Iraqi researcher earns his PhD at 84 after devoting his life to education
By Aya Mansour — Baghdad
In a country where the causes of frustration among youth are rooted in war and bad economic conditions, a determined octogenarian never wavered from the path of lifelong learning.
A passionate learner, Dr Ahmad Jaber had always sought to earn a PhD. He finally achieved that goal at the age of 84, despite enduring many obstacles.
Jaber’s PhD dream is now to teach future generations a powerful lesson about education. “If you have the will, desire and ambition, then go ahead and chase your dreams, even if they seem far away,” said Jaber.
Trial and Error
In 1961, Jaber tried to present a research paper called the Historical Emergence of States Since the Beginning of Creation but was met with strong opposition from the Iraqi government. The government considered him a defiant figure because his research challenged the formation of states through the use of force and territorial border control.
Over the years, Jaber was subjected to harassment and was arrested several times for his views and ideas. The researcher patiently waited to be able to present his master’s thesis in 2003. By then, he was aged over 60 and was not permitted to complete his higher educational studies, according to Iraqi law.
“I requested to meet the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research to get an approval or an exception to complete my studies. I waited more than six months, but I did not get an approval,” Jaber said. “Then I was told to present in only three minutes. I recited a satirical poem to the minister and left.’’
Subsequently, the Ministry of Higher Education approved an exemption from the age limit, on the condition that students such as Jaber self-fund their way in university.
In 2013, Jaber was hit by a car, which left him with severe injuries including pelvic fractures and memory loss. The accident caused him to forget everything he once knew, including his family, friends and a lifetime of work. What helped him through his recovery was his notebook, which contained detailed information and important stories. In the notebook, Jaber had written about his desire to complete his graduate studies.
But the only document Jaber could find in the notebook was a graduation statement from the College of Arts at the University of Baghdad. Seeing the document brought back his dream of completing his studies.
“I am not married and my siblings do not know much about my life. Although they were trying to help me get to know my friends again after the accident, I still could not remember anything, but I was able to recall some memories through reading and researching. And when I realised that I was ready, I applied once again to complete my studies,” said Jaber.
The adamant researcher presented a master’s thesis on the Formation of States Through Occupation, in which he explained that all countries were formed through the use of force, starting with a “dominant patriarchal family”. In his research, Jaber also documented the destructive nature of occupation and its negative influence on humans.
In spite of poor health due to his age and the injuries sustained in the car accident, Jaber’s burning desire to gain a PhD never subsided, but remained his main focus as he set out to study and research on a daily basis.
He finally finished and presented a thesis called Facts on Genealogy: A Historical Analysis of Human Genealogy since the Dawn of Time Featuring Holy Scriptures and Non-Religious Texts.
At first, Jaber faced difficulty to get his thesis accepted in its original form. According to his University of Baghdad Department of History thesis committee, the work went beyond “the scope of the Islamic religion in the research”.
But Jaber persisted. He waited a month to get approval to defend his thesis. He was unable to receive the support from any thesis committee members except for the committee chair, Jawad Matar al-Moussawi. Al-Moussawi approved his thesis defence, which lasted for more than five hours, setting a record for the longest defence in the Department of History, at the University of Baghdad’s College of Arts.
Jaber was finally able to get his PhD with honours at the age of 84. Currently, more than four universities have offered the PhD graduate a teaching position. However, Jaber is thinking of recovering the work he was forced to remove in his previous two theses with hopes of presenting the entirety of his findings to his new students.
“I am not thinking about money and I don’t want a salary. In fact, I am willing to teach solely for the sake of knowledge. What I paid to get my PhD is equivalent to what I will gain until the day I die,” said Jaber
Al-Moussawi on Jaber’s thesis defence
Professor al-Moussawi, Jaber’s thesis mentor and the committee chair, said he regarded Jaber as a unique student who has achieved a lot and who has a sincere desire to learn. He added that Jaber’s passion for learning was unique at his age.
“Jaber is a collector of data and interpreter of historical texts. He has carefully followed a thematic structural analysis in his research methodology, whereby analysing historical texts to extract the sub-themes from the given texts and study them methodologically,” explained al-Moussawi.
“Jaber’s personality is hard to control in discussions. The thesis defence committee and the committee at the Department of History had difficulties determining who will discuss and evaluate Jaber’s doctoral thesis, especially since there were very few senior professors left on board. They reached an agreement that being a professor of Islamic History and Genealogy -especially among Orientalists — I should be Jaber’s thesis defence committee chair,” added al-Moussawi.
Al-Moussawi recalls a heated discussion during Jaber’s thesis defence. According to him, he has never witnessed a thesis defence with so much controversy, despite evaluating more than 200 masters and doctoral theses.
Source: Aljazeera.net (Original Content -Arabic)