Hala Salaam Maksoud: Marking a Legacy with University Chair, Youth Foundation, Book of Tributes

By Nancy Linthicum

Hala: Hala Salaam Maksoud,

A Life Dedicated to Social Progress and Human Dignity

Foundation for Arab Policy Studies, Inc., Washington, D.C., 2003.

Courage, passion, elegance, dedication – all of these words and many more spring to mind when remembering Dr. Hala Salaam Maksoud. Maksoud fought relentlessly for Arab-American rights and also worked to educate all Americans about the Arab world and the issues it faces. She founded the Arab Women’s Council and was an active member of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) since 1980, when it was founded, and served as president of the ADC from 1996 to 2001, when she retired for health reasons. Though she passed away in April 2002 (see Al Jadid vol. 8 no. 39), Maksoud’s influence is still very visible today.

One way in which Maksoud continues to inspire others is through the Hala Salaam Maksoud Foundation for Arab-American Leadership, which she established in the last few months of her life. The foundation, located in Washington, D.C., is a continuation of Maksoud’s work to reach out to youth, in particular, and to empower them to make changes in the world and to fight for their rights and those of others. As the website for the foundation states, “This challenge is more urgent than ever in the post-9/11 environment, in which civil liberties are threatened, civil rights abuses are on the rise, defamation against Arabs and Muslims is rampant, and the need for a balanced and constructive American policy towards the Middle East is more urgent than ever. Creating a new generation of leadership in the Arab-American community was Hala’s mission, and it is the goal of her legacy, the Hala Foundation.”

The Hala Foundation has hosted two five-day training sessions as part of its leadership program for young Arab-American leaders, the third of which is to be held November 28-December 2 (the first ran May 30-June 3 and the second, August 28-September 2 of this year). This program is an opportunity for Arab Americans (ages 22-40) who have finished school and have already embarked on career paths to take part in a series of dialogues and to address the most pertinent issues facing Arab Americans today. The program is led by Hussein Ibish, senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine.

Maksoud will also live on in spirit at Georgetown University, where she received her Masters in government and Ph.D. in political theory and where she taught for several years. Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS) recently announced the creation of the Clovis and Hala Salaam Maksoud Chair in Arab Studies. The title for the chair is shared by Hala and her husband Clovis, who, like his wife, has been very active in the Arab community. He is the former Ambassador of the League of Arab States to the United Nations and to the United States, and is currently a professor of international politics and director of the Center for the Global South at American University. The chair named in their honor will be held by a full-time faculty member at Georgetown who is dedicated to studying the modern Arab world. CCAS is still working to raise enough money for the endowment (which is set at $2 million dollars), but hopes to establish the chair soon and to reinforce Hala Maksoud’s emphasis on education, determination and equality.

Georgetown also paid tribute to this accomplished woman in 2003, with the publication of the book “Hala: Hala Salaam Maksoud, A Life Dedicated to Social Progress and Human Dignity.” The book opens with a brief preface from Clovis Maksoud, who writes with pride and love about the woman who “provided me a home in which I felt at home.”

In addition to Clovis Maksoud’s recollections of his wife, “Hala” includes brief tributes from eight scholars, poets and friends and eight of Maksoud’s most influential writings and speeches. Edward Said comments on Maksoud’s dual identity: “Hala was American by adoption, of course, and an Arab both by birth and by political upbringing.” He continues, praising Maksoud for her high expectations for the Arab-American community and her ability to critically evaluate it. Said writes, “‘Never solidarity before criticism’ was her motto, and that meant she was equally critical of our side.”

Rashid Khalidi also offers some words on Maksoud in this collection. He praises her for her political awareness and advocacy and for her ability to make people truly listen: “Hala Salaam Maksoud was one of the very few people whose efforts actually produced a meaningful attempt to influence the way Americans think about Palestine.” Michael C. Hudson focuses on Maksoud as an intellectual figure, commenting on her powerful dissertation “The Islamic Content of Arab Nationalist Thought, 1908-1944” and its significant steps “to reinterpret Islam in modern terms and to suggest, or imply, the congruence of Islam with liberal, secular nationalism.”

Samuel Hazo includes his poem “To All My Mariners in One” and writes that Maksoud “will never really be absent. Even her absence is a deeper kind of presence. And an ongoing presence has no past tense.” Yes, it is clear that Hala Salaam Maksoud is still present in so many ways and continues to inspire and challenge many with her message.

This book review appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 11, no.50/51, (Winter/Spring 2005)

Copyright (c) 2005 by Al Jadid