HITTI “The Sheikh”
Philip Khoury Hitti was born in Chemlane. Southern Metn, on the
24th of June 1886. His parents Iskandar Hitti and Saada née
Nawfal had eight children, six boys and two girls. They sent Philip
to the village school while he was still very young. Like other
poor village schools, this one had no walls, its roof was thatched
and its benches were carved out of stone. The village priest was
both headmaster and sole teacher and used his stick freely as an
instrument of learning. In his opinion, schooling was complete when
a child could read psalms in Arabic and in Syriac.
When he was
eight Philip was rushed to the American Hospital in Beirut with
an infected fracture. Village shepherds had first treated his fracture
since there were no doctors in his area and shepherds had had some
experience of setting their flocks' bones. The doctor at the hospital,
Dr. Post, saved his gangrenous arm and set him on the road to a
new life by advising his parents that given his weakened physical
state, Philip ought to pursue an intellectual rather than a manual
career if he hoped to earn a living. He helped Philip register at
the school of the American Presbyterian Mission in Souk el Gharb
next to Chemlane.
completed, Philip taught at local village schools for three years,
saving up for his first year of university in Beirut. He graduated
from the American University with a B.A. in 1908, becoming a professor
of history between 1908 and 1913.
He was a delegate
at the conference for the World Christian Student Federation held
in Istanbul in 1910.
In 1913 he went
as a delegate to a conference of the same federation in Lake Mohonk
in New York State, nominated by Howard Bliss, the president of the
American University. Bliss had also offered him a year's scholarship
for a Masters degree in the United States and had allowed him to
keep his teaching salary. Philip registered at Columbia University
from which he obtained a Ph.D. in history. His thesis was a translation
of the first part of Al Baladhuri's work Futuh al Buldan.
He worked as
a librarian and in the registry office at the university to supplement
his small income. He met his wife to be, Mary George from Waterbury,
Connecticut, when she and a friend came to register for summer courses.
They were married in 1918 and had a daughter they named Viola.
his doctorate, he was made a lecturer at the Department of Oriental
Languages at Columbia until 1920.
and 1920 he was president of the Intercollegiate Club of New York
City. In 1916 he founded the Syrian Educational Society of which
he became president. He was the first to think of providing professional
advice to foreign students coming to the United States for higher
to the American University of Beirut in 1920 as a professor of oriental
He moved back to the United States in 1926 accepting a post of assistant
professor at Princeton University. He was made an associate professor
In 1936 he was
made Professor of Semitic literature at the William and Annie S.
Paton Foundation. Princeton University held a special series of
seminars on the Middle East in the summers of 1935, 1938 and 1941
and Professor Hitti was named president of the Department of Oriental
Languages and Literature in 1944.
He founded the
Near East study programme and remained its director until he retired
in 1957, the year he was appointed Medieval Academy Visiting Professor
Under the direction
of Professor Hitti, the Department of Oriental Languages and Literature
became the leading centre for Islamic studies in the western hemisphere.
Attracting the support of numerous personalities and famous institutions,
Professor Hitti was able to develop a faculty that taught Arabic,
Persian, Turkish, Hindu and Chinese languages, ancient Semitic languages
and a wide variety of courses on Islamic history and culture. He
built up the best Islamic reference library in the west; Princeton's
collection of Arabic manuscripts is the most important collection
outside the Middle East.
In 1947 he also
founded the Department of Near Eastern Studies, a first in the United
States, where students could study for a B.A., a Masters or a Ph.D.
in Near Eastern Studies.
1948 he instituted annual conferences on the Near East, bringing
together representatives from industry, government and academia
that all shared a common interest in the region. In this way he
was able to build new links between Princeton and the non-academic
world and opened a whole new set of doors for faculty and students.
of Al Bahaduri and Usamah and his monograph on the Druze have become
references, cited in all academic circles. His opus magnum, History
of the Arabs was reedited six times, and was followed by History
of Syria, the Lebanon in History, and The Near East in History.
works are too extensive to enumerate, as are the honors he has received
and the positions he has held; the following list is therefore far
- Member, 1941-1952,
Cultural Commission of the East and West Council of the Syrian and
Lebanese American Federation of the Eastern States.
- President, 1949-1954, Committee on Near Eastern Studies of the
American Council of Learned Societies.
- President, 1949-1954, American Middle East Relief.
- Member, from 1951, American Friends of the Middle East.
- Secretary, Alumni Association of the American Geographic Society.
- Member, Linguistic Society of America.
- Member, American Historical Association.
- Director, 1927-1931, and membership president, 1939 - 40, American
- President, 1957, American Mediaeval Academy.
- President, 1947, Al Majmah al elmi al Arabi in Damascus; Islamic
Research Association; Indo-Arab Culture Association in Bombay.
- President, 1953, Dairatul-Maarif il Osmania in Hyderabad.
- Associate member, 1934, and honorary professor, 1946, American
Schools for Oriental Research.
- Administrator, 1942, Donations for Education in the Near East.
- Administrator, 1945, American University of Beirut.
- Administrator, 1946, The Lebanon College of Suq al Gharb.
- Editor-in-chief of eighteen volumes of the Princeton Oriental
- Special Editor, 1934, of the second edition of Webster's New International
- Consultant editor, Speculum.
- Editor, Al Majallah al-Arabiyah.
- Contributing editor, Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia of
the Social Sciences, Encyclopedia Americana, Social Science Abstracts,
and consultant editor for the Arabic version of Reader's Digest:
throughout the United States giving conferences in some of the country's
most prestigious universities, as well as in institutions in the
Middle East and Brazil, notably at the University of Sao Paolo.
He was a consultant
to major corporations and institutions including the Mergenthaler
Linotype Company, the Arabian-American Oil Company, the Atlantic
Refining Company and the Ford Foundation.
He was advisor
to the Iraqi delegation and to other Arab states at the San Francisco
conference in 1945 that saw the creation of the United Nations.
While at Princeton
he received Prince Saud Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud who later became
king of Saudi Arabia, Prince Abdullah of Iraq in 1945, Prince Faisal
Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud in 1947, Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran
in 1950 and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia in 1954.
the author of the following works:
- The Origins of the Druze People and Religion: with Extracts from
their Sacred Writings, 1928
- History of the Arabs, 1937
- History of Syria: including Lebanon and Palestine, 1957
- The Arabs, 1960
- The Near East in History, 1961
- Islam and the West, 1962
- Lebanon in History, 1967
- Makers of Arab History, 1968
- Islam: a Way of Life, 1970
- Capital cities of Arab Islam, 1973
have always nicknamed him 'The Sheikh'.
He died on 21 December 1978 in Princeton, New Jersey.
received many distinctions and awards:
- Medal of Honor for Lebanese Merit, 1940
- Officer of the Order of the Cedar, 1946
- Order of Merit, First Degree, from the Syrian government, 1954
- Daniel Bliss Medal, the highest distinction awarded by the Alumni
Association of the American University of Beirut, 1954
- Commander of the Order of the Cedar,1956
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