Dr. Najeeb M. Saleeby was a Lebanese physician and scholar, who pioneered studies on Moro history and culture as well as the genealogy of Islam in the Philippines. His works have served as a foundation for the analysis of the non-Christian region of the Philippines and has provided an alternative to the Spanish and American discourse of twentieth century Philippine history. Earning the trust of local sultanates and Arab residents, he gathered some of the most important original documents about the history of Muslim Mindanao.
Trained as a medical doctor, Saleeby arrived in Manila in 1900 as part of an expedition during the Filipino-American War. His knowledge of the Arabic language and familiarity with Islamic institutions became a valuable asset in the American occupation of Mindanao. His role as an interpreter and intelligence officer expanded, and he soon held positions in administrative, legislative and educational institutions, such as the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes, Moro Affairs and the Office of the Superintendent of Schools. Saleeby’s significant contribution to the American project of pacification was crystallised in his work on the 1903 ethnological survey of the Philippines. Moreover, his contribution of artifacts and manuscripts to a 1908 exhibition at the Philippine National Museum showcased his collection of tarsilas (genealogies) of migration to the islands in addition to legal doctrines that systematised Islamic law with traditional customs and other materials that documented the influence of Islam on the people in Mindanao.
Saleeby traveled to China, the United States, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon from 1919 to 1920. During this time, he wrote now classical texts, such The Moro problem: an academic discussion of the history and solution of the problem of the government of the Moros of the Philippine Islands (1913); Studies in Moro history, law and religion (1905); Origin of the Malayan Filipinos (1912); Sulu reader for the public schools of the Moro Province (1905) and The History of Sulu (1908). He also delivered a 1920 speech titled Impressions of the Philippines to the first graduating class of the newly named American University of Beirut. Saleeby published the book The Language of Education of the Philippine Islands (1924), a critical assessment of American policy in education that endorsed the use of a common vernacular.
His fascination with ethnography and medicine persisted throughout his time in the Philippines. He held positions at the University of the Philippines, the new University Hospital and the Bureau of Science.
Born in 1870 in Souk el Garb, Lebanon, Saleeby died in 1935 in Baguio City, Philippines. He lived and worked in Lebanon, the Philippines and the United States.