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Arabic Literature to the End of the Umayyad Period
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    Hamam, Marco 2011. Text vs. Comment. Pragmatics, Vol. 21, Issue. 1, p. 41.

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Book description

Originally published in 1983, The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature was the first general survey of the field to have been published in English for over fifty years and the first attempted in such detail in a multi-volume form. The volumes of the History provide an invaluable source of reference and understanding of the intellectual, literary and religious heritage of the Arabic-speaking and Islamic world. This volume begins its coverage with the oral verse of the sixth century AD, and ends with the fall of the Umayyad dynasty two centuries later. Within this period fall major events: the life of the Prophet Muhammad, the founding of the Islamic religion, the great Arab Islamic conquests of territories outside the Arabian Peninsula, and their meeting, as overlords, with the Byzantine and Sasanian world. Contributors to this volume discuss an array of topics including the influences of Greeks, Persians and Syrians on early Arabic literature.

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Page 1 of 2


  • 1 - Background topics
    pp 1-26
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.002
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The grammarians have preserved for everyone a mass of data which demonstrate that the earliest Arabic was not a standardized and unified language, but had many dialectal variations. To the modern European mind, it is a strange phenomenon that the Qur'ān itself, though regarded by Muslims as the authentic Word of God in the most literal sense, was read in a variety of ways involving not merely dialectal pronunciations but also morphological and even occasionally vocabulary variation. The corpus of pre-Islamic and early Islamic verse exhibits very well-marked metrical structures, which were analysed and codified by the second/eighth century grammarian Khalil b. Ahmad. Arabic names are apt to be puzzling to European readers. This is due as much to the intricacy of the nomenclature system itself as to linguistic factors. The nomenclature system itself falls into three periods: first, pre-Islamic and early Islamic down to around AD 700; second, the typical Islamic period; third, the modern period.
  • 2 - Pre-Islamic poetry
    pp 27-113
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.003
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Poetry was the greatest mental activity of the Arabs and the summit of their artistic attainments. The Arab poet was not a narrator. He was a master of brevity, a magician of rhythm and words. The poet was like a prophet: often the priest, the soothsayer and the leader of the clan. There was a category of poets called " vagabonds ", who were outlaws, unable to fit into their particular tribal organization owing, for example, to the obscurity of their origin of birth, as in the case of al-Shanfarā, who grew up among an enemy clan and turned against them. With regard to metre and rhyme, pre-Islamic verse can be divided in two ways. According to metre, it has two sub-classifications, rajaz and qaşīd. According to rhyme, it has three subclassifications: ode or qaşīdah, short piece or qiţ'ah, and musammatah. The standard pattern of the qaşīdah consists of three sections, such as nasīb, tashbīb, ghazal.
  • 3 - Early Arabic prose
    pp 114-153
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.004
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The earliest known form of prose in Arabic, the khuţbah is extant in the writings of Jāhiz, Ibn Qutaybah and others. Declamation and repartee in ancient tribal Arabia developed into drama and may be regarded as the source of the mufākharah, a war of words that constitutes a literary genre, not in classical Arabic alone, but also in the colloquials, continuing to our own times. The Islamic khuţbah commences with praise and glorification of Allah, conventional pious phrases, such as, in fact, one may hear from persons entering a room today in more conservative Arabian society. With the later evolution of the Islamic sharī'ah in mind, the injunction, in all the sources, on sexual conduct for womenfolk is quite startling. No person acquainted with Arabia, ancient or modern, can be unaware how deeply law affects lives and minds; this is reflected in the paramount position the sharī'ah holds in Islam and in Arabic literature.
  • 4 - The beginnings of Arabic prose literature: the epistolary genre
    pp 154-179
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.005
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The political and religious leaders of the Umayyad period, of whatever persuasion or affiliation, struck out a vein of strong native rhetoric and afforded the raw material for the development of an artistic prose literature. Long and careful scrutiny of form and content based on exacting standards of scholarship led Mario Grignaschi to two primary conclusions, one of which was that in these writings one have, not, as one might be only too ready to assume, a straightforward collection of Arabic Aristotelian pseudepigrapha, but a work of Hellenistic epistolary fiction adapted by an Arab translator of the Umayyad period. The second conclusion was that there are cogent reasons for connecting this work of translation and adaptation with Abū '1-‘Alā' Salīm. Formal perfection of the Umayyad epistle was achieved not by Sālim but by a graduate of his school, namely the same ‘Abd al-Hamīd to whom passing references have been made. Epistolography begins with ‘Abd al-Hamīd and closes with Ibn al-Amīd.
