Dr. Chahinda Karim—”great scholar of Cairo’s Islamic art and architecture”

The staff at AUC Press are deeply saddened by the loss of professor of Islamic art and architecture and AUC Press author Dr. Chahinda Karim, who passed away unexpectedly on 3 August 2021.

Chahinda was beloved by generations of students for her immense kindness, integrity, and generous mentorship. Her energy and passion for her subject shone through in her rich knowledge and intellect and in her commitment to her students.

A stalwart faculty member of the Department of Arab and Islamic Civilizations (ARIC) at the American University in Cairo for more than two decades, she obtained her BA (1974) and her MA (1978) in Islamic Art and Architecture from that same department before earning a doctorate from Cairo University in 1987. Having been a full-time faculty member at ARIC during several intervals she was most recently adjunct professor of Islamic art and architecture in the department.

Condolences from colleagues are being shared on social media. “A sad day for the sudden loss of the woman with a heart of gold, Dr. Chahinda Karim, the Egyptologist and great scholar of Cairo’s Islamic art and architecture . . . no words,” wrote Tarek Swelim, prominent Egyptian art historian and author who is currently associate professor of Islamic art and architecture at the College of Islamic Studies of the Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Doha, Qatar. In a 2019 post on his Facebook page, the distinguished scholar refers to Dr. Karim as his “idol.”

Chahinda’s lifelong immersion in the material culture of Egypt and the Islamic world is perhaps not surprising given that she was the daughter of Sayed Karim (1911–2005), the visionary Egyptian modernist architect, who designed so many iconic public and residential buildings in Cairo during the 1940s and 1950s, and founded the first Arabic-language design magazine, Al Emara, which ran from 1939 to 1959.

At the time of her death, she was putting the finishing touches to her monograph, Ottoman Cairo: Religious Architecture from Sultan Selim to Napoleon (forthcoming from AUC Press, November 2021), an illustrated study of Cairene religious architecture built after the Ottoman conquest of 1517.

Menna M. El Mahy, who assisted Chahinda throughout the making of the book, said about her late professor: “Dr. Chahinda’s passing came as a terrible shock. She was more than a mentor or a professor to me, she was truly a godsend. Dr. Chahinda was a true lady, a pure, gracious, loving, caring, and selfless soul. She was a true mentor and an idol.”

Dr. Karim and Menna M. El Mahy (Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Ellen Kenney)

“Assisting her on Ottoman Cairo was an opportunity of a lifetime and I’ll forever be indebted to her,” added El Mahy. “Dr. Chahinda never complicated life, viewed it so simply, yet with her simplicity came elegance, sophistication, and grace. I was always in awe of how she never overused words, yet delivered her thoughts perfectly. She never spoke ill of a single soul, on the contrary, she praised everyone around her, loved everyone, and respected everyone.”

Hind Mostafa Nabil , founder and managing director at Nadim for Heritage and Development Foundation, wrote on her Facebook page: “Chahinda Karim is a true pillar to many of her students, colleagues, and family as indeed they were all family to her. Her subtle attitude towards teaching, mentoring, and transmission of knowledge is truly remarkable. In fact I owe her my knowledge and subsequent fascination with Historic Cairo.”

Our thoughts are with Chahinda’s family at this difficult time.

Dr. Chahinda Karim giving a talk on ‘Art, Gender, and Politics in Egypt: Queen Hapshepsut,’ for GBH Forum Network, a public media service of GBH that records lectures from the world’s foremost scholars, authors, artists, scientists, policymakers, and community leaders.



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