Founded in 2010, the Center for the Study of Islam and the Middle East (CSIME) is a Washington-based nonpartisan, nonprofit organization committed to interfaith dialogue and the study of Islam and the Middle East. CSIME has emerged as a leader in pursuing these endeavors through systematic research, dialogue, and exchange of ideas.
Through our dedication to objective research and analysis, CSIME engages the West, the Middle East, and the Islamic World to combine knowledge and expertise in order to offer policy recommendations that will be effective and enduring. CSIME’s purpose is to serve leaders and the public through merit research and education so that misunderstandings and misconceptions are minimized between the West, the Middle East, and the Islamic world.
Our diverse and committed staff works to empower people to expand the boundaries of knowledge, analysis and sound decision-making hoping to spur actions that would bring about a more peaceful and prosperous region.
In addition to CSIME’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. it also has a West coast field presence in Sacramento, California.
Dr. Ahmad Iravani is an Iranian philosopher, scholar, and clergyman from the Northern region of Iran, along the Caspian Sea. An avid advocate of the interfaith and intra-faith peace dialogue, he has dedicated his life to such intellectual subjects. He continually strives to spread peace, tolerance, and acceptance among people of all religions and cultures.
Besides being the executive director of CSIME, Dr. Iravani teaches courses in Islamic Law, Introduction to Islam, and Modern Iran in the Columbus School of Law and the School of Theology of The Catholic University of America (CUA). Ayatollah Iravani received the highest possible degree in Islamic Studies (Ijtihad) in 1997 (Qom), and the First Kharej Degree (equal to a Ph.D.) in Islamic Studies, from the Islamic University in Qom (1992). His previous work includes being Dean of the Philosophy School, Mofid University (1996-2000), and President of the Center for Islamic Studies, Zimbabwe (1987-1990). In 2010 he received his Doctor of Philosophy after defending his Ph.D. dissertation under the title of “Foundations of Jacques Maritain’s Political Philosophy” at the Iranian Institute of Philosophy in Tehran, Iran.
Dr. Seyed Masoud Noori is a former Faculty member of Department of Law, Mofid University (Qom, Iran); a Member of the Academic Council of the Center for Human Rights Studies (CHRS); and a member of Council Law Clinic at that university. His experience includes working with UNICEF, UNDP, and the ICRC, as well as the International Bar Association (IBA). Before joining CSIME, Dr. Noori was a Senior Scholar in Residence at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHR&GJ) at New York University School of Law. In 2011 he was a visiting scholar at the Irish center for human rights (National University of Ireland, Galway) and in 2012 he taught as a visiting professor at Emory Law School as well. In April of 2007, he and his colleagues in CHRS founded the first academic legal clinic in Iran. In addition to a Ph.D. in private law, he has more than 20 years of experience in studying, teaching, and researching Islam—especially the Shi’a school—at Qom seminary, one of the most important seminaries in the Muslim world. He has served as Deputy Director and Director of Research and Education for the CHRS. Dr. Noori’s interests include comparative studies between Islam (with special emphasis on the Shi’a school) and International Human Rights Law, and legal clinical education. He has published extensively on Islamic jurisprudence and law, compatibility of international human rights with Islamic law, and the modern conception of group rights and religions.
Dr.Sayed Hassan Akhlaq was born in Afghanistan. He has been involved in comparative study and inter and intra-faith dialogue. For the past decade, he has been writing scholarly books, papers and giving lectures and speeches worldwide including USA, UAE, Iran, Afghanistan, South Korea, Greece, Russia, and the UK. He earned a Ph.D. degree in Philosophy in 2009 from Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran, Iran. Also, he completed his Islamic theological studies (Hawzeh Elmieh) in Mashhad. He worked as the chancellor of Gharjistan University, branch of Farah-Afghanistan in 2011. He acted as an academic advisor of Afghanistan Academy of Sciences in 2010. He taught graduate and undergraduate courses in Iranian universities like Al-Mustafa International University and Payam-e Noor during 2007-2010. He is doing research and academic activities with the George Washington University, the Catholic University of America, and George Mason University in Washington DC area. He is a member of the American Academy of Religion. currently, he works as an advisor for the Center for Study of Islam and the Middle East in Afghanistan Affairs.