  • 5 - The role of parallelism in Arabic prose
    pp 180-185
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.006
  • View abstract
    Summary
    In any fully evolved literary culture, and this includes both Arabic and English, one tends to think of the prose-verse antithesis as a primary and fundamental dichotomy. In pre-‘Abbāsid Arabic people encounter two distinct varieties of elevated style. In the first place there is shi‘ r, characterized by rhyme and by a very strictly recurring pattern of identical rhythms. Secondly, there is the khuţbah, which has no rhyme but exhibits precisely the features which have been described above as characteristic of Old Testament poetry. Whereas the early khuţbah style uses, in order to create its effect, the devices which are those of ancient Near Eastern poetry, the earliest shi‘ r knows practically nothing of them, but relies on close metrical structure and rhyme. The two earliest poems of any length that have been preserved, Shanfara's Lāmiyyah and the Mu'allaqah of Imru' al-Qays, show barely half a dozen exhibiting parallelistic devices other than of the simplest kind.
  • 6 - The Qur'ān-I
    pp 186-227
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.007
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The Qur'ān consists of pronouncements which Muhammad delivered to his people as revelation during the period of his prophecy. Muhammad adopted a predominantly receptive attitude towards Jews and Christians prior to the hijrah. The fact that they appealed to a written tradition of revelatory knowledge became a model for him. The Arabs too were to have their Holy Writ, through the Prophet's own mediation. There is more material about the mission which the Prophet felt incumbent upon him, and about the protests and threats voiced against him by the heathen citizens of Mecca. This can be supplemented by certain pieces of information in the legends of divine retribution. The language of the Qur'ān is essentially identical with the standard Arabic high language which in Muhammad's day had been developed by the ancient Arabic poets and was subsequently to live on through the centuries as the language of classical Arabic literature.
  • 7 - The Qur'ān–II
    pp 228-245
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.008
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The chronology of the material contained in the Qur'ān on which any attempt to follow the development of Muḥammad's teaching must rest, has been the subject of study both by Muslim scholars and orientalists. Muslim studies of the chronology centre on the reasons for revelations, the asbāb al-nuzūl. The first scholarly attempt by an orientalist to arrange the sūrahs in order was that of the German scholar Weil. The revelations which together make up the Qur'ān were produced over a twenty-three years, first in Mecca and later in Medina. It was about A.D. 610 that Muḥammad became convinced that he had been chosen as the Messenger of God, at irregular intervals from then until his death he made the revelations which Muslims hold to be the Word of God. The history of the text of the Qur'ān after the death of Muḥammad is dominated by the recension produced for the caliph 'Uthman by Zayd b. Thābit and his co-editors.
  • 8 - Qiṣaṣ elements in the Qur'ān
    pp 246-259
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.009
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Quranic narrative tales or qiṣaṣ appear in three different contexts. The first context is the corpus of folk-tales of religious and ethical potential in pre-Islamic Arabia. The second is the Quranic text. The tales and stories in it are presented with a particular aim in view. Furthermore, the style of its prose and circumstances of its revelation have drastically determined the presentation, and detail of the stories. The third is that of the manifold elaborations by later commentators, following the recording of the Quranic text. In the Quranic account of Moses and the Israelites the tyrant was Pharaoh. Events in the Qur'ān which refer to portents of the Prophet's birth, or are pertinent to his mission, have peculiar significance and potential. The early Sīrah literature was to introduce relevant tales of prophecies by seers like Shiqq and Saṭīḥ as an intrinsic part of its content.
  • 9 - Aspects of the Qur'ān today
    pp 260-270
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.010
  • View abstract
    Summary
    At the present time, the influence of the Qur'ān on Arabic literature is unobtrusive, yet at the same time considerable. The fact that social life in the Islamic world and the personal life of much of the population is so profoundly affected by the Qur'ān is clearly reflected in literature. The existence and expansion of Islam rest upon a knowledge of the Qur'ān; they therefore need an environment favourable to its study and to the study of the Quranic sciences. The Arabs, and even Muslim Turks from simple backgrounds, resisted the programmes of anti-Arab Turkization which took place in the Ottoman empire after the success of the Young Turks. Scientific exegesis was debated in Egypt around 1970 when Dr Mustafā Mahműd, a doctor and man of letters who returned to the faith after a period of doubt, wrote a series of extremely vivid works which affected a large public, although in it he upheld this.
  • 10 - Ḥadīth literature–I: The development of the science of Ḥadīth
    pp 271-288
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.011
  • View abstract
    Summary
    For most of the first century, there was apparently an ambivalent attitude on the part of the Companions and their early Followers concerning the writing of Ḥadīth. There was both the desire to write it down for obvious benefits, and the fear that written Ḥadīth might later be confused with the Qur'ān. Later scholars started grouping Ḥadīth under titles indicating their subject matter. This type was called muşannaf. The Muwaţţa was revised several times over forty years by its author, who flourished in Medina, having studied earlier with renowned scholars there. Third/ninth-century Ḥadīth authors undertook a systematic critical study of the muḤaddiths and their material, beginning with the Prophet's Companions, although they did not subject that generation to criticism. The third/ninth century produced the greatest and largest number of musnads, the most authoritative saḤīḤs and sunans, and solidly laid the foundations of the Ḥadīth sciences.
