English teacher's life leads him to Wayland

PLAINVIEW – “It feels like because of all the experiences I’ve had, everything has prepared me for a living ministry here at Wayland,” said Dr. Moumin Quazi, associate professor of English at Wayland Baptist University in Plainview.

“It seemed like random events along the way, but they’re culminating into this experience.”

Those random events are part of what leads Quazi, who came to Wayland this past fall after teaching at another faith-based university, to label himself a “Forrest Gump” of sorts. And like the movie character, Quazi’s experiences are varied and meaningful, each in their own way.

Raised in the Dallas area, Quazi said his childhood was full of learning experiences. The son of an immigrant from India and an American mother, he recalls “a feeling of being at home in America but also a stranger.” His parents divorced while he was a young boy and an American stepfather introduced him to more American culture. But he would still feel out of place at times.

“People weren’t sure what culture I was,” he recalled. “Back then, people weren’t as aware of foreign people. That really prepared me for the role of a Christian pilgrim… in the world but not of the world.”

To add to the confusion, Quazi’s father had raised his son in the Muslim tradition, but his mother allowed an inquisitive spirit in matters of faith. Extended family represented varied perspectives on religion, so the decision wasn’t as automatic as it might have seemed.

“In Islam, the primary means of acceptance to Allah is your own goodness,” Quazi said. “As a young adult, I heard the gospel of Jesus and felt guilty about my sin. That’s when I first considered Christianity.”

Still curious, Quazi enrolled at Texas Christian University, earning a music scholarship for his saxophone talents and pursuing a degree in radio/television and film. At TCU, he studied Greek, and marveled at the truths found in the scriptures.

“One that really stuck out was Ephesians 2, ‘For by grace you’re saved, not by works, lest any man should boast,’” he recalled. “I felt that God was telling me it wasn’t about what I’d done but what he’d done for me. I had to accept that gift of grace.”

From that point on, Quazi said he has lived a life of gratitude for the grace of God, rather than a faith driven by guilt. Feeling the call of God on his life, Quazi said he followed his bachelor’s degree from TCU with a master’s in theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, though he admits he wasn’t sure what God intended his life’s ministry to be.

Seeking that niche, he interned in the university department at First Baptist Church in Dallas, but found that wasn’t his calling either. Ever eager to learn, he took two English classes at Tarrant County Junior College during the summer of 1989 and felt a new purpose in literature.

“To me, it’s not really a subject but a springboard off of which you can jump into a lot of areas,” Quazi said. “Literature really is life.”

With a diversity of experiences and interests under his belt, Quazi said he was able to infuse his studies with the other facets of his life. Feeling a new calling, he enrolled in the University of North Texas and earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in English while teaching as a graduate fellow, with the novel as one of his areas of expertise.

Afterward, he taught at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, before coming to Wayland in the fall.

“When the job came up, I didn’t think this was where I’d end up,” he recalled. “But after visiting here, I was sure this was not just a move for me, but a sense of my coming home.”

He recalls a visit with Wayland President Dr. Paul Armes, who encouraged the young professor.

“His advice was, ‘Bend ’em, but don’t break ’em,’” Quazi noted. “That fit my philosophy of teaching, which is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I want to stretch students within the context of literature.”

Of particular interest for his dissertation studies was the work of Salman Rushdie, a controversial author with whom Quazi felt a kinship.  While Rushdie was shunned by conservative Muslims, culminating in the fatwa pronouncing a bounty on Rushdie’s head, Quazi was disowned by his father for choosing Christianity over Islam. Quazi said his father won’t pursue a relationship with him unless he embraces Islam.

On Sept. 10, 2001, Quazi was able to meet his literary hero at a Houston event. Looking back now, he said the event seems surreal, especially in light of the terrorist attacks that occurred the very next morning.

But he’s cherished the experience of meeting the famed author, just one of several serendipitous events in his life. Some of these events include meeting author Margaret Atwood; meeting two tremendous musical influences on his life: Pat Metheny and Ravi Shankar, an artist for whom he and his father share an affinity; and having a poem published in a book by author Naomi Shihab Nye. He also writes book reviews for the San Antonio Express-News, and was recently named editor of the South Asian Literary Association’s newsletter.

Aside from his teaching duties at Wayland, Quazi keeps in touch with his other interests. He edits the journal of the Conference of College Teachers of English (called CCTE Studies), and he recently substituted for Dr. Sandra Mosteller as director of Wayland’s jazz band this spring. He also spent eight weeks in the pulpit at First Baptist Church in Edmonson, preaching a series about grace, during the sabbatical absence of pastor Jimmy Neff and drawing on his theological education.

“People sometimes ask me, ‘Why didn’t you stay in the ministry?’ but I did,” he said. “I’m teaching and that’s my ministry. I’m very passionate about this profession as my calling.”

He’s also passionate about remaining true to the gospel message of grace and living that out in his daily walk.  “I live a life of gratitude,” Quazi said. “When I feel the focus for my acceptance with God is on my works, I try to refocus the attention on Jesus and what He’s done.  That’s my motivation for loving living—in both senses of the phrase.”