Administration News

Head of Arab studies program aims to shape understanding of the Middle East

Following an extensive international search, Professor Abdel Razzaq Takriti took up his appointment as the inaugural Arab-American Educational Foundation Chair in Modern Arab History at UH.

As the recently-endowed head of the program, Takriti is working to change his students’ perceptions of the Middle East through classes that will inform them of the realities of the Arab world.

A new home

Takriti was drawn to Houston for its vast cultural heritage, a heritage that benefits local universities as much as the city. 

“The strength of (UH) is that it reflects the city in its diversity and culture,” Takriti said. “You don’t see such heavy community involvement in big cities like this usually. Houston is an exception.”

The local Arab community saw a need to educate and support local programs that sought to teach relevant curriculum, so UH became a natural choice for Takriti.

“We have a unique situation in Houston in which we have two endowed chairs of modern Arab history at two major universities,” Takriti said. “The Arab community has funded both of these chairs, so there’s a very close relationship between these institutions and the Arab community.”

Arabic is the third-most-used language in Houston. The investment of the Arab community into local academia at UH and Rice is a testament to the city’s ability to come together, Takriti said.

A blossoming program 

Takriti said the Arab Studies program, which was established over the course of the past five years, was teeming with interest from students despite its relative newness. He is offering undergraduate classes on Palestine and the Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict and Arab Revolutions. 

“Dr. Takriti fills a large hole in the Department of History’s curriculum,” Department Chair Philip Howard said. “As a modern Arab historian, he has a unique perspective and (provides) students with a body of knowledge that is both political and social. We are very excited to have such a young and brilliant mind.”

For some students, the growth of the Arab Studies program at UH was inevitable. There were nearly 1,500 international undergraduate students at UH in Fall 2014. Over 300 of those students come from the Middle East, mainly Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Oman.

But it’s not just about the numbers.

“More importantly, there are valuable discussions within these classes about the issues being taught,” Takriti said. “The Arab world has a very complex and intimate relationship with the United States.”

Takriti said media coverage of the Arab world has skewed many students’ perspectives.

“There’s actually very little real understanding of what’s going on,” Takriti said.

Students are often not aware of this reality, and when they find out, they are interested in learning more. 

“I try and give my students the information that isn’t communicated through the average media outlet in the United States,” Takriti said. “American news coverage of the Arab world tends to be more skewed (and) is completely different from any other country.”

Takriti said the classes are growing in popularity and are becoming more relevant by the day.

His style of teaching is relaxed but engaging,” history senior Haya Khan said. “He always encourages discussion.”

Takriti believes that the program can only continue to increase in size and quality.

“This comes to show that these classes and these subjects are incredibly relevant and incredibly important,” Takriti said. “Not just among academics, but among students too.”

A goal within the professor’s courses,Takriti said, is to dissuade students from prescribing to one Eurocentric perspective.

“The Middle East is a very dynamic region,” Takriti said. “I encourage my students to think of the Middle East on its own terms and move beyond prevailing orientalist attitudes towards the region.”

Takriti said there are more things in common between people and civilizations than what is portrayed by the media and even in some history classes. 

“I’m trying to show my students that there isn’t an inherent cultural superiority,” Takriti said. “We are all subject to the ebb and flow of history.”

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  • I’m surprised … Shariah Law was not once mentioned. Besides, Modern Arab History has it’s underpinning in Sharia. Question: Will the hijabs that women will wear, be allowed to have a UH logo?

    • Your tasteless comment shows both your lslamaphobic contempt for anything non-Anglo. You are apparently not aware there are millions of Arab-Americans and that UH has an international student population comprising 10% of the entire student body, some 4,000. Many of them are from Arab countries. I’m guessing you can’t identify too many of those countries without the help of Wikipedia. Go somewhere else with your Trump-like ignorant twaddle.

      • GFUH … can you take a joke? Do you laugh? Should I get you a tin foil hat that my friend Organite speaks so loving of for Christmas?

        I just saw this morning in a Gallup poll … Americans are more worried about Terrorism than Mass Shootings. And Global Warming doesn’t even register in our concerns, and that’s the Obama Regime’s number one issue. Thankfully, a majority of people can see beyond the smokescreen, and lack of logic coming from Barack Obama.

        Just yesterday, I saw another poll that 8% of Muslims have no problem with Terrorism on our shores. So for the highest estimates of 8 million Muslims on our shores, that’s like 80 thousand per million. A shocking number.

        Equate those numbers to the Muslim population we have on UH, and we have a number of students on campus that fully support terrorism. And the percentage of those that are willing to act on their assumptions … well it should frighten you, as it worries me.

        Our PC culture has terrorists laughing. They know we won’t bomb terrorist haven hospitals. Heck, in the UK the other day, several Mosques were raided, and stashes of weapons were found for those who wished someday to act on their terrorist assumptions.

        In the US (under our PC umbrella), we’ve ham-stringed ourselves to look the other way when potential terrorists apply for Visas. Tashfeen’s social media was ripe with Jihadi thought, and Obama’s HS minions weren’t allowed to use it in determining a negative status on her Visa. It’s crazy, no interview was even conducted … it’s all done online. And because of our PC culture, 14 Americans and their families lives were changed forever.

        We are far from safe … and with UH bringing on this studies program, arguable we are now a little less safe. I’m not saying that something will happen, but you always have to have in the back of your mind, that a small number of students, 5 maybe 10, possibly more; support terrorism on our shores. And who is to stop them should they choose to go San Bernardino on campus?

        Have you heard of number eight US code 1882? A Democrat passed and signed legislation. And used on occasion by Democrat and Republican Presidents. In fact, Carter used the statute during the Iranian Hostage Crisis.

        Trump’s remarks that you found so offensive were based on an 8-1882 precedent, and just plain common sense. Shucks, Carter, he deported something like 15,000 Iranian students, and everyone on an Iranian Visa was required to report their presence to the government.

        I know you and the SocDems are frustrated by Trump. Even the Republican establishment (RINOs) is frustrated by Trump. But he resonates with people who believe in common sense.over political correctness. There are many people, many who voted Obama, that no longer believe in the tripe he promotes. Heck, my Vietnamese tailor, who speaks only 10 words of English is voting Trump. And 30-40% of Hispanics will vote Trump, because they know he will promote a job friendly environment.

        People know the 5% unemployment numbers are laughable when people know over 90 million people (U6) are out of work. People know that global warming is laughable compared to the increasingly unsafe realities and terrible jobs environment that have expanded under the Obama Regime.

        • I generally don’t find mocking others who mean me no harm particularly amusing. I generally leave that to bullies and hate-monger like you who have developed a genuine love for being offensive, with Trump’s blessing. You seem obsessed with spewing your hate everywhere. Everything you disagree with you simply criticize or find some bizarre stat to confirm your ignorance and paranoia. Now go get in line for your Trump sucker, since you seem to like the taste of the poison he’s spreading. Reality is not so fearful as you imagine in your Bizarre-O calculus.

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