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Muhsin Mahdi

Muhsin Mahdi

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Muḥsin Mahdī (June 21, 1926–July 9, 2007) was an Iraqi-American islamologist and arabist
This is an article about the western scholars known as Arabists, not the political movement Pan-Arabism.An Arabist is someone normally from outside the Arab World who specialises in the study of the Arabic language and Arab culture, and often Arabic literature.-Origins:Arabists began in medieval...

. He was a leading authority on Arabian history, philology
Philology is the study of language in written historical sources; it is a combination of literary studies, history and linguistics.Classical philology is the philology of Greek and Classical Latin...

, and philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

. His best-known work was the first critical edition of the One Thousand and One Nights.


He was born and raised in the Shiite pilgrimage city of Kerbala, Iraq. After finishing high school in Baghdad
Baghdad is the capital of Iraq, as well as the coterminous Baghdad Governorate. The population of Baghdad in 2011 is approximately 7,216,040...

, he was awarded a government scholarship to study at the American University of Beirut
American University of Beirut
The American University of Beirut is a private, independent university in Beirut, Lebanon. It was founded as the Syrian Protestant College by American missionaries in 1866...

, where he earned both a B.B.A. and a B.A. in philosophy. He taught for a year at the University of Baghdad
University of Baghdad
The University of Baghdad is the largest university in Iraq and the second largest Arab university following the University of Cairo.- Nomenclature :Both University of Baghdad and Baghdad University are used interchangeably....

 before coming to the United States in 1948, where he earned an M.A. and Ph.D.(1954) at the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

. Here he studied at the Oriental Institute
Oriental Institute, Chicago
The Oriental Institute , established in 1919, is the University of Chicago's archeology museum and research center for ancient Near Eastern studies.- History and purpose:James Henry Breasted built up the collection of the Haskell Oriental Museum...

 under Nabia Abbott and began his life-long exploration of political philosophy under the guidance of Leo Strauss
Leo Strauss
Leo Strauss was a political philosopher and classicist who specialized in classical political philosophy. He was born in Germany to Jewish parents and later emigrated to the United States...

. His wrote his dissertation on Ibn Khaldun
Ibn Khaldun
Ibn Khaldūn or Ibn Khaldoun was an Arab Tunisian historiographer and historian who is often viewed as one of the forerunners of modern historiography, sociology and economics...

. After two more years in Baghdad, Mahdi returned to Chicago, where he taught in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from 1958-1969. At Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 (from 1969 until his retirement in 1996),as James Richard Jewett Professor of Arabic, he served as director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and also as Chairman of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.

Mahdī was versed in medieval Arabic, ancient Greek, medieval Jewish and Christian philosophy but also modern Western political philosophy. Grounded in the methods of critical editions of manuscripts developed by European scholars for the ancient and medieval texts, he tried to establish the same standards in the fields of Arabic philology and philosophy. He devoted much of his career to searching for manuscripts wherever his travels took him. He is especially known for the recovery, edition, translation and interpretation of many of the works of Alfarabi. With Prof. Ralph Lerner at Chicago and Prof. Ernest Fortin
Ernest Fortin
Ernest L. Fortin, A.A. was a professor of theology at Boston College. While engaged in graduate studies in France, he met Allan Bloom, who introduced him to the work of Leo Strauss...

 at Boston College, he co-edited Medieval Political Philosophy, a path-breaking sourcebook that includes selections in translation from Arabic, Hebrew and Latin texts.

Best-known works

  • Ibn Khaldun's Philosophy of History: A Study in the Philosophical Foundation of the Science of Culture. His doctoral dissertation of 1954, published 1957.
  • The Thousand and One Nights (Alf Layla wa Layla). 2 vols. Brill (Leiden) 1984.
  • NB The Arabian Nights: based on the text of the fourteenth-century manuscript ed. by Muhsin Mahdi. Translated by Husain Haddawy. Everyman's Library, 1992.
  • Alfarabi and the Foundation of Islamic Political Philosophy. 2001.
  • Al-Kindi, le catalogue de la bibliothèque de l'Institut Dominicain d’Études Orientales lists more works

External links