Critical Language Scholarship Program | Shabbir Abbas
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Shabbir Abbas

Shab­bir Abbas is an alum­nus of the 2020 CLS Per­sian vir­tu­al insti­tute host­ed by Dushanbe Lan­guage Cen­ter in Dushanbe, Tajik­istan. He’s a grad­u­ate stu­dent at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty focus­ing on Islam­ic legal and intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry. He holds a master’s and bachelor’s degrees in reli­gion and reli­gious stud­ies from Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty. He also works as a man­u­script cat­a­loguer in the Rare Book and Man­u­script Library, ana­lyz­ing cen­turies’ old mate­r­i­al cul­ture in Ara­bic, Per­sian, and Urdu languages.

Get­ting to Know Shabbir

I grew up in the New York City met­ro­pol­i­tan area, liv­ing in a sub­ur­ban com­muter town in New Jer­sey in one of the most eth­ni­cal­ly diverse regions of the coun­try. I am a first-gen­er­a­tion Amer­i­can; my par­ents emi­grat­ed from Pak­istan three decades ago. In fact, for sev­er­al cen­turies my fam­i­ly his­to­ry has been one of migra­tion. My grand­par­ents were refugees from Del­hi, who escaped the bloody com­mu­nal vio­lence that raged in India after the ces­sa­tion of British colo­nial rule. Pri­or to that my ances­tors were immi­grants to North India from Cen­tral Asia and the Mid­dle East. 

This multi­gen­er­a­tional his­to­ry of migra­tion has helped shape my intel­lec­tu­al iden­ti­ty. Through acquir­ing lan­guage com­pe­ten­cy in Per­sian and Ara­bic and like­wise trav­el­ing to places like Iraq and Iran for research pur­pos­es, I have been able to trace some of these migra­to­ry routes. Ulti­mate­ly, I dive into his­to­ry to try and under­stand how life was in these parts of the world in pre-colo­nial and pre-mod­ern times, which ben­e­fits not only my aca­d­e­m­ic pur­suits, but also my under­stand­ing of myself and where I am com­ing from. In this process I have some­how become an ama­teur trans­la­tor of Per­sian poet­ry, focus­ing on the poets of my ances­tral North India, such as that of Mirza Ghal­ib (d. 1869).

Anoth­er impor­tant aspect of my life is that I am phys­i­cal­ly dis­abled, I suf­fer from chron­ic pain, and I have spent much of my aca­d­e­m­ic career strug­gling finan­cial­ly. Nev­er­the­less, even with these great set­backs, I have nev­er wavered from my goal of lan­guage acqui­si­tion, and schol­ar­ships like CLS are to be giv­en some of the cred­it for that. Mer­it based schol­ar­ships like CLS lev­el the play­ing field, allow­ing under­priv­i­leged stu­dents to also study abroad in order to per­fect their lan­guage skills, lead­ing them to greater chances at suc­ceed­ing in life. 

Why Per­sian?

While Urdu is the dom­i­nant lan­guage of Pak­istan today, in pre-colo­nial South Asia, Per­sian was not only used as the admin­is­tra­tive lan­guage, but it was the lin­gua fran­ca and lan­guage of intel­lec­tu­al dis­course. There­fore, one can­not access South Asian his­to­ry with­out first mas­ter­ing the Per­sian language. 

The Per­sian lan­guage is one of the great lan­guages of the world, which was once spo­ken wide­ly from the Balka­ns to the Ben­gal. The artis­tic beau­ty of Per­sian, as evi­denced by the time­less pop­u­lar­i­ty of its poets, Rumi (d. 1273), Hafez (d. 1390), Amir Khus­rau (d. 1325), or the awe-inspir­ing sci­en­tif­ic accom­plish­ments by its native speak­ers, Ibn Sina (d. 1037) and Tusi (d. 1274), amongst many oth­ers, all gives rea­son for the renewed study of Per­sian. The Per­sian lan­guage opens a door to a uni­verse of won­ders with­in the col­lec­tive his­to­ry of humankind. 

Future Pur­suits

I hope to become a schol­ar of Islam­ic his­to­ry, focus­ing on South Asia and the greater Persianate/​Middle East­ern world. With­out knowl­edge of Per­sian I would be ill-pre­pared to access the mate­ri­als spe­cif­ic to my region­al study of Islam­ic intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry. Also, as Per­sian increas­es access to pre-colo­nial his­to­ry, it gives us the tools to engage in decolo­nial­i­ty which is cru­cial in terms of upgrad­ing one’s ped­a­gog­i­cal abilities. 

Impacts of the CLS Program

The CLS pro­gram helped rid me of any hes­i­ta­tion I had in pub­licly speak­ing Per­sian and pro­mot­ing the learn­ing of Per­sian with­in my com­mu­ni­ty. As some of the CLS fac­ul­ty, whom I stud­ied with, were not only experts in the Per­sian lan­guage, but also in Per­sian poet­ry, I was thus able to learn poet­ics dili­gent­ly from them, and in the process I intro­duced them to some great Per­sian poets of South Asia; re-estab­lish­ing for­got­ten Per­sianate lit­er­ary ties. Upon the com­ple­tion of the pro­gram, I have spent the last sev­er­al months mak­ing the South Asian Dias­po­ra in Amer­i­ca aware as to the great her­itage of Per­sian poet­ry from our ances­tral home­land. The CLS fac­ul­ty saw my pas­sion, and they not only sup­port­ed me, but in ways empow­ered me to claim the Per­sian lan­guage as my own. 

Alumni Profiles

Shabbir Abbas
Shabbir Abbas
Persian 2020
Dushanbe, Tajikistan

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Posted Date

May 10, 2021