Richard T. Antoun

Richard T. Antoun
Richard "Dick" T. Antoun
Born March 31, 1932
Worcester, Massachusetts
Died December 4, 2009
(77 years old)
Vestal, New York
Cause of death Stabbing
Education Williams College (BA; 1953); Johns Hopkins University (MA; 1955); Harvard University (Ph.D.; 1963)
Occupation Professor Emeritus
of Anthropology
Employer Binghamton University
Home town Vestal, New York
Spouse Rosalyn "Roz" Antoun; employee of the
Jewish Federation[1]
Children Nicholas Antoun

Professor Richard "Dick" T. Antoun (March 31, 1932, in Worcester, Massachusetts–December 4, 2009, in Vestal, New York) was an American anthropologist who specialized in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies. He was a Professor Emeritus at Binghamton University.

His work centered on religion and the social organization of tradition in Islamic law and ethics, among other things. He was stabbed to death in his office at Binghamton University in December 2009; a Saudi graduate student pleaded guilty to killing him, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.


Education and academic work

Antoun grew up in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, graduating from Shrewsbury High School in 1949.[2] He received his BA from Williams College (1953; History), his MA from Johns Hopkins University (1955; International Relations), and his Ph.D. from Harvard University (1963; Anthropology and Middle Eastern studies; thesis on "Kufr al-Ma: A Village in Jordan, A Study of Social Structure and Social Control"). Antoun was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and a Fulbright Scholar.

In October 1959 Antoun began his career with ethnographic field work in Jordan. Over the next four decades, he lived intermittently in Kufr al-Ma—a small Sunni Muslim village—studying the Qur'an with the local self-educated preacher.[3] He also did field work in Beirut, Lebanon (1965 and 1966), Gorgan, Iran (1971 and 1972), and Katerini, Greece (1993).

During his career he taught at the Manchester University in England (1960–62), Harvard University (1963), Indiana University (1963–70), American University of Beirut (1965–67), Binghamton University (1970–2009), University of Chicago (1977), and Cairo University (1989).[4]

At Binghamton he became the Bartle Professor of Anthropology. He was “a sociocultural anthropologist who conducted research among peasants in Jordan, urbanites in Lebanon, peasant farmers in Iran, and migrants in Texas and Greece”. In 1981 he was elected President of the Middle East Studies Association of North America. In 1999 he became a Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Binghamton, and continued to conduct research and hold an office on campus. He did not teach many classes, nor could he chair any dissertation committees, because of his emeritus status.


Binghamton University campus police were called to Antoun’s office at 1:41 p.m. on December 4, 2009. Antoun, 77 years old at the time, had been stabbed four times in the chest with a 6-inch kitchen blade while in his office, suffered a punctured lung, and died.[5]

The suspect was still in the university's Science 1 building when police arrived; they tackled the suspect, and frisked him. When they inquired about Antoun, witnesses said he replied, "Yeah, I just stabbed him."[5] The knife used in the stabbing was later recovered.[6]

The suspect is Abdulsalam S. al-Zahrani, a 46-year-old Binghamton University cultural anthropology graduate student from Saudi Arabia. Antoun had worked with al-Zahrani, and had known him for quite some time. Antoun served on the three-person doctoral dissertation committee that was to judge al-Zahrani's dissertation on "Sacred Voice, Profane Sight: The Senses, Cosmology, and Epistemology in Early Arabic Culture", (see external link below for related article).[7][8]

One of al-Zahrani’s roommates, who lived with him for three weeks, said the suspect spoke of financial problems, often mentioned death, and said he was being persecuted because he was Muslim. “I said he was acting oddly, like a terrorist,” said Souleymane Sakho, a graduate student from Senegal. "He was all the time shouting in Arabic, shouting threats, insulting this country for no reason".[9]

Sakho said that he told his academic adviser about al-Zahrani, and the adviser referred him to the school’s counseling center. Sakho said that the head of the counseling center suggested he avoid interaction with al-Zahrani, and move out of the apartment.[10]

Al-Zahrani legal proceedings and guilty plea

After his arraignment in Town Court in Vestal, New York, al-Zahrani was charged with second-degree murder, and held without bail at the Broome County Sheriff’s Correctional Facility.[11]

The Saudi Gazette reported that the Saudi Consulate in New York retained a lawyer to represent al-Zahrani.[12][13] New York City lawyer Frederica L. Miller represented him. Members of the consulate met with Al-Zahrani, and the consulate was in touch with his family, including one relative who lived in the US.[14]

