Celebrating Abdul Aziz Said, co-founder of Nonviolence International

Abdul Aziz Said Memorial

We are sad to report the news that Professor Abdul Aziz Said died on January 22, 2021. He was well loved and respected for his decades of service and leadership. 

In recognition of his lifelong contributions to peace and nonviolence, we would like to post your tributes and stories about Professor Abdul Aziz Said here on the Nonviolence International website.

Let us celebrate the great person he was and work to continue his proud legacy. Abdul Aziz Said co-founded Nonviolence International. He was a world-renowned educator, a Syrian-born writer and professor of international relations for 60 years at American University, where he was the founding director of the International Peace and Conflict Resolution department at the School of International Service.

In the coming days, we will posting tributes from those who knew and loved him best. Please check back on this page for updates. For now, please watch this touching tribute from his dear friend and our founder, Mubarak Awad. See also a short powerful video from Professor Abdul Aziz Said himself celebrating our 30th anniversary. 

We know he touched many lives and welcome your reflections on a life well lived. Please send them to us here.  

To see a list of his publications and more, please visit: https://www.american.edu/sis/faculty/asaid.cfm

In recognition of the many lifelong contributions to peace by Professor Abdul Aziz Said, Nonviolence International has started a new program under which interns will receive stipends for their service. This financial aid is provided to perpetuate the legacy of Abdul Aziz Said, who co-founded Nonviolence International in 1989 and devoted his life to inspiring students to promote peace and global understanding. In particular, this scholarship will ensure that international students and those of modest financial means will have an equal opportunity to gain professional experience. 


You can also make contributions to support all the work of NVI at: https://www.nonviolenceinternational.net/donate

Professor Abdul Aziz Saՙid taught for many decades since 1956 at The American University in the School of International Service, where he helped ensure a Middle Eastern presence at AU with a focus on Arab issues, and (since 1995) on Peace & Conflict Resolution studies. In his later years Professor Saՙid increasingly focused on Islamic peace studies, while his engaged presence and informed dedication as an educator and advisor inspired many. I worked with him for several years in the late 1990’s when Saՙid was the first holder of the M. Said Farsi Chair of Islamic Peace, and founded AU’s Center for Global Peace. Saՙid maintained a life-long concern with Sufi ideas, bringing to bear his cross-cultural sensitivity as a Syrian Orthodox Christian. His lasting legacy was facilitating the promotion of Peace Studies within the American academy.

Professor Karim Douglas Crow 

Quick recollection of Prof Said: I remember when he insisted on being the one to bestow an honorary degree on then Israeli PM Rabin at the Kennedy Center in March 1977. It was also the same day of the Hanafi's attacks at three locations in DC, which caused Rabin to leave right after the ceremony. Prof Said was very gracious and the significance of his words and presence were not lost on Rabin and the audience. I took classes on the Middle East and US relations with the USSR/E. Europe, graduated in 1978, did a Masters in Jerusalem, then entered the US Foreign Service in 1987. I came back to AU once or twice and visited with the Professor, who remembered me and sat me down in his office for a chat. Only fond memories of him. He inspired me for years to come. I retired this past year after 38 years at the State Department. As an aside, here is a link to an article I wrote about my time at Camp David 1978, as an intern soon after graduation: http://www.afsa.org/being-there-camp-david-1978.

Respectfully, Frank J. Finver (Class of 1978)

It seems fitting that Abdul Aziz Said should have passed at a time when our nation cries out for an elusive unity.

Professor Said affected thousands as an educator. For six decades, year after year, thousands of students passed through American University’s School of International Service under his watch. He was equally well known as an advocate of peace, particularly but by no means solely in the Middle East. He was the founding director of AU’s International Peace and Conflict Resolution program. He was an advisor to both the Bush and Carter Administration and a frequent formal and informal envoy to the region.

But his influence also extended in a third arc: as a spiritual guide. Professor Said emerged from a Syrian Orthodox Christian family and the Sufi traditions in his native land; his “students” were typically touched in origin by one or more of the three Abrahamic faiths--Jewish, Christian, Muslim—though some had also followed Buddhist or other Eastern traditions and among them were even “Nones”. Perhaps central to his teaching was the concept of tawhid, that the Universe is One and its corollary, that we are all connected.

I first met Abdul Aziz at his office at American University on a winter solstice in the early 80s. He told me the following story. The student asked the teacher, where shall I go to find God. The teacher pointed to what appeared to be little more than a dot on a distant horizon. So the student set out and after months of travel saw the dot gradually growing into a vast, steep mountain. He thought he would never be able to climb the escarpment. But then he grew closer and saw that there was a path curving across the slope . Encouraged, he travelled further. When he arrived near the base of the mountain, he saw that there were in fact many paths going up the mountain and many people rising along the paths. The student went further and began to climb the mountain but as he came within sight of the top, he suddenly realized--together with the others who had climbed so far-- that there was in fact no mountain.

And so it is that I learned that in the search for our deepest identity, we find the unity that connects us all.

May the Peace and Unity of his Being remain and inspire us in the difficult months ahead.

Bill Espinosa

Last weekend my advisor in graduate school, Dr. Abul Aziz Said, died after a long life and a rich lifetime of service. It's impossible to list all the contributions this great human being made over the course of his lifetime, but I can say he was one of those whose support and friendship I will never forget. In 1988 I had been accepted to two masters programs in international affairs--one at Syracuse University and one at American University. I knew no one at either school, but Abdul Aziz was the director of the AU program in peace and conflict resolution and I wanted to go there, so I made an appointment, drove to Washington, DC and went to plead my case.

I told him my situation and that I preferred the AU program but I wasn't getting a large enough student loan package to manage it, and I wondered if he had any idea what I could do to change the financial aide offer. He heard me out and we had tea. He asked me about my family, how I had grown up, and why I went to study in India, making it obvious that he had read my application essay in detail. Then he asked what I wanted to do with a masters degree, and I said I wasn't sure, but whatever happened I wanted to be useful and contribute to something larger than myself. He nodded and got on the phone. The next thing I know, the dean of the School for International Service was in the room. Abdul Aziz tells him, "I'd like you to meet my graduate teaching assistant for the fall." And the rest is history.

He was a great soul and a great educator. Thank you, Abdul Aziz. I will miss you.

Laura Barnitz

I am deeply sad to learn of my professor’s passing. He was a mentor, collaborator, and friend. I am discovering more and more layers of the influence he had on my life and on who I am. I learned so much from him. And I learned in a space of love. Professor Said loved everyone, without exception. His love was a powerful, enriching love. He built people up, celebrated them, and welcomed them being their true selves. I was his teaching assistant, and saw how he empowered the leadership of everyone around him. Yes, there was much that was magical about him. He had the magic of not quickly accepting things that are unacceptable. He created magic by creating change. Thousands of his students have a model for how to move through the world as an empowered agent of change, and a loving leader of humans.

Barry Saiff

Share this page

Take action

Join Our Growing Global Movement!
Get in Touch
Donate to NVI or our partners

Sign up for updates