By Irma Djaya (Semester 26/Feb 2008)
University of Sydney

There was a preconceived notion that studying at an Islamic university would be difficult and as a foreigner I would feel uncomfortable in such an environment. Looking back on my semester at Universitas Islam Indonesia (UII), I didn’t feel like that at all. I guess there were the initial difficulties at the beginning of the semester, such as getting used to the study program and the new learning environment. I also didn’t wear a jilbab(headscarf)and there were some queries on the reason why I didn’t wear one. However, after the students and teachers knew about the situation, there wasn’t a problem. I would say that my pendamping (buddy), although really nice, didn’t really help much in terms of orientating me to the ways of UII. I relied very much on the administration staff that was always extremely supportive and helpful.

In regards to the course, I think overall it was relatively easy. The subjects I chose (Islamic Teaching I, Islamic Thought & Civilization, Islamic Business Ethics, Management Communication and Indonesian Language and Culture) were more humanities subjects than business or economic subjects. This was largely because I was an Arts student. I was interested in how Islam affects modern day Indonesia and the everyday lives of Indonesians. My subjects back in Australia mostly dealt with the politics of Islam, so I felt that I needed a more holistic view of things.

The Islamic Thought and Civilization subject would have to be my favourite subject. The four ACICIS students taking the course that semester were really lucky to have this subject taken up because we initially told that it wasn’t going to be available. However, after much begging and pleading, UII was able to organise this wonderful lecturer to teach the subject. The subject was about the history and theory behind Islam and I found it very insightful. As it was a class with all 4 ACICIS students, we were able to ask stupid and simple questions and really get an understanding of the philosophy behind Islam.

Islamic Teaching I (Religious Practice) was a good subject, although at times a bit disorganised. I would say this was largely because it was a first year subject. Most of the students were not interested in studying the religious practices of Islam as this was something they were exposed to ever since they were children. However for me, it was really worthwhile as it gave the foundations of Islam which you could not really get at home. There was a certain authenticity about studying Islam in a classroom with Muslim students. They were very open in discussing issues which affect Islam today and were willing to express their concerns and hopes for the future. I found this extremely valuable in understanding how Islam influences Indonesian youth.

I really do hope that this program does take off as it is a very insightful and important program, especially in the world today. I really learned a lot during my time at UII. I think in essence, just through general immersion in a learning environment and getting that Islamic perspective on philosophical as well as everyday topics, it has helped me with my current work. I work at an English school in Solo and I do have some students who are Muslim as well as the majority of my co-workers. I do feel that I am more culturally sensitive to how Islam plays a role in people’s lives. Not being a Muslim myself, my students (especially the students who are Muslim) are very surprised when they find out I studied at UII. It’s something that they really don’t expect.