Mazrui, Ali AlʾAminAlternative names
Ali Al'Amin Mazrui was born on February 24, 1933, in Mombasa, Kenya. He received a B.A. from the University of Manchester, England, in 1960, an M.A. from Columbia University in 1961, and a D.Phil. from Oxford University in 1966.
Mazrui began his academic career in 1966 at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, where he became head of the Department of Political Science and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences. In 1973 Mazrui was forced to leave Uganda by President Idi Amin, and joined the faculty of the University of Michigan in 1974 as a professor of political science. He was affiliated with the university's Center for Afroamerican and African Studies (CAAS) and served as director of the center from 1978 to 1981.
In 1989 Mazrui left Michigan for the State University of New York at Binghamton, becoming the Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities and director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies.
A prolific author, Mazrui wrote or edited more than twenty books and hundreds of scholarly and popular articles. (A current bibliography may be found at http://igcs.binghamton.edu/igcs_site/igcsdirfullcv.htm#publs.) He was a visiting scholar at many institutions, including Cornell University, the University of Papua New Guinea, Harvard University, and the University of Nairobi. He is generally considered to be an leading scholar in the field of African studies and a major African public intellectual, and was the subject of numerous articles and books. In addition to academic positions, Mazrui served as officer of several scholarly associations in his field, as consultant to the World Bank, the United Nations, and other international organizations, and as a member of the board of the American Muslim Council.
Mazrui wrote on numerous topics, including nationality, ethnic conflict, and religion. He suggested that African cultures are affected by three important influences -- Islam, the West, and its own native tradition -- which he terms Africa's "triple heritage." Identifying himself at different times at different points on the ideological spectrum, but generally left of center, Mazrui was critical of the power wielded by Western countries over Africa and other parts of the third world. His Muslim religion was also a frequent theme of his work, and he was critical of Israel's position in the Middle East, and of Western support for Israel.
Outside of the academic world, Mazrui received the most attention for his work as writer and host of a 1986 documentary television series produced jointly by the BBC and PBS entitled "The Africans." Although partially funded by the US government through the National Endowment for the Humanities, the nine-part program was harshly criticized after its presentation in the United States by NEH chair Lynne Cheney for what she described as its anti-Western politics.
Mazrui was highly critical of Salman Rushdie's 1988 novel The Satanic Verses in numerous venues, likening it to Hitler's Mein Kampf in The Michigan Quarterly Review : "Of course Hitler's book was "anti-Jewish" while The Satanic Verses is "anti-Muslim" ...But fundamentally the two books are works of alienation and divisive in intent and in impact." However, Mazrui urged Muslims not to attack Rushdie physically.
Mazrui left the University of Michigan for SUNY Binghamton after a widely reported bidding war that ultimately resulted in a lucrative compensation package for the scholar. Mazrui commented at the time that in addition to the $500,000 SUNY offer, he left Michigan because he was not satisfied with the university's "commitment to Third World studies."4
Mazrui was married twice and is the father of five sons.
1. "Ali Mazrui," en.wikipedia.org, accessed 4/08/09.
2. Deborah Gilbert, "Mazrui not daunted by controversy over series," University of Michigan University Record, 13 Oct 1986.
3. Ali Mazrui, "Is the Satanic Verses a Satanic Novel? Moral Dilemmas of the Rushdie Affair," Michigan Quarterly Review, Summer 1989, p. 364.
4. Connie Leslie, "Let's Buy A Physicist or Two," Newsweek, 12 Feb 1990.
From the guide to the Ali A. Mazrui papers, 1959-1989, (Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan)
- Africans--Study and teaching
- Uganda (as recorded)
- Africa (as recorded)