The beginning of worship is silence. Then follows the pursuit of knowledge, then acting upon that knowledge, then recording it, and finally spreading it.

Sufyan al-Thawri

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.

Jorge Luis Borges

Bilal Orfali

Sheikh Zayed Professor for Arabic and Islamic Studies at the American University of Beirut

Bilal Orfali, Ph.D. (2009), Yale University, is Sheikh Zayed Chair for Arabic and Islamic Studies at the American University of Beirut. He previously held the M.S. Sofia Chair in Arabic Studies at the Ohio State University. He specializes in Arabic literature, Sufism, and Qurʾānic Studies. He co-edits al-Abhath Journal and Brill’s series Texts and Studies on the Qur’an and Handbooks on Islamic Mysticism.

A Disputation over a Fragment of the True Cross: A Medieval Arabic Text from the History of Christian-Jewish-Muslim Relations in Egypt. [Critical edition with introduction, study, translation, and notes]. Stephen J. Davis, Bilal Orfali, and Samuel Noble. Beirut: Dar al-Machreq, Recherches, 2012. مجادلة حول قطعة من الصليب


The Anthologist’s Art: Abū Manṣur al-Thaʿālibī and His Yātimat al-dahr. Leiden: Brill, 2016.


Light upon Light: Essays in Islamic Thought and History in Honor of Gerhard Bowering. Edited by Jamal Elias and Bilal Orfali. Leiden: Brill, 2019.


Khāṣṣ al-Khāṣṣ fī-l-amthāl li-Abī Manṣūr al-Thaʿālibī. Edited by Ramzi Baalbaki and Bilal Orfali. Beirut: Orient-Institut (Bibliotheca Islamica), 2020.

Mar 15, 2021


Arabic Papyri are highly neglected in international scholarship. The reason is that most of the objects are not accessible. They are stored in Egypt in the Islamic Museum, in the National Library or in individual American (Ann Arbor) or European Collections (Vienna, Berlin). The aim of this project was to contribute to the chances of future research on Arabic papyri worldwide. In this study, 100 papyri were digitalized and made available to the academic and general community for future research. With this tandem project, the Egyptologist and Papyrus expert Verena Lepper (Berlin) and the Arabic Philology Expert Bilal Orfali (Beirut) focused on accessing ancient Arabic papyri for future research. Papyrology is a wide field of studies, it comprises a large variety of scripts and languages used or spoken in Ancient Egypt, from Hieroglyphic, Hieratic, Demotic, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Coptic, up to Arabic. Arabic is the youngest language to be written on papyri. The papyri are kept in a variety of institutions in Egypt, Europe and the US. The Papyrus Collection of the Egyptian Museum Berlin comprises 1000 Arabic Papyri, of which only a small part is deciphered and published. As a feasibility study, these papyri could bemade accessible to the academic and general world community through this project. In order to better understand the beginning of Islam in Egypt and the culture and history of the first centuries of Islamic Egypt. The field of Arabic Papyrology is very small. In March 2018, the International Arabic Papyrology Congress was hosted in Berlin at the Egyptian Museum, the Humboldt University, the Free University and the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences. As a result of this congress, it became clear that there is a strong need for the digitalization of Arabic papyri worldwide. Following this call, in collaboration with several partners, the Tandem-partners conducted this project for the digitization of the Berlin papyri. T he Tandam team sought cooperation with the Ministry of Antiquity in Egypt (Ahmed Kamal, head of Department of Arabic papyri) in order to discuss documentation standards. The international centers of Arabic Papyrology (Leiden, Munich and Paris) incl. Sebastian Metz were also involved. In addition, digitization has been made and shall be made a standard for all papyrus studies. Therefore, the expertise from the academic field of the Digital Humanities was therefore an important component of the project..

Oct 15, 2020

Series Brings Alive Classical Arabic Texts for Young Readers

For some teens, classical Arabic literature has a stiff and forbidding reputation. The teen protagonist in Huda El Shuwa’s young-adult novel Dragon of Bethlehem dreads Arabic class, and particularly pre-modern Arabic poetry. But then he meets a witty dragon who gives him a new way of looking at these fifteen-hundred-year-old poems. Freed from their traditional classroom context, the poems become something new. With the new Young Readers series from the New York University Press’s Library of Arabic Literature (LAL), the scholars Enass Khansa and Bilal Orfali are crafting something like this secret dragon. The series, which is releasing its third classic book this month, reframes pre-modern texts so that they can take wing in the classroom and beyond. “Classical Arabic literature is associated with many things,” Khansa said over a Zoom interview. “But it’s not associated with being a space for creative and experimental thinking. I think the main idea, for both of us, is that this [book series] is experimental. That’s why we’re medievalists—because there is richness and potential.”.

Feb 28, 2020

New Series of the Library of Arabic Literature

This new series of the Library of Arabic Literature, a project of NYU-AD Institute, targets the youth and general readers. It aims to illustrate Arabic classics, making them accessible to general readers. For how do we understand texts written more than 1000 years ago? How can we visually reformulate the aesthetic and performatives questions in such texts? The selected texts include capturing narratives, inquiring questions, rhetorical dialogues, imaginative geography. They offer a vital opportunity to experience classical heritage and incite creativeness at the personal and epistemological levels. In this new series we offer a rich piece of a glorious Arabic heritage, in hope it will remain part of our cultural memory and consciousness..