Professor Raji Rammuny has been teaching Arabic for nearly 50 years, and now, at 74, he is seeing what he calls the “Golden Age of Arabic and Islamic studies.”
As coordinator of the Arabic program at the Department of Near Eastern Studies of the University of Michigan, Rammuny is watching his programs expand and his class rosters lengthen like never before.
“Students now want to study Arabic for professional purposes. In the past they wanted to study it only for academic purposes,” Rammuny said.
Already “one of the oldest and one of the best” Arabic programs in the country, he and the school have developed and added new master’s programs to “respond to needs of the new generation of students, and international needs and needs of the community.”
He said that his most advanced Arabic language classes are now filled with political science, law, and public policy majors. And there are 200 students in his current Introduction to Arab Culture course.
“It would have been 300 if I didn’t close it.”
Ten years ago the class had about 20 students.
“They tell me ‘We are so confused. We want to know the facts.'” he said about the new influx of students eager to understand the Arab World.
Rammuny enthusiastically tells about the new interest and expansion of his programs after teaching at U of M for decades.
Younger colleagues have said that they can’t keep up with Rammuny, who has co-authored countless Arabic instruction publications over time, and has traveled to universities around the world to speak, contribute and accept awards.
Rammuny grew up in Palestine near Ramallah until going to Iraq with a scholarship, “before Saddam and the Baath,” he said, where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in English with honors at Baghdad University in 1959. After teaching three years with the Ministry of Education in Jordan, he received a scholarship from the International Institute of Education to study at U of M.
There he earned a Master’s degree in English and Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics, and, not wanting to return home after the 1967 Six-Day War, he began teaching at the University and has been there ever since.
Today he is sought after for help from language centers around the world. He plans on traveling to Kuwait in April.
“They ask me to help… and they also ask me to talk about teaching Arab studies in America after September 11.”
About teaching after 2001, he said that public interest and funding for initiatives has never been so easy to come by.
“There is so much money available from Washington. They pour money into people who can provide resources.”
Of all his accomplishments, designing instructional materials, developing proficiency tests, raising funds, mentoring countless graduate students for decades, conducting workshops, traveling the world… Rammuny is most proud of coordinating the Great Books of Islamic Civilization translation project, centered in Qatar. He seeks out the best translators in the world to produce English versions of the most celebrated Arabic texts, to help foster understanding of Arab and Islamic heritage in the West.
The goal of the project is to publish 99 volumes. 99 symbolizing the “99 names of God,” or “Asma’ Allah.”
Twelve have been finished so far.
“We will continue until we reach 99,” he said, “though it will not happen in my lifetime.”
At the rate that he’s still going, it might.
“I wish I could convince myself to retire,” he said about his age, “I enjoy teaching. It’s my hobby.”
|Professor Raji Rammuny|