To say Umberto Cicchetti has a knack for learning languages is an understatement.
The undergraduate from the Department of Religious Studies became fluent
in Persian while spending a year in Iran; for the last six months, he
has been brushing up his classical Arabic at the University of Damascus,
For Cicchetti, these language skills are part of an effort to study Islam
with an Arabic perspective. Thus, he studied theology at the University
of Tehran, taking classes in Persian, taping lectures and then replaying
them afterwards. He even received a bursary from the Iranian government.
There are lots of people doing Islamic studies who dont know
Arabic, so they have to read translations, Cicchetti said. When
you know Arabic, youre going to have access to the primary sources
and you have the original text. I think you can do much better work that
Cicchetti, who will graduate this fall, became interested in Islam when
he travelled to Pakistan and several countries in the Middle East. He
is particularly attracted by the mystical and philosophical aspects of
the religion. It was something very different, he said.
He abandoned his studies in nutrition at the Université de Montréal
to join Religious Studies at Concordia. According to Professor Lynda Clarke,
his willingness to travel to Tehran and Damascus for part of his studies
has set him apart. In Damascus, Cicchetti has been living in a former
refugee camp on the outskirts of town, a Palestinian area which has turned
into a rickety suburb.
He wants to specialize in Shiism, the sect of Islam that is mostly
practiced in Iran and Iraq. He feels that the people of those countries
are often misunderstood and misrepresented in Western nations, particularly
in the wake of Sept. 11. Its sad that Islam has to suffer
because of this, he said. Right now the dialogue between Islam
and the West, between Islam and Christianity, is very important. I definitely
want to help Islam.
After his return from Syria and his graduation from Concordia, he hopes
to pursue a masters degree in Paris at the Sorbonne.