Saturday, 20 December 2014

My daughter's Thesis Defence for her Masters

My eldest child, Sarah, achieved her Master’s Degree in Islamic Theology on Wednesday, 3rd December in the College of Islamic Sciences, Kharouba, here in Algiers.  It’s been a long time coming, through no fault of her own.  She was supposed to defend her thesis last May but it was cancelled at the last minute.  To get to this stage she had to first finish her four year degree in Aqeedah, then pass the entrance exam for the Master’s for which there are only 10 places.  Then after a year of classes she chose a subject for her thesis and submitted a brief outline for acceptance. The title of her outline was ‘Islamic Fundamentalism in Orientalist Writings in the English Language Between 1990 and 2010’. Once her thesis proposal was accepted she began work on researching and writing the full thesis which had to be 150-200 pages long. Then she got it printed and bound and submitted 5 copies to the University. Three copies were given to the panel of professors who were nominated to sit on her thesis defence committee and who had to then read the thesis and submit a report to the University’s administration.  She was very fortunate to have an excellent Thesis Adviser (who was one of the three professors on the committee) who encouraged her and helped her along the way, may Allah bless him for all his efforts on her behalf. It’s difficult to keep the momentum going on a project as long term as a thesis, and there was a time when she just couldn’t work on it at all and even considered giving up on it altogether.  With a lot of dua and help from Allah, and encouragement and pointers from her Thesis Adviser and a Life Coach recommended to her by a friend she found the energy and enthusiasm to continue Alhamdulilah.
The Thesis Defence itself was a rather gruelling affair: she had to give a short presentation, dressed in a black graduation robe, on her thesis, which she did using a power point presentation, and then she was questioned on it by the panel. This was a difficult ordeal especially considering that it had been over a year since she originally wrote the thesis, and the fact that the whole thing was a public affair in the library of the University where anyone could drop by and sit in and listen.  When she first talked about this impending event a couple of years ago, we thought how wonderful it would be to have family and friends at such a special occasion.  However, by the time the day rolled around, Sarah only wanted immediate family members to come as she was so nervous and had waited so long she just wanted to get it over and done with and Alhamdulilah those of her friends who knew her well understood this.  But she still had quite a big audience with some of her own students dropping by to listen in.    The 3 professors on the panel were diligent and thorough in their questioning and critique.  Sarah seemed, to all outward appearances very calm and collected, even when she was told that it might not be possible to get the projector equipment for her presentation.  Alhamdulilah she did get it and I have to say that the assistants who work to make sure that everything runs smoothly – including getting her the equipment she needed and telling her and the family how everything normally goes –were really wonderful and helpful mashAllah, may Allah bless them also for all their efforts, because it meant a lot to all of us as a family at such a stressful time. 

As a mother, I could tell that she was nervous the whole time, even though she dealt with it really well Allahibarek.  It is such a nerve wracking experience and not everyone can deal with it so well – Sarah told me about one student who collapsed in tears just before her Thesis Defence and the assistants had to help to calm her down before she went on to defend her thesis and receive a very good mark Allahibarek.

Once the three professors stopped grilling Sarah on her thesis, they retired to a room to discuss her mark – a mark below 12 out of 20 would have meant that she would not be eligible to  continue to do a PhD if she so wished.  They were gone only a matter of minutes, much to all our surprise, and when they returned we all had to stand up while they announced her graduation and the mark that they awarded her, which was very good Alhamdulilah.  I felt like I was standing in a courtroom, especially with the professors and Sarah in their black robes, waiting for a guilty or not guilty verdict, but this was necessary as this legalised her Masters Degree.  Once she has made the necessary corrections to her Thesis she will get it reprinted, rebound and submit copies to the University after which a copy will be registered both in the University library and in the National Library.

