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Ihsan Abbass

Personal Info

  • Country of residence: Palestine
  • Gender: Male
  • Born in: 1920
  • Age: 97
  • Curriculum vitae :


Ihsan Abbas born in December 2, 1920" was a Palestinian professor at the American University of Beirut, and was considered a premier figure of Arabic and Islamic studies in the East and West during the 20th century. During his career, Abbas was renowned as one of the foremost scholars of Arabic language and literature and was a respected literary critic.

Upon his death, Abbas was eulogized by University College London historian Lawrence Conrad as a custodian of Arabic heritage and culture, and a figure whose scholarship had dominated the Middle East's intellectual and cultural life for decades.

Abbas was born in the former Palestinain village of Ayn Ghazal near Haifa on December 2, 1920, though the village's population was forced to leave in 1948 at the time of the 1948 War, and was subsequently destroyed during Operation Shoter. As a child, the only books in his family's impoverished home were the Qur'an and a famous 15th-century Arabic encyclopedia known as Al-Mustatraf; Abbas would often sadden at the mention of the latter due to the memories it brought him. Growing up in Palestine, Abbas completed high school in Haifa and Acre before attending the Arab College in Jerusalem from 1937 to 1941.

Abbas then spent the next four years teaching at a college in Safed and went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in Arabic literature from Cairo University in 1950; for the next ten years, Abbas traveled between his study at Cairo where he earned a Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy, and his work at Gordon Memorial College or, as it became known during his tenure, the University of Khartoum.

Abbas' master's thesis focused on Arabic literary culture in Sicily, while his doctoral dissertation was on the subject of religious asceticism and its influence in Umayyad culture. At the end of his tenure in Sudan, he was appointed to a professorship position in the Arabic literature department at the American University of Beirut, a post which he held until his retirement in 1985.

Abbas remained active, performing post-retirement research projects for the University of Jordan, especially on Andalusian Arabic literature and the translation of world literature to the Arabic language.

Abbas was often at the center of intellectual life wherever he was living, and camaraderie with his colleagues was an important part of his life. Abbas was an avid participant in the cafe gatherings of Naguib Mahfouz in Cairo during the 1950s and 1960s. In the midst of the Lebanese Civil War in 1981, perhaps the primary intellectual activity in Beirut which continued despite the conflict was a weekly meeting of intellectuals and academics at Abbas' house.

Abbas died in Amman, Jordan on January 29, 2003, at the age of 82 after a prolonged illness. On December 14, 2005, a day-long seminar was held at Birzeit University in Birzeit in honor of and to discuss Abbas' lifetime achievements and contributions to the fields of Arabic and Islamic studies; attendees included visiting scholars from Hebron University, Bethlehem University and An-Najah National University.


Abbas was a celebrated man of letters and a prolific writer during his lifetime. He republished Ibn Bassam's 12th-century biographical dictionary of the Arabian Peninsula's intellectuals, editing it into eight "mammoth" volumes.

Abbas' analysis of Abd al-Wahhab Al-Bayati's poetry and the significance of Bayati's references to Sisyphus and Prometheus was criticized as Shmuel Moreh; Abbas saw the references as being philosophical allegory, while Moreh tied them to the fall of the Iraqi Communist Party.

Abbas contributed significantly to the history of Arabic literature and writers, and was responsible for collecting and compiling the work of Abd al-Hamid al-Katib in 1988, uncovering archived letters between the Umayyad secretary and the empire's last caliph which shed light on the inner workings of the dynasty in its last days.

He was also one of the few writers to critically analyze the Kharijites, a now extinct sect of Islam.Though reserved in revealing his own beliefs, Abbas adhered to Sunni Islam and leaned toward the Zahiri school of Islamic jurisprudence.

He was responsible for reviving the works of Ibn Hazm, one of the main philosophers of the school and of Islam in general, editing and republishing many of them and even uncovering previously unpublished works on Ibn Hazm's legal theory from various archives; Abbas' 1983 edition of Ibn Hazm's book on legal theory Ihkam is considered a key moment in Arab intellectual history and the modernist revival of Zahirite legal method.

Abbas earned the King Faisal International Prize from the King Faisal Foundation in 1980.

He was also a significant contributor to the cultural magazine Al-Arabi, and was the Arabic translator of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick.


Achievements and Awards

King Faisal International Prize.

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