: الأدب العربي
: al-Adab al-‘Arabī
) is the writing, both as prose
, produced by writers in the Arabic language
. The Arabic word used for literature is "Adab"
, which is derived from a meaning of etiquette
, and which implies politeness, culture and enrichment.
Arabic literature emerged in the 5th century with only fragments of the written language appearing before then. The Qur'an
, widely regarded as the finest piece of literature in the Arabic language
would have the greatest lasting effect on Arabic culture
and its literature. Arabic literature flourished during the Islamic Golden Age
, but has remained vibrant to the present day, with poets and prose-writers across the Arab world, as well as in the Arab diaspora, achieving increasing success.
Notable poets of the pre-Islamic period were Abu Layla al-Muhalhel
There were also the poets of the Mu'allaqat
, or "the suspended ones", a group of poems said to have been on display in Mecca
These poets are Imru' al-Qais
, Tarafah ibn al-‘Abd
, Abid Ibn al-Abrass [ar]
, Harith ibn Hilliza
, Amr ibn Kulthum
, Zuhayr ibn Abi Sulma
, Al-Nabigha al-Dhubiyānī
, Antara Ibn Shaddad
, al-A'sha al-Akbar
, and Labīd ibn Rabī'ah
As the literature of the Jahili period was transmitted orally and not written, prose represents little of what has been passed down.
The main forms were parables (المَثَل
), speeches (الخطابة
), and stories (القِصَص
The Qur'an is one of the most influential examples of Arabic literature
, the main holy book
, had a significant influence on the Arab language, and marked the beginning of Islamic literature
. Muslims believe it was transcribed in the Arabic dialect of the Quraysh
, the tribe of Muhammad
As Islam spread, the Quran had the effect of unifying and standardizing Arabic.
Not only is the Qur'an the first work of any significant length written in the language, but it also has a far more complicated structure than the earlier literary works with its 114 suras
(chapters) which contain 6,236 ayat
(verses). It contains injunctions
, direct addresses from God, instructions and even comments on itself on how it will be received and understood. It is also admired for its layers of metaphor as well as its clarity, a feature it mentions itself in sura 16:103.
The 92 Meccan suras
, believed to have been revealed to Muhammad in Mecca before the Hijra
, deal primarily with 'usul ad-din [ar]
, or "the principles of religion", whereas the 22 Medinan suras
, believed to have been revealed to him after the Hijra, deal primarily with Sharia
and prescriptions of Islamic life.
The word qur'an
meant "recitation", and in early times the text was transmitted orally. The various tablets and scraps on which its suras were written were compiled under Abu Bakr
(573-634), and first transcribed in unified masahif
, or copies of the Qur'an, under Uthman
Although it contains elements of both prose and poetry, and therefore is closest to Saj
or rhymed prose
, the Qur'an is regarded as entirely apart from these classifications. The text is believed to be divine revelation
and is seen by Muslims
as being eternal or 'uncreated'. This leads to the doctrine of i'jaz
or inimitability of the Qur'an which implies that nobody can copy the work's style.
Say, Bring you then ten chapters like unto it, and call whomsoever you can, other than God, if you speak the truth!
This doctrine of i'jaz
possibly had a slight limiting effect on Arabic literature; proscribing exactly what could be written. Whilst Islam allows Muslims to write, read and recite poetry, the Qur'an states in the 26th sura (Ash-Shu'ara
or The Poets) that poetry which is blasphemous, obscene, praiseworthy of sinful acts, or attempts to challenge the Qu'ran's content and form, is forbidden for Muslims.
And as to the poets, those who go astray follow them
Do you not see that they wander about bewildered in every valley? And that they say that which they do not do
Except those who believe and do good works and remember Allah much and defend themselves after they are oppressed; and they who act unjustly shall know to what final place of turning they shall turn back.
This may have exerted dominance over the pre-Islamic poets of the 6th century whose popularity may have vied with the Qur'an amongst the people. There was a marked lack of significant poets until the 8th century. One notable exception was Hassan ibn Thabit
who wrote poems in praise of Muhammad
and was known as the "prophet's poet".
Just as the Bible
has held an important place in the literature of other languages, The Qur'an is important to Arabic. It is the source of many ideas, allusions and quotes and its moral message informs many works.
Aside from the Qur'an the hadith
or tradition of what Muhammed is supposed to have said and done are important literature. The entire body of these acts and words are called sunnah
or way and the ones regarded as sahih
or genuine of them are collected into hadith. Some of the most significant collections of hadith include those by Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj
and Muhammad ibn Isma'il al-Bukhari
The other important genre of work in Qur'anic study is the tafsir
Arab writings relating to religion also includes many sermons
and devotional pieces as well as the sayings of Ali
which were collected in the 10th century as Nahj al-Balaghah
or The Peak of Eloquence
Under the Rashidun
, or the "rightly guided caliphs," literary centers developed in the Hijaz
, in cities such as Mecca
; in the Levant, in Damascus
; and in Iraq, in Kufa
Literary production—and poetry in particular—in this period served the spread of Islam.
There was also poetry to praise brave warriors, to inspire soldiers in jihad
, and rithā'
to mourn those who fell in battle.
Notable poets of this rite include Ka'b ibn Zuhayr
, Hasan ibn Thabit
, Abu Dhū'īb al-Hudhalī [ar]
, and Nābigha al-Ja‘dī
The First Fitna
, which created the Shia–Sunni split
over the rightful caliph
, had a great impact on Arabic literature.
