Arabic Literature

Arabic literature, term for Arabic literature up to the 19th century, which includes all religious, profane, aesthetic and scholarly literature in the Arabic language.

The authors were also many non-Arabs who, after the death of Muhammad in 632 and the spread of Islam through the conquests of the surrounding cultural countries (as far as the Indus Valley in the east and as far as Spain in the west) gradually adopted the Arabic language and mostly converted to Islam. As the administrative language of the great empire, Arabic was used in the 7th / 8th centuries. It was introduced in the 19th century by the Umayyad caliphs Abd al-Malik (* 646, † 705)and his son Hisham.

Pre-Islamic Literature


As early as the 6th century, Bedouin poetry was perfect in form, initially passed down orally, which was collected by philologists from the 8th century onwards and recorded in writing in divans after the introduction of paper production (751). In the cassids In quantifying meters, consistent rhymes and artful language – not without individual accentuation – fixed topics were sung about in a certain sequence: First, there was a complaint about a past love, followed by the ride through the desert, other topics were the mount, the hunt, natural phenomena, praise for a patron, self-praise, praise of one’s own tribe, ridicule of the opponent. The poet was considered the voice of his tribe and praised old Arabic ideals of virtue such as courage to fight, perseverance, helpfulness, hospitality and generosity. The most famous collection is that of the 7   Muallakat of the poets Imra al-Kais , Amr Ibn al-Abd Tarafa , Suhair Ibn Abi Sulma , Antara Ibn Schaddad, Amr Ibn Kulthum, Labid Ibn Rabia and Harith Ibn Hillisa . Divans made by whole tribes, such as those of the Hudhail, are also known. There are also anthologies of individual poets from the 6th century, such as by Alkama, Hatim at-Tai and the vagante poets Taabbatan Sharran and Schanfara, as well as short work, combat and children’s dance songs in a simple meter that was later also used for didactic poems.

Arabic literature

Important works of Arabic literature

  • »Muallakat« (pre-Islamic period, cassid collection)
  • Quran (classical period)
  • Halladj: Poems (10th century)
  • Masudi: »The Gold Washers« (956, cultural-historical-geographical work)
  • A. Hamadhani: Makamen (11th century)
  • Abu l-Ala al-Maarri: ” Epistles of Forgiveness” (11th century, epistles)
  • Hariri: Makamen (12th century)
  • Ibn al-Arabi: Wisdom Gems (13th Century)
  • Collection “A Thousand and One Nights” (around 13th century)
  • N. Mahfus: “Cairo Trilogy” (1956/57, fictional representation)
  • G. Ghitani: »Seini Barakat. Servant of the Sultan, Friend of the People ” (1974, novel)
  • E. Charrat: »Saffron Earth« (1985, novel)
  • Nawal as-Saadawi: “The Fall of the Imam” (1987, novel)


From the 8th century on, proverbs, proverbs with etiological stories and reports about ancient Arab tribal battles with interwoven verses were collected and from the 9th century they were also written down. They became a canonical part of court-urban education and literature.

The classical and post-classical literature

Folk literature

According to directoryaah, folk literature was despised by the educated, but it produced extensive novels, for example about Antara Ibn Schaddad as a poet and pre-Islamic hero, the Mamluks of Baibars , the Beni Hilal, the Amazon Dhat al-Himma from the time of the battles against the Byzantines or those from the Thousand and One Night known “Cunning Dalila”. The »A Thousand and One Nights« collection, which was completed relatively late, only gained after its triumphant advance through Europe after adaptation by the French orientalist A. Galland Reputation in the Orient too. Anecdotes about popular picaresque characters such as Ashab and Djuha were collected early on in anthologies that are now lost and found their way into both “high” and popular literature. Popular verse poems and proverbs in dialect were not collected until the end of the 19th century. An extensive occasional poem in the standard language and in dialect with congratulations on many occasions, condolences, apologies, supplications, etc. is informative in terms of social and mentality history.

Arabic literature in Spain and Sicily

Both poetry and prose were initially based on Eastern Arabic models, but soon found their own characteristics. The Cordoban Ibn Abd Rabbihi († 940) became known for his Adab encyclopedia »The Unique Collar«. Ibn Saidun , also from Córdoba, is famous for love poems reminiscent of Roman minstrels about the Umayyad princess Wallada (herself a poet), a long prison poem and elaborate poems of praise. Mutamid Ibn Abbad (* 1040, † 1091), king of poets from Seville, switched after his exile to North Africa from prize poems to love, wine and courtly pleasures to bitter exile complaints. The poet Hafsa Bint al-Hadj († 1191) wrote love poems in Granada. The urban bon vivant Ibn Kusman († 1160) provoked with humorous and sensual, vernacular verse poems. With his anthology from his own experiential prose and poetry, “The Dove’s Collar”, Ibn Hasm created the climax of rich Arabic literature on profane love. The well-traveled Ibn Ali Ibn al-Arabi became famous for his mystical-philosophical prose and poetry. The Sicilian Ibn Hamdis sang in Spain in creative metaphors the lost homeland of his youth and wrote wine and praise poems.

The Arabic Literature of Christians and Jews

The Arabic literature of Christians and Jews was mostly written by religious dignitaries. It includes religious, religious-philosophical and historical works (e.g. the world history of the Bar Hebrew ), which, since the authors were not bound by the canonical language of the Koran, reveal the actual regional and historical language level of the respective religious group. Arabic-speaking Jews in Spain conveyed Arabic aesthetic and scholarly literature to Hebrew literature as well as to medieval Europe through translations.

With the literary and cultural renewal movement that began around 1850, Arab Christians and Jews tried, also in the course of developing nationalism under European influences, to integrate themselves more strongly under the motto “The love of the country belongs to the faith”. They played an outstanding role, also and especially with works in which they demonstrated their excellent knowledge of classical Arabic and its literature and culture, with newspapers and magazines in Syria and Lebanon as well as in Egypt.

Arabic Literature

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