Sahar Ullah

Apr 2021

Amazing amazing prof. Made Lit Hum one of my favorite classes EVER. Such a great conversation starter and made these old books feel relevant (and interesting!) to modern day. If you can get Dr Ullah for Lit Hum DO IT. Seriously love her!!!

Nov 2020

This review is a little late but I suppose that isn’t a bad thing. Sahar is a sweet if disinterested instructor. The course under her charge was essentially a book club. She was our babysitter. I dropped a previous lit hum course after one day with a long time tenured professor yet remember that one day far more fondly than an entire semester with Sahar. Everyone in the class interpreted the readings from their own life experiences. So GS had terrific interpretations while CC, through no fault of their own, had little to offer as they haven’t lived yet. Particularly loved the combat veterans who brought some very insightful arguments to bear (especially when talking about anything war related aka most classics). This is something I applaud Sahar for doing. I feel as if I knew Sahar all too well as she was essentially a mirror image of my sister who is also a hijab wearing PhD (although a biochemist) with literally the exact same opinions, interests, and demeanor. It’s creepy, they’re mirror images. I have a terrific relationship with this sister... but she isn’t the first person I’d choose to learn biochemistry or literature. Why? Because she, as I imagine Sahar did as well, developed a strong personality to combat the inevitable stigma of being a hijab-wearing woman in America. This is not a personality conducive to teaching. A professor should remain objective. I know the crazy concept in today’s world of academic ideological conformity. (You are not allowed to have certain opinions) What does it matter? This is core. Sahar is not a tough grader. I’d seek someone else if you actually cared to enjoy the course. Sahar is at the end of the day a fine person, with strong opinions, that I would absolutely not take another course with until she got over herself.

May 2020

Professor Ullah is a kind, creative, and interesting individual. That being said, she often seemed unprepared for our class sessions and grading took forever. This was quite frustrating. We spent a lot of time reading out loud in class what we were supposed to have already read to prepare. This felt like a time-filler.

Apr 2020

Professor Ullah is an absolute sweetheart. (Watch her Ted Talk for a sense of her disposition.) She structures lithum such that it is always pleasant and easy. If you're looking to be challenged and improve your understanding of these texts/writing, perhaps consider another professor. If you prefer to glide through this course happily and without stress, though, her section is for you. Her readings are standard except that she often adds great texts absent from the Core (think: The Autobiography of Malcolm X). Besides readings, she assigns two-three short essays, which are graded generously; a simple midterm; an exam; and a few for-completion study guides, quizzes, and contributions to our class playlist. You can get extra credit by, for example, helping her with her plays (yes, she's a playwrite)! Attendance and participation in trips like museum visits, lunches at her favorite restaurants, office hours, city tours, and plays can also factor into your grade. She is super-accessible and understanding. If you need an extension, you'll get it. If you skip a few readings, you'll be okay. If you just put in decent effort, you'll still get an A.

Apr 2019

Wow. Dr. Ullah is a superhero. I’ve never had a more engaged and excited teacher, I love her so so so much. She really truly does a fantastic job teaching the texts, but she’s also young and cool and hip and updated with current events. She keeps it super real and relevant, and allows the class to take the lead in discussions but also joins the discussions. I write down literally every word she says because it’s all gold and insightful and amazing, wow. Plus she takes you on free (or nearly free) plays and Broadway shows, and treats you to really good free dinners, and passes snacks around class pretty often. She’s encouraging and open minded when it comes to essay ideas, and just a dope person. I’m literally a CS major who HATED reading, but her class was by far my favorite this year and it made me seriously consider switching to Literature. TAKE THIS CLASS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dec 2018

Professor Ullah is great and so well-informed and so prepared for every class. She is able to facilitate discussions extremely well. She is always so enthusiastic and happy, such a great presence to have in class. Essays take a long time to be graded, and she is not too available to meet for office hours, although that is understandable as she lives far from campus. Sometimes classes are boring, as all classes may be. She never points out that anyone's contribution is wrong, even though some clearly are. This makes me confused as to who is saying incorrect things. The content of midterms comes from passages in class we have talked a lot about, so that made it easier. She sticks extremely closely to the Columbia syllabus, unlike other professors who move books and deadlines around.

