Arabic is not just a spoken language; it is a mirror that reflects the deep-rooted history of Arab civilizations. It makes up an integral part of our identity, our culture, and our history – a part that is increasingly erased in the wake of globalization. For that reason, the preservation of our mother tongue is of utmost importance, especially in an era such as this. Accordingly, this article will introduce a Qatari woman that has played a central role in emphasizing the role of the Arabic language in literary studies. So, who is Dr. Seeta Al-Athba?
I am currently an assistant professor at Qatar University. My area of expertise is modern literature, with focus on comparative literature in particular. I am also a wife and a mother of three children who I cherish very much and consider to be both a source of pride and responsibility. Qatar’s future is in the hands of our youth, so I help in shaping our future by educating university students at work and also through the upbringing of my children at home.
I used to write stories in the past. In fact, I published a series of short stories called The Seven Windows during my bachelor’s degree. Unfortunately, due to my busy schedule and my constant involvement in various activities inside and outside of work, I was unable to continue. Following my graduation from university I was appointed as a teacher’s assistant in the Arabic Department at Qatar University.
My entire career has been in the Arabic Department – from the day of graduation to this very day. That is precisely why Qatar University constitutes such an essential part of my being. It was the hub of my life as a student and is now the host of my professional career. I truly believe that I was made for academia: I love learning, researching, teaching, studying, and engaging in enriching debates and discussions. I have experienced many waves of change in Qatar University throughout this time, some more difficult than others.
I got my master’s and doctorate degrees in modern literature with a focus on comparative literature from the University of Jordan, and I graduated with honor’s during my PhD with recognition of being on the President’s List and a 4.0 GPA. My concentration has been on the relationship between literature and technology. As it is a very specific area of expertise, it is therefore rarely touched upon, so I published a book focused on it called The Effect of Technology on Novels: Paper versus Digital Novels.
I am also very interested in training, a field that I constantly try to improve myself in. I have recently obtained several international accreditations in training, and I am also a certified trainer by Stanford University, the University of Cambridge, and Boston University. In addition to this, I have two international licenses in education – a license in curriculum and a license in teaching and learning in higher education. I have trained fellow educators in a number of institutions throughout the country and I have attended many workshops at The Association of Arab Universities. This is because, fortunately for me, The Association of Arab Universities was based in Amman, and it was therefore much easier for me to attend the workshops there during my time studying in Jordan.
Have you always been interested in Arabic literature?
Yes, I have. I knew that I wanted to pursue a major in Arabic since secondary school. In fact, I would like to share a funny story about a souvenir from Mecca – and I told this story in the “I am Ambitious” workshop for young girls. When I was in eighth grade, my mother went to perform Hajj and had brought me a small gift upon her return expecting me to place it on my desk. After a while, she noticed that I had not put it there and asked me why that was. I told her that I intended on putting it on my desk when I became a professor of Arabic literature in University. I had had a clear vision of my future set in my mind, and Praise be to Allah, here I am fulfilling the dream that I had when I was thirteen years old.
When I started university, I did not know that a difference existed between education and literature as two separate majors. Consequently, when a lot of my friends entered the Faculty of Education, I followed their example. I stayed there for a year, completing fourteen hours in purely education-based subjects. I realized that this was not what I wanted, so I turned to the Faculty of Arts, where I majored in Arabic literary studies.
What sparked your passion for the Arabic language?
You will find that the basis of any passion almost always lies in the hands of a teacher and her influence on her students. My teacher, Laila Al-Qahtani, was especially supportive; it was her teaching that sparked my love for the Arabic language.
Have you faced any challenges on your way to achieving this dream?
I thank God for having two specific people in my life: my mother first and foremost, and then my husband. Having their encouragement and help has made the journey so much easier for me. I have always completed any task to the best of my ability, so I did not want to compromise or be negligent of my role as a mother, nor my role as a student and professor.
I spent seven years in Jordan for my studies. I sometimes found it difficult to maintain a good balance between studying and raising my children, but my mother was always there for help me. Similarly, my husband also accompanied me during this time. Every journey has its difficulties, but Praise be to Allah, I had my mother and my husband to help me through them.
Looking back now, I remember nothing but the beautiful memories during my time there. I believe that everything you experience, whether good or bad, is meant to broaden and shape your experience and is ultimately in your best interest. This reminds me of a ritual that I have with my students. Every morning before class I like to ask: “How is the positive energy today?” When you feel positive energy around you, you attract it to yourself, that is why I am very keen on spreading positive energy.
Have you participated in any initiatives outside of your work at university?
I try my best to contribute to community service through volunteering to work as a member of the board of trustees in several schools, for example. I also frequently volunteer to lead workshops in a number of institutions. I also was one of the trainers working on “The Book of the Future”, from the its first inception to this day. In addition to that, I was a member of the judging panel in several storytelling competitions. Finally, I am currently working on a book and several research papers, in addition to being a member of two research teams at Qatar University. Essentially, I strive to have a significant impact and a lasting imprint, whether through my time at Qatar University, or anywhere else in the country.
As I have told you before, academic life reflects my personality – I love everything about it. My students are my greatest passion. They are like daughters to me; I adore them very much and I truly believe that the future life lies in their hands. Therefore, it is vital that to leave a strong and positive impact on these students.
What is your advice for women in Qatar?
My first piece of advice to Qatari girls is to not give appearances more time and effort than they deserve – something that I have noticed in the younger generations. It is important to care about your appearance of course, the Prophet (AS) narrated that “Allah loves to see the sign of His Bounties on his slave”), but our lives cannot be centered around appearances. Qatar has provided the best for its citizens, so it is only fit for us to return the favor by developing our work and knowledge.
My second piece of advice to you is to work on your knowledge; to have good morals and principles; and to be pious. This is my advice to our daughters, and I am most certain of their abilities to fulfil it. They are a source of great pride to us, and I am always proud of them and their achievements. I am certain that they will live up to our expectations and more.
- Interview written by Fatima AL Naimi.
- Interview was edited to improve readability and flow.