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Bilal Orfali (American University of Beirut)

Bilal Orfali

Bilal Orfali

Fellow in Research Area 3: "Future Perfect"

July – August 2020

The Maqāmāt of Al-Hamadhāni: Critical Edition, Translation, and Commentary

This project at EXC 2020 focuses on the Maqāmāt of Badīʿ al-Zamān al-Hamadhānī (d. 398 A.H./1008 C.E.). Maqāma pl. maqamat refers to a native genre of fictional Arabic prose literature that has played an important role in Middle Eastern and global literary history. Invented in Arabic in the 4th/10th century in Eastern Iran, maqāmāt are collections of picaresque tales that narrate the various adventures of a trickster’s travels across cities of the medieval Islamic world. Casting the exploits and speech of its characters in flowery prose, maqāmāt tales are often ironic, parodic, and darkly humorous tales, which have proven themselves remarkably clever at capturing the attention of medieval audiences, modern readers, and critics. They often mock our aspects of society or our knowledge and perception of literature, religion, science, and philosophy.

As a reliable edition and translation of Hamadhānī’s central work is still missing, this project on the Maqāmāt is an important initiative within the field of Arabic literature. It will likely be influential for scholars of comparative and world literature, and useful to students of Arabic literature as a major resource for future studies. This project also aims to provide a readable English translation and a commentary for selected chapters of Maqāmāt to make more of Hamadhānī’s work accessible to the growing number of students and scholars interested in non-European literatures. The English translation and commentary will help to situate a foundational work of Middle Eastern Literature in a broader global context, such that this lively work may assume its rightful place as one of the Arabic language’s major contributions to World Literature.

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 specialises in Arabic literature, Sufism, and Qurʾānic Studies. He co-edits the journal al-Abhath and Brill’s series Texts and Studies on the Qur’an and Handbooks on Islamic Mysticism. He is the author and editor of more than twenty books on Arabic Studies. His recent publications include: Light Upon Light (Brill, 2019), Insatiable Appetite: Food as Cultural Signifier in the Middle East and Beyond (Brill, 2019), The Anthologist's Art (Brill, 2016), The Book of Noble Character (Brill, 2015), The Comfort of the Mystics (Brill, 2013), Sufism, Black and White (Brill, 2012), and In the Shadow of Arabic (Brill, 2011).