Jun 2015

Sahar has by far been one of the best teachers not only in my Columbia experience but in my entire life. Hyper-intelligent, always well-prepared, Sahar always awes me with the depth of her preparation for each class as well as her ability to adapt to the natural and spontaneous changes in the course of student-led conversations. I was impressed by her ability to (seemingly intuitively) balance the principles of seminar, allowing students to engage in a conversation together, with the goals of good teaching, also stepping in and providing guidance and instruction at the appropriate moments with thoughtful opinions and questions. She also asks really thought-provoking questions that helped me think about the texts we read in a new way! In seminars, group dynamic is so important. I don’t think I was just randomly blessed to have a great seminar group: I think that Sahar’s teaching techniques contributed to the supportive, interesting conversations that we had. She really obviously cares about each and every one of her students. She is supportive in class and her comments on our papers were usually thorough (sometimes she acknowledged that they weren't and invited us to office hours, in which she is also very helpful). She is a tough grader but her high standards made me a better writer and encouraged me to work harder. I think by the same rule, her class expectations were really high—we only cut one text (Faust), which we replaced with 2 others (Excerpts from Ibn Hazm's "the Ring of the Dove" which is very short and Tony Morrison's "Beloved") whereas I know other teachers cut many, and we definitely never had like "movie day" or anything; but her high expectations pushed me to actually read, learn, and ultimately feel incredibly accomplished at the close of the course. I really tried to get the readings done most nights but I think Sahar also makes it pretty accessible even when you haven't read. She is great with asking guided questions about specific passages and referencing (with page numbers) specific parts of the book, so you can still participate and respond in class. Sometimes we split up into small groups in class and looked for information/themes in the books, which was tedious, but at the end of the day it was great when you hadn't done the readings :) While I don’t think that anyone in our seminar completed all the readings on time, Sahar was ALWAYS prepared and engaged for every text we were expected to read. She is SO thoughtful and thorough, I am impressed by her ability to prepare so well for each and every class. Overall one of the best!!!!

Dec 2014

Sahar is FANTASTIC. She consistently explores each and every dimension of the text while covering the important bases. She never controlled the discussion completely, making sure the class organically came to its conclusions, but made sure those conclusions were important. Every class essentially started with some kernal, a quote, an adjective, some detail that would blow up into a larger theme that seamlessly connected to another. And Sahar would always be sure to organize information, list important themes and characters, and would encourage us to actually visualize the text. Some instructors focus on one theme (e.g. feminism) and spend a lot of time trying to uncover something unexpected, and some just focus on the usual, important topics. Sahar does both. But possibly the best part about her was that she was kickass person. She would always crack jokes and generally had a very kind presence in the classroom. Super approachable, super friendly, and super super office hours. Workload-wise, she was wise with workload. The papers were manageable and she graded them a little harshly, but for the most part she was fair grader. And she is more than willing to discuss how to do better, although some people found that no matter what, they always received the same grade. But what did suck was that she occasionally gave out pop-quizzes which were the worst even though they're supposed to be icky (but if you do the reading then it's manageable). The midterm was tough, but fair as well. All-in-all challenging, but definitely not impossible. All-in-all a chill, kickass teacher

