BA (Pb), MA (Dhaka), PhD (Ohio State)

(Deceased), 2022-06-07

Obituary - Riaz Hassan AM FASSA

14 August 1937 – 8 June 2022

Riaz Hassan’s monumental achievements were hidden behind his modesty. He was a giant in Australian sociology, and for more than 40 years worked from Flinders University where he was Professor of Sociology.

With his family, wife Selva and two very young children, they came to Adelaide in 1977. He had left Singapore in unhappy circumstances, having published research on housing policy that contradicted the government’s narrative. He published the research because that is what the data told him, and he interpreted it as would a good social scientist. Singapore’s loss was Australia’s gain.

This was not the first time he had been displaced. Riaz was born into a Muslim family in in Gurdaspur in India in 1937. He was the third of nine siblings. These were turbulent times and the country was partitioned in 1947. As a Muslims family in non-Islamic India the family fled to what is now Pakistan. The partition and the human tragedy that affected many tens of millions of people had a profound effect on Riaz’s family. In India the family was comfortable, but considerably less so when they eventually settled, after a difficult journey, in Faisalabad Pakistan. He was then nine years old, and the traumatic memories of the disruption stayed with him for life, as did the deep attachment to his family.

He studied social science and social work, and as a bright student he won a Fulbright scholarship to the United States, where he received his PhD from Ohio State University in 1968. As an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Wright State University in the US he was confronted with a moral dilemma. The Vietnam war was raging and young men were being drafted to go fight. Students who failed their exams had their draft deferment cancelled. Committed as he was to academic standards and academic integrity, he knew that failing a student would mean that that student could end up on the front line.

He left the US and was successful in obtaining a position at the National University of Singapore. Apart from studying urban form and housing he was also interested, as a sociologist in studying mixed marriages. It wasn’t long before he put his research into practice. In Singapore he met Selva, the love of his life. Selva’s mother was Christian, Hokkien Chinese nurse and her father was a successful Sri Lankan Tamil Hindu doctor in Kota Bharu in Malaysia. This successful mixed marriage produced two very Australian children, one of whom now lives in New York.

His book on families in public housing in Singapore became controversial, and the family moved to Adelaide where Riaz joined the Sociology department at Flinders University and Selva practiced as a dentist.

Riaz brought a rigour to the discipline at Flinders and he taught research methods, and illustrated them with his vast sociological knowledge and showed students how to use data to understand aspects of everyday life. He was also a leading researcher winning numerous Australian Research Council grants.  

These grants produced major books which had significant influence. His book Faithlines: Muslim conceptions of Islam and society established him as a global analyst and thinker on Islamic societies, while his books on suicide, both in Singapore and Australia explored the depths of life in affluent societies. Combining his interests in suicide and in Islam he wrote a controversial book entitled Life as a weapon: The global rise of suicide bombings. To get the data for this book he had to meet with many people that were not viewed favourably by the Australian government and while he did so with integrity, he felt uneasy at the level of government scrutiny he was receiving.

He was in demand globally and spent time teaching and researching at major universities such as Yale, Oxford, University of California, Los Angeles, Gadjah Madah University in Yogyakarta, New York University (Abu Dhabi) University of South Australia, and also at National University of Singapore where he was welcomed back with open arms.  

In 1996 he was elected a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, and in 2006 was made a Member of the Order of Australia for ‘service to sociology, particularly as an educator, author and researcher, and as a contributor to the understanding of housing needs of disadvantaged individuals and communities.’ 

For the whole of this journey he was lovingly supported by Selva, his wife of 52 years and their two children (Haroon and Tirana) who have both forged their own successful careers in the law and human rights advocacy, respectively. Selva and Riaz moved to Melbourne in 2019 to be closer their beloved grandson Rehan. 

Riaz leaves behind a rich legacy of scholarship which will inform scholarly work in the social sciences for generations to come. More importantly, he touched the lives of countless students, friends, and scholars around the globe. All our lives were enriched, not only by his great knowledge, but also the warmth of his gentle spirit and the depth of his commitment to the pursuit of knowledge. His loss will be keenly felt by all that were fortunate enough to know him.

Written by Adam Graycar AM PhD, D.Litt, FASSA

  • Member of the working party on suicide prevention National Health and Medical Research Council;
  • Consultant, National Housing Strategy and South Australian Planning Review on housing and location choice surveys, consultant, International Survey Research Corporation.
  • He has acted as a consultant to the Boeing Corporation on human factors in airline crashes.

Order of Australia (AM)

  • I. Szelenyi, Riaz Hassan
  • and V Maksimov, 2018. Building Nations With Non Nationals: The Exclusionary migration regimes of Gulf Monarchies . London: Covina
  • Riaz Hassan Ed. Indian Muslims: Struggling for Equality of Citizenship Melbourne University Press 2106
  • Riaz Hassan (2014) Afghanistan: The Next Phase (Coathor with Shahid Javed Burki and Iftihkar Ahmed Chowdhury,: Melbourne: Melbourne University Press
  • Riaz Hassan (2103) Islam and Society: Sociological Explorations. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press
  • Riaz Hassan (2011) Suicide Bombings, London and New York: Routledge
  • Riaz Hassan (2010 and 2014) Life as a Weapon: The Global Rise of Sucide Bombings, London: Routledge
  • Riaz Hassan (2008) Inside Muslim Minds. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press
  • Riaz Hassan (ed).(2005) Local and Global: Social Transformation in Southeast Asia. Leiden: Brill Academic Publisher.
  • Ian McAllister, Steve Dowrick, Riaz Hassan (eds) (2003) The Cambridge Handbook of Social Sciences in Australia. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.
  • Riaz Hassan (2002) Faithlines: Muslim Conceptions of Islam and Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Kosky, R.; Eshkevari, H.; Goldney, R.; Hassan, R. (eds) (1998) Suicide Prevention: The Global Context. London: Plenum Press.
  • Riaz Hassan (1995) Suicide Explained: The Australian Experience. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.
  • Riaz Hassan (1983) A Way of Dying;Suicide in Singapore. Oxford University Press
  • Riaz Hassan (1977) Families in Flats: A Sociological Study of Low Income Families in Public Housing. Singapore University Press
  • Riaz Hassan (1976) ed. Singapore: Society in Transition. Oxford University Press