The 2018 Retreat

The Gingko Fellowship Programme was launched in April 2018 at a retreat that brought together 18 fellows for three days of discussion and workshops at Carberry Tower outside Edinburgh. Nine Egyptian students — all of whom are studying for MAs and PhDs in the UK as a part of HM Ambassador John Casson’s UK-Al Azhar Scholarship programme — took part.

The retreat offered a combination of academic workshops, activities and lectures to encourage interfaith dialogue and friendships between young Christian and Muslim scholars. Formal sessions were combined with informal discussion and recreational activities. The formal sessions, facilitated by Dr James Walters, Director of the LSE Faith Centre, and Asim Hafiz, Imam to the British Armed Forces, explored leadership in the Christian and Muslim traditions; challenges for leadership (women, populism and intergenerational challenges); challenges in Muslim-Christian Relations (delivered by Dr Joshua Ralston, University of Edinburgh), and scholarship resourcing transformation (how does scholarship effect change in the public sphere).

Comments from participants of the 2018 retreat:

‘I really enjoyed this retreat. The dialogue has been helpful for me, as has meeting people from different faiths. I have heard many different perspectives, all of which I believe will shape my future.’
-Mohammed Aldhfar, PhD candidate at University of Nottingham

‘This event was absolutely fascinating; I have learned so many things. I had great religious conversations with a large number of people. The challenge was that I have too many essays to write, but I don’t regret being here with such great scholars.’
Rawdah Fawzy, Al-Azhar scholar, MA in Christian Theology at Kings College London

‘My experience has been tremendous. The workshops have been constructive and enlightening, my conversations with colleagues have been stimulating and warm. I’m thrilled to have been permitted to participate and am hopeful of the friendships and future collaborations that will emerge from this week!’
-Trevor Laurence, PhD candidate at University of Exeter

Click here to read an article about the experiences of one of the 2018 Fellowship participants (via the LSE Faith Centre blog)

The Gingko Fellowship Programme

The Gingko Fellowship Programme is a series of annual retreats that bring together students from Al-Azhar University in Cairo who are studying for a PhD in the United Kingdom — as a part of HM Ambassador John Casson’s Al-Azhar UK Scholarship programme — and their peers from UK Divinity Schools.

By introducing these scholars to the wider academic community and by building a mutual support network the fellowship programme aims to help them overcome the isolation often experienced by research students. Meeting the Al-Azhar scholars at the retreat will 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, bridging cultural divides and equipping a new generation of leaders with confident and credible religious voices; voices stronger than those calling for hatred and violence.

The Gingko Fellowship Programme is a partnership between HM Ambassador Casson, Gingko, and Dr James Walters of the LSE Faith Centre. It was established to complement the existing Al-Azhar UK Scholarship Programme.

How it works
Each year the heads of relevant departments at universities in the UK nominate two post-graduate research students to take part in the Fellowship Programme. A panel of academic advisors consisting of Dr James Walters, Dr Alison Gray, Dr Ben Fulford and Dr Tony Street select a number of students from the list of nominees to match the number of Al-Azhar scholars at the retreat. The selection made by the academic advisors is based on the relevance of research and how the programme could benefit the scholars by fostering an engaging environment. Each of the Fellows will take part in a maximum of four retreats or until their graduation, whichever is sooner. The hope is that long-lasting bonds of friendship will be formed and that in future they will join their successors in the Fellowship Programme at alumni events.

The Retreat
The retreat is a combination of academic workshops, lectures and activities. Participating scholars will present a summary report at the retreat’s end. The retreat has two facilitators: Dr James Walters, Director of the LSE Faith Centre, and Asim Hafiz, Imam to the British Armed Forces.

Why now? 
‘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, Chief Executive and Chair of the Trustees, Gingko












HM Ambassador John Casson (left) and Mohammad Gamal Moawad Abdelnour Metawea (right)