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.

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


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


The relationship between Sufism or Islamic mysticism and ethics is largely untilled land. Mysticism and Ethics in Islam attempts to survey this fertile area of investigation by attempting to come to a clearer idea of precisely what is meant by the terms “ethics” and “mysticism” vis-à-vis Islam and vis-à-vis each other.


Through investigations of manuscripts, this book explores important aspects of the life of Badîʿ al-Zamân al-Hamadhânî’s Maqâmât. The broad concerns of the book are divided into three sections: authorship, texts, and contexts. Each chapter in this volume investigates hitherto unstudied textual materials related to al-Hamadhânî’s Maqâmât that adds to our understanding of the text, its history, and the literary culture that created it.


Approaches to the Study of Pre-Modern Arabic Anthologies Editors: Bilal Orfali and Nadia Maria El Cheikh Literary anthology is a general category of adab that encompasses a range of compilations which has enjoyed tremendous popularity in Arabic literature, probably like no other literature of the world. The aim of this volume is to raise and discuss questions about the different approaches to the study of pre-modern Arabic anthologies from the perspectives of philology, religion, history, geography, and literature. Contributors: Lyall Armstrong, Carl Davila, Matthew L. Keegan, Boutheina Khaldi, Enass Khansa, Jeremy Kurzyniec, David Larsen, Nathaniel A. Miller, Suleiman A. Mourad, Hans-Peter Pökel, Isabel Toral

Sep 20, 2021

UAE Embassy in Beirut holds seminar on Human Fraternity Document

BEIRUT, 20th September, 2021 (WAM) -- The UAE Embassy in Beirut has held a virtual seminar entitled, "The Importance of the Human Fraternity Document to Research and Academic Work." The seminar was attended by Prof. Roula Talhouk, Director of the Islamic Christian Research and Documentation Centre (CEDIFR), at the Saint Joseph University of Beirut; and Dr. Bilal Orfali, Sheikh Zayed Professor for Arabic and Islamic Studies at the American University of Beirut. During the event, they discussed the importance of the document, as well as its role in promoting openness and tolerance resulting from the UAE’s related efforts. In its statement, the embassy stressed that the UAE is keen to promote the principles of the document through education, as well as to launch many ambitious initiatives in this area, noting its approach consists of spreading the values of tolerance and international peace. Talhouk discussed several planned initiatives and projects that aim to promote the values and principles of the document and integrate them into all school and university curricula. Orfali explained the role of the Sheikh Zayed Chair in promoting the document, noting that the efforts of Arab and Muslim scholars are crucial as educational systems generate and spread ideas..

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 16, 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.”.