In Appreciation of Professor Riaz Hassan: Two Accolades as Vale







ONE …. Joanne Barker: A Memory about RIAZ HASSAN

From 1992-2006 I worked at Flinders University in various positions, finally leaving in 2006 as the faculty general manager of one of the four faculties. In around 1993-4 when I was still in my early 30s and quite new at the university, I came to know Riaz Hassan as one of the professors. He probably didn’t know my name, but he was always kind and smiled and said hello if we passed on campus.

At the same time, in the early to mid-1990s, I was a regular attendee at a gym near the Mitcham Shopping Centre. One of the young male instructors there was a postgraduate student at Flinders, probably five years younger than me. We would talk about Flinders and I’d ask how his honours or PhD was going (I can’t remember now but it was probably the PhD). He asked me if I knew Riaz, who was his supervisor. I responded that I knew Riaz a little.

During the time I was a member at the gym, the young instructor told me he was about to get married. I congratulated him and he told me about the wedding plans. What I remember so clearly now is that he had asked Riaz Hassan to be his best man, and Riaz had accepted. He said that he had so much admiration for Riaz as his academic supervisor that he couldn’t think of a better person to stand by him on his wedding day. I heard later from the instructor at the gym that the wedding day had been a great success. As I recall it, it took place before the student had completed his studies, i.e. while Riaz was still his supervisor. I remember thinking it must have been quite unusual to ask your PhD supervisor to be your best man.

I have had no contact with that person for more than 25 years, but I believe it was Scott Baum, now a professor at Griffith University in Queensland. His biographical information says he graduated with a PhD from Flinders in 1995. If you look back at his early publications, you will see joint publications with ‘R Hassan’ from the mid-1990s…..

It would be interesting to see any photos from his wedding day! But I am not in a position to approach him, ….  And of course, this information would need to be verified – I might have it all completely wrong!

And all these years later, I have finally completed my own PhD. I have no plans to get married again, however, so my supervisor(s) won’t have the honour of standing by me on my wedding day. But I now understand how a feeling of deep commitment is possible towards a person who has been a strong PhD supervisor. Scott was obviously fortunate, as I have been too.

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TWO: …. Professor Adam Graycar: Riaz Hassan’s Monumental Academic Achievements

Riaz Hassan’s monumental achievements were hidden behind his modesty.  He was a giant in Australian sociology, and for more than 40 years worked from Flinders University where he was Professor of Sociology.

With his family, wife Selva and two very young children, they came to Adelaide in 1977.  He had left Singapore in unhappy circumstances, having published research on housing policy that contradicted the government’s narrative.  He published the research because that is what the data told him, and he interpreted it as would a good social scientist.  Singapore’s loss was Australia’s gain.

This was not the first time he had been displaced.  Riaz was born into a Muslim family in in Gurdaspur in India in 1937.  He was the third of nine siblings.  These were turbulent times and the country was partitioned in 1947.  As a Muslims family in non-Islamic India the family fled to what is now Pakistan.  The partition and the human tragedy that affected many tens of millions of people had a profound effect on Riaz’s family.  In India the family was comfortable, but considerably less so when they eventually settled, after a difficult journey, in Faisalabad Pakistan.  He was then nine years old, and the traumatic memories of the disruption stayed with him for life, as did the deep attachment to his family.

He studied social science and social work, and as a bright student he won a Fulbright Scholarship to the United States, where he received his PhD from Ohio State University in 1968.  As an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Wright State University in the US he was confronted with a moral dilemma.  The Vietnam war was raging and young men were being drafted to go fight.  Students who failed their exams had their draft deferment cancelled.  Committed as he was to academic standards and academic integrity, he knew that failing a student would mean that that student could end up on the front line.

He left the US and was successful in obtaining a position at the National University of Singapore.  Apart from studying urban form and housing he was also interested, as a sociologist, in studying mixed marriages. It wasn’t long before he put his research into practice.  In Singapore he met Selva, the love of his life.  Selva’s mother was a Christian, Hokkien Chinese nurse  and her father was a successful Sri Lankan Tamil Hindu doctor in Kota Bharu in Malaysia.  This successful mixed marriage produced two very Australian children, one of whom now lives in New York.

His book on families in public housing in Singapore became controversial, and the family moved to Adelaide where Riaz joined the Sociology Department at Flinders University and Selva practiced as a dentist.

Riaz brought a rigour to the discipline at Flinders and he taught research methods, and illustrated them with his vast sociological knowledge and showed students how to use data to understand aspects of everyday life.  He was also a leading researcher winning numerous Australian Research Council grants.

These grants produced major books which had significant influence.  His book Faithlines: Muslim conceptions of Islam and society established him as a global analyst and thinker on Islamic societies, while his books on suicide, both in Singapore and Australia explored the depths of life in affluent societies.  Combining his interests in suicide and in Islam he wrote a controversial book entitled Life as a weapon: The global rise of suicide bombings.  To get the data for this book he had to meet with many people that were not viewed favourably by the Australian government and while he did so with integrity, he felt uneasy at the level of government scrutiny he was receiving.

He was in demand globally and spent time teaching and researching at major universities such as Yale, Oxford, University of California, Los Angeles, Gadjah Madah University in Yogyakarta, New York University (Abu Dhabi) University  of South Australia, and also at National University of Singapore where he was welcomed back with open arms.

In 1996 he was elected a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, and in 2006 was made a Member of the Order of Australia for ‘service to sociology, particularly as an educator, author and researcher, and as a contributor to the understanding of housing needs of disadvantaged individuals and communities.’

For the whole of this journey he was lovingly supported by Selva, his wife of 52 years and their two children (Haroon and Tirana) who have both forged their own successful careers in the law and human rights advocacy, respectively.  Selva and Riaz moved to Melbourne in 2019 to be closer to their beloved grandson Rehan.

Riaz leaves behind a rich legacy of scholarship which will inform scholarly work in the social sciences for generations to come. More importantly, he touched the lives of countless students, friends, and scholars around the globe. All our lives were enriched, not only by his great knowledge, but also the warmth of his gentle spirit and the depth of his commitment to the pursuit of knowledge. His loss will be keenly felt by all that were fortunate enough to know him.

Adam Graycar  AM PhD, D.Litt, FASSA, University of Adelaide

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