About the Editor
Tarif Khalidi, professor of Arabic and Islamic
published seven books since 1975. The most recent is The Muslim Jesus: Sayings
and Stories in Islamic Literature (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).
Relatively small in size, but unquestionably unique in concept, the book
consists of the translation and analysis by Khalidi of the sayings and
depictions of Jesus embedded in the Islamic literary tradition.
book aroused wide international interest is not surprising, considering the
prevailing misconceptions held by many people that Islam harbors anti-Christian
sentiments. That it has been showered with praise by many critics for the
excellence of its literary and historical content is also not surprising,
as Khalidi is one of the foremost scholars in the field of
Islamic history. More books, meanwhile, are under way. He is currently
researching a book on Arab social history commissioned by Cambridge University
Press and another, a biography of the Prophet Muhammad, for Random House. He
has also been commissioned by Harvard University Press to prepare a new
Department of History at AUB. He was editor of Land Tenure and
Social Transformation in the Middle East, which was published by AUB Press in
In 1996, he was appointed the Sir Thomas Adams Professor of Arabic at
Cambridge University, which is the oldest chair of Arabic in the
English-speaking world. He is now back home again lured away from
Cambridge last year to occupy the Sheikh Zayed Chair in Islamic and Arabic
Studies at AUB and, as such, is the first person to be appointed to a chair at
the University since prewar days.
When asked what led him to become a
historian, Khalidi says: "I suppose my self-definition would be that I am a
historian of ideas, or a historian of culture. What led me into this are one or
two things: first, an early love of stories. As children, we had living with us
a sort of cook/nanny who would spellbind us with stories of the jinn guarding
hidden treasures, of holy miracles, of charmed princes and princesses. This
carried on into a fascination with ancient history throughout my school years.
Capping it was the years I taught Cultural Studies at AUB, for me a wonderful
education in the complex history of diverse cultures. And now in my declining
years, I am most fascinated by the utter ambiguity of historical records. I
mean, take a word like 'event': what on earth does it mean? Take something like
'historical witness': isnt it amazing how different are the accounts (to
say nothing of the interpretations) of eyewitnesses of the same event? Amazing
how a simple message can be utterly distorted through transmission! What a trap
language lays for history!"
Asked about other academic areas of interest to
him, he replies that historians simply cannot do without a host of other
interests and, on the whole, derive their theories from surrounding fields of
knowledge. "Think of Ibn Khaldun," he says, "of the Enlightenment, of
Romanticism, Marx, Darwin, Foucault, Derrida; of course, a historian has to
keep at least one foot (and a few toes of the other) in disciplines like
literature, anthropology, philosophy and so forth."
intellectual pursuits, Khalidi takes pleasure in watching children and young
people grow up. And, by extension, planting small fruit trees on his balcony.
"I leave all forms of physical exercise to panthers, tigers, gazelles. But I
love watching rugby and baseball on TV. These two are the only truly epic
games." He also finds reading the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary an