Professor Nasser D. Khalili PhD, KCSS, KCFO is a world-renowned scholar, collector and philanthropist, who has often been called the ‘cultural ambassador of Islam’ by leaders of Muslim countries.
After completing his schooling and national service in Iran, he moved to the United States of America in 1967 where he continued his education. He graduated in 1974 from Queens College, City University of New York with BA degree in computer science. Thereafter, in 1978 he moved to the United Kingdom. He completed his PhD in Islamic Lacquer from School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London in 1988.
Since 1970 Professor Khalili has assembled, under the auspices of The Khalili Family Trust, eight of the world’s finest and most comprehensive art collections: Islamic art (700–2000); Hajj and the Arts of Pilgrimage (700–2000); Aramaic documents (353–324 bc); Japanese Art of the Meiji period (1868–1912); Japanese Kimono (1700–2000); Swedish Textiles (1700–1900); Spanish Damascene Metalwork (1850–1900) and Enamels of the World (1700–2000). Together, the eight collections comprise some 35,000 works. Each of the eight collections is on its own merit the largest and most comprehensive in the world. The Khalili Collections will be fully represented in a series of 88 books, including exhibition catalogues, of which 70 have already been published.
These eight collections have been shown in over 40 major museums worldwide. Furthermore, the Khalili Collections have been major contributors to more than 50 international exhibitions. Selections from the eight collections have been exhibited in museums such as the British Museum; the Victoria & Albert Museum and Somerset House (London); the State Hermitage Museum (St Petersburg); the Alhambra Palace (Granada); the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York); Portland Art Museum (Oregon, USA); and the Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam), amongst many others. The Arts of Islam. Treasures from the Nasser D. Khalili Collection was shown in 2007 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (Sydney); in 2008 at the Emirates Palace (Abu Dhabi); in 2009 at the Institut du monde arabe (Paris); and in 2010 at De Nieuwe Kerk International Exhibition Centre (Amsterdam). Enamels of the World 1700–2000 opened at the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg in December 2009.
Professor Khalili is a frequent lecturer and has also made notable contributions to the scholarship of Islamic Art. In 1989, he founded the Nasser D. Khalili Chair of Islamic Art and Archaeology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, the first of its kind in the world devoted to the decorative arts of Islam. He has supported a research fellowship in Islamic art at the University of Oxford; and in 2005, thanks to the significant endowment of the Khalili Family Trust whose sustaining support continues to the present day, The Khalili Research Centre for the Art and Material Culture of the Middle East at the University of Oxford was opened by the then Chancellor, Lord Patten. In early 2011, The Trust endowed The Nasser D. Khalili Visiting Professorship in Islamic studies at Queens College, City University of New York, where he graduated in 1974.
The aim and mission of the Khalili Foundation – has been to contact people through the power of art, culture, education and environmental concerns – Professor Khalili has driven a number of projects to promote peace, respect and understanding among the people of different cultures, faiths and beliefs. Building bridges has been a consistent theme throughout his life’s work and he has been recognized globally for his contributions in this field.
In the 1990’s he has established the House of Peace – an internationally led interfaith art project orientated towards the promotion to enhance his vision of peace and harmony between people from Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Comprising of five specially commissioned paintings, the House of Peace offers a powerful vision of the Holy City of Jerusalem in all its magnificent diversity.
Another initiative of the Khalili Foundation is the Maimonides Interfaith Foundation, established in 1995, which launched an ambitious educational project targeted at all primary schools in England and Wales. Maimonides Interfaith Explorers helps children respect and embrace religious and cultural diversity by enhancing their religious literacy. Solely funded by the Nasser D. Khalili Charitable Settlement, it was launched at the Central London Mosque to coincide with the celebrations of HM The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
Professor Khalili is a graduate, Associate Research Professor and Honorary Fellow of the University of London; and was the longest serving governor in the history of the School of Oriental and African Studies. He is also Honorary Fellow of Wolfson College; a member of the Chancellor’s Court of Benefactors, University of Oxford. He was appointed to the International Board of Overseers at Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA in 1997; and in 2003 received the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters from Boston University, also in Massachusetts, where he served as a member of the Board of Governors. In May 2005, he received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of the Arts London.
He has been awarded many other honours, including Trustee of the City of Jerusalem; and in 2007 the High Sheriff of Greater London Award for his cultural contribution to London. He is Knight Commander of the Royal Order of Francis I (KCFO). He is exceptional in having received knighthoods from two Popes. His Holiness the late Pope John Paul II honoured him as Knight of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St Sylvester (KSS) and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI further elevated him to Knight Commander in the said order (KCSS) for his work in the pursuit of peace, education and culture amongst nations.
In 2012, he was further honoured in this field by UNESCO, as a Goodwill Ambassador. In 2014, he was the recipient of the Laureate of the Dialogue of Cultures Award at the French National Assembly; and in early 2016, he was awarded the Rank of officier in the Ordre national de la Légion d’Honneur by the French president François Hollande at the Élysée Palace.