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Remembering beloved Arab American Professor Irfan Shahid

posted on: Nov 16, 2016

BY: Adriana Murray/Contributing Writer

While last week seemed to fly by with all the craziness from the election, the Washington, DC community mourned the loss of the beloved Arab American Professor Irfan Shahid of Georgetown University.

Professor Shahid was born in Nazareth in 1926 when the city was still part of Palestine. However, he later moved to Cambridge to begin his educational journey. During his time at St. John’ s College, Oxford, he studied under renowned historian A.N.Sherwin White, who later became influential to his career as a scholar. Shahid then moved to America, where he earned his PhD at Princeton University.

Shahid began his career as an oriental studies scholar, which led him to publish seven volumes of work focusing on the history of Arabs. Upon finishing the final volume, Professor Shahid began his tenure as a passionate Oman Professor at Georgetown University. He also taught Arabic and Islamic literature.

Professor Shahid was well known for his longstanding project titled “Byzantium and the Arabs”. Throughout the course of this project, Professor Shahid worked diligently to reconstruct the narrative associated with the history of the Roman Empire. More specifically, he utilized teachings from his tutor, a distinguished historian, coupled with his love for Greco-Roman culture to fuel his writing. Professor Shahid’s work illuminates Arabs not only as a part of the narrative, but also as a force in the fall of the Roman Empire.

Professor Shahid established his prominence by making the decision to study and illustrate the incomprehensible victory of the Arabs over not only one empire, but the Byzantine Empire, too. He was unafraid to explore uncharted waters and blaze his own trail. His love for exploring the Roman world is reflected through his entire body of work, with all of them focusing on the Byzantine Empire, Arab and Islamic worlds, and medieval Arabic poetry. The vast scholarly contributions have made Professor Shahid beloved and respected by colleagues across disciplines within the DC area.

Professor Shahid dedicated the majority of his life to teaching and spreading his love and understanding of medieval thought. Professor Shahid always remained gracious and friendly; he often praised Dumbarton Oaks as being the driving force behind his motivation to keep working.

Although the loss of this beloved figure in the Arab American community is unfortunate, it is important to remember the words of Professor Shahid’s favorite person, Alexander the Great: “A tomb now suffices him for whom the whole world was not sufficient.”

Professor Shahid’s physical presence is no longer with us, but his work and deep-shared love for scholarship is forever ingrained in the DC community. The funeral service for Professor Shahid will be held this Friday November 18, 2016 at Saints Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in Potomac, Maryland.