Suheil Bushrui, UM professor, advocate for peace, dies

Suheil Bushrui, who held the first Bahá'í Chair for World Peace at the University of Maryland, dies.

Suheil Badi' Bushrui, a distinguished author, professor and advocate for peace who first held the Baha'i Chair for World Peace at the University of Maryland, College Park, died of congestive heart failure Sept. 2 at the Kettering Medical Center in Dayton, Ohio. He was 85.

Dr. Bushrui wrote extensively on literature, religion and world order, and was well-known in both the Arabic- and English-speaking worlds. One of his major works was on Lebanese-American writer "Kahlil Gibran: Man and Poet," which he wrote with Joe Jenkins. It was published in 2007.

"He exemplified how an esteemed scholar could challenge students to think about such questions while pursuing deep scholarship in areas of literature and culture. He will be greatly missed by us all, but his legacy will continue through the many students he has inspired to follow in his footsteps," said Gregory F. Ball, the dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the University of Maryland, in a statement.

Born in Nazareth, Palestine, which is now Israel, Dr. Bushrui attended St. George's School in Jerusalem.

In 1954, he earned a bachelor's degree in English literature at Alexandria University in Egypt. The same year he married his wife, Mary Bushrui.

"When we first got married, I just realized that he had something special. I felt he had a mission," said Mrs. Bushrui.

"We traveled the world from different universities. The 61 years, it was going from one university to another. Every country, different cultures, we enriched ourselves," she said. "We enjoyed every minute of every place we've been."

From her husband, she said, she learned to speak both English and Arabic.

In 1962, Dr. Bushrui earned a doctorate in English literature at the University of Southampton in England, where he researched the works of Irish poet W.B. Yeats.

At Southampton, he became known for his contributions to Irish and Arabic literature, a University of Maryland obituary said, as well as "his efforts to enrich as well as improve inter-religious and intercultural understanding."

His work led him to become the first non-Westerner to be appointed as chair of the International Association of the Study of Irish Literature.

Dr. Bushrui later taught at universities in Sudan, Nigeria, Britain, Canada and Lebanon.

He was the first Arab national to be appointed as chair of English at the American University of Beirut, where he was a faculty member from 1968 to 1983.

From 1982 to 1988, he served as the cultural adviser and official interpreter to the president of Lebanon.

He later took a position at the Center for International Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland in College Park, where he held a variety of positions until this year, according to the school's website.

In 1992, Dr. Bushrui became the Baha'i Chair for World Peace at the University of Maryland, and held the position until 2005, where he advocated alternatives to violence, such as educational and spiritual initiatives.

In 2009, he was named the first Lisa and George Zakhem Kahlil Gibran Chair for Values and Peace.

"Suheil brought a rare grace, spirituality and intellect to this campus," said University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh in a statement. "His mentorship and scholarship influenced a generation of students. He could turn no-man's land into common ground. We have lost a man of peace."

Mrs. Bushrui, too, described her husband's ability to relate to anyone.

He would sit down with and talk to anyone, whether it was a gardener or high-ranking government official, she said. "It made our world a happy time," she said, describing how no matter where they lived, they had an ever-growing circle of friends.

Over the course of his career, Dr. Bushrui published numerous works, including "The Spiritual Heritage of the Human Race: An Introduction to the World's Religions" with Mehrdad Massoudi; and "Speeches and Articles 1968-2012: His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales" with David Cadman, and translated into Arabic by Dr. Bushrui as "Sahib al-Samou al-Malaki: Al-Amir Charles Yattahadath."

Dr. Bushrui was involved with various organizations throughout his career, including the International Dialogue on Transition to a Global Society, The Temple of Understanding, an interfaith organization affiliated with the United Nations, and the Temenos Academy in London.

He was also appointed Creative Member of The Club of Budapest, an international organization that aims to connect different cultures and fields to promote positive global change. Honorary members included Elie Wiesel and Ravi Shankar.

He also received awards, including the Lebanese National Order of Merit, and the Temple of Understanding's Juliet Hollister Award for exceptional service to interfaith understanding. Past recipients include former South African President Nelson Mandela.

Mrs. Bushrui said her husband devoted much of his time to his work and his family.

"He was always behind his desk. He enjoyed his studies," she said. "I can't say he had a hobby. He concentrated in whatever he had in his heart to offer to the world."

She said he was close with his daughter and grandchildren, recalling family trips to Ireland and Canada.

"We are both missing him a lot. His grandchildren are suffering so much because they are missing him so much," Mrs. Bushrui said.

In addition to his wife, Dr. Bushrui is survived by his daughter Nadia of Yellow Springs, Ohio; three grandsons and a great-grandson.

Services were held on Sept. 4, followed by interment at Glen Forest Natural Burial Cemetery in Yellow Springs.

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