Dr. Ibrahim Abu-Rabi

It is with deep sadness that the Palestine Solidarity Network – Edmonton has learned of the passing of Dr. Ibrahim Abu-Rabi on July 2 in Amman, Jordan. Dr. Abu-Rabi has been an active supporter of the work of PSN since its founding and contributed greatly and in a numerous ways to our efforts in support of the Palestinian people.

He will be greatly missed both by individual members and PSN as an organization, and his passing is a great loss to Edmonton and the world. We offer our sincere condolences to his family, friends and community.


Dr. Abu-Rabi was a frequent and eloquent presenter at PSN events, and below are two of his presentations which show his warmth, knowledge and compassion.


Below is an article posted by the University of Alberta about the passing of Dr. Abu-Rabi.

University mourns loss of ‘great connector’
By Michael Brown

(Edmonton) Ibrahim Abu-Rabi, a world-renowned expert on contemporary Muslim thought, a voice of moderation and great University of Alberta ambassador, died suddenly and unexpectedly during a visit to Jordan July 2. He was 55.

Born in Palestine in 1956, Abu-Rabi, who held dual citizenship in the United States and Israel, received a bachelor of arts degree from the Birzeit University in Palestine in 1980. He went on to get a master of arts in political science degree from the University of Cincinnati in 1982 before attending Temple University in Pennsylvania, where he completed a second master’s degree, this time in religious studies, and a PhD in Islamic studies in 1987.

Abu-Rabi left from Temple University for stops at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Texas at Austin, before taking a post at the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, where he was professor at the Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, beginning in 1991. He had a special interest in the study and practice of interfaith dialogue between the Islamic and Christian religious traditions, and specialized in issues of contemporary Islamic thought, particularly on religion and society, and mysticism.

In 2006, he was the Senior Fulbright Scholar in Singapore and Indonesia at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He was also the senior editor of The Muslim World.

In 2008, Abu-Rabi came to the U of A as the first holder of the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities Chair in Islamic Studies, the first teaching and research chair of its kind in Canada.

“I am greatly saddened to learn of the sudden loss of one of our own, professor Ibrahim Abu-Rabi, chair of Islamic studies,” said President Indira Samarasekera. “As a mentor and a teacher, he was well known for his passion for teaching and his dedication to building understanding between people of various faiths.

“He will be remembered for his enthusiasm for his work, his unwavering support of his colleagues and students, and his care and compassion for all.”

Abu-Rabi was also a devoted researcher and a prolific writer, with dozens of titles to his credit, including his latest work, The Contemporary Arab Reader on Political Islam (University of Alberta Press, 2010), which is a collection of the writings of highly influential figures in the field of Islamism that attempts to address misunderstood notions of contemporary Islam.

In an interview done in the spring 2011 edition of WOA (Work of Arts), the Faculty of Arts alumni magazine, about his latest work, Abu-Rabi said that, while there have been many books written in the West that purport to explain Islamism, virtually all have been written by westerners, and Islamist voices have remained largely absent.

“Most Islamist groups are pro-democracy and anti-violence, but you’d never know this from what’s reported in the press,” he said. “I wanted to give Islamists the chance to speak for themselves.”

Abu-Rabi believed that education or “soft power” is the key to a better dialogue between the Muslim world and the West, and that the West needs to appreciate the diversity of contemporary Muslim cultural and linguistic practices, as well as the contemporary Muslim search for democracy.

Commonality and understanding were not just ideas that Abu-Rabi taught, researched and wrote about, but how he lived his life, says Michael Frishkopf, a professor in the Department of Music and friend of Abu-Rabi.

“He had so much appreciation from his colleagues and his students because he made every effort to connect with people at every level,” said Frishkopf, adding that Abu-Rabi’s web of relationships extended around the globe. “He was really warm and a wonderful man who was always trying to pull people together—he was a great connector. That’s the kind of man he was; he was very much a public intellectual but he was interested in real-world applications.

“I think that’s why [his death] has been such a devastating loss for so many people.”

