Exploring the Rich Legacy
What Is Islamic Arabic Literature
Islamic Arabic Literature generally refers to the literature that emerged starting from the revelation of Qur'an to the decline of the Islamic Empire in the Middle Age. Although Qur'an literature and related disciplines was the dominant in this period, some other literary genres emerged especially in the Islamic Golden Age.
Islamic Literature is the literature that includes the ideology and ethics which Islam wants to establish and spread to the nations. It is indissolubly linked to Islamic belief that encompasses all inclusive movements of existence. It presents itself as an important medium of Allah‟s message to the mankind.
The Umayyad rulers were the patron of knowledge. During their rule Arabic language and literature was developed highly. Muawiya bin Abi Sufyan, the first ruler of Umayyad dynasty was a seeker of knowledge.
After establishing his power at Damascus he inclined towards religious as well as other books. So far as literary matters are concerned it is found that the poets of this period were still sacrificing, in clumsy imitation. But at the same time an apple harvest of occasional poems, inspired by each and every unexpected incidents of the political life of the new Empire.
Poets of the Early Islamic Period
Prominent Umayyad Period Poets
- Al-Akhtal al-Taghlibi
- Bashar ibn Burd
- Faḍl al-Shāʻirah
- Jamil ibn Ma'mar
- Jarir ibn Atiyah
- Layla al-Akhyaliyya
- Suraqah al-Bariqi
- Ulayya bint al-Mahdī
- Umar Ibn Abi Rabi'ah
- Waddah al-Yaman
- Yunus Al-Katib Al-Mughanni
- Zufar ibn al-Harith al-Kilabi
The Holy Quran & Arabic Literature
The revelation of the Qurʾān to the Prophet Muhammad, beginning at some point early in the 7th century AD, is the foundational event in Islam. It separates the period before Islam (known as the Jāhiliyyah [“period of ignorance”]) from the Islamic era and provides the Muslim community with its most significant monument, the word of God revealed to humanity.
The holy Quran is recognized as the main source of Arabic language and literature. The holy Quran is a sweet mixture of prose and poetry. It has always been considered as the exquisite expression of literary art among the Arabs.
Since its inception, the holy Quran has been playing a tremendous role in the growth and development of Arabic language and literature. Its style, at once vigorous, allusive and concise, deeply influenced later compositions in Arabic, as it continued to influence the mode of expression of native speakers of Arabic both in writing and in conversation.
The impact of the holy Quran began to develop a strikingly effective rhetorical prose in Arabic literature. It used to create a new linguistic structure in the history of Arabic literature, breaking up the conventional forms of aesthetic production of its time and to inculcate a new, distinctive, and highly prosaic art.
The language used in the holy Quran is called classical Arabic. Not only is the Quran, the first work of any significant length written in the language, but it also has a far more complicated structure with its 114 chapters, which contains 6,666 verses. It consists of injunctions and even comment on itself and how it will be received and understood. It is also surprisingly admired for its abundance of metaphors as well as its clarity.
The holy Quran is also considered as prime source of Arabic literature. The earliest Arabic prose literature came into being not from literary movement, but it was developed step and at the early stage, its chief objective was to serve the religious and practical needs of the society so that common people may fully understand the Islamic revelation and circumstances of the religion. So the specific linguistic features of the Quran were imitated by the people in their writings. Thus, the Arabic literature began to develop so rapidly that it gradually used to prefer the styles of prose in addition to the poetry of the Arab Society.
The influence of the holy Quran on Arabic literature has been incalculable in many directions. Its ideas, languages and rhythms pervade all subsequent literary works in a greater or lesser measure. Although it contains elements of both prose and poetry, it is closest to rhymed prose. The holy Quran is regarded as entirely as a model and a part from these classifications. Therefore, the writers used to follow its styles and metaphors in their writings.
The text is divined revelation and is seen as being eternal or uncreated. The curious people were sticking to its research and recitation. This leads to the doctrine of inimitability of the Quran which implies that nobody can copy this work’s style nor should anybody try.
The closest anyone has come to imitating the Quran is alMutanabbi (915-965 A.D.) who is regarded as one of the great poet in Arabic. His name means the would-be prophet partly from an attempt at rebellion in his early life and partly for his skill at writing.
This doctrine had a strong influence on the growth and development of Arabic literature. Many people studied Quranic exegesis or critical interpretation, Quranic criticism, the science, apostolic, jurisprudence, scholastic theology, lexicography, rhetoric and literature.
Renowned scholars engaged themselves in the study of astronomy, spherical geography, philosophy, geometry, music and medicine. Thus, the structure of Arabic literature started to take a new shape in the form of prose-style.
The Abbasid Caliphate was an Islamic empire that existed from 750 to 1258 C.E. as it was centered in Baghdad and included much of the Middle East. Poetry and literature were significant ways that the Abbasids expressed their cultural values.
Based on what the Abbasid poetry emphasized, it is clear that the Abbasid court valued the caliph’s authority, entertainment, and the experience of proving knowledge through poetry recitation.
