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Tarif Khalidi Returns to AUB
Former AUB Professor and internationally renowned Islamic Studies scholar Tarif Khalidi has rejoined the Faculty of Arts and Sciences as Sheikh Zayed Chair in Islamic and Arabic Studies. Khalidi explains his reasons for returning to Beirut after spending over five years at Cambridge—and what it means for AUB.

“Why did I return to AUB?” mused Dr. Tarif Khalidi. “In a strange sort of way I had always felt disembodied in Cambridge. I never felt that I had really left AUB…For me, Cambridge felt like an extended sabbatical, lovely while it lasted, but the siren song proved ultimately too alluring.”
At the start of the 2002-03 academic year, Khalidi returned to AUB taking on the Sheikh Zayed Chair in Islamic and Arabic Studies after a six-year tenure at Cambridge University. Khalidi had been a faculty member at AUB for over 25 years before leaving. The appointment is significant for several reasons. It not only brings Khalidi back to campus, but it is the first chair to be filled at AUB since the civil war. More important, it demonstrates the University’s commitment to strengthening its academic programs after an extensive two-year internal review, to recruiting and retaining a first-class faculty, and to providing the finest liberal arts education in the region.
One of the foremost scholars of Islamic history, Tarif Khalidi was born in Jerusalem, Palestine in 1938. He received degrees from University College, Oxford (BA, Modern History, 1960; MA, 1963) and the University of Chicago (PhD, Islamic Studies, 1970) and taught at AUB as a professor in the Department of History from 1970 to 1996. In 1985 he accepted a one-year position as senior research associate at St. Antony’s College, Oxford and from 1991-92 was a visiting overseas scholar at St. John’s College, Cambridge. In 1996, Khalidi left AUB to become the Sir Thomas Adams’s Professor of Arabic at Cambridge University, which is the oldest chair of Arabic in the English speaking world.
Khalidi explained that he was filled with a sense of humility and awe at being the first person appointed to a chair at AUB since the war. “What can one do except to try and fill the position with as much modesty as one can summon,” he said. “And with as much enthusiasm for the opportunities offered by this appointment to recreate the conditions, which not so long ago, made AUB a leading center of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies.”
The Center for Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies and the Center for Behavioral Research are both active in bringing academics from around the world for lectures and symposiums. “I am an advocate of small scale conferences that deal with well defined and focused topics in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies that will draw some of the prominent scholars whom I have been privileged to meet over the years in Europe, the US, and elsewhere. This is one area where AUB can be a world leader.”

Having been a faculty member from 1970 to 1996, Khalidi knows the ins and outs of the University and its atmosphere before, during, and after the civil war. “My thoughts on the generations of students I taught are fairly simple,” he explained. “The ante-bellum generation was deeply committed to politics. A different breed all together were the war-years students, many of whom the conflict turned many into cynics. Cynicism is a desirable mind-set in students. The war had taught them to distinguish between what people said and what they did, between appearance and reality. Because of this, I used to refer to the war years as a golden age.” Looking towards the future generation of students he says, “Lebanon still manages to produce hundreds of superbly trained high school graduates each year. If we keep attracting them, our standards at AUB will continue to rise.”
His years at Cambridge were fruitful with his appointment to the Director of the Centre of Middle Eastern Studies and the publication of his recent book, The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic Literature, which received wide critical acclaim for his translation and analysis of depictions of Jesus found in the Islamic literary tradition. “Cambridge was a marvelous interlude in my life,” he said light-heartedly. “I was very productive, very comfortable, and essentially lived the life of an eighteenth century gentleman.”
While teaching at AUB, Khalidi will also be working on three scholarly projects: a new translation of the Qur’an commissioned by Harvard University Press, a biography of the Prophet Mohammad for Random House, and an introduction to Arab social history for Cambridge University Press.
For Khalidi, the return to Lebanon and AUB is a personal and professional milestone. He did not forget AUB while at Cambridge – and indeed the University had not forgotten him. He explained, “It was wonderful to find out when I returned in July that I was able to resume all my ancient tags, payroll numbers, bar codes.” Perhaps AUB had anticipated his return.