Whereas Arabic literature—along with Arab society—was greatly centralized in the time of Muhammad
and the Rashidun
, it became fractured at the beginning of the period of the Umayyad Caliphate
, as power struggles led to tribalism.
Arabic literature at this time reverted to its state in al-Jahiliyyah
, with markets such as Kinasa
and Mirbad [ar]
, where poetry in praise and admonishment of political parties and tribes was recited.
Poets and scholars found support and patronage under the Ummayads, but the literature of this period was limited in that it served the interests of parties and individuals, and as such was not a free art form.
was produced in Al-Andalus
, or Islamic Iberia, from its Muslim conquest
in 711 to either the Catholic conquest of Granada
in 1492 or the Expulsion of the Moors
ending in 1614. Ibn Abd Rabbih's Al-ʿIqd al-Farīd
(The Unique Necklace) and Ibn Tufail's Hayy ibn Yaqdhan
were influential works of literature from this tradition. Notable literary figures of this period include Ibn Hazm
, Ibn Zaydun
, Wallada bint al-Mustakfi
, Al-Mu'tamid ibn Abbad
, Ibn Bajja
, Ibn Rushd
, Hafsa bint al-Hajj al-Rukuniyya
, Ibn Tufail
, Ibn Arabi
, Ibn Quzman
, Abu al-Baqa ar-Rundi
, and Ibn al-Khatib
. The muwashshah
were important literary forms in al-Andalus.
founded al-Qarawiyiin University
in 859. Particularly from the beginning of the 12th century, with sponsorship from the Almoravid dynasty
, the university played an important role in the development of literature in the region, welcoming scholars and writers from throughout the Maghreb, al-Andalus, and the Mediterranean Basin
Among the scholars who studied and taught there were Ibn Khaldoun
, Ibn Hirzihim
), Ibn al-Khatib
, and Al-Wazzan
) as well as the Jewish theologian Maimonides
. Sufi literature
played an important role in literary and intellectual life in the region from this early period, such as Muhammad al-Jazuli's
book of prayers Dala'il al-Khayrat
During the 19th century a revival took place in Arabic literature, along with much of Arabic culture, and is referred to in Arabic as "al-Nahda
", which means "the Renaissance". This resurgence of writing in Arabic was confined mainly to Syria
until the 20th century when it spread to other countries in the region. This Renaissance was not only felt within the Arab world but also beyond, with a great interest in the translating of Arabic works into European languages. Although the use of the Arabic language was revived, particularly in poetry, many of the tropes
of the previous literature which served to make it so ornate and complicated were dropped.
During the Nahda
, poets like Francis Marrash
, Ahmad Shawqi
and Hafiz Ibrahim
began to explore the possibility of developing the classical poetic forms.
Some of these neoclassical poets were acquainted with Western literature but mostly continued to write in classical forms, while others, denouncing blind imitation of classical poetry and its recurring themes,
sought inspiration from French or English romanticism
The next generation of poets, the so-called Romantic poets, began to absorb the impact of developments in Western poetry to a far greater extent, and felt constrained by Neoclassical
traditions which the previous generation had tried to uphold. The Mahjari
poets were emigrants who mostly wrote in the Americas, but were similarly beginning to experiment further with the possibilities of Arabic poetry. This experimentation continued in the Middle East throughout the first half of the 20th century.
, founder of one of the first arabophone newspapers in Morocco: At-Tā'ūn
and author of several poetry collections, was a leader of the Nahda in the Maghreb.
, referred to as the "Dean of Arabic Literature" (Arabic: عميد الأدب العربي).
Throughout the 20th century, Arabic writers in both poetry and prose have reflected the changing political and social climate of the Arab world in their work. Anti-colonial themes were prominent early in the 20th century, with writers continuing to explore the region's relationship with the West until the present day. Internal political upheaval has also been a challenge, with some writers suffering censorship. There are many contemporary Arabic writers, such as Mahmoud Saeed (Iraq) who wrote Bin Barka Ally
, and I Am The One Who Saw (Saddam City)
. Other contemporary writers include Sonallah Ibrahim
and Abdul Rahman Munif
, who were imprisoned by the state for their anti-government work. At the same time, others who had written works supporting or praising governments were promoted to positions of authority within cultural bodies. Non-fiction writers and academics have also produced political polemics and criticisms aiming to re-shape Arabic politics. Some of the best known are Taha Hussein
's The Future of Culture in Egypt
, which was an important work of Egyptian nationalism
, and the works of Nawal el-Saadawi
who campaigns for women's rights
. Tayeb Salih and Ghassan Kanafani are two other writers that explored identity in relationship to foreign and domestic powers, the former focusing on colonial/post-colonial dynamics and the latter on the Palestinian struggle.
Mention no longer the driver on his night journey and the wide striding camels, and give up talk of morning dew and ruins.
I no longer have any taste for love songs on dwellings which already went down in seas of [too many] odes.
So, too, the ghada
, whose fire, fanned by the sighs of those enamored of it, cries out to the poets: "Alas for my burning!"
If a steamer leaves with my friends on sea or land, why should I direct my complaints to the camels?
