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Ricardo Larémont, professor of political science and sociology, talks about Ali Al’Amin Mazrui during a celebration of Mazrui's life on Dec. 6. Mazrui, Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities and director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies, died Oct. 12.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
University celebrates life of ‘transformative’ professor
December 9, 2014Tweet
Had he not met the world-renowned intellectual Ali Al’Amin Mazrui at the University of Michigan in 1988, Ricardo Larémont may never have become a professor.
“I took a course from him, and because of that, I was inspired to go to graduate school,” said Larémont, professor of political science and sociology. “That’s the reason I left my legal career to become a professor.”
Larémont, just one of many at Binghamton and around the world whose lives were touched by Mazrui, was joined by Mazrui’s friends, family and colleagues, as well as members of the Binghamton community, at a celebration of Mazrui’s life on Dec. 6, in Casadesus Music Hall.
Mazrui, Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities and director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies, died Sunday, Oct. 12. Recognized as one of the world’s top 100 public intellectuals by Foreign Policy magazine and the British journal Prospect in 2005, he was also named one of the world’s top 500-most influential Muslims in 2012 and 2013. He published over 40 books and produced the TV series “The Africans: A Triple Heritage,” which has been translated into numerous languages.
According to Larémont, who served as master of ceremonies, Mazrui’s biggest impact was changing the view of Africa as a continent that allegedly didn’t have a history or culture to one that had a clearly articulated history and culture defined by its own people.
“Professor Mazrui was simply one of the most important public intellectuals at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century,” Larémont said. “He fundamentally transformed how Europe and America viewed Africa, from moving from a so-called “dark continent” that didn’t have an articulated history or culture. And through his books and articles and public lectures — but most importantly, television and media — had an enormous worldwide impact in terms of how Africa is viewed.”
Along with his role as a public intellectual and globally renowned scholar, Mazrui was a devoted Muslim. Student Eydid Ali, secretary of the Muslim Student Association, started the ceremony with a recitation from the Qur’an.
Although she started working at Binghamton after Mazrui’s departure, Harpur College of Arts and Sciences Dean Anne McCall commended the former professor for his tremendous body of work and the impact that he had on the University.
“Family, friends, colleagues and those of us who know of him more than we know him, may this event today remind us to be strong, open, critical, brave, hardworking and courageous, so that we may come to recognize in each other a spark — a glimmer — of this remarkable man,” McCall said.
Provost Donald Nieman followed, highlighting Mazrui’s contributions not only to society, but also to the Binghamton community he long called home.
“Professor Mazrui made transformative contributions to scholarship, the world of ideas and also to global politics,” Nieman said. “He was a man of ideas and a man of action. He was also, given the large role hat he played, a very important part of this community, the Binghamton University community. This is the place where he spent 25 years — the largest part of his professional career was spent here. We were honored to call him a colleague.”
Several of Mazrui’s colleagues discussed his global and personal impact, his gift as an orator, his stubborn commitment, his mentorship, and his many professional and personal deeds.
“His life was a testament to intellectual courage,” said Michael West, professor of Africana studies and sociology.
Horace Campbell, professor of political science and African American studies at Syracuse University, praised Mazrui’s refusal to back down from his often-controversial views, despite the risk they often placed on his life.
“Mazrui attracted controversy because he stood for something,” Campbell said. “He was not someone who took the task that he had ahead of him lightly.”
Members of Mazrui’s family spoke of his many qualities, such as his warmth, love for art, empathy, compassion, infectious laugh and genius. Jamal Ali Mazrui, one of his five sons, recited the many maxims that he learned from his father, whom he referred to as the virtuous man, the public intellectual and the community hero.
“Know yourself, Believe in yourself, educate yourself, know the history of your people, pursue your passion, conduct yourself honorably and remember home,” Jamal said.
It was no wonder Mazrui’s family and friends referred to him as “Mwalimu,” which is Swahili for “teacher.”