Many have completed the Hajj, but few can say they grew up in the very city of Makkah. Dr. Fayez Maajeeny was raised not far from where the Prophet Muhammad was born, and where Islam’s holiest site, the Kaabah, resides. This sacred shrine, and House of God for the more than 1.6 billion Muslim adherents worldwide, draws in excess of 2 million pilgrims each year over the course of 5-6 days.
From a young age, Maajeeny was fascinated by the cultural, and ethnic diversity of the pilgrims. “I have seen millions of people gather in one place, and stand together for the common purpose of being with God. It is an indescribably harmonious, and beautiful experience. From an early age, I was witness to this, and with each passing pilgrimage, my participation in these events reinforced my belief in the fundamental equality between people, and the importance of peace among the human race,” says Maajeeny.
In many ways, these interactions, and perceptions served as the foundation for Maajeeny’s desire to serve others, and to pursue studies in Special Education. Through a scholarship from the University of Jeddah, he was able to pursue a Ph.D. in Autism Spectrum Disorders in the United States. Upon the completion of his doctoral work, Maajeeny was guaranteed a faculty position.
This is not an academic’s usual story. And while Maajeeny may have been spared the rigorous academic search process, he does have to contend with forging new paths. Autism is a new area of study in Saudi Arabia. Thus while working toward a promotion, he also has to build the network, and scholarly infrastructure for his unique discipline.
We sat down to talk to Maajeeny about his educational experiences at Maryland, and what it’s like to create a professional niche in an emergent academic field.