Dr. Jamal Barzinji (1939-2015): The Muslim American Community Is Orphaned

By Al-Arian, Sami | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November/December 2015 | Go to article overview

Dr. Jamal Barzinji (1939-2015): The Muslim American Community Is Orphaned


Al-Arian, Sami, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


There is an old Arabic maxim that describes a particularly remarkable person as "a nation in a man." Such men and women are rare in history. But this description is truly the best portrayal of Dr. Jamal Barzinji, who passed away on Sept. 26, the second day of the Muslim feast of sacrifice, at the age of 75.

I've had the honor and privilege of knowing Dr. Barzinji since 1976. He lefthis native Iraq in the late 1950s, as his life was threatened by the regime because of his student activism. He subsequently received his bachelor's degree from England in 1962 and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the U.S. in 1968 and 1974 respectively.

Dr. Barzinji was one of the most extraordinary people I've ever encountered. He was an intellectual, an educator, a community builder, a brilliant strategist, a humanitarian, a loving family man, and for countless others a problem solver. His personal attributes of intellect, spirituality, compassion, patience, kindness, generosity and decency endeared him to everyone who knew him.

As an intellectual Dr. Barzinji co-founded in 1981 the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), an institute dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, high quality research, and serious dialogue between Muslim and Western scholars. During this period he oversaw the publication of over 600 titles, including some of the best books and manuscripts ever produced in the last three decades in the fields of Islamic disciplines, social sciences and the humanities. As an educator, he served for many years as an academic dean at the International Islamic University in Malaysia.

As a senior officer of IIIT, Dr. Barzinji raised millions of dollars establishing endowed chair positions and centers in some of the most prestigious universities in the U.S. and around the world, including Georgetown University, Harvard University, Hartford Seminary, George Mason University, Cambridge University, California State University and many others. He also oversaw the sponsorship of thousands of educational scholarships for deserving and committed students regardless of race, gender, or faith.

In 1983, I witnessed first-hand when Dr. Barzinji and IIIT offered full university scholarships by sponsoring more than 150 Palestinian students who had scholarships from the UAE that were cut offafter one year of study in the U.S. when a new minister of education in the UAE was appointed and abruptly and without warning withdrew the support. These students, who became successful professionals and have been serving the Palestinian people in Gaza, the West Bank and the diaspora for over 30 years, would not have been able to complete their graduate degrees had it not been for the compassion, commitment and foresight of Dr. Barzinji and his colleagues at IIIT.

As a community builder, Dr. Barzinji was involved in the establishment of every major Islamic organization in the United States over the past four decades, where he either headed the organization, served on its board, or helped in building its programs and outreach, including the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Muslim Students' Association (MSA), the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), the Association of Muslim Scientists and Engineers (AMSE), the Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS), The World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), The American Muslim Council (AMC), the American Muslim Alliance (AMA), Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences (GSISS), The Fairfax Institute, and the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID). Many other organizations and institutions from all over the world, big and small, Muslim and non-Muslim, sought his counsel and support because he was a resourceful intellectual, a brilliant strategist, and an effective leader who cared deeply about education, justice, humanity, women's rights and empowerment of the weak. He counted among his many friends and colleagues hundreds of scholars and clergy, including Christian, Jewish, and people of other faiths who loved his company and respected him deeply. …

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