Egyptian Scholar Uses Literature to Address Misconceptions

Abbady with her husband, Mohammed Said.
Abbady with her husband, Mohammed Said.

Amel Abbady, a Fulbright alumna from South Valley University in Egypt, completed a semester-long teaching fellowship through NMU’s College of Arts and Sciences. In her two sections of Arab literature, she shared works by predominantly female authors and addressed common misconceptions about the Middle East, Islam and Muslim women.

“The students were interested in learning more about subjects such as Arab marriage customs, whether or not women are required to wear the veil and women’s rights,” said Abbady. “It was a challenge in the beginning, but then I thought it went very well. Students learn more about another culture through face-to-face interaction than through media reports or online videos. I like to experience new cultures myself and think it is very important to be considered an ambassador for one’s country.”

Books featured in Abbady’s course included an edited anthology of Arab short stories, “Opening the Gates” by Miriam Cook, and a book by Leila Ahmed titled “A Border Passage: From Cairo to America—A Woman’s Journey.” Ahmed emigrated from Egypt to the United Kingdom in the 1960s to get her degree and now teaches at Harvard Divinity School.

Abbady said she detected noticeable differences between teaching at American and Egyptian universities.

“One thing I like about teaching here is the flexibility teachers have in applying new methods, particularly learner-centered activities in the classroom,” she said. “That allows students to be more involved in the process of teaching. Egyptian teachers rely on lecturing. Applying new techniques would be effective there and appreciated. I think I would also like to do extracurricular activities with students—book clubs and seminars, for example.

“American students are more inquisitive and more daring; they’re not shy like our students. The classroom ethics are also different. It is more casual here. Students can come into class with food and drink. They call teachers by their first name and are not afraid to show if they are not interested. The students in Egypt have a very formal relationship with their teachers.” 

Abbady’s husband, Mohammed Said, holds a doctorate in contemporary American and European history. He works at the same Egyptian university and accompanied Abbady to Marquette. Abbady had made a previous visit to the United States when she received a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistantship (FLTA) to teach Arabic and attend four classes at The University of Texas at Austin. She said they have enjoyed their time at NMU and even embraced their first exposure to winter.

“I like the snow much more than the humidity. We are from upper Egypt. We are used to the sun and hot weather all of the time. Austin was not much different, except it was more humid. We love Marquette. It is very quiet. The people are very helpful and friendly. I have received helpful support from so many at NMU as well and the library is well-equipped with so many good materials.”

Abbady recently presented a paper titled “Captured in the Net of Misinterpretation: A study of Alifa Rifaat’s Short Stories” at the American Comparative Literature Association Conference at Harvard. After final exams, she will focus on completing her doctorate dissertation before returning to Egypt. 

Prepared By
Kristi Evans
News Director