Land Tenure and Social Transformation in the Middle East Edited by Tarif Khalidi (1984)

About the Editor

Tarif Khalidi, professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies, has 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.
That the 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 That it has been showered with praise by many critics for the excellence of its literary and historical content is also not surprising, as Khalidi is one of the foremost scholars in the field of Islamic history.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 1984.
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': isn’t 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."
Setting aside 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 absorbing pastime.

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