I had plenty of time to think as I sat there not understanding very much of the proceedings, given that it was obviously all in Arabic, and I must admit to becoming rather teary eyed.  I remembered Sarah’s first 7 years of life with a non-Muslim Mum, and how Allah protected her and kept her on the Straight Path, and guided me to it also, almost despite myself, Allahibarek, Alhamdulilah.  I remembered my one big wish for all my children was that they would have a good grounding in their religion and in the Arabic language.  I especially didn’t want the girls to go through the same experience as me, being a wife and mother, with a child on the hip, stirring a saucepan and trying to learn ‘Alif, Ba, Ta’.  I wanted them to have the whole of the religion at their fingertips, where they could look up anything they wanted in the original beautiful language of Arabic, to be able to understand Allah’s Own Words exactly as He revealed them so that nobody could misguide them or lead them astray.  Also I feel that higher education for my daughters is a valuable asset for their futures as one can never tell what the future holds for them and this can provide a measure of security  As I sat there and watched my daughter, I thought of how He answered my dua…..and then some!

So many of us, when we move to Algeria worry about the education system here and whether it will be good enough for our children.  Her achievement has shown me the possibilities and opportunities both in this country and abroad.  To my immense surprise I have discovered that many Algerian university graduates end up continuing their studies or finding jobs abroad, contributing to what is called the Brain Drain in developing countries.

As I sat there last Wednesday afternoon I was reminded of John F Kennedy’s famous words ‘ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’    Along with all the dua I regularly say for all of my children is one asking that they will have a positive influence in the development of this wonderful country.  This has started in a small way, with Sarah teaching Aqeedah in English to a group of my friends and me.  She started with about 6 students 3 years ago and now has 13 which are as much as she can cope with, considering our short concentration span and varying degrees of corpus mentis!  There are more who would love to join but she has neither the time at the moment to hold another class or the ability to travel the distance it would take to reach other women eager to learn.  Her classes have opened up my world, boosted my Iman, and brought me closer to my Creator, with a totally new comprehension and wonder at His awesome Mercy and Abilities.  She also teaches English both at home and at the University that educated her in her deen in the first place, Kharouba.

After four years studying in Kharouba for a degree, and then  the additional years of study for her Masters, when I ask her what is the most important thing that she has learned, she answers ‘I have learnt that I know absolutely nothing… comparison to all the knowledge that’s out there’. 

May her thesis be a benefit to others in this life and to her in the Akhirah.
View of Algiers from Kharouba


  1. Congratulations for your daughter! A great achievement! I just graduated too in Master Degree and must say that in Finland Thesis Seminar seems to be much more informal; Sarah`s Thesis Defence sounds almost like Doctor Thesis Defence in Finland. But I think that informality is typical for Finnish culture.

  2. Thank you and my congratulations to you on your Masters Degree - I assume, by your blog name you have 4 children so this is really a BIG achievement! I believe that Finland has one of the most relaxed forms of education and, at the same time, it is also the best in the world! On the other hand Algeria loves its formality and etiquettes but, although the education system is often very antiquated, the education itself is very good Alhamdulilah.

  3. Ameen! I loved reading this post and I feel truly blessed to have you and Sarah (and Assiya) in my life. Allahumma barik.

  4. Aww! As are we......blessed to have you in our lives an extra near Alhamdulilah!

  5. Yes, I have four children and I studied mostly in the night time, but still I feel that Masters Degree IN ARABIC is a really big achievement, since it`s not your daughter`s mother tongue! I had Bachelor degree before and got option to continue my studies, so I did :).

    Our education is really relaxed form, but still really good! In Algeria I felt in the beginning little strange, when my son had to call his French teacher as "Madame" and I called my teachers in the University by their first names :)! But I have to also admit that Algerian education is better than I thought and was afraid of! Our children learned really fast lots of Arabic etc.

  6. By the way; is there in Algeria any internet system, where publish all thesis? We have in Finland system called Theseus, where can find all thesis and it helps a lot other students in their thesis work.

  7. Well done to you Allahibarek! Yes, she did struggle a bit with the Arabic as she wrote it up in English first and then translated it and most of the corrections she has to make are in the language itself. The upside is that I can read it! I don't understand why the rest of the world doesn't take on some of the Finnish methods of education seeing as they have proved to be so successful. As for the Algerian system - there is good and bad. Sometimes it makes me want to scream, especially the rules for the sake of having rules, and at other times I'm really happy with it.

    I asked my daughter, Sarah if there was an internet site where her thesis could be published and she said that, as far as she knew, there wasn't at the moment although she thought that there was one where the proposals were submitted but you would have to be registered for that site. It's a good idea though - it was mentioned at her Defence that her subject was unique and had not been written about before.