After World War II
, there was a largely unsuccessful movement by several poets to write poems in free verse
). Iraqi poets Badr Shakir al-Sayyab
and Nazik Al-Malaika
(1923-2007) are considered to be the originators of free verse in Arabic poetry. Most of these experiments were abandoned in favour of prose poetry
, of which the first examples in modern Arabic literature are to be found in the writings of Francis Marrash
and of which two of the most influential proponents were Nazik al-Malaika and Iman Mersal
. The development of modernist poetry
also influenced poetry in Arabic. More recently, poets such as Adunis
have pushed the boundaries of stylistic experimentation even further.
Poetry retains a very important status in the Arab world. Mahmoud Darwish
was regarded as the Palestinian national poet, and his funeral was attended by thousands of mourners. Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani
addressed less political themes, but was regarded as a cultural icon, and his poems provide the lyrics for many popular songs.
Two distinct trends can be found in the nahda
period of revival. The first was a neo-classical movement which sought to rediscover the literary traditions of the past, and was influenced by traditional literary genres—such as the maqama
—and works like One Thousand and One Nights
. In contrast, a modernist movement began by translating Western modernist works—primarily novels—into Arabic.
In the 19th century, individual authors in Syria
created original works by imitating classical narrative genres: Ahmad Faris Shidyaq
with Leg upon Leg
(1855), Khalil Khoury with Yes... so I am not a Frank
(1859), Francis Marrash
with The Forest of Truth
(1865), Salim al-Bustani
with At a Loss in the Levantine Gardens
(1870), and Muhammad al-Muwaylihi with Isa ibn Hisham's Tale
This trend was furthered by Jurji Zaydan
(author of many historical novels), Khalil Gibran
, Mikha'il Na'ima
and Muhammad Husayn Haykal
(author of Zaynab
). Meanwhile, female writer Zaynab Fawwaz
's first novel Ḥusn al-'Awāqib aw Ghādah al-Zāhirah
(The Happy Ending
, 1899) was also influential.
According to the authors of the Encyclopedia of the Novel
Almost each of the above [works] have been claimed as the first Arabic novel, which goes to suggest that the Arabic novel emerged from several rehearsals and multiple beginnings rather than from one single origin. Given that the very Arabic word "riwaya
", which is now used exclusively in reference to the "novel", has traditionally conjured up a tangle of narrative genres [...], it might not be unfair to contend that the Arabic novel owes its early formation not only to the appropriation of the novel genre from Europe [...] but also, and more importantly, to the revival and transformation of traditional narrative genres in the wake of Napoleon
's 1798 expedition into Egypt and the Arab world's firsthand encounter with industrialized imperial Europe.
A common theme in the modern Arabic novel is the study of family life with obvious resonances of the wider family of the Arabic world.[according to whom?]
Many of the novels have been unable to avoid the politics and conflicts of the region with war often acting as background to intimate family dramas. The works of Naguib Mahfuz
depict life in Cairo
, and his Cairo Trilogy
, describing the struggles of a modern Cairene family across three generations, won him a Nobel prize for literature
in 1988. He was the first Arabic writer to win the prize.
The musical plays of Lebanese Maroun Naccache
from the mid-1800s are considered the birth of not only theatre in Lebanon
, but also modern Arab theatre.
Modern Arabic drama began to be written in the 19th century chiefly in Egypt and mainly influenced and in imitation of French works. It was not until the 20th century that it began to develop a distinctly Arab flavour and be seen elsewhere. The most important Arab playwright was Tawfiq al-Hakim
whose first play was a re-telling of the Qur'anic story of the Seven sleepers
and the second an epilogue for the Thousand and One Nights
. Other important dramatists of the region include Yusuf al-Ani from Iraq
and Saadallah Wannous
Classical Arabic literature
A large proportion of Arabic literature before the 20th century is in the form of poetry, and even prose from this period is either filled with snippets of poetry or is in the form of saj'
or rhymed prose. The themes of the poetry range from high-flown hymns of praise to bitter personal attacks and from religious and mystical ideas to poems on women and wine. An important feature of the poetry which would be applied to all of the literature was the idea that it must be pleasing to the ear. The poetry and much of the prose was written with the design that it would be spoken aloud and great care was taken to make all writing as mellifluous as possible.
The research into the life and times of Muhammad, and determining the genuine parts of the sunnah, was an important early reason for scholarship in or about the Arabic language. It was also the reason for the collecting of pre-Islamic poetry; as some of these poets were close to the prophet—Labid
meeting Muhammad and converting to Islam—and their writings illuminated the times when these events occurred. Muhammad also inspired the first Arabic biographies
, known as Al-Sirah Al-Nabawiyyah
; the earliest was by Wahb ibn Munabbih
, but Muhammad ibn Ishaq
wrote the best known. Whilst covering the life of the prophet they also told of the battles and events of early Islam and have numerous digressions on older biblical traditions.
Some of the earliest works studying the Arabic language were started in the name of Islam. Tradition has it that the caliph Ali
, after reading a copy of the Qur'an with errors in it, asked Abu al-Aswad al-Du'ali
to write a work codifying Arabic grammar
. Khalil ibn Ahmad
would later write Kitab al-Ayn
, the first dictionary of Arabic, along with works on prosody
, and his pupil Sibawayh
would produce the most respected work of Arabic grammar known simply as al-Kitab
or The Book
Other caliphs followed after 'Abd al-Malik
made Arabic the official language for the administration of the new empire, such as al-Ma'mun
who set up the Bayt al-Hikma
for research and translations. Basrah
were two other important seats of learning in the early Arab world, between which there was a strong rivalry.