U of A undergraduate student Mustafa Farooq wrote in a letter how he was stuck by Abu-Rabi’s “genial nature, his bearing, and his wisdom.”

“He could meet anyone and instantaneously connect with them, and make them feel at ease.”

In addition, Farooq’s letter talked about his mentor’s devotion to both his research and his teaching.

“[Dr. Abu-Rabi] taught me that university research and involvement was about a struggle to make the world a better place, and that the struggle had to permeate every pore of your existence; and that included bringing the struggle to home.”

Below is an obituary about Dr. Abu-Rabi posted by the Hartford Seminary, where Dr. Abu Rabi taught prior to coming to the University of Alberta.

Dr. Ibrahim Abu-Rabi’, Noted Scholar and Colleague, Passes Away

Dr. Ibrahim Abu-Rabi’, an expert on contemporary Muslim thought, died suddenly of a heart attack on July 2 while attending a conference in Amman, Jordan. He had been an esteemed Professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary from 1991 to 2008.

When Dr. Abu-Rabi’ came to Hartford Seminary in 1991, he was the first full-time Muslim faculty at an accredited Christian seminary. He also served as Co-Director of the Duncan Black Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations and Senior Editor of The Muslim World journal.

Since 2008, Dr. Abu-Rabi’ has taught at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta. He was the first holder of the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities Chair in Islamic Studies, the first teaching and research chair of its kind in Canada.

“Ibrahim’s contribution to the study of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations at Hartford Seminary was immense and reached all over the world. We will never forget him,” President Heidi Hadsell said.

“We will honor and remember him in a memorial service at the beginning of Ramadan in early August,” she said.

Dr. Abu-Rabi’ received his Ph.D. at Temple University in Philadelphia. Pa. His dissertation topic was “Islam and the Search for Social Order in Modern Egypt: An Intellectual Biography of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Halim Mahmud.” He also earned a Master of Arts at Temple, and a Master of Arts at the University of Cincinnati.

Dr. Abu-Rabi’ had a special interest in contemporary Islamic thought and movements, and the interaction between Muslims and Christians in the Muslim world.

He traveled widely in the Muslim world and believed that building bridges among faith communities is necessary in a highly globalized world. While at Hartford Seminary, he helped place the Seminary in a leading position in Muslim-Christian relations around the world. Students came from many countries – among them Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Indonesia, Singapore, and Pakistan – to study with Dr. Abu-Rabi’.

At the Seminary, Abu-Rabi’ was extremely popular with students. His hospitality at his home was outstanding, and he made sure students received both an excellent academic experience and a comfortable living experience.

In recent years, Dr. Abu-Rabi’s research interests turned to Turkey, focusing in particular on the writings of the 20th-century thinker, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi and Fethullah Gülen.

In 2006 he was the Senior Fulbright Scholar in Singapore and Indonesia at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Dr. Abu-Rabi’ has published numerous articles and 19 books, the most recent of which are the edited Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Islamic Thought and the edited Challenges and Responses of Contemporary Islamic Thought: The Contributions of M. Fethullah Gülen.

Dr. Abu-Rabi’ spoke Arabic, Hebrew, English, French, and Turkish. He was born in Nazareth and is a graduate of Birzeit University on the West Bank.

He leaves his wife Fatima and two children, Yasmin and Yusuf.

2 thoughts on “Dr. Ibrahim Abu-Rabi

  1. He was a good Muslim, a great scholar and an open-minded citizen of our world; it is so sad that he passed away so suddenly; may Allah grant him his mercy and best rewards, and grant his family a deep well of patience and fortitude

    1. The world community of scholars will sorely miss one of the most erudite minds in the study of Islam. Professor Abu-Rabi will be missed as well for his bridging the gap with other sectarian ideologies. His friendship to many was a mark of the man and of his constant belief in the humanity of all.

      Richard L. Judd, Ph.D.
      First Vice Chair
      The International Council for Middle East Studies
      Washington, DC

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s