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The Author and Her Books

May Rihani is the author of nine books and the editor of two.

Her English books address the issues of girls’ education, women’s empowerment, and global human development. One of her books, Learning for the 21st Century: Strategies for Girls’ and Women’s Education in The Middle East and North Africa, was translated into French, Arabic, and Farsi. Her two recent books are: Cultures Without Borders, a memoir; and A New Narrative of Peace, an essay on the conditions of Peace.

Her three Arabic books are a collection of free-verse poetry that deal with love, language, Lebanon, and global common ground.

She also co-edited two books: one on Ameen Rihani, and a more recent one on the relevance of Kahlil Gibran, Ameen Rihani, and Mikhail Naimy in today’s world.

A New Narrative

A New Narrative of Peace

This book represents the proceedings of the Inaugural Lecture of May Rihani as the Director of the Gibran Chair at the University of Maryland. It was published in 2017.


“May Rihani’s Inaugural Lecture is inspirational reading for all those working for peace, both within the academy and across society. Her theme—that the oneness of humanity is the path to peace—shines like a light on a restless sea.”

Wallace Loh

President of the University of Maryland

“This Inaugural Lecture presented—before a distinguished audience of thought leaders, policy makers, researchers, academics, and students—is inspirational, motivational, scholarly, well presented and organized (not in a linear way), and contains a good balance of theory, policy, and realistic activism.”

Leonard Epstein

former Senior Advisor on Culture
Language and Health Literacy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Cultures Without Borders: From Beirut to Washington, D.C

Published in 2014. Cultures Without Borders is the story of a Lebanese woman who defies stereotypical notions about Arab women.

It describes the upbringing of a girl growing up in Lebanon during its golden years, i.e., from the 1950s through 1975. It was a time when Lebanon was the only pluralistic democracy in the Middle East.

In Lebanon, newspapers freely criticize the leadership of their country, and people were not jailed for expressing their opinion.

At that time, Lebanon was home to 58 daily and weekly publications—some as diverse as a Maoist paper—and where people of different faiths lived and worked in peace.

This is also a story of the discovery of common ground among cultures. The author, who lived in France and the US, and who traveled and worked in more than 40 countries, discovered that the common ground among cultures is by far more important than the apparent differences and that the more human beings understood, acknowledged, and valued the common ground, the more they became global citizens.

The memoir focuses on May’s work to facilitate the transformative power of girls’ education through innovative human development programs. Presently girls’ education is recognized as boosting all development sectors.

The book draws examples of her work in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Morocco, Mali, Malawi, the Congo, and other countries where the author worked, and where the positive transformation of societies has a chance due to girls’ education.

Cultures Without Borders is the story of a unique woman who has found and embraced the Other within herself.


“May Rihani’s book is proof of the emptiness of three stereotypes: she challenges the idea that Arab women are submissive, that there are no democracies in the Middle East, and the notion of a “clash of civilizations.” Her life demonstrates global leadership by a Lebanese Arab woman, and her memoir describes a golden age in Lebanon when democracy and freedom of expression were taken for granted. Perhaps most importantly, Cultures Without Borders finds the common ground among cultures despite apparent differences. This is an eyewitness account of the rich and profound goodness in humanity.”

H.E. Amine Gemayel

former President of Lebanon

“Cultures Without Borders contains important lessons for all those who aspire to live as productive global citizens in the twenty-first century. On the macro level, May Rihani’s book demonstrates the falsity of the ‘clash of civilizations’ theory that posits inevitable conflict between peoples of differing cultures. Instead, through personal anecdotes and authoritative evidence drawn from real-world experiences, she demonstrates the universality of the impulse to transcend frontiers of the mind and connect peacefully with ‘the other’ through education and dialogue.”

Suheil Bushrui

Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland

“Cultures without Borders is a historical and memoiristic account of several journeys, through time, place and the life of a remarkable woman. This beautiful and moving story starts with a young girl’s childhood in the multi-confessional and multicultural Lebanon of the 1950s and 60s, and proceeds through the turmoil of the civil war that tore up the jewel of the Levant, and takes us up to the present in the United States where even as she succeeds richly in her new country she continues to keep a watchful and loving eye on her birthplace. With this book, May Rihani, who hails from one of Lebanon’s great literary families, stakes her claim to her own unique vision, strong and triumphant.”

Lee Smith

Author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and
the Clash of Arab Civilizations.

“I have never met anyone who so adeptly mixes academics, philosophy, technical know-how, advocacy, and common sense like May Rihani. I have watched with awe as she has applied her unique set of skills and made a difference in the lives of women and girls around the world.”

Stephanie Funk

USAID Mission Director, Zimbabwe

Weaving between poetry and politics; evoking the intimacy of family and the openness of public service; at once struggling for local girls’ education/poverty alleviation and negotiating with World Bank and UN officers; laboring every day for economic development for women and yet running high romance with Romeo lovers; conversing equally with illiterate village friends and global leaders – May Rihani invites us into a Lebanese and American garden throbbing with its unfolding mystery; enchanted by fragrances of East, West and South; and exhilarated by the empowering possibility of a life lived fully every moment and yet always with an eye to the possibilities ahead. She humbles, she empowers, she inspires.

Suad Joseph,

Distinguished Research Professor
University of California at Davis

Keeping the Promise

Keeping the Promise highlights the barriers and challenges that girls face when they decide to enter secondary education, and the five main benefits that accrue to them and their families if and when they enter and complete secondary education. It was published by the Academy for Educational Development in 2006.

View the PDF copy

Learning for the 21st Century

Learning for the 21st Century analyses the status of education for girls and boys in the Middle East and North Africa and proposes 20 different and complementary strategies to advance girls’ and women’s education in the Middle East and North Africa. UNICEF published it in 1993.


Strategies to Promote Girls’ Education: Policies and Programmes that Work, with Khadija Haq

Strategies to Promote Girls’ Education: Policies and Programmes that Work, with Khadija Haq. Despite significant progress in the state of education worldwide, in 1990 an estimated 948 million adults–about a quarter of the world’s population–were still illiterate, the majority being girls and women. This book was written to highlight effective strategies that advanced girls’ education — published by UNICEF in June 1992.

Yalouffou Khasr al-Ard (Encircling the Waist of the Earth)

Yalouffou Khasr al-Ard (Encircling the Waist of the Earth). This book of poetry is a collection of free-verse poems that reflect May Rihani’s views on love, global society, language, and her beloved Lebanon. Platform International published it in 1992.


Development as if Women Mattered

Development as if Women Mattered is an annotated bibliography that gathers a large number of documents that focus on the important role that women play in advancing the development of their communities. A number of these documents are written by authors and researchers from the developing countries. The Overseas Development Council published it in 1978.

Ismi Siwaya (My Name Is The Other)

Ismi Siwaya (My Name Is The Other) is a free-verse poetry collection in Arabic addressing suffering and the less privileged. Dar Rihani published them in Lebanon in 1974.


Hafrun ’Ala Al-Ayyam (Engraving on Time)

Hafrun ’Ala Al-Ayyam (Engraving on Time) is a collection of essays in Arabic dealing with existential issues, published by Dar Rihani in Lebanon in 1969.

The Essential Rhiani

May Rihani also co-edited:

  • Reshaping Landscapes of Arab Thought: Legacies of Kahlil Gibran, Ameen Rihani, and Mikhail Naimy: co-edited with Michael Dravis, published by the University of Maryland, 2019
  • The Essential Rihani co-edited with Suheil Bushrui, published by the University of Maryland, 2015
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