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In Memoriam Irfan Shahîd

Director Jan Ziolkowski Remembers Shahîd’s Scholarship and Long Association with Dumbarton Oaks

Irfan Arif Shahîd, born in Nazareth to an Arab Christian family in 1926, passed away on November 9, 2016, in Washington, D.C. He was ninety years old.

The world has lost a colorful, learned, and urbane man. Irfan Shahîd held degrees from Oxford and Princeton. He spent the bulk of his career at Georgetown University, of which he was professor emeritus.

Dr. Shahîd has been associated for decades with Dumbarton Oaks in a unique category as a long-term fellow in Byzantine Studies. He is known internationally for his many articles and books. A particular tour de force was his Byzantium and the Arabs, with one volume each on the fourth and fifth century and fully four on the sixth century.

His prodigious memory included large amounts of verse in at least one half dozen languages. His inaugural lecture to his named chair in Arabic and Islamic literature was on Omar Khayyam. Still more impressively, a casual encounter with him could elicit the quotation of an entire Horatian ode or Shakespearean sonnet. His deep love of poetry was a characteristic that struck everyone with whom he spent much time.

In recent years, Dr. Shahîd would often utter witticisms about crossing the Rubicon of longevity. He has now made the passage beyond mortality. Among an extended family of relatives in the area, his widow Mary Shiber Shahîd merits particular remark. An inseparable companion and collaborator, she has been a familiar presence at Dumbarton Oaks for as many decades as was her late husband.

Dumbarton Oaks’ website retains a remarkable long interview with Dr. Shahîd on his career as well as a biographical celebration from last year’s seventy-fifth anniversary.

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