My parents came to the U.S. from the Middle East, my mother from Syria in 1912, and my father from Palestine in 1920. Under their loving guidance I learned to value community, culture, and education. Additional relatives immigrated to Knoxville in the ensuing years, creating a vibrant extended family that imbued me with deep appreciation for cultural diversity and world affairs.
Since my graduation from UT in 1968, I've enjoyed varied and gratifying pursuits. I served as executive director of the Palestine Education Foundation, and as U.S. Development Director for the Ramallah Friends School, the renowned 145-year-old U.S. Quaker school located in the Holy Land. Prior to that I was on the staff of the Highlander Center, and later was an Administrative Assistant to Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young. My work and personal journey have taken me to the Middle East -- the birthplace of the three great Abrahamic religions -- on six occasions. During those trips, which centered in the Levant, I endeavored to meet with people from Christian, Jewish and Islamic communities to help build bridges of cooperation and understanding, particularly in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I've been honored to be a member of the Department of Religious Studies' Board of Visitors since its inception in 2004.
Broad education about religion and exposure to religious and cultural difference can help to combat polarized thinking and eventually, extremism. They can also serve as a springboard to understanding, tolerance and respectful coexistence among peoples. The University's Department of Religious Studies plays a important role in this arena, helping to bring about a more informed student population, as well as general public, concerning vital issues that intersect with religion. In this way, complexity can replace reductive thinking, and respect for human diversity can replace 'us-versus-them' attitudes. In addition to classroom education, the Department's public programs, such as the annual David L. Dungan Memorial Lecture, the Siddiqi Lecture in Islamic Studies, as well as lectures in Judaic Studies, help to bring an enlightened perspective to a public increasingly in need of informed commentary about religious issues. These are all very worthy endeavors, and I'm grateful to be able to play a small role in assisting the Department in its valuable work.