceremony. She is interested in contemporary issues in Islam and politics, specifically in issues of nation-state formation, identity and reform. Her M.A. thesis at CIS is entitled "Representations of Sufism in American Religion and the Public Sphere" where she tackles the various ways in which Sufism has been favored - or disfavored - as a  specific category for Muslims in America. After graduation, Farah plans on pursuing a doctorate degree in a similar field of study.

Sarah Crawford

Sarah is in her first year of the M.A. in Islamic Studies program at CIS. She is from Fresno, CA, an ethnically and economically diverse city in the heart of California’s agricultural region. She graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy from California State University, Fresno. Her academic focus is women and gender in Islam. In the future she hopes to obtain a PhD, and teach at a major university in the United States.

Sarah Heddon

Sarah holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Albion College, MI and currently serves as Director of International Programs for Bitone Center, a non-profit based in Kampala, Uganda. As a former Fulbright scholar, Sarah studied and worked in East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda), collaborating with a wide range of local and international musicians, artists, and festival organizations. Prior to embarking on her M.A., Sarah worked for the International Rescue Committee in San Jose, Oakland and Sacramento and has extensive experience in refugee resettlement, international education and economic empowerment projects. Sarah’s research interests include Swahili cultural and religious art forms and the role of interfaith dialogue in international education and exchange programs.

Asif Sheikh

Asif’s focus in the M.A. program is to explore the traditions of Islam in South Asia and in particular look at questions of ethics, self-discipline and spirituality from the early-modern period in India through the current period. After obtaining his M.A., Asif hopes to enter a doctorate program either at the GTU or elsewhere. The CIS M.A. program is essential to developing his ideas as it is well connected, not just with other prominent academic institutions, but also with the local Muslim community allowing him to root his scholarship to practical issues facing the Muslim community both in the U.S. and abroad.

Sundiata Al Rashid

Sundiata was born in Los Angeles County California, grew up in the Bay Area and is married with three children. He obtained a B.A. in English Literature from Cal State East Bay in 2005. He has worked in the field of Education for several years and is currently employed as the College and Career Specialist at Wallenberg High School's Beacon Center. He is on the Shura Council (Board of Directors) for the Lighthouse Mosque in Oakland, CA. He plans to study the formation of Islamic Communities in the US from a historical and sociological view, and plans a career in the field of education after completing his degree.

Rabail Rania Shah

Rania has a Bachelor's of Science degree from UC Davis in Environmental, Policy, Analysis, and Planning with a specialization in City and Regional Planning. Rania worked as an urban planner in the Bay Area and then decided to work within Muslim non-profit organizations. She has worked as an office administrator, teacher and conducted research on Muslims in America with prominent Muslim organizations in the Bay Area. She had the opportunity to work as integral core staff to transition an established community organization to the first Muslim college in America, Zaytuna College in Berkeley, CA.