The institutions set up mainly to investigate more fully the Islamic religion were invaluable in studying many other subjects. Caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik
was instrumental in enriching the literature by instructing scholars to translate works into Arabic. The first was probably Aristotle
's correspondence with Alexander the Great
translated by Salm Abu al-'Ala'. From the east, and in a very different literary genre, the scholar Abdullah Ibn al-Muqaffa
translated the animal fables
of the Panchatantra
. These translations would keep alive scholarship and learning, particularly that of ancient Greece
, during the Dark Ages
in Europe and the works would often be first re-introduced to Europe from the Arabic versions.
More medieval cookbooks have survived into the present day written in Arabic than in any other language. Classical Arabic culinary literature is comprised not only of cookbooks, there are also many works of scholarship, and descriptions of contemporary foods can be found in fictional and legendary tales like The Thousand and One Nights
Some of these texts predate Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq
's Kitab al-Tabikh
, the earliest known book of medieval Arabic cuisine. The Persian language Ḵusraw ī Kawādān ud rēdak-ēw
, translated into Arabic after the conquest of the Sasanian Empire
by Arab armies in the 7th century, was a guide to the sophisticated culinary and court culture of the time, written as a fictionalized narrative about an orphan descended from priestly roots who learns the ways of Khosrow I
Compilations and manuals
In the late 9th century Ibn al-Nadim
, a Baghdadi
bookseller, compiled a crucial work in the study of Arabic literature. The Kitab al-Fihrist
is a catalogue of all books available for sale in Baghdad, and it gives an overview of the state of the literature at that time.
One of the most common forms of literature during the Abbasid
period was the compilation. These were collections of facts, ideas, instructive stories and poems on a single topic, and covers subjects as diverse as house and garden, women, gate-crashers, blind people, envy, animals and misers. These last three compilations were written by al-Jahiz
, the acknowledged master of the form. These collections were important for any nadim
, a companion to a ruler or noble whose role was often involved regaling the ruler with stories and information to entertain or advise.
A type of work closely allied to the collection was the manual in which writers like ibn Qutaybah
offered instruction in subjects like etiquette, how to rule, how to be a bureaucrat and even how to write. Ibn Qutaybah also wrote one of the earliest histories of the Arabs, drawing together biblical stories, Arabic folk tales
and more historical events.
The subject of sex was frequently investigated in Arabic literature. The ghazal
or love poem had a long history, being at times tender and chaste and at other times rather explicit. In the Sufi
tradition, the love poem would take on wider, mystical and religious importance. Sex manuals were also written such as The Perfumed Garden
, Ṭawq al-Ḥamāmah
or The Dove's Neckring
by ibn Hazm
and Nuzhat al-albab fi-ma la yujad fi kitab
or Delight of Hearts Concerning What will Never Be Found in a Book
by Ahmad al-Tifashi
. Countering such works are one like Rawdat al-muhibbin wa-nuzhat al-mushtaqin
or Meadow of Lovers and Diversion of the Infatuated
by ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah
who advises on how to separate love and lust and avoid sin.
Biography, history, and geography
Aside from the early biographies
of Muhammad, the first major biographer to weigh character rather than just producing a hymn of praise was al-Baladhuri
with his Kitab ansab al-ashraf
or Book of the Genealogies of the Noble
, a collection of biographies. Another important biographical dictionary was begun by ibn Khallikan
and expanded by al-Safadi and one of the first significant autobiographies
was Kitab al-I'tibar
which told of Usamah ibn Munqidh
and his experiences in fighting in the Crusades
. This time period saw the emergence of the genre of tabaqat
(biographical dictionaries or biographical compendia).
In the medieval Near East
, Arabic diaries
were first being written from before the 10th century, though the medieval diary which most resembles the modern diary was that of Ibn Banna in the 11th century. His diary was the earliest to be arranged in order of date (ta'rikh
in Arabic), very much like modern diaries.
Literary theory and criticism
in Arabic literature often focused on religious texts, and the several long religious traditions of hermeneutics
and textual exegesis
have had a profound influence on the study of secular texts. This was particularly the case for the literary traditions of Islamic literature
In the Arab world
, there was a great distinction between al-fus'ha
(quality language) and al-ammiyyah
(language of the common people). Not many writers would write works in this al-ammiyyah
or common language and it was felt that literature had to be improving, educational and with purpose rather than just entertainment. This did not stop the common role of the hakawati
or story-teller who would retell the entertaining parts of more educational works or one of the many Arabic fables
, which were often not written down in many cases. Nevertheless, some of the earliest novels
, including the first philosophical novels
, were written by Arabic authors.
