Those are the words Kasem Kasem, Ph.D., uses to describe his friend and colleague Reja-e Busailah, Ph.D., who overcame not just the literal darkness of blindness since infancy, but also that of being forced to leave his native country in fear for his life as a young man.
Busailah, who later became a noted author of poetry and prose detailing his boyhood in Palestine, as well as professor emeritus of English at Indiana University Kokomo, died Sunday, December 6, after a prolonged illness.
“The blindness was his second darkness,” said Kasem, professor of chemistry. “He lost his home, his comfort, and his family scattered around the world. He was a defenseless person, vulnerable, but God allowed him to succeed. When he was running for his life, a lot of the young men of his community were killed. With God’s wisdom, he protected him to achieve more than many people who have their sight.”
Born in Jerusalem in 1929, Busailah joined IU Kokomo’s faculty in 1965, and taught English literature for 30 years. He received the 2018 Palestine Book Award for In the Land of My Birth: A Palestinian Boyhood. He also was awarded a Fulbright Award in 1992 to research Palestinian poetry during the 1930s and 1940s at Mohammed V University in Morocco.
Busailah completed his secondary education in Palestine, before 1948, when he was among the thousands of Palestinian Arabs who left the country during the Arab-Israeli War. He made his way to Egypt, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from Cairo University. Later, he earned a Master of Arts in Special Education from Hunter College, New York, and then a Ph.D. in English literature from New York University.
His wife, Tanya Busailah, described him as “an icon of the town,” walking to campus with his seeing-eye dog, lovingly known around Kokomo as “The Professor.” He enjoyed his teaching career at IU Kokomo, and continued reading, writing, and working every day of his life, until he was taken to the hospital on Thanksgiving Day.
“He loved his friends and colleague there, and he loved his students, often having them over for crowded parties at his home,” she said. “He made everyone believe in their best selves, that anything was possible, that everything was up from here.”
He could do anything but see, she added, and fought against injustice his whole life.
“He was always for the downtrodden and oppressed,” she said. “He spoke truth to power and minced no words. He never took ‘no’ for an answer … He used his education to better humanity, and he did that through the powerful medium of his words and actions. Anyone who has met this man was touched as if by a bolt of lightning.”
Busailah was a master educator, Kasem said, during his time as an English professor and beyond. He often employed students to read to him, and they became devoted helpers and life-long friends. In fact, he reconnected and recently visited his very first reader, Nealda Corallo, now 96, in New York City. His current reader is IU Kokomo student Catherine Allen.
“He gave his heart and soul to education, and spent his life teaching people,” he said. “He showed that a disability doesn’t have to hold you back. A lot of his readers admired him, and said he would be remembered for the dedication he gave to the learning and education process.”
In addition to teaching at IU Kokomo he was a visiting professor at Birzeit University, West Bank, and Mohammed V University, and founded and directed Project Loving Care, which is now the United Holy Land Fund, a program to help Palestinian children. He also helped establish and taught at a school for the blind in Kuwait.
He also was the author of Poems of a Palestinian Boyhood.
Information about funeral services is forthcoming.