Senator Charles Schumer followed the case, and was in touch with the District Attorney's office. This was Broome County's second case involving the prosecution of a foreign suspect in two years; in 2008, Miladin Kovacevic was charged with beating a Binghamton student, and a Serb consulate worker helped Kovacevic leave the US after posting bail. Schumer said: "We have to make sure it's not like the situation ... where this person flees the county. The law enforcement authority says they're keeping a careful eye there."[15]

On January 22, 2010, al-Zahrani was indicted by a grand jury in Broome County Court for intentionally stabbing and killing Antoun, and charged with second degree murder.[16][17] A conviction of second-degree murder would carry a minimum sentence of 15 years to life, and a maximum of 25 years to life, under New York statutes. Al-Zahrani remained in Broome County jail without bail. His legal expenses were paid by the Saudi Consulate.[18]

On February 4, 2010, al-Zahrani pleaded not guilty to one felony count of second-degree murder, and declined a bail hearing before Broome County Judge Martin E. Smith.[19]

Al-Zahrani's attorney wrote in a notice of intent to use psychiatric evidence that she filed in Broome County Court on July 21, 2010, that psychiatric evidence would show he lacked substantial capacity to know or appreciate the nature and consequences of his conduct, and was "psychotic and suffering from a longstanding major mental illness, schizoaffective disorder."[20] Evidence was to include testimony from the defense's medical experts, Steven Simring and Charles Patrick Ewing.[20]

A competency hearing was held after mental health professionals concluded that al-Zahrani was mentally incompetent to understand his charge or be tried. On February 22, 2011, Broome County Judge Joseph F. Cawley Jr. ordered Al-Zahrani be placed in the custody of a state psychiatric facility for treatment, until he was deemed mentally competent to be tried. No new trial date was set, and the order was good for up to year. Al-Zahrani was to go on trial when deemed mentally competent.[21]

Al-Zahrani pleaded guilty on May 20, 2011, to one felony count of first-degree manslaughter, and agreed not to appeal his sentence.[22] In September 2011 he was sentenced in Broome County Court to 15 years in prison.[23] He is to be deported to Saudi Arabia after he serves his prison sentence.[24]


Major works

Antoun left behind a legacy in his writings. He wrote Understanding Fundamentalism: Christian, Islamic and Jewish Movements in 2001; the book came out just before the September 11 attacks. Sally K. Gallagher reviewed it for Sociology of Religion, writing that the book: "is a readable overview and introduction to how conservative elites and communities in three monotheistic religious traditions orient themselves to modernity."[25] Peter A. Huff, reviewing it, said that Antoun wrote about how:

his presence [in the village] became increasingly problematic as the climate of the cultural environment dramatically changed. Dialogue turned argumentative, and outspoken villagers, especially young men, attempted to convert him to Islam. From Antoun's perspective, he was witnessing the birth of a local strain of fundamentalism.[26]

Scott R. Appleby, reviewing it for the Middle East Quarterly, wrote: "There is much to commend in this general and accessible overview".[27]

Antoun later wrote Documenting Transnational Migration: Jordanian Men Working and Studying in Europe, Asia and North America, published in 2005. Ronald R. Stockton, writing in The Middle East Journal, described Antoun's examination of the sons of a Jordanian village who had been sent abroad and returned:

He found a range of experiences, many different from what one might expect... Some findings are surprising, for example, comparing Jordanians in the Gulf with those in Pakistan or the West. Jordanians share language and culture with the Gulf but were "encapsulated in residence, work, and leisure activities" and saw "surprisingly little of the indigenous inhabitants" ... In Pakistan, because they did not speak Urdu, they were isolated and restricted to campus life. The Pakistani family structure also made it difficult to meet local women.... In the West, in spite of religious and cultural differences, they found it easier to meet local people. Greece was the most open society they encountered.... The students "acculturated rapidly, and assimilated to Greek society and culture".... Six of the nine married Greek women, four settling permanently in Greece. In Pakistan only one of 27 married a Pakistani. In Saudi Arabia the number was zero.[28]

Select other publications[29]


