Avicenna Foundation empowering Muslim youth for success

Just like any other community, the Muslim youth aren’t short of aspiration. What they often lack is access to opportunities. Avicenna Foundation aims to change this through its scholarship and mentorship program.

Named after the famous Muslim philosopher Ibn Sina, the foundation assists ambitious young people to better themselves and uplift their communities.

“We all know that Avicenna was part of that golden era of Islamic history, and we used the name to, in part, revive the legacy and scholarship of our greats,” says Rukiyah Khatun, Avicenna Foundation’s Director of Operations.

“We want our young people, our scholars, to create that sort of legacy, where thousands of years later, the work they’ve done still has an impact.  

“So, big boots to fill, but at least there’s aspiration there.”

The foundation was established to support Muslim undergraduates in their university studies, given the lack of scholarships available for this demographic.

The foundation offers scholarships covering tuition fees and a development program that includes one-on-one coaching, leadership courses, internships, and professional networking opportunities.

“We want to create that support network for them. The kind of networks that, had they come from a different background, would have been there already” says Rukiyah.

Its first cohort applied for scholarships in March 2023. Now, 30 bright young people from across the UK are studying at prestigious universities thanks to the scholarships.

Rukiyah says representation in politics from ethnic and diverse backgrounds is low. And one of the aims of the scholarship is to change that.  

“We want to help them into leadership positions — into areas of policy and politics where they can make a change,” adds Rukiyah. “We want them to aim high.”  

Foundation’s impact

The foundation, set up by a cohort of co-founders and philanthropists, is steered by Imam Asim Hafiz OBE. It has established important educational links, partnering with schools, colleges, academies, community organisations, and student societies.

The scholarship has allowed some Muslim students, who don’t want to take an interest-bearing loan, to attend university.  

Although a Shariah-compliant student loan could be available after 2025, current students still need to find alternative ways to finance their studies if they want to avoid the loan.

“We have several young scholars who would not have gone to university had it not been for this scholarship,” says Rukiyah.  

“We have scholars that got into SOAS and Oxford, and they took a gap year to earn money and go to university. We have other young people who have been searching for other means to pay for their tuition and stumbled across these scholarships. It’s been life-changing for them.”  

“We know it’s a huge issue for Muslim students, and this is perhaps one solution to the problem.”  

Some of the Avicenna Foundation scholars

Launch at the House of Commons  

Last month, the group had a well-attended reception launch at the House of Commons. Those from politics, civil society, business and other backgrounds came together to officially recognise the foundation and its achievements.  

Speakers included patron Sir Hamid Patel CBE, the Chief Executive of Star Academies, and Lord Ken Macdonald. But the stars of the night were the scholars.  

“It was well attended and had a real buzz about it,” says Rukiyah.

“The highlight for everybody was definitely hearing from our scholars who were able to share how much of an impact being part of this scholarship has already had.

“One of our young scholars from a Kosovan background talked about how her parents are refugees, and she wanted to give back and make a difference in society. Another from a Somali background spoke about being the first in her family to attend university. Another talked about how our leadership programme has given them confidence.”  

The students also helped run the event. They did the logistics, welcomed and hosted guests, and one scholar was the host of the evening. They were even challenged to mingle and connect with the guests — a perfect opportunity for the students to train and hone their networking skills.  

“This was the first time that some of these students were in this sort of environment. It was exciting for them. And all the guests were excited and keen to speak to them,” says Rukiyah.

She adds that the attendees were “blown away by our scholars” and offered support to join the journey: “It’s important for us to have that input, involvement and fresh ideas.”  

An Avicenna Foundation scholar with Stephen Timms MP at the launch event

Applications for 2024  

Applications to find this year’s cohort open on the 4th of March. Those interested in applying for the scholarships should look at Avicenna’s social media channels and website.

Students will have three weeks to submit the first phase of the application. The second phase will start soon after and closes by the 8 April.  

Rukiyah hopes the prospective applicants can look at the current cohort and be inspired to see what’s possible.  

“It sounds like a bit of a cliche, but our goal is to create the leaders of the future,” she says.

“It’s to enable these scholars to enter those positions of power and politics. Create those pathways, create those networks. We want to see the aspirations of our young Muslim cohort grow and make a difference that’s very tangible.

“We want to see an Avicenna scholar make it to Prime Minister. That’s the aspiration — the big goal.”

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