Prose literature had a significant role in the Abbasid court as well. The didactic collection of prose stories entitled Kalila and Dimna exemplifies that the Abbasids enjoyed literature that gives instruction on behavior while providing entertainment. The Arabian Nights is another example of didactic prose, and it has similar messages that demonstrate how people should behave in the court. It also emphasizes everyday behavioral expectations and people’s duty to revere God.
The poetry and literature from the Abbasid Caliphate exemplify different ways to understand eras in history. To learn about a society, it is helpful to study literature, not just wars and politics.
Literature shows how society develops, and shows what societal norms and values are. Even before the influence of Islam, the tradition of poetry was well established in the Middle East. Participants of the trade fairs recited poetry that either praised or criticized others at Mecca’s annual trade fair. Therefore, poetry was a public experience, where Arabs were used to judging the quality of the spoken word. Praise poetry existed within the tribes, because poets praised the strength of tribal leaders.
Poetry demonstrated the importance of praising others, especially tribal leaders, to affirm their leadership and control within the tribe. The experience of poetry reflected Arab culture, even before Islam influenced the region. As the centralized caliphate began to replace tribal organizations as the main form of government, poetry became a significant part of the Abbasid court. Praise poetry, once directed at tribal leaders, shifted to revere kings, caliphs, and other leaders within the court.
Litterateurs were people who recited and memorized poetry, and they quickly became a very elite class. They clustered around the caliph, and while they knew many forms of poetry, they were rewarded financially for their praise poetry of the royalty.
Praise poets would venerate their leaders by complimenting their strength, courage, and generosity. Even if the praise was exaggerated, it demonstrates that the royalty valued spreading their reputation through the spoken word. This indicates that one of the main functions of praise poetry was to spread the king’s legitimacy of authority.
Prominent Abbasid Period Poets
- Abbas Ibn al-Ahnaf
- Abdallah ibn al-Mu'tazz
- Abu'l-Hasan Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Abdallah ibn al-Mudabbir
- Abu'l-Qasim al-Husayn ibn Ali al-Maghribi
- Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani
- Abu Al-Fath Al-Busti
- Abu Firas al-Hamdani
- Abu Nuwas
- Abu Tammam
- Abu Ubaidah
- Al-Fath ibn Khaqan
- Al-Hariri of Basra
- Arib al-Ma'muniyya
- Badi' al-Zaman al-Hamadani
- Baha' al-din Zuhair
- Bashar ibn Burd
- Dik al-Jinn
- Ibn al-Farid
- Ibn al-Rumi
- Ibn Duraid
- Ibn Qutaybah
- Ibrahim ibn al-Mahdi
- Ibrahim ibn al-Mudabbir
- Muhammad ibn Abdallah ibn Tahir
- Safiyya al-Baghdadiyya
- Taqiyya Umm Ali bint Ghaith ibn Ali al-Armanazi
- Ulayya bint al-Mahdī
Prominent Poets of Al-Andalus
- Abū Jaʿfar Aḥmad ibn ʿAbd al-Malik Ibn Saʿīd
- Al-Mu'tamid ibn Abbad
- Buthaina bint al-Mu'tamid ibn Abbad
- Hafsa Bint al-Hajj al-Rukuniyya
- Ibn Abd Rabbih
- Ibn al-Abbar
- Ibn al-Khatib
- Ibn al-Zaqqaq
- Ibn Amira
- Ibn Baqi
- Ibn Bassam
- Ibn Gharsiya
- Ibn Hamdis
- Ibn Juzayy
- Ibn Khafaja
- Ibn Quzman
- Ibn Sahl of Seville
- Ibn Zamrak
- Ibn Zaydún
- Lubna of Córdoba
- Maria Alphaizuli
- Muhammad ibn Ammar
- Muhammad ibn Hani al-Andalusi al-Azdi
- Muhya bint Al-Tayyani
- Nazhun al-Garnatiya bint al-Qulai’iya
- Umm Al-Kiram
- Umm Assa'd bint Isam al-Himyari
- Wallada bint al-Mustakfi
- Yusuf III of Granada
- Ḥamda bint Ziyād
Kalila and Dimna
Kalila and Dimna is a book containing a collection of fables. It was translated into Arabic in the Abbasid age specifically in the second hijri century (the eighth Gregorian century) by Abdullah ibn al-Muqaffa using his own writing style.
Layla Bint Abullah Bin Shaddad Bin Ka’b Al Akheeliyya or simply Layla Al Akheeliyya was a famous Umayyad Arab poet who was renowned for her poetry, eloquence, strong personality as well as her beauty. Nearly fifty of her short poems survive.
Ka'b bin Zuhayr
Ka‘b ibn Zuhayr was an Arabian poet of the 7th century, and a contemporary of the Islamic Prophet Muḥammad. He was the writer of Bānat Suʿād, a qasida in praise of Muhammad. This was the first na'at in Arabic. This is the original Al-Burda. He recited this poem in front of Muhammad after embracing Islam. Muhammad was so moved that he removed his mantle and wrapped it over him. This original Burdah is not as famous as the one composed by Imam al-Busiri even though Muhammad had physically wrapped his mantle over Ka'b not in a dream like in case of Imam al-Busiri.