The most famous example of Arabic fiction is the One Thousand and One Nights
). It is easily the best-known work of all Arabic literature, and still affects many of the ideas non-Arabs have about Arabic culture
. A good example of the lack of popular Arabic prose fiction is that the stories of Aladdin
and Ali Baba
, usually regarded as part of the Tales from One Thousand and One Nights
, were not actually part of the Tales
. They were first included in French
translation of the Tales
by Antoine Galland
who heard them being told by Maronite Hanna Dyab
and only existed in incomplete Arabic manuscripts before that. The other great character from Arabic literature, Sinbad
, is from the Tales
The One Thousand and One Nights
is usually placed in the genre of Arabic epic literature
along with several other works. They are usually collections of short stories or episodes strung together into a long tale. The extant versions were mostly written down relatively late, after the 14th century, although many were undoubtedly collected earlier and many of the original stories are probably pre-Islamic. Types of stories in these collections include animal fables
, stories of jihad
or propagation of the faith, humorous tales, moral tales, tales about the wily con-man Ali Zaybaq, and tales about the prankster Juha.
not only straddles the divide between prose
, being instead a form of rhymed prose
, it is also part-way between fiction and non-fiction. Over a series of short narratives, which are fictionalised versions of real-life situations, different ideas are contemplated. A good example of this is a maqama
on musk, which purports to compare the feature of different perfumes but is in fact a work of political satire comparing several competing rulers. Maqama
also makes use of the doctrine of badi
or deliberately adding complexity to display the writer's dexterity with language. Al-Hamadhani
is regarded as the originator of maqama
; his work was taken up by Abu Muhammad al-Qasim al-Hariri
, one of al-Hariri's maqama
being a study of al-Hamadhani's own work. Maqama
was an exceptionally popular form of Arabic literature, one of the few forms which continued to be written during the decline of Arabic in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Another medieval Arabic love story was Hadith Bayad wa Riyad
(The Story of Bayad and Riyad
), a 13th-century Arabic
love story. The main characters of the tale are Bayad, a merchant's son and a foreigner from Damascus
, and Riyad, a well-educated girl in the court of an unnamed Hajib
(vizier or minister) of 'Iraq which is referred to as the lady. The Hadith Bayad wa Riyad
manuscript is believed to be the only illustrated manuscript known to have survived from more than eight centuries of Muslim and Arab presence in Spain.
Several elements of courtly love
were developed in Arabic literature, namely the notions of "love for love's sake" and "exaltation of the beloved lady" which have been traced back to Arabic literature of the 9th and 10th centuries. The notion of the "ennobling power" of love was developed in the early 11th century by the Persian psychologist
, Ibn Sina
(known as "Avicenna" in Europe), in his Arabic treatise Risala fi'l-Ishq
(Treatise on Love
). The final element of courtly love, the concept of "love as desire never to be fulfilled", was also at times implicit in Arabic poetry
Satire and comedy
In Arabic poetry
, the genre of satirical
poetry was known as hija
. Satire was introduced into prose literature by the author al-Jahiz
in the 9th century. While dealing with serious topics in what are now known as anthropology
, sociology and psychology
, he introduced a satirical approach, "based on the premise that, however serious the subject under review, it could be made more interesting and thus achieve greater effect, if only one leavened the lump of solemnity by the insertion of a few amusing anecdotes or by the throwing out of some witty or paradoxical observations."
He was well aware that, in treating of new themes in his prose works, he would have to employ a vocabulary of a nature more familiar in hija
, satirical poetry. For example, in one of his zoological
works, he satirized the preference for longer human penis size
, writing: "If the length of the penis were a sign of honor, then the mule
would belong to the (honorable tribe of) Quraysh
". Another satirical story based on this preference was an Arabian Nights
tale called "Ali with the Large Member".
In the 10th century, the writer Tha'alibi
recorded satirical poetry written by the poets As-Salami and Abu Dulaf, with As-Salami praising Abu Dulaf's wide breadth of knowledge
and then mocking his ability in all these subjects, and with Abu Dulaf responding back and satirizing As-Salami in return.
An example of Arabic political satire
included another 10th-century poet Jarir satirizing Farazdaq as "a transgressor of the Sharia
" and later Arabic poets in turn using the term "Farazdaq-like" as a form of political satire.
The terms "comedy
" and "satire" became synonymous after Aristotle
was translated into Arabic in the medieval Islamic world
, where it was elaborated upon by Arabic writers and Islamic philosophers
, such as Abu Bischr, his pupil al-Farabi
, and Averroes
. Due to cultural differences, they disassociated comedy from Greek dramatic
representation and instead identified it with Arabic poetic
themes and forms, such as hija
(satirical poetry). They viewed comedy as simply the "art of reprehension", and made no reference to light and cheerful events, or troublous beginnings and happy endings, associated with classical Greek comedy. After the Latin translations of the 12th century
, the term "comedy" thus gained a new semantic meaning in Medieval literature
theatre and passion plays
were popular in the medieval Islamic world
has only been a visible part of Arabic literature in the modern era. There may have been a much longer theatrical tradition but it was probably not regarded as legitimate literature and mostly went unrecorded. There is an ancient tradition of public performance amongst Shi'i
Muslims of a play depicting the life and death of al-Husayn
at the battle of Karbala
in 680 CE. There are also several plays composed by Shams al-din Muhammad ibn Daniyal in the 13th century when he mentions that older plays are getting stale and offers his new works as fresh material.
Ibn al-Nafis described his book Theologus Autodidactus
as a defense of "the system of Islam and the Muslims' doctrines on the missions of Prophets, the religious laws, the resurrection of the body, and the transitoriness of the world." He presents rational arguments for bodily resurrection
and the immortality
of the human soul
, using both demonstrative reasoning
and material from the hadith corpus to prove his case. Later Islamic scholars viewed this work as a response to the metaphysical
claim of Avicenna and Ibn Tufail that bodily resurrection cannot be proven through reason, a view that was earlier criticized by al-Ghazali. Ibn al-Nafis' work was later translated into Latin and English as Theologus Autodidactus
in the early 20th century.
translation of Ibn Tufail's work, entitled Philosophus Autodidactus
, first appeared in 1671, prepared by Edward Pococke
the Younger. The first English translation by Simon Ockley
was published in 1708, and German
translations were also published at the time. These translations later inspired Daniel Defoe
to write Robinson Crusoe
, which also featured a desert island narrative and was regarded as the first novel in English
. Philosophus Autodidactus
also inspired Robert Boyle
, an acquaintance of Pococke, to write his own philosophical novel set on an island, The Aspiring Naturalist
, in the late 17th century.