May 2014

Dabashi is arguably brilliant, as he seems to know everything about anything within his field and beyond it. The drawback, though, is that sometimes you’re not sure if he might be BSing a little bit of it and being overblown in his own self-importance. Because Dabashi is fairly full of himself—at least half of the assigned works on the syllabus were prefaced in class with “I wrote this” or “I inspired the filmmaker to make this,” etc. Dabashi told us at the beginning of the semester that no question was a stupid question, but he then proceeded to make people terrified to speak by summarily shooting down some people’s ideas that didn’t agree with his own or that he thought were not terribly intelligent. Most of the class is based solely on his own ideas and opinions, no matter how much he claims to be adding in a lot of different perspectives. Half the time, when Dabashi was lecturing, I couldn’t even tell that this was a class on Islamic civilization. We talked about Kant and Habermas and other Western philosophy and political theory, and there was no real indication as to how we were supposed to connect it to the theme of Islamic civilization. Because Dabashi enjoyed talking about all of the off-topic topics so much, we got incredibly behind on the syllabus very quickly and never really discussed the last five or six items on the syllabus. The workload for this class was completely unrealistic and absolutely murderous if you attempted to do every reading assigned. We generally had an entire book or movie (or “selections” of one, which generally meant about ¾ of it) assigned for each class, but soon enough, I realized that it wasn’t completely necessary to read all of it. As the two big assignments of the class were papers that you could pick and choose among the assigned texts for, you could choose the texts that interested you and focus on getting a good handle on those (the only drawback to this approach was that if Dabashi randomly called on you to give a summary of the reading for that class—which he did frequently—and you hadn’t read it, you were in the hot seat and subject to his public censure). On one day (two weeks before finals), when it became apparent that literally no one had watched the assigned movie for that class, he asked, “If you weren’t watching this movie over the last two days, what could you have possibly been doing?”—the classic move of a professor who doesn’t realize that we have classes other than his to worry about or might possibly need to have lives that are not 24/7 studying. By the end of the semester, though, Dabashi lightened up a bit, because the only people left who still came to lecture were the ones who could deal with him. He even started joking a little bit with the ones of us he had come to know. But on the whole, the only thing to redeem Dabashi’s shortcomings in this class was the fact that he clearly has a passion for the Middle East. My TA, Sahar, however, was AMAZING. She was the shining light in the darkness that this class sometimes was. She knew so much about all of the topics the class covered (from what I saw, it seemed like she knew almost as much as Dabashi himself), and she, at least, made sure that we got through everything on the syllabus in our discussion section. She had a way of explaining things that made it all clear, and she always had suggestions for further reading or research—titles of countless relevant books and movies that she could just pull straight out of her head—if a certain topic interested us. She was also extremely helpful in her office hours, and helped me work through all of my ideas for the final paper and gave me some tips as to what I could do better. She was always sunny and excited to teach, and got almost all of us in the section involved in and excited about the discussion by making us realize that the class material was actually really interesting and full of depth. Sahar was legitimately the one reason I was able to make it through this class with my sanity. If you’re looking just to fulfill your global core requirement, I would recommend that you take this class (at least if Dabashi’s teaching it; I get the sense that this class is much different when Saliba teaches it)—there are infinitely easier ways of getting that requirement.

Mar 2014

I came into this class really looking forward to it. There were mixed reviews on CULPA, but I thought I was blown away during the first lecture. Dabahi walked around the room, talking about all of these super intellectual things. He went through the syllabus, explained the different books, and I was so intrigued. I was genuinely excited for the class. I was so, so wrong. Dabash doesn't teach -- he let's the TAs present on the books, and then scribbles down loose notes on whatever he thinks up and then walks around the room, pontificating and making jokes. The TAs do all of the heavy lifting here, and he doesn't really explain what's going on. He just pontificates about Kant and tries to amaze the class with catchy phrases like "We have to make the unfamiliar familiar by making the familiar unfamiliar." He gave us supposedly a book a lecture, but was so entrenched in his desire to pontificate that we quickly fell behind, and the TAs, who were responsible for telling us which parts of the books we were assigned, seemed to have given up around spring break, possibly because no one bothered to do the readings because *they didn't matter to the class.* My TA, Sahar, was the only redeeming merit. She was clear, well-spoken, and actually made an effort to make the texts understandable, and she, at least, seemed to care more than Dabashi did. Don't do what I did, and fall for his theatrics and his talking points. The man is too busy thinking about how amazing he is, and doesn't really care about the class. If you're interested in this, wait until Saliba or someone else teaches the course in the future, or find a copy of the reading list and read the books yourself. They were the only redeeming merit of this course.