Wadad Kadi, the Avalon Foundation Distinguished Service Professor Emerita of Islamic Studies in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago, where she taught from 1988 until her retirement in 2009, is one of the American University of Beirut’s very own. Born in Beirut, Kadi earned from AUB a BA in Arabic literature with distinction, 1965; an MA in Arabic literature, 1969; and a PhD in Arabic literature and Islamic studies in 1973. When working on her PhD dissertation she also studied for one year (1970-71) at the University of Tübingen in Germany. At AUB, Kadi’s mentor was the legendary Ihsan Abbas, “custodian of Arabic cultural heritage,” distinguished professor of Arabic and Islamic studies. She later became his colleague in 1976 when she joined AUB’s Department of Arabic and Near Eastern Languages, where she taught until she immigrated to the United States in 1985 at the height of the harsh civil war years.
Wadad Kadi became an accomplished scholar of Arabic and Islamic civilizations, recognized throughout the world of Islamic studies. The president of the University of Chicago, Hugo Sonnenschein, has spoken of the “groundbreaking quality” of her work. Her research interests include the first four centuries of Islam, from the 7th to 10th centuries CE, the influence of the Qur’an on Arabic prose, the Qur’an’s use in literature, Islamic political thought, early Islamic theology and sectarianism, early Islamic administrative history, and Islamic papyrology. Her contributions to Islamic studies have made great impact on global understanding of Islamic thought and theology.
Her strong interest in Islamic society began with her MA thesis on Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi, in which she explored many areas of early Muslim society. Subsequently in her PhD dissertation, she studied the very first Shi’ite sect in Islam, the Kaysaniyya. Her research has been described as putting her “right in the heart of her sectarian interests: . . . anti-establishment rebellions, underground movements, missionary zeal, recruitment tactics, martyrdom, revenge, war, heroism, manifestos, and fiery speeches. . .” Later her research focused on the Umayyad state, for which she used more documentary sources such as papyri, but also “coins, inscriptions, and glass weights,” assessing the relationship between documentary evidence and literary evidence in the study of history. In her retirement in Edina, Minnesota, Wadad Kadi is continuing her research on the Umayyad state, with plans to publish a series of volumes with the distinguished publishing house E. J. Brill in Leiden, the Netherlands.
Professor Kadi has written eleven books in both English and Arabic, several of which are treatises on classical Arabic texts found originally in manuscripts. In 1981 she edited Studia Arabica Islamica, a festschrift published by the AUB Press on the occasion of Ihsan Abbas’s sixtieth birthday. In 2007 she was coeditor, with Victor Billeh, of Education in Islam; Myths and Truths. She has also published almost 70 articles and written several book reviews. Although Professor Kadi is now retired, she still pursues her research and writing, particularly her “Umayyad Studies.” She has been described as “an exceptional scholar who continues to challenge and shape the field of Arabic and Islamic studies.”
Wadad Kadi has been over the years much in demand as fellow and visiting professor at several universities. She lectured as visiting assistant professor at Harvard University (1976-77) and as visiting associate professor at Columbia University (1985-86), and she was, while on leave from AUB for the first two years of her escape from Beirut, associate professor of Arabic at Yale University (1986-88). From 1988 until 2009 she taught Islamic thought at the University of Chicago’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. Following stints as visiting professor at the University of Stockholm (1993), the University of Rome (1995), and the American University in Cairo (1996), she spent a year as visiting scholar at the University of Oxford’s Wolfson College (1997-98), two months in 2000 as director of Associated Studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, and a term as visiting fellow at the University of Oxford’s All Souls College in 2004.
Graduate students continue to seek advice from Kadi in her retirement, attesting to her admirable qualities as a teacher, especially in mentoring graduate students. Like the best teachers everywhere, she always blended her research with teaching in the classroom. In President Peter Dorman’s words (when he and Kadi were colleagues at the University of Chicago and she won the 2004 Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching), Kadi’s teaching approach “is based on the enlightened conviction that the full scholarly life begins in earnest in the classroom, and that the process of teaching enriches her as much as it does the student.” Her excellence in teaching also stems from her caring approach to students. President Dorman pointed out that her mentorship was never “judgmental.” “Her soaring expectations for her students are balanced by an innate concern for their well-being . . .” Giving open-handed encouragement and being personally accessible marked “her commitment to graduate instruction. In this, she combines the highest standards of her field with the very core of humanistic principles.”
Professor Kadi has been honored for both her scholarship and her teaching. In 1994 she won the prestigious King Faisal International Prize for Arabic Literature, a prize which, according to University of Chicago President Sonnenschein, is considered “in the world of Arabic language and literature . . . the equivalent of . . . a Nobel Prize.” Two of the prize winners in 1994 were women, making her one of the first women ever to receive the King Faisal Prize. In 1997 she was appointed the Avalon Foundation Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. She has been much in demand to serve on appointment committees at various universities. Kadi was awarded visiting fellowships at Oxford’s Center for Islamic Studies in 1997-98. In 1993 she was appointed a member of the editorial board of AUB’s Al-Abhath, in 1998 of the Journal of Islamic Studies, and in 2003 of the periodical Arabica. In 1995 she became coeditor of E. J. Brill’s book series Islamic History and Civilization, an editorship she still holds. She was editor of E. J. Brill’s Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an (1996-2005), and a member of the Advisory Committee of Brill’s third edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam (2003-present). She was appointed associate editor of Princeton University Press’s Encyclopaedia of Islamic Political Thought (2007-present) and editor of the University of Chicago’s Journal of Near Eastern Studies (2007-09). She was elected president of the American Oriental Society in 2003-04 after serving as vice president. Citing her “distinguished scholarship and seminal contribution to our knowledge of the Islamic world and scholarship in the Middle Ages,” Middle East Medievalists awarded Professor Kadi in December 2011 its Lifetime Achievement Award.