The story also anticipated Rousseau
in some ways, and is also similar to the later story of Mowgli
in Rudyard Kipling
's The Jungle Book
as well the character of Tarzan
, in that a baby is abandoned in a deserted tropical island where he is taken care of and fed by a mother wolf
. Other European writers influenced by Philosophus Autodidactus
include John Locke
, Gottfried Leibniz
, John Wallis
, Christiaan Huygens
, George Keith
, Robert Barclay
, the Quakers
and Samuel Hartlib
Al-Risalah al-Kamiliyyah fil Sira al-Nabawiyyah
(The Treatise of Kamil on the Prophet's Biography
), known in English
as Theologus Autodidactus
(which is a phonetic transliteration of the Greek name Θεολόγος Αὐτοδίδακτος, meaning self-taught theologian), written by the Arabian
polymath Ibn al-Nafis
(1213–1288), is the earliest known science fiction
novel. While also being an early desert island
story and coming of age
story, the novel deals with various science fiction elements such as spontaneous generation
, apocalyptic themes
, the end of the world and doomsday
and the afterlife
. Rather than giving supernatural or mythological explanations for these events, Ibn al-Nafis attempted to explain these plot elements using his own extensive scientific knowledge
in anatomy, biology, physiology
, astronomy, cosmology
. His main purpose behind this science fiction work was to explain Islamic
religious teachings in terms of science
. For example, it was through this novel that Ibn al-Nafis introduces his scientific theory of metabolism
, and he makes references to his own scientific discovery of the pulmonary circulation
in order to explain bodily resurrection. The novel was later translated into English as Theologus Autodidactus
in the early 20th century.
A number of stories within
the One Thousand and One Nights
) also feature science fiction elements. One example is "The Adventures of Bulukiya", where the protagonist
Bulukiya's quest for the herb of immortality
leads him to explore the seas, journey to the Garden of Eden
and to Jahannam
, and travel across the cosmos
to different worlds much larger than his own world, anticipating elements of galactic
along the way, he encounters societies of jinns
, talking serpents
, talking trees
, and other forms of life.
In another Arabian Nights
tale, the protagonist Abdullah the Fisherman gains the ability to breathe underwater and discovers an underwater submarine
society that is portrayed as an inverted reflection of society on land, in that the underwater society follows a form of primitive communism
where concepts like money and clothing do not exist. Other Arabian Nights
tales deal with lost ancient technologies, advanced ancient civilizations that went astray, and catastrophes which overwhelmed them.
"The City of Brass
" features a group of travellers on an archaeological
across the Sahara
to find an ancient lost city and attempt to recover a brass vessel that Solomon
once used to trap a jinn
and, along the way, encounter a mummified
lifelike humanoid robots
, seductive marionettes
dancing without strings,
and a brass horseman robot
who directs the party towards the ancient city. "The Ebony Horse
" features a robot
in the form of a flying mechanical horse controlled using keys that could fly into outer space and towards the Sun, while the "Third Qalandar's Tale" also features a robot in the form of an uncanny boatman
"The City of Brass" and "The Ebony Horse" can be considered early examples of proto-science fiction.
Other examples of early Arabic proto-science fiction include al-Farabi
's Opinions of the residents of a splendid city
about a utopian
society, and elements such as the flying carpet
Arabic literature for young readers
As in other languages, there is a growing number of literary works written in Arabic for young readers
With this group of readers in mind, the Young Readers series of the New York University Press
’s Library of Arabic Literature
(LAL) offers contemporary and even classical texts in its Weaving Words collection, like the tenth-century anthology of stories and anecdotes Al-Faraj Ba’d al-Shiddah
(Deliverance Follows Adversity)
by medieval writer Al-Muḥassin ibn ʿAlī al-Tanūkhī (327–84/939–94).
Women in Arabic literature
In the words of Clarissa Burt,
Despite the historical and social conditions that contributed to an almost total eclipse of women's poetic expression in the literary record as maintained in Arabic culture from the pre-Islamic era through the nineteenth century, with a few significant exceptions, women poets writing in Arabic have made tremendous strides since the dawn of the twentieth century in presenting their poetic offerings in mainstream cultural forums, and contributing to a plethora of new and modern poetic currents in literary cultural throughout the Arab world.
Whilst not playing a major attested part in Arabic literature for much of its history, women have had a continuing role. Women's literature in Arabic has been relatively little researched, and features relatively little in most Arabic-language education systems, meaning that its prominence and importance is probably generally underrated.
The Medieval Period
In the estimation of Tahera Qutbuddin,
the citation of women's poetry in the general medieval anthologies is sparse. The earliest anthologists either ignored women poets or made disparaging remarks about them ... In his introduction to the Nuzhat al-Julasa
, al-Suyuti refers to a large (at least six-volume) anthology--now lost--of 'ancient' women's poetry ... It would seem from this that women poets may have formed a more dynamic part of the poetic landscape, at least in the earliest classical period, than is generally believed.