Dr. Shoja Ahmadvand is a researcher and Associate Professor of political science at Allameh Tabataba’i University’s Department of Political Science in Tehran, Iran. Dr. Ahmadvand was a visiting research scholar at the Catholic University of America (2016-2017). He is a senior advisor to the CSIME regarding Iran’s scientific, academic and cultural issues.
Besides different academic activities such as writing and translating numerous books from English to Persian and publishing more than 40 articles in scientific quarterlies and attending international seminars, he has served as Vice-President for Research of Allameh Tabatab’i University (2013- sep.2016); Head of Center for Regional Studies (2004-2007); Vice-Dean for Education and Postgraduates, Faculty of Law & Political Sciences, Allameh Tabatab’i University (2007-2009); Vice-Dean for Research, Faculty of Law & Political Sciences, Allameh Tabatab’i University (2009-2011); Head of Center for International Academic Cooperation, Allameh Tabatab’i University (2011-2012);
He is A Member of Iranian Political Science Association (2008-now) and is the Editor-in-chief of The State Studies Quarterly, a Journal of ATU Faculty of Law & Political Sciences, Allameh Tabataba’i University.
Nikky Mohanna serves as the Special Projects Manager and Analyst at CSIME. She obtained her Master’s Degree in Political Economy from the London School of Economics and her Bachelor’s Degree in Political Economy from the University of California, Berkeley. Nikky has also conducted research with Sharif University in Iran on the topic of technology transfer and knowledge sharing. She has spent several years focused on humanitarian efforts and interfaith dialogue, both in the United States and Iran. Nikky has been an advocate for the homeless in Sacramento, California and continues to fight for the establishment of adequate shelter for homeless women and children, as well as access to necessary transitional services. She currently serves on the board of the Mohanna Foundation and The Freewill Foundation.
Nikky’s passion lies in strengthening alliances and building peaceful and fruitful relationships between the United States and the Middle East. She has been actively involved in establishing academic alliances between Iran and the U.S. since the 2004 UC Davis Delegation to Iran — the first academic delegation to Iran since the 1979 Revolution. As a volunteer and guest at the National Prayer Breakfast for the past several years, Nikky strives to facilitate dialogue between international religious leaders and political leaders to build a greater understanding of Iran and Islam. She continues to build upon these alliances at CSIME.
Board of Directors
Ahmad Iravani is the President and Executive Director of the CSIME. He is a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. For the past fourteen years, he has been teaching at the same University. He also served as the Director of Islamic Studies and Dialogue at the Center for the Study of Culture and Values from 2002 until the end of 2009. Since 2003, he has been teaching two courses on Islam and Iran during summer at University of California, DAVIS. In addition to his academic activities, he has diversified his role in the community by participating in several interfaith dialogues around the world. He recently participated in the World Economic Forum (Davos) and became the member of the Global Agenda Council on the Role of Faith for 2014-2016. He completed his religious studies in Islamic Seminary (Hawzeh Elmieh) of Qom, Iran. He received his degree called Rotbe Awwale Kharej in 1992 and Ijazeh of Ijtihad from Grand Ayatollah Sannei in 1997. He also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the Iranian Institute of Philosophy in Tehran. He has taught courses on Islamic Law, Islamic Economics, Philosophy and logic in Tehran and Qom universities. He was the Dean of the School of Philosophy of Mofid,1997-2000. He has also been a strong advocate for social justice, peace, and harmony among peoples and places.
Dr. Alireza Mahmoudieh has been with the El Portal Department of Radiation Oncology in Merced, CA since 2008. Before joining El Portal, Dr. Mahmoudieh worked for Kaiser Permanente in Roseville and was the Director of the Prostate Brachytherapy Program. In 1996, he received his medical degree from the Albert Szent Gyorgi School of Medicine in Szeged, Hungary. Dr. Mahmoudieh is a member of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ASTRO). Throughout his career, he has played an active role in humanitarian efforts here and abroad. In addition, to fundraising for the victims of Haiti’s earthquake, Dr. Mahmoudieh has been involved in opening Farsi school in Boston in 1998 as well as in several community events in Sacramento with Nour organization, and Shifa Clinic, to provide free medical care for uninsured.
