Zakat Foundation of America-Sponsored University Graduates First Syrian Refugees

GAZIANTEP, Turkey, July 27, 2018 – Zakat Foundation of America’s Zahraa University – exclusively for Turkey’s Syrian refugees – awarded bachelor’s degrees July 27 to its first graduating class, before a packed audience of dignitaries and scholars from across the world, NGO officers, and student loved ones.

“Today, you graduates have come to know – far better than most – the meaning of sacrifice for education and discipline,” said Mustafa Müslïm, university president and rector. “We are so proud of your success and devotion. This is our moment to thank you.”

Zahraa’s 35 recipients, all Syrian refugees, advanced more than their careers when they took hold of their degrees. They validated the university founders’ vision. Host countries build a better future – for victims of violence and their own societies and regions – by committing to educate rather than obstruct children of forced migration.

Hostilities drove an unprecedented 68.5 million people from their homes in 2017, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR, the UN relief agency). Children 18 and younger compose more than half that number. That makes a positive policy like education a more powerful and cost-effective strategy for altering global society than endless prosecution of depleting, destructive war, or blindly blocking the most practical road to betterment for those displaced by threats of bloodshed and human rights violations.

“We have numerous projects, some accomplished, some ongoing,” said Halil Demir, Zakat Foundation’s executive director and a key visionary behind the university. “Each of them owns a special place in our hearts. But we hold none dearer than our orphan and youth education programs for the displaced and victimized.”

The idea of countering the human toll of Syria’s life-shattering civil war, not just by helping its displaced subsist in a vacuum but by guiding them onto new thriving life-paths, began almost as soon as Syria’s earthshaking refugee waves started plunging across the border into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan in June 2011.

“After war broke out in May 2011, we found ourselves running nonstop between [southern Turkish border provinces and districts] Mardin, Kiziltepe, and Hatay. Everywhere, we saw an incredible number of children, many begging along the roadside," Demir said. “Right then it hit me. We must enable them. We immediately contacted Gaziantep’s governorate. They had open hearts. Then and there, we laid plans for our education projects, including Zahraa University. We didn’t want to leave anyone out.”

Gaziantep’s leadership still hasn’t flagged. They opened their Metropolitan Municipality Onat Kutlar Theatrical Building for Zahraa’s first graduation ceremony. Everyone turned out.

Müslïm, the university president, and Associate Professor and Vice President Bekir Mehmet Ali welcomed a long list of scholars and dignitaries, notably: Professors Asmavi bin Zaim and Abdurrahim Halil from Malaysia’s International Al-Madinah University; Drs. Muhammed Mustafa Osman of Al-Tadamun University, Niger, and Ferhan Meyga, Niger’s high education minister. In addition, Gaziantep’s Mufti Muhammed Güneş and Branch President of Bir-Sen Education Union Ahmet Gök also attended.

“We give first priority to education,” said Mehmet Demir, Zakat Foundation representative in Turkey, underscoring the deep commitment the relief institution’s leadership has to education as the only antidote to war and physical transgression. “Today, the many problems we face as Muslim communities directly result from a lack of education and from ignorance.

“Some should stand up to say live and let live. That is everyone’s human right and human obligation. Some should cry out for freedom with the call of justice. But only education makes this possible, provided we gain its wisdom through self-sacrifice and devotion.

“You students have seen this with your own eyes. You are living it. You have come from a country whose towering history has been brought to smoldering ruin. Its day has grown dark, its future pawned.

“But this is not your destiny," Mehmet Demir said. "You have the power to change this situation – made possible only through education and discipline."

“We want to raise a generation that will establish equity and deliver liberty,” said Müslïm, noting this requires blending the essential social ingredients of compassionate vision, courageous local leadership, and a benevolent creation of political space. In this regard, he recognized the contributions of Zakat Foundation, Gaziantep’s municipal authorities, and Turkey’s president.

He cited this uncommon cooperation in Turkey, an unspoken comparison with other countries suddenly inundated with forced migrants, as facilitating the university’s international academic accreditation, vital to its graduates’ careers in academia and society.

He also recognized this social and cultural balance as underpinning Zahraa’s recent expansion, adding faculties of Arabic Literature and Theology, and its new Institute of Islamic Research, to its existing colleges of Engineering, Education, and Economics. English and Turkish comprise the university’s two main language disciplines, which equip students for livelihoods in their current residence and the larger global context.

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