Remembering Dr. Iyad Ajwa

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Remembering Dr. Iyad Ajwa

EagleEye Photography/Allison Waltz-Boebel

EagleEye Photography/Allison Waltz-Boebel

EagleEye Photography/Allison Waltz-Boebel

Zach Read, MANAGING EDITOR OF THE COLLEGIAN

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His knees hit the ground as he bowed his head and placed it on the dirty carpet of the classroom floor. A practice he had done day-after-day was coming to life in front of the young faces.

He holds that position for a minute or two, and stands up with an indentation on his forehead visible to the students, a mark of “a lifetime of faithful practice.”

Dr. Iyad Ajwa, professor of mathematics and computer science at Ashland University, lost his life on the morning of Aug. 30 after losing a battle with cancer. Memorial services were held that day at the Al Noor Mosque in Columbus.

“Dr. Ajwa repeatedly demonstrated the practice of prostration in prayer as part of his class presentation on the Five Pillars in Islam,” Dr. David Aune, associate professor of religion at Ashland University said. “Rather than simply explaining how Muslims bow down during their prayer time, Dr. Ajwa would turn in the direction of Mecca (always known to him wherever he was) and, in front of the entire class, reverently get down on his knees with his forehead on the floor. Here was this dignified, highly accomplished university professor displaying his submission to God without a hint of embarrassment or self-consciousness.”

Those who knew Ajwa recognized his sincere devotion to the Muslim faith. Always willing to explain his religious beliefs and views, Ajwa has been a figure that has impacted this campus since 1997.

The news of the passing of the longtime professor was sudden and it shocked the entire campus. As another school year was approaching, no one had expected that Ajwa would not be present by the time classes would start.

“It caught me completely off guard, he was still coming into our orientation days to meet the new computer science majors,” Dr. Christopher Swanson, chair of the department of mathematics and computer science, said. “A week before classes start, we’re still optimistic that we’re going to see him around the halls here in Patterson later on in the semester, but we didn’t realize how serious it was at that point.”

Not only was Ajwa a man of faith, but he was also an extremely hard-working man that always put forth the effort to provide what was best for his students, Dr. Dawn Weber, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences said.

For years now, Ajwa was the only professor in the computer science department to take on course overloads, while maintaining 41 advisees. Ajwa had also been the chair of the department of mathematics and computer science from Aug. 2014-July 2019.

“To be honest I have no clue how he was able to be chair of the department and be our only full-time computer science faculty member,” Swanson said.

Weber said that Ajwa always had the students best interest in mind, always thinking ahead to the future and the different professions that were growing.

This was seen through Ajwa recently developing the curricula of two new majors: Cyber Security and Software Design and Development, two growing industries in today’s society.

“It’s a testament that Iyad was always looking forward, and looking at the marketplace,” Weber said.

While Ajwa was a beloved and integral part of the AU community, Weber said, he had also made long-lasting relationships with many other faculty members at AU; the closest being Aune and Weber.

In 2005, Aune and Ajwa began co-teaching a course called “Understanding Islam in Today’s World.” Since that time, the two professors had enjoyed teaching this course every other year and have received extraordinary feedback about the class, calling it “one of the most interesting and helpful courses in the AU curriculum.”

“After the tragedy of Sept, 11, 2001, we saw the need to develop a course that would provide accurate information about the religion of Islam at a time when misinformation was the order of the day,” Aune said.

Although Ajwa and the other mathematics professors at AU did not have a close personal relationship, their professional relationship was unmatched by any other such relationship at AU, Swanson said.

The group of four had been working together since 2000 after the addition of Dr. Darren Wick who joined the team of Dr. Gordon Swain (1994), Ajwa (1997) and Swanson (1999).

“The four of us have been through a lot together, the ups and downs of the department, we’ve made it through,” Swain said. “We have kind of all worked together to grow the department to make sure we take care of the students…Dr. Ajwa was definitely at the center of that.”

Relationships with his God, family, colleagues and students is what made Iyad Ajwa such a beloved, caring, gentle, faithful and compassionate man that meant so much to so many people.

Ajwa is survived by his wife, Nadia, and his two sons, Ismaeil and Omar, both current students at Ashland University.

“As I now realize what he must have been dealing with for the last several years, I am in awe,” Daniel McDonald, chair of the department of art and associate professor of art said in a written statement. “We sometimes meet people that inspire us to live fuller, more positive lives. Dr. Iyad Ajwa was one of those people.”

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