Abdelwahab M. Elmessiri 1938-2008

Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Abdelwahab M. Elmessiri 1938-2008


On 3 July 2008 Abdelwahab M. Elmessiri, a true twentieth century polymath, an astounding defender of intellect and history, and a methodologically innovative Arab scholar passed away. The death of the author of the most important Arabic encyclopedia in the twentieth century; The Encyclopedia of Jews, Judaism and Zionism is a loss for science and philosophy.

Elmessiri's death in Palestine Hospital in Cairo suggestively captured much about the man, the intellectual, and the activist. It seems nothing less than an evocatively planned event relating Elmessiri to a great cause and highlighting much about his intellectual endeavor and political activism.

Elmessiri authored sixty books that impressively included and indicated a wide range of interest: scholarly studies of colonialism, Zionism, literary criticism, comparative literature, history, politics, culture, religion, poetry, sociology, and children books. He also wrote an inspiring number of articles. Elmessiri was a true descendent of the great tradition in Arab philosophy and intellectual life that began with Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and continued in the sophism of the great Arab philosopher Mohi Aldin Ibn Arabi. Integrating Elmessiri into this subversively innovative philosophical tradition is not based solely on impressive scholarly productivity or humble life style, but also on his unswerving commitment to the principles of the Arab-Islamic philosophy in both his philosophical scheme and epistemological tactics.

The eight-volume encyclopedia project that took almost 20 years to complete culminated in a vast intellectual project that critically questioned the universality of western capitalist modernity and colonial epistemology, is nothing less than a triumph of Arab science and philosophy. His ascetically native epistemological tactics successfully demythologize much of the fallacious knowledge and superstitions regarding Jews, Judaism, and Zionism. The encyclopedia illuminates much on Jewish groups, Judaism, and Zionism and their socio-political and historical nature, rendering Elmessiri the most important scholarly authority on Zionism in the Arab homeland. His employment of theoretical models, while at the same time expressing a rejection of philosophical positivism, iyeluctably, enabled him to effectively avoid slipping into reification.

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