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 Muslim leaders worldwide.
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 a BA degree in Computer Science. Thereafter, in 1978 he moved to the United Kingdom. He completed his PhD on 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 100 books, including exhibition catalogues, of which 72 have already been published.
These eight collections have been shown in over 44 major museums Worldwide. Furthermore, the Khalili Collections have been major contributors to more than 68 international exhibitions. Selections from the eight collections have been exhibited in museums such as the British Museum (1994); the Victoria & Albert Museum (1997) and Somerset House (London) (2004); the Alhambra Palace (Granada) (2001); the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) (2003) and Arthur M. Sackler gallery, Washington USA (2005); Portland Art Museum (Oregon, USA) (2002); and the Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam) (2006), 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 Arab World Institute (Paris); and in 2010 at De Nieuwe Kerk International Exhibition Centre (Amsterdam). In 2009 Enamels of the World 1700–2000 opened at the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg and the Japanese Meiji collection has been exhibited at Kremlin Museums Moscow in 2017
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 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.
Professor Khalili is also a leading voice in the global movement to advance mutual respect and understanding amongst nations in the world today. Building bridges has been a consistent theme throughout his life’s work and he has been recognised globally for his contributions in this field.
Over the past three decades, Professor Khalili has been actively involved in a number of ambitious and innovative projects through the Khalili Foundation ; a family charitable endeavour that has the mission to connect people through the power of art, culture, education and the natural environment.
Through the Foundation, Professor Khalili has driven a number of projects. One of the most purposeful projects to date, following a decision to take the message of unity globally, is a unique collaboration initiated in 2016 with the Commonwealth Secretariat whose patron is HM The Queen. Launched in 2017, the ‘Faith in the Commonwealth – promoting global citizenship and religious literacy’ project will support the empowerment of young people in the Commonwealth to become a new generation of global citizens working collaboratively to address contemporary challenges of religious intolerance, extremism, polarization and conflict. The partnership between the Khalili Foundation and the Commonwealth Secretariat sets a new global standard.
Other projects delivered through the Khalili Foundation include:
House of Peace: It has always been Professor Khalili’s dream to see peace and harmony between the three great monotheistic faiths become reality. Since the early 1990’s he has been working on a project that reflects his belief in the power of combining art with interfaith understanding. Comprising of five specially commissioned paintings, by the renowned British artist Ben Johnson, the House of Peace offers a powerful vision of the Holy City of Jerusalem in all its magnificent diversity.
The Maimonides Interfaith Foundation: launched in 1995, it has become a pioneer in the field of interfaith and at the forefront of interreligious dialogue, with projects involving sports, arts and education.
Maimonides Interfaith Explorers: an ambitious educational project supported by UNESCO, which offers all primary schools in England and Wales a web-based educational curriculum to enhance religious literacy. Interfaith Explorers helps children respect and embrace religious and cultural diversity. 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 in 1996 and in 2007, the High Sheriff of Greater London Award for his cultural contribution to London. In 2003, he was conferred with the 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) in 2004 and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI further elevated him to Knight Commander in the said order (KCSS) in 2009 for his work in the pursuit of peace, education and culture amongst nations. In 2017, he was appointed joint vice-chairman of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, having served as a patron since 2014, signalling the first Jewish person to occupy this role at the influential Catholic non-governmental organisation based in Rome.
In 2012, he was further honoured in this field by being conferred the title of Goodwill Ambassador by Irina Bokova, the Director General of UNESCO. 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 National Order of the Legion of Honour by the French president Francois Hollande at the Élysée Palace.