A Tribute to Dr. Rula Quawas

July 26, 2017
Photo courtesy of Readers Bookshop, from an event held there on April 12th 2017

In May of 2016, a friend of mine put me in touch with Dr. Rula Quawas. She said Dr. Rula could help me with an article I was writing at the time – my first on 7iber. I hesitantly emailed her, and we arranged a meeting. I had heard of Dr. Rula before, everyone had, but did not know what to expect. We met, and out of nearly two hours of conversation, ten minutes were spent discussing my article. We had so much to talk about; there were so many topics on which I wanted to hear her (always articulate, always impassioned) opinion.

The thing about Dr. Rula was, she wanted to hear my opinions on these topics as well. She, a distinguished PhD holder and educator of over 25 years, who had taught scores of young women and men, gave credence to my views. Many in her position, with her credentials, would (and do) assume an air of self-importance, but she never condescended to the colourfully-dressed 20 year-old B.A. student, she valued my words and followed them intensely. She made me feel special.

The small portion of her students with whom I am connected all, without fail, mention that she had made them feel special, too, in their words of condolence, their expressions of grief. It is unfathomable, incredible, that one woman found the time of day to mentor so many people, to create a home for them. It does not seem possible to count or contain the many, many people whose lives she touched.

I could list and reflect upon Dr. Rula’s achievements for days, years, but I will try to include the highlights. She received her B.A. and M.A. in English Language and Literature from the University of Jordan, and her PhD in American Literature and Feminist Theory from the University of North Texas. In the 9 years between her first two degrees, she taught at schools in Amman, and following her PhD began teaching classes at the University of Jordan. She founded the Women’s Studies Center at the University of Jordan and the Knowledge Production Unit at the Jordanian National Commission for Women. This list does not begin to do her extensive experience justice, but there’s only so much space.

In her words, she was «committed to empowering women and community members to become strong advocates for gender equity and social justice. [Her] dream is to forge new pathways and to see women fulfill their aspirations and become what they are capable of becoming.»

The inspiration for her last statement came from the quote by Robert Louis Stevenson, with which she ended her hundreds of emails; «To be what we are and to become what we are capable of becoming is the only end of life.»

Those emails were exchanged, for the most part, while Dr. Rula and I worked on a book together with the friend who introduced us. The book was an anthology of short stories her students had written. In the foreword, I wrote: «Getting to witness, firsthand, the wonderful Dr. Rula’s unwavering dedication to her students and their stories has been an incredibly life-affirming experience. She is determined to give their voice the audience it deserves.»

Dr. Rula was a devout believer in God, a God who accepted all who came to Him and treated them with kindness and compassion. In that, she really was created in His image.

She lived her life without shame, without doubt, without pause. When she was attacked because of a video her students made about sexual harassment in 2012 (the reason she became a household name in the country), she stood up for herself and her students and rose above the criticism. She always questioned authority, and taught her students the same.

«Women’s rights are human rights, and I’m going to shove you aside if you are not going to give me these rights,» Dr. Rula said in 2009.

Jordan lost today a beacon of hope. We lost a pioneer of radical feminism, an immense academic and political mind, a sheer force of empowerment.

Rest in peace. Rest in power.

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