Dr. Shoukany … I will be myself!

Dr. Shoukany … I will be myself!

It is indeed an honor and a heavy responsibility to produce a eulogy when it comes to such a great individual as Dr. Muhammed Al-Shoukany.

I was blessed with the chance to see him yesterday for the last time before the funeral prayer with mixed feelings of love, pride, sadness and tears. I said good-bye for the last time and I felt he somehow and in some way heard my words of valediction and empathized with my sorrow. Momentarily, I experienced a flashback of my close and inspiring personal 25-year history with my mentor and friend Dr. Shoukany - a momentous and life-changing narrative which resoundingly resonates with me and others to this day!

It was way back in 1994 when I first met Dr. Muhammed Al-Shoukany. I was in his office when I joined the English Department at King Abdulaziz University and the first words he said to me were: “Welcome to the Department. It is time to make your dreams come true. Have a great journey.”

Those words were, and still are, a source of enormous inspiration for me and my life and work.

Between 1994 and 1997, I took numerous English literature courses with Dr. Shoukany, including Literary Criticism, the Novel and American Literature. His classes were second to none: motivating, eye-opening, and most importantly, they profoundly influenced my character, future career decisions and pathways.

When I graduated, I applied for a job as a teaching assistant at the Department. Given the bond I had developed with him through the years, I sought his advice on what to do in the interview because of his vast knowledge of the field, his grasp of logic and argument, and esteemed personality. “Be yourself. That’s all you need to do,” was all he said to me. I did exactly what he said. And he was right. I got the job. I owe it to him and his words of wisdom.

In 2000, I left for the States to continue my graduate education and the last thing he said to me before my departure, was again, “Be yourself” to which he added “and keep in touch. Enjoy the States.” He himself was familiar with the geographic, professional and personal terrain I was about to navigate as he had previously graduated from the University of Texas, Austin.

I did keep in touch with him and followed his advice to be the person that he had advised me to be: myself.

When his younger brother, Hassan, died in 2003, I emailed him my sympathy and condolences, commemorating Hassan who was one of my oldest longstanding friends. Dr. Shoukany replied saying, “Our comfort is in knowing that Hassan lived for others more than for himself. He will indeed live on as a shining example for us all.” Dr. Shoukany personified his own words of kindness and tribute. He was truly a man of his word and words, and till he drew his last breath he lived for others rather than for himself.

When I returned from the States in 2007, in his capacity as the Editor-in-Chief of the Saudi Gazette, Dr. Shoukany invited me to join his newspaper team. I did. And I learned much more from his leadership skills and work ethic than from the many books I was reading and had read.

He held and lived by values worthy of our greatest respect. I learned from his guidance and example to be independent, pro-active, and determined to lead and support others to succeed with intellectual rigor and professional precision and insight.

He trusted me with running the newspaper and supporting reporters and page editors in his absence. His trust in me was all I needed to make me the person I am today. Again, I owe him.

He was generous with his time, efforts and advice for everybody who worked or studied with him. Just over the past two days, I have heard many similar stories from his students and colleagues. I was certainly not the sole beneficiary of his passion to help and support others. He had an uncanny ability to inspire, smile, keep calm and sort things out. I never saw him angry. I am aware that that is something many of us still need to learn. I never knew his secret that enabled him to live such a cheerful life, despite the world overflowing with such menacing problems and challenges. But things work in mysterious ways and my dear friend’s life with us was eventually overtaken by death which he, like us, had no power to evade.

“I would rather die and accept God’s fate and mercy upon me than live a tough and meaningless life full of health problems,” Dr. Shoukany said on his deathbed after agreeing to go for a life-threatening operation.

His faith in God was unshaken.

He had no problem with leaving places. He was peaceful with everything around him: family, friends, colleagues, strangers and all others.

Everybody wanted to be around him for the quality of humanity and the strength of human character he so embodied. When he left the Saudi Gazette, I left with him. I wanted to be around him in the Department, and even at weekends. I visited him many times in his house where he had a library of over 5,000 books. He always told me, “Take whatever book you want on a permanent loan.” I looked around my home library tonight and I found at least 20 books borrowed from his personal library. He never put his name or stamp on the books because he thought that a book lost was a book found for others and for all to read and share.

His love for knowledge, for people, for a better human life, for peace, and most remarkably for his country kept his flame alive in academia, journalism, and literary clubs and societies. He had thousands of students and readers who held him in high esteem. In this I’m not alone.

Now that he is no longer with us, we pray to God he is in His good hands.

Dr. Shoukany, I’m so very grateful for all my memories of you and everything you did for me and for everything I learned from you.

Now it is time for me to say to you Dr. Shoukany: Have a great journey in the Hereafter, God willing.

Can you hear me?