My teaching interests have been fostered by several years of undergraduate teaching and mentoring at the Institut Supérieur des Langues de Tunis, the University of Northern Iowa, and the University of Toronto. At the University of Toronto I was recruited by the Department of Humanities at the Scarborough Campus in July 2008 to help expand the Arabic unit and the international languages program in general. After the unfortunate cancellation of the languages program, I focused on the publication of my revised doctoral dissertation and a number of other research projects. I had rejoined the Department of Language Studies at the Mississauga Campus and I also helped Professor Emmanuel Nikiema in preparing a plan for the establishment of a promising project called The Centre for Global Fluency and Cultural Understanding.
The aforementioned experiences have taught me valuable lessons about learning and helped me to understand what motivates and what may discourage students. I have always believed that successful teaching and learning are the result of reciprocal motivation, commitment, and respect from both teacher and learner. In short, I see my teaching role as a facilitator, able to convey enthusiasm for and curiosity in a subject in a highly positive and joyful environment. I enjoy teaching classical and modern Arabic language, literature, and culture, and I have no doubt that my students did and will enjoy learning them with me. It is my conviction that the real measure of a committed teacher is the message you receive from former students that you have made a difference in their lives.
To cite an example of the ways I was—and I am still— able to foster joyful enthusiasm among students in the study of the complex Arabic grammar, I relied on a number of classical humorous anecdotes of simpletons, spongers, misers, drunkards, pompous grammarians, etc. My objective is not only to teach my students grammar, but also to introduce them to a lighter and humanist side of classical Arabic culture.
I am excited by the growing interest in my project on “Ifranjalism.” A revised version of my dissertation appeared in Palgrave’s New Middle Ages Series in April 2012. Among other writings, my book chapter “The Orient’s Medieval ‘Orient(alism)’: The Rihla of Sulayman al-Tajir as a Case Study” is forthcoming in Orientalism Revisited: Art, Land, and Voyage, ed. Professor Ian R. Netton (Routledge, Dec. 2012).
I am equally interested in the views of Europeans in early modern and modern Arabic writings. Another research area of much interest to me is the exploration of the cross-literary and cultural influences between the Arab-Islamic world and the West from the Middle Ages to modern times. For example, I have just submitted an essay, “Why you Can or Can’t Believe the Arabian Historian Cide Hamete Benengeli: Don Quixote, Islam and the Arabian Literary Heritage,” to The Comparatist for review. Through mainly addressing what I see as Cervantes’ veiled fascination with the Arabian historian Cide Hamete Benengeli and comparing for the first time Don Quixote’s Moorish tale (i.e., “The Captive’s Tale”) to Alf Layla wa Layla’s Frankish tale known alternatively as “Princess Miriam the Girdle-girl, Daughter of the King of France” and “The Love Tale of ‘ Ali Nur al-Din the Cairene and Princess Miriam, Daughter of the King of France,” I have also attempted to retrace a likely (in)direct influence of the Arabic maqama genre on Don Quixote.
A major research project that I intend to pursue in the near future is a comparative and interdisciplinary exploration of the poetics and politics of utopian and dystopian narratives in premodern and modern Arabic literature and culture. By examining a wide range of premodern and modern Arabic texts and poems, I will argue that Arabic literature is teeming with “utopian” and “dystopian” ideas which, despite their sometimes strong Islamic theo-philosophical imprint, are humanistic in essence and, in several important respects, bear the marks of influence of the most foundational utopian/dystopian western masterpieces. Reverse Arabic influences will also be examined. I will make the case that exploring this largely unknown tradition can help us to better understand the intellectual antecedents and literary manifestations of a wide range of socio-political and religio-cultural movements and trends in the contemporary Middle East
Finally, while I have to admit that my primary research and teaching interests center on premodern Arabic-Islamic Studies, I have always been an intellectual rahhāla (traveler), wandering across disciplines and journeying in different cultural wor(l)ds. The following abridged lines attributed to versatile litterateur and traveler Abu Dulaf (d. 1012) figuratively sum up my tremendous interest in interdisciplinarity in research and teaching:
And whoever sees himself really free,
Let him experience the meaning of the word!
Away from home, I spent most of my life,
Witnessing wonders of ancient times.
My adventurous soul finds peace in alien things,
Not in the comfort of the known world.