The Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan Chair for Islamic and Arab Studies traces its roots to a $150,000 gift that Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan made to AUB to establish a chair for Islamic studies in 1972. The purpose of the original 10-year gift was to increase awareness and encourage greater interest in the study of Islamic religious thought, philosophy, history, and civilization.

Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan made a second gift of $1 million to AUB in 1976, just four years later, to establish an endowed fund to ensure that there would always be a Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan Chair at AUB. That $1 million endowed fund is now worth almost $14 million. In 2012, the scope of the chair was expanded to include Arab studies.

The income that the endowed fund has generated has enabled AUB to recruit a number of eminent scholars to the university including Tarif Khalidi, who was the Sheikh Zayed Chair for 14 years (2002-16), and the current chair Bilal Orfali (2019-present). The fund has also supported the appointment of Zafrullah Khan, Sayed Said Jaffrey, George Saliba, Aziz al-Azmeh, and Radwan El-Sayed as Visiting Sheikh Zayed professors. The presence at AUB of these individuals has enriched the university enabling it to expand its programmatic offerings and raise its profile in this prestigious discipline.

Proceeds from Sheikh Zayed Endowment have provided valuable support for AUB students, in the form of graduate assistantships for MA students in Islamic studies and Middle Eastern studies. Since 1998, the Sheikh Zayed Endowment has funded over 150 graduate assistantships for students pursuing master's degrees in Middle Eastern studies and Islamic studies.