In an academic career that spanned five decades, Mazrui wrote more than 20 books and 100 scholarly articles. He held the Albert Schweitzer chair of the Humanities at BU since 1989. He was also the founder and director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies (IGCS) at BU. He died of natural causes at his home in Vestal on Oct. 12. Mazrui was 81.
Mazrui also served as special adviser for the World Bank and on United Nations projects dealing with issues such as human rights, nuclear proliferation and constitutional reforms in African nations.
While Mazrui’s academic contributions were well known, many of the speakers talked about how he affected their lives, expounding on his courage, kindness and sense of humor.
Onyeka Obasi, the president of Friends of Africa International, a non-profit organization that advocates for human rights and social justice in Africa, recounted how Mazrui mentored her for years and helped her decide on a career path. She said she was touched by how Mazrui, whom she referred to as “prof,” always stayed in touch.
“When prof is committed to something, he stays with it until the end,” Obasi said. “He was a father, he was a mentor and he was a friend.”
Several speakers described how Mazrui always stood by his ideas. Abubaker Al-Shingieti, the regional director of the International Institute of Islamic Thought, recounted how Mazrui faced opposition for proposing a Muslim world affairs course at BU. Those against the course said it would conflict with the large Jewish population, but Mazrui said it was necessary to give recognition to lesser known cultural identities.
“He had the courage to introduce concepts and projects that may not be popular but ultimately people see the wisdom of it,” Al-Shingieti said.
His 1986 television mini series, “The Africans: A Triple Heritage,” discussed the indigenous, Islamic and western influences that affected African culture. Some people criticized the television series for supposedly advocating for African nations to acquire nuclear capabilities.
But for Horace Campbell, a professor of African American studies at Syracuse University, Mazrui incited arguments because he represented Africa in original ways.
“He attracted controversy because he stood for something,” Campbell said. “He was not someone who took the task that stood ahead of him lightly.”
Mazrui’s colleagues and family also expressed the importance of continuing his legacy through the institute he founded, IGCS, which focuses its research on cultural influences like language, religion and gender studies in different countries around the world.
For Colleen Farrar, a student in Mazrui’s last class at BU, Government and Politics in Africa in fall 2013, his legacy will live on through memories.
“He was an incredible and prestigious teacher,” said Farrar, a junior double-majoring in political science and Arabic. “I’m grateful for getting the chance to spend any time with him at all.”
However, for Farid Mazrui, Mazrui’s fourth son, his legacy is an inspiration for the future.
“I want to make half as much of an impact as he did,” said Mazrui, a senior at the University at Buffalo. “It’s a great task but it’s something I’m looking forward to trying to achieve.”
(courtesy: Pipe Dream)