Arab and Islamic studies have flourished at universities over the past decade as revolutions and turmoil rock the Middle East and young Muslims in Australia seek to know more about their cultural heritage.
Educators say they have experienced solid growth in their Arab and Islamic programs with some reporting a more than 200 per cent increase in numbers since 2008.
Charles Sturt University's Mehmet Ozalp, who teaches religious and Islamic studies, says his students have even included war veterans who served in Middle East countries.
''Some of them are ex-soldiers who have been to Afghanistan or somewhere and now want to study Islam properly,'' he says.
''It's productive. They really give a different perspective. Students in the class need to hear [that perspective] and non-Muslims need to hear what Muslims are saying.''
Three years ago Charles Sturt began offering a Bachelor of Islamic studies and next year will add a Master of Classical Arabic to its curriculum. The university has about 340 students enrolled in the subject, most of whom come from a Muslim background.
Ozalp says his course has given Muslims growing up in Australia a chance to better understand their own culture and background.
''The younger generation of Muslims seriously want to study but don't want to go overseas for various reasons. They might not know the language, or maybe it's risky growing up in those countries. Not everyone can make that step so the convenience of studying Islam in Australia has flourished,'' he says.
Ozalp was one of the first in the Muslim community to teach Islamic courses in English. He believes the course helps combat damaging perceptions about the Islamic world.
''This course is very brave work in addressing extremism and radicalism in Australia,'' he says.
''The Muslims created a brilliant civilisation . . . science, technology, commerce, even legal terms, some of the norms that Europe eventually learned from, used to develop western civilisation – a lot of people don't know that.''
A number of universities around NSW offer Arab and Islamic studies. While not all offer a dedicated degree, many feature specialised course units, often looking at the cultural, historical, religious, social and political dimensions of the Arab and Islamic world.
Speaking Arabic is generally not a prerequisite for beginner courses but might be needed for advanced levels.
Career paths can include teaching, community services, or even a job in law enforcement.
At the University of Western Sydney enrolments have leaped from 60 in 2008 to about 200 in 2013. UWS's senior lecturer in Islamic studies Jan Ali says that his students often go on to work in the community.
''Students have employed their Islamic Studies skills and knowledge in a number of differing areas over the years, however, they mainly seem to focus on utilising these in primary school teaching and secondary school teaching,'' he says.
''A student of mine who took one Islamic Studies unit as an elective some while back is working in social welfare and says that Islamic Studies unit has helped him better interact with people from a non-English speaking background.''
Sonia Diab hopes to use her studies to work for the United Nations. The 21-year-old is studying a combined law and international-studies degree at the University of Sydney, majoring in Arabic and Islamic Studies.
She says she enjoys the subject so much she is considering a PhD in Arabic Studies when she finishes her course. Diab , whose father is Lebanese, says she's held a long interest in the topic.
''I was always interested in the language, culture and the politics so I knew from the start it was something that would be suited to me,'' she says.
She believes world events, including revolutions in the Arab world, have helped to fuel interest in the area.
''Revolutions got a lot of people interested, especially when there was so much happening in Tunisia and Egypt – it's only natural stuff that happens around the world would make people think 'I'd like to learn more about that country, or that place, or that language','' she says.
The University of Sydney began teaching Arabic and Islamic studies in the 1970s, but didn't set up a dedicated department until 2000. Nijmeh Hajjar, associate professor at the university, says the courses continue to be popular.
''The department is flourishing at all levels,'' she says.
''It's not only because of what's happening in the world, it's because . . . we have students who actually want to learn about the Arab world and about Islam and learn the language.''
For Hajjar there's a deeper social contribution being achieved by teaching the subject.
''I'm an Arab-Australian, member of the Australian community and I believe in multiculturalism and the Arab communities in this country and their contribution,'' she says.
''This is part of my contribution as an Arab-Australian citizen and part of my contribution to this great Australian country. This is what I'm doing, it's what I'll continue doing – teaching Arabic and Islamic studies – it's part of me.''