(The main modern anthology of medieval Arabic women's writing in English translation is that of Abdullah al-Udhari.)
Pre-Islamic women's literature seems to have been limited to the genre of marathiya
The earliest poetesses were al-Khansa
and Layla al-Akhyaliyyah
of the 7th century. Their concentration on the ritha'
or elegy suggests that this was a form deemed acceptable for women to work with. However, the love lyric was also an important genre of women's poetry. The Umayyad
periods saw professional singing slave girls (qiyan
, sing. quayna
) who sang love songs and accompanied these with music; alongside panegyric and competitive verse-capping, qiyan
also sang love-poetry (ghazal
). In his Risalat al-Qiyan
(Epistle of the Singing-Girls
), al-Jahiz (d. 255/868×69) reckoned that an accomplished singer might have a repertoire of 4,000 songs. Pre-eminent 'Abbasid singing-girls included: 'Inan
(paramour of Harun al-Rashid
, r. 786-809); Arib al-Ma'muniyya
(concubine of Al-Ma'mun
, r. 813-17); and Fadl Ashsha'ira
(d. 871; concubine of Al-Mutawakkil
, r. 847-61). Meanwhile, Harun al-Rashid's half-sister ‘Ulayya bint al-Mahdī
(777-825) was also known for her poetic skills, as was the mystic and poet of Basra Rabi'a al-'Adawiyya
Women also had an important role in pre-modern periods as patrons of the arts.
The Mamluk period saw the flourishing of the Sufi master and poet 'A'isha al-Ba'uniyya
(d. 1517), who was probably the Arabic-speaking world's most prolific female author before the twentieth century. Living in what is now Egypt and Syria, she came from the al-Ba'uni
family, noted for its judges and scholars, and belonged to the 'Urmawi branch of the Qadiriyya
order. 'A'isha composed at least twelve books in prose and verse, which included over three hundred long mystical and religious poems.
The earliest prominent female Arabic writer of the modern period during which the Arab cultural renaissance (Al-Nahda
) took place is Táhirih
(1820–52), from what is now Iran. She wrote fine Arabic and Persian poetry.
Women's literary salons and societies in the Arab world
were also pioneered during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, initially by Christian Arab
women, who tended to have more freedom and access to education than their female Muslim counterparts in the Ottoman Empire at the time. Maryana Marrash
(1848−1919) started what is now believed to have been the first salon including women, in Aleppo
. In 1912, May Ziadeh
(1886-1941) also started a literary salon in Cairo
and in 1922, Mary 'Ajami
(1888−1965) did the same in Damascus
. These salons supported the emergence of women's writing (both literary and journalistic) and women's presses through increased interaction in the male-dominated world of Arab literature.
Late 20th century to early 21st century
A quote by Clarissa Burt on modern Arab poetry by Female Arab authors:
Unlocked from the constraints of the traditional ode, several of these and other women have had long careers of poetry writing, entering into areas of expression of women's experience that had not been presented in print before. In many ways, this poetic work has gone hand in hand with the growth of critical discourse about women's role, status, and experience, and women's desires to be fully participating members of public society. [...] With few exceptions, critical reception in the Arab world of these and other women poets has been lukewarm at best, for the most part, often filled with criticism of their adherence or lack thereof to poetic principles that have been held as prescriptive in mahy schools of Arabic literary criticism.
Alongside Maryana Marrash
, May Ziadeh, and Mary 'Ajami
, pioneering figures in women's writing in Arabic during this time period are Zaynab Fawwaz
(modern Lebanon/Egypt, 1846–1914), who arguably wrote the first novel in Arabic and was the first woman to write a play in that language as well; Aisha Taymur
(modern Turkey/Egypt, 1840–1902); Malak Hifni Nasif
(under the pseudonym Bahithat al-Badiyya, Egypt 1886-1918); Anbara Salam Khalidy
(modern Palestine/Lebanon, 1897-1988) Anbara Salam Khalidy
(modern Palestine/Lebanon, 1897–1986) and Salma al-Kadhimiyya
(Iraq, 1908–1953, under the pseudonym Umm Nizar).
Since the Second World War, Arabic women's poetry has become markedly more prominent.Nazik Al-Malaika
(Iraq/Egypt, 1923-2007) was daughter of Salma al-Kadhimiyya
, who in her own right was a poet and a vanguard of the early nationalist movement. Al-Malaika alongside Badr Shakir al-Sayyab
, can be considered the initiator of the Free Verse Movement in Arabic poetry. Al-Malaika's poetry is characterised by thematic variations and the use of imagery. She also wrote The Case of Contemporary Poets
which is considered a major contribution to Arab literary criticism.
's (Syria 1935-85) poetry appeared in many well-known magazines of her time, particularly Shi’r
but remained in the shadow of work by her husband, the poet Muhammad al-Maghout
. Her later poems often address her relationship with her two daughters, and many were written during her illness as she died of cancer.
Moreover, other Arab post-war poetesses include: Zubayda Bashīr
(Tunis, 1938-); Ghada al-Samman
(Syria, 1942-), known not only for poetry but also for short stories and novels, Su'ad al-Sabah
(Kuwait, 1942-) and Hamda Khamis
(Bahrain, 1946-) who is regarded as Bahrain's first female free-verse poet.