David Laylin grew up in Washington DC, in an international environment. In this respect, Iran has been a large part of his life since his father, an international lawyer, represented Iran at the Security Council of the UN in the 1946 Azerbaijan case against Russia. David was in private business, in Iran, for 15 years during the period of 1959 to 1979. Since then, he has continued to be involved in wildlife conservation in Iran and information exchange activities between Iran and the US. He makes extended visits whenever possible. His sister, Louise Firouz, was also well known for her work in breeding and reviving the Caspian and Turcoman horse species in Northern Iran. In addition to the members of his Iranian family, David has a wide circle of friends and acquaintances in Iran. He is interested in humanitarian work, inter-religious dialogue and in furthering the other work of CSIME.
Mr. Mohammad Mohanna Was born in Tehran in 1950 to a prominent Iranian family. In 1969, he moved to the United States to pursue educational and economic opportunities. With a succession of odd jobs, he worked his way through college earning a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering. Today he is one of the largest holders of commercial and residential real estate in the Sacramento area and a major force in the revitalization of downtown Sacramento.
His civic-mindedness is large and varied. Mr. Mohanna is one of the first immigrants to serve on the prestigious Board of Trustees of the University of California at Davis. As a firm believer of dialogue among nations, he led a delegation consisting of the Chancellor and several other top-ranking individuals from UC Davis to Iran in 2004. The trip fostered academic alliances between institutions in Iran and the United States and thus represented one of the most significant efforts of people to people relations between the two nations since the Iranian revolution.
Mr. Mohanna is an international philanthropist. He serves on the Board of Directors of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, and he is a regular guest at National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C.
He has been an advocate of poor and disadvantaged for more than 20 years in Sacramento. He has co-founded several non-profit organizations that provide services to homeless individuals such as Clean and Sober, Women’s Empowerment (awarded as the best non-profit organization of Sacramento in 2009) and others. He is currently undertaking to establish a transitional housing shelter for homeless single women at Loaves and Fishes Campus, a facility donated by the Mohanna Foundation.
Robert A. Destro is Professor of Law and founding Director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Law & Religion at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C. He has been a member of the faculty since 1982 and served as Interim Dean from 1999-2001. From 1983 to 1989 Professor Destro served as a Commissioner on the United States Commission on Civil Rights and led the Commission’s discussions in the areas of discrimination on the basis of disability, national origin, and religion.
He served as Special Counsel to the Ohio Attorney General and the Ohio Secretary of State on election law matters from 2004-2006; as General Counsel to the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights from 1977 to 1982, and as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Law at Marquette University from 1978-1982. From 1975 to 1977, he was engaged in the private practice of law with the law firm of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey in Cleveland, Ohio.
His areas of specialization, scholarship, and litigation include: freedom of speech and religion in the United States and abroad; bioethics; discrimination on the basis of race, disability, national origin and religion; comparative constitutional law; election law; private international law (conflict of laws); legal ethics, and bioethics. He is co-author, with Michael S. Ariens, of Religious Liberty in a Pluralistic Society (Carolina Academic Press, 2d ed., 2002; 3d edition, forthcoming).
Prof. Destro and Dr. Iravani have been working closely more than a decade on many issues including peace and Interfaith Dialogue.
Ayatollah, Dr. Mohaghegh Damad is a Professor of Jurisprudence and Law at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran, and a Professor of Islamic Theology and Transcendental Philosophy at the Iranian Institute of Philosophy. Since 1990, he has served as the Director of Islamic Studies at the Iranian Academy of Sciences. He received his traditional Islamic education in Qom and consequently, received the status of Ijtihad (Ayatollah) in 1970. He also holds a doctoral degree in Law from the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. He has also served as the Chairman of the Commission of Compiling Judicial Acts, and as a judge in Iran’s Ministry of Justice. Ayatollah Mohaghegh Damad has published numerous books, articles, and papers in Farsi, English, and Arabic dealing with various practical and theoretical issues such as Islamic jurisprudence, theology, philosophy, inter-religious dialogue, human rights, laws of armed conflict, and the environment. Dr. Damad and Dr. Iravani have been working for more than two decades in different issues related to Interfaith and IntraFaith dialogue and peacebuilding and conflict regulation.