UW guest scholar reportedly killed in Gaza bombing
Posted Dec 8, 2023 05:48:02 PM.
Last Updated Dec 9, 2023 04:55:22 PM.
A family with a connection to the Waterloo Region community has reportedly died in the bombardment of the Gaza Strip.
Dr. Sofyan Taya was a guest scholar at the University of Waterloo (UW). Taya, along with his wife and children, were reportedly killed by an airstrike on a neighbourhood near Gaza on Dec. 2.
“Sofyan was a very gentle person, my goodness,” said Omar Ramahi, Professor at the University of Waterloo. “He was so shy, gentle and polite. I know why many people liked him.”
Ramahi grew close with Taya while he was visiting Waterloo Region between Feb. 2022 and Feb. 2023.
Ramahi shared the last message he ever received from his friend with CityNews 570.
“He said things are really bad. Things are as bad as you see on the news. We hope for the best, pray for us, and tell the world what is happening to us.”
Taya and Ramahi first interacted when Taya had written to him about the prestigious fellowship he was given, which earned him the invite to UW, and helped pay for his visit. They wrote many research papers together about the biomedical application of electromagnetics and techniques to detect pathogens and cancer.
During that time, Taya became the President of the Islamic University of Gaza. Since then, the university has been reduced to rubble, in a bombing on Oct. 11.
Ramahi told CityNews he was invited to visit the university before the start of the war in the Middle East on Oct. 7 but chose not to.
“I really deeply regret to cancel my plans to visit Gaza,” said Ramahi. “At the same time, I understand those who cautioned me not to go because in July, another university was bombed and many people were killed.”
When the war began, communication became more difficult.
“After the crisis started, I was worried about him,” said Ramahi. “I would send him messages every now and then (…) and I would get a response every four or five days and get a sense of relief. It turns out, they could not get access to a SIM card.”
All communication stopped between Ramahi and Taya after Nov. 27. Ramahi once again grew worried about his friend.
That was until early in the morning on Dec. 2. After Ramahi woke up, the first thing he did was check his phone. When he opened his WhatsApp, his worry for his friend turned into devastation.
“There was a message that [Taya] was killed in an Israeli bombing along with his entire family, and approximately 100 other people in that neighbourhood,” said Ramahi. “It’s extremely shocking when you hear about people dying, but you don’t have connection to them. That’s one level. But [it’s another level] when you hear about someone who’s killed and you have a personal connection.”
Ramahi said that Taya’s sacrifices for his family were incredible and his dedication to science and engineering was inspiring. Taya often spoke about how proud he was of his daughter, a dentist, and his son, a doctor in training.
As for Taya’s work, Ramahi told CityNews that his dedication to science never wavered, despite the bombings. Ramahi heard that Taya asked a colleague at the University of Waterloo to send him journal articles on the day of his death.
“That is amazing (…) His persistence is amazing. One would say ‘bombs are been thrown around me and on top of me, the last thing I care about is papers and research.'”
According to Ramahi, those who knew Taya at UW are working on a scholarship in his honour.
“I love the idea. A scholarship to remember him with. That scholarship will not be only given to Palestinians, but someone who is committed to the truth and justice. That will continue his legacy.”