Women writers in the Arab world have unavoidably courted controversy. Layla Ba'albakki
, for instance, was charged with obscenity and "endangering public morality" a few months after she published her collection of short stories titled Tenderness to the Moon
(1963). The Lebanese vice squad actually traveled to every bookstore where the book was sold to confiscate all remaining copies because of its erotic content.
, women's oral literature used in ceremonies called Būqālah
, also meaning ceramic pitcher, became a symbol of national identity and anti-colonialism during the War of Independence
in the 1950s and 60s. These poems are usually four to ten lines in Algerian Arabic
, and cover topics from the everyday, like love and work, to the political, like the struggle for independence. Since speaking Algerian Arabic
was considered cultural resistance in itself at the time, these poems took on a revolutionary implication.
Contemporary Arabic Literature
Suffice to say although female Arab authors still risk controversy by discussing explicit themes or taboo topic in their works, it is a theme explored more explicitly and with more vigour due to greater outreach thanks to social media and more international awareness of Arab literature. More current Arab female writers include Hanan al-Sheikh
, Salwa al-Neimi
(writer, poet and journalist), Joumanna Haddad
(journalist and poet), Assia Djebar
. Ahdaf Soueif
and Yasmine El-Rashidi
amongst others who confront less-talked about topics such as sex, prostitution, homosexuality and political censorship and prosecution within the Arab diaspora and also internationally in relation to Arab emigration.
Contemporary female Arab writers/poets/journalists alongside producing literature and non-fiction works often take on an activist role in their careers in order to highlight and improve the female condition in Arab society. This concept is embodied in female figures such as Mona Eltahawy
, who is an Egyptian columnist and international public speaker. She is best known for her unconventional comments on Arab and Muslim issues and her involvement in global feminism. In 2015, she released her book Headscarves and Hymens
in which she argues the need for a sexual revolution in the Middle East.
Contemporary Arab women's literature has been strongly influenced by the diaspora of Arabic-speakers, who have produced writing not only in Arabic but also in other languages, prominently English, French, and German. The Internet is also important in furthering the reach of literature produced in Arabic or Arab regions:
It is among the younger generation of poets that the Internet has become a platform for mounting collections and sharing poetry. Some of these poets have their own websites, while others are included on ever growing web anthologies being posted by young Arab computer geeks dedicated to the construction of web archives for Arabic poetry and poetic history. Similarly, critical treatment of these women's poetry, while now well established in on-line resources and web-based sites for major paper publications throughout the arab world, has yet to produce clearly defined critical means of articulating emerging values for poetry, for measuring the critical worth of some of these new productions, and for encouraging the production of Arab women's poetry which will have weight, depth, and acclaim comparable to the work of some of the major Arab male poets of our day.
Early on in the Arabic literary world, there has been a culture of academic criticism. The poetry festivals of the pre-Islamic period often pitched two poets against each other in a war of verse in which one would be deemed winner by the audience. Literary criticism also grew into theology, and thus gained a more official status with Islamic study of the Qur'an. Although nothing which might be termed 'literary criticism', in the modern sense, was applied to a work held to be i'jaz or inimitable and divinely inspired, an analysis was permitted. This study allowed for a better understanding of the message and facilitated interpretation for practical use, all of which help the development of a critical method important for later work on other literature. A clear distinction regularly drawn between works in literary language and popular works has meant that only part of the literature in Arabic was usually considered worthy of study and criticism.
Some of the first studies of the poetry are Qawa'id al-shi'r
or The Rules of Poetry
by Tha'lab and Naqd al-shi'r Poetic Criticism
by Qudamah ibn Ja'far
. Other works tended to continue the tradition of contrasting two poets in order to determine which one best follows the rule of classical poetic structure. Plagiarism also became a significant idea exercising the critics' concerns. The works of al-Mutanabbi
were particularly studied with this concern. He was considered by many the greatest of all Arab poets but his own arrogant self-regard for his abilities did not endear him to other writers and they looked for a source for his verse. Just as there were collections of facts written about many different subjects, numerous collections detailing every possible rhetorical figure
used in literature emerged as well as how to write guides.
Modern criticism at first compared the new works unfavourably with the classical ideals of the past but these standards were soon rejected as too artificial. The adoption of the forms of European romantic poetry
dictated the introduction of corresponding critical standards. Taha Hussayn
, himself keen on European thought, would even dare to challenge the Qur'an with modern critical analysis in which he pointed out the ideas and stories borrowed from pre-Islamic poetry.
Outside views of Arabic literature
Literature in Arabic has been influential outside the Islamic world. One of the first important translations of Arabic literature was Robert of Ketton
's translation of the Qur'an
in the twelfth century but it would not be until the early eighteenth century that much of Arabic's diverse literature would be recognised, largely due to Arabists
such as Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot
and his books such as Arabic Authors: A Manual of Arabian History and Literature
's translation of the Thousand and One Nights
was the first major work in Arabic which found great success outside the Muslim world. Other significant translators were Friedrich Rückert
and Richard Burton
, along with many working at Fort William, India
. The Arabic works and many more in other eastern languages fuelled a fascination in Orientalism
within Europe. Works of dubious 'foreign' morals were particularly popular but even these were censored for content, such as homosexual references, which were not permitted in Victorian society
. Most of the works chosen for translation helped confirm the stereotypes of the audiences with many more still untranslated. Compared to the variety and number of literature written in Arabic, relatively few historical or modern Arabic works have been translated into other languages.
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