  1. ^ Drellich, Evan, "Richard Antoun's widow: Society has lost a wonderful peacemaker", Ithaca Journal, December 5, 2009, accessed December 10, 2009
  2. ^ Nicodemus, Aaron, "Professor spent career seeking peace; Grad student charged in fatal stabbing", Worcester Telegram & Gazette, December 7, 2009, accessed December 8, 2009
  3. ^ "Huff, Peter A., "Understanding Fundamentalism: Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Movements (book review)," ''International Journal on World Peace'', March 1, 2003, accessed December 6, 2009". Retrieved March 2, 2011. [dead link]
  4. ^ "Curriculum Vitae; June 14, 2005, accessed December 9, 2009". Retrieved March 2, 2011. 
  5. ^ a b Standora, Leo, "Prof. Emeritus Richard T. Antoun stabbed, killed at Binghamton University by grad student: cops," New York Daily News, December 5, 2009, accessed December 7, 2009
  6. ^ "Saudi graduate student charged with murder of New York professor; The professor was stabbed in his campus office on Friday, and the weapon was later recovered, authorities said," Gulf News, December 7, 2009, accessed December 7, 2009
  7. ^ Schmidt, Michael S., "Binghamton Campus Grieves for Slain Professor", The New York Times, December 7, 2009, accessed December 29, 2009
  8. ^ Sacred Voice, Profane Sight: The Senses, Cosmology, and Epistemology in Early Islamic History. June 16, 2006. doi:10.1163/156852709X439641. 
  9. ^ ""Roommates and Neighbors Speak about Al-Zahrani", ''Fox 40'', December 7, 2009, accessed December 7, 2009". Retrieved March 2, 2011. 
  10. ^ Schmidt, Michael, "Binghamton Student Says He Warned Officials," The New York Times, December 6, 2009, accessed December 7, 2009
  11. ^ Baker, Al, "Student Held in Killing of Binghamton Professor", The New York Times, December 5, 2009, accessed December 6, 2009
  12. ^ "Saudi Embassy Reportedly Secures Lawyer For Al-Zahrani," WBNG News, December 10, 2009, accessed December 10, 2009[dead link]
  13. ^ "Embassy in US assigns lawyer to Saudi accused," Saudi Gazette, December 10, 2009, accessed December 10, 2009
  14. ^ Swartz, Debbie, "Saudi consulate will pay legal fees of man accused of killing Binghamton University professor", December 10, 2009, accessed December 10, 2009[dead link]
  15. ^ "Schumer Watching Al-Zahrani Case", WBNG News, December 10, 2009, accessed December 10, 2009[dead link]
  16. ^ ["Al-Zahrani Indicted for Death of Richard Antoun," WBNG News, January 22, 2010, accessed January 27, 2010]
  17. ^ ""Al-Zahrani Charged With Second Degree Murder," ''Fox 40 WICZ TV'', January 22, 2010, accessed January 27, 2010". Retrieved March 2, 2011. 
  18. ^ "Al-Zahrani indicted in killing of BU prof", Press & Sun-Bulletin, January 22, 2010, accessed January 27, 2010[dead link]
  19. ^ "Al-Zahrani pleads not guilty to murder", Press & Sun-Bulletin, February 4, 2010, accessed February 17, 2010[dead link]
  20. ^ a b "Lawyer claims student accused of killing BU professor suffers from mental illness". Press & Sun-Bulletin. Retrieved October 20, 2010. 
  21. ^ "Court: Al-Zahrani not competent to stand trial", Press & Sun-Bulletin, February 22, 2011, accessed March 2, 2011
  22. ^ [1]
  23. ^ [2]
  24. ^ [3]
  25. ^ Gallagher, Sally K., Understanding Fundamentalism: Christian, Islamic and Jewish Movements (book review), Sociology of Religion September 22, 2003, accessed December 6, 2009
  26. ^ "''Parallels in Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Fundamentalism.(Understanding Fundamentalism: Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Movements)'' (book review), ''The World and I'', December 1, 2004, accessed December 6, 2009". December 1, 2004. Retrieved March 2, 2011. 
  27. ^ Appleby, R. Scott, Understanding Fundamentalism: Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Movements (book review), Middle East Quarterly, January 1, 2003, accessed December 6, 2009
  28. ^ Stockton, Ronald R., Documenting Transnational Migration: Jordanian Men Working and Studying in Europe, Asia and North America (book review), The Middle East Journal, January 1, 2006, accessed December 9, 2009
  29. ^ Binghamton University bio, accessed December 7, 2009[dead link]

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