Undergraduates Flocking to Arabic Language Courses

Undergraduates Flocking to Arabic Language Courses

Current events, Middle Eastern/Islamic Studies Program fuel interest

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Arabic has become one of the most popular language offerings at Boston College, in a reflection of world events and the accompanying interest with which a new program of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies has been greeted on campus.

Part-time faculty member Safaa Shaheen (Slavic and Eastern Languages), who teaches Arabic language courses at BC: "With 9/11 came an interest in knowing the reality of this culture, and language is the key." (Photo by Gary Gilbert)
With 53 students, Introductory Arabic now ranks fourth in enrollments behind Elementary Spanish, Italian and French, and ahead of Elementary German, Latin, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Bulgarian and Greek.

And counting the numbers of those in Intermediate Arabic or studying the language abroad, 70 BC students in all are taking Arabic a year after a progression of courses in the subject was introduced in the Slavic and Eastern Languages Department.

"With 9/11 came an interest in knowing the reality of this culture, and language is the key," said Safaa Shaheen, who teaches the courses in Arabic as a part-time member of the Slavic and Eastern Languages faculty.

Boston College Most Popular Majors 2003:
College of Arts and Sciences
Communications: 925
English: 758
Political Science: 693
History: 560
Biology: 494
Lynch School of Education
Human Development: 295
Elementary Education: 294
Secondary Education: 155
Carroll School of Management
Finance: 717
Marketing: 397
Accounting: 287

-Communication is the largest overall major at BC for the fourth successive year. Finance is the largest non-A&S major.
-History (560), Theater (107), Classics (26), Biochemistry (118), Physics (50), Human Development (295) and Secondary Education (155) have their highest numbers of majors in 25 years.
-The largest minors in A&S are History (177), International Studies (87) and Faith, Peace and Justice (84).

Statistics provided by the Office of Student Services.
Arabic language study was introduced as part of a larger interdisciplinary program in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies begun under a federal education grant in fall 2002.

At least two-dozen minors already have been requested in the new program, which is coordinated by Adj. Asst. Prof. Kathleen Bailey (Political Science) and is expected to offer as many as 40 courses in language, political science, history, theology and the fine arts, according to co-director Assoc. Prof. Benjamin Braude (History).

"The response has been even greater than we hoped for, reflecting the seriousness of the issues facing the world community today," said Braude, who teaches with Calderwood Professor of Islamic and Asian Art Sheila Blair and Asst. Prof. Qamar-ul Huda (Theology) one of the program's signature courses, an introduction to Islamic Civilization that has drawn 110 students.

An accompanying speaker series will bring Charles Tripp, preeminent British historian of Iraq, to campus on Nov. 6 [see "Around Campus"].

Shaheen, a Palestinian Arab raised in Kuwait who has taught Arabic at Michigan, Middlebury, Tufts and Northeastern, has found her services as a language instructor in increased demand.

"One is the enemy of what one does not know," she said, quoting Imam Ali, cousin to the Prophet Muhammad.

Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies program co-director Prof. Ali Banuazizi (Psychology) had modest hopes for Arabic when the course began last fall.

"I thought that if we could get seven or eight students to register for Arabic, it would be great," he said. "In the first year, we had 40. Now we have three sections of Arabic."

And a Catholic university that traditionally fields requests for Latin translations now finds itself called for help on Arabic.

"We have had various inquiries, from ROTC and even from the Red Sox, for Arabic speakers to act as translators," Banuazizi said.

Information about the BC Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Program is available at www.bc.edu/schools/cas/meis/.


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