1. Summary
HM Ambassador John Casson, along with a group of academic advisors headed by Dr James Walters and the Gingko, are happy to announce the Gingko Fellowship Programme, a series of annual retreats, which bring together the Al-Azhar UK Scholars with their peers from UK Divinity Schools.
The programme is meant to complement the Al-Azhar UK Scholarships in an effective way. By introducing the scholars to the wider academic community and through building a mutual support network, the programme aims to help them overcome the isolation experienced by all research students. Meeting the Al-Azhar UK Scholars at the retreat will likewise offer emerging Christian theologians and leaders an opportunity to deepen their awareness and understanding of Islamic narratives.
The hope is that lasting bonds of friendship and respect will be formed at these retreats, which bridge cultural divides and equip a new generation of leaders with confident and credible religious voices stronger than those calling for hatred and violence.

2. Who is involved?
Ambassador Casson is to invite the Al-Azhar UK Scholars to the retreat.
Gingko will contact the heads of the relevant departments at UK universities and ask them each to nominate two candidates from their post-graduate research students for selection to take part in the Gingko Fellowship Programme.
A panel of academic advisors consisting of Dr James Walters, Dr Alison Gray, Dr Ben Fulford and Dr Tony Street will select a number of students from the list of nominees matching the number of Al-Azhar UK Scholars; their selection will be based on relevance of research and how the programme could benefit the scholars’ presence in fostering an engaging environment.
Gingko Fellows will take part in a maximum of four retreats or until their graduation, whichever comes first. The hope is, however, that bonds of friendship will last forever and that in the future they will join their successors in the Fellowship Programme at alumni reunions or public events.
Gingko is a registered charity (1158548) whose object is to advance education concerning the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. We are committed to fully fund the first year of this fellowship programme.

3. What is the Gingko Fellowship Retreat?
The retreat will be a combination of academic workshops and lectures in the mornings, and activities in the afternoons, with a keynote lecture on the first evening and a summary report presented by the scholars at the closing dinner, when they will be joined by HM Ambassador Casson, members of the academic advisory board of the Al-Azhar UK Scholarships and the Gingko Trustees. The retreat will have two facilitators: Dr James Walters, Director of the LSE Faith Centre, and Asim Hafiz, Imam to the British Armed Forces.

4. Why do we feel now is the right time for this Gingko Fellowship?
‘Religious ideas are reshaping our world, now more than ever we need strong and respected Islamic institutions like Al-Azhar. I’m proud that the UK plays a role with Al-Azhar to raise up a new generation of leaders who will deepen our understanding of Islam, reject extremism and prejudice, instead promoting the values of peace, openness and tolerance.’
–HM Ambassador John Casson

‘I look forward to this project being the way to wider academic cooperation with British universities, which will achieve Al-Azhar’s global mission in supporting peace and coexistence among nations. […] The cooperation between Al-Azhar and European Universities and research centres is the way to contain radicalism and terrorism, and to propagate the values of human comradeship and global fellowship.’
–Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb

‘Gingko hopes this Fellowship Programme will deepen the awareness and sophistication of emerging Christian and Muslim leaders and build cultural bridges as well as sustainable bonds of friendship.’
–Dr Barbara Haus Schwepcke, Chair of Gingko Trustee