  • 11 - Ḥadīth literature-II: Collection and transmission of Ḥadīth
    pp 289-298
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.012
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Collection of Ḥadīth was begun in Muḥammad's lifetime by members of his family, clients, and close Companions. ‘Umar b. al-Khattāb credited with a preliminary edition of the Qur'ān, considered the advisability of a formal Ḥadīth collection. The literate Anas b. Mālik was a staunch defender of written Ḥadīth. He transmitted mostly from Muḥammad and his family and from a few leading Companions. The second half of the first century saw increased specialization within the major religious disciplines of Qur'ānic studies, tradition and law, although scholars of the period did not limit themselves to one field. First-century Ḥadīth scholars used gifted pupils as part-time secretaries. Leading scholars of the second/eighth century and after employed one or more secretaries, or hired professional copyists for a given work. Finally, the contents of the traditions about the Companions have few or no parallels in the pertinent sources.
  • 12 - Shī'ī Ḥadīth
    pp 299-307
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.013
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The emergence of an independent body of Shī‘īḤadīth can be traced back to the first half of the second/eighth century. By that time the rift between Shī‘īs and non-Shī‘īs, which had originated in a politico-religious controversy regarding the succession to Muhammad, had resulted in battles and merciless persecutions. Shī‘ī doctrine differs from Sunnī beliefs mainly as regards the source of authority in Islam after the death of the Prophet. This has a direct bearing on the structure of Shī‘ī, as opposed to Sunnī, Ḥadīth. The earliest extant Shī‘ī works are collections of Ḥadīth known as uşūl. The immense task of collecting and editing Shī'ī traditions was undertaken by Shī'ī scholars working in different parts of the Islamic world. Shī'ī preoccupation with Ḥadīth in the first three-hundred years of Islam was not only the result of the urge to preserve and propagate the Shī'ī heritage; it may also have arisen from the structure of the religious hierarchy within Shī'īsm itself.
  • 13 - Narrative elements in the Ḥadīth literature
    pp 308-316
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.014
  • View abstract
    Summary
    In Ḥadīth the isnād, or chain of transmitters, was required to begin with a contemporary transmitter and to go back at least to one of prophet's Companions, or to a member of his family, but this did not deter the storyteller one whit. The Sunnah, which concerned itself with acts, allowed less liberty of treatment than did the Ḥadīth, which concerned itself with sayings and was easier to commit to memory, but in fact everyone find Sunnah and Ḥadīth complementing one another. The narrative elements in Ḥadīth do not give a picture of Muhammad in action so much as create an atmosphere of the presence of a beloved hero. Indeed, all the Ḥadīth about prayers create some sense of intimacy and friendly presence, as when he prays with a child near him or avoids waking a sleeping cat after praying. These Ḥadīth also reflect the general principle that "Islam is simplicity, not complexity".
  • 14 - European criticism of Ḥadīth literature
    pp 317-321
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.015
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Muslim scholars themselves were, of course, intensely conscious of the possibility of fabrication of Ḥadīth. European and non-Muslim scholars, naturally enough, deemed the Muslim type of critique inadequate. The Ḥadīth was to be tested by its content and by the place its terms occupied in the development of legal thought and institutions, ascertained objectively by reference to all the available literary sources. The picture of early Islamic legal history which emerges from the researches of Joseph Schacht has its focal point in the work of the scholar Muhammad b. Idris al-Shafii. The writers of the law schools in Medina and Kufa reacted to the " Nafi Ḥadīth" by referring to their own contrary established practice or by minimizing its effect through interpretation. There can be little doubt to the non-Muslim mind that Schacht's view of the origins of the legal Ḥadīth and their role in the development of Islamic legal doctrine is essentially sound.
  • 15 - The impact of the Qur'ān and Ḥadīth on medieval Arabic literature
    pp 322-343
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.016
  • View abstract
    Summary
    To the Arabs the Qur'ān was not only a religious book which set up for them new principles of religious, moral and social conduct, but also a literary work of the highest quality, the very Speech of God that no man can surpass. However, the impact of the Qur'ān can be found in all types of poetry which were written during the Umayyad period, a period of political struggle, civil wars, religious studies and poetic revival. Under the impact of the Qur'ān panegyric poetry became a new art. In comparison with panegyric and satire, Umayyad love poetry was less influenced by the Qur'ān than by the pre-Islamic amatory prelude. This is true of both the traditional and Udhri poets. The impact that the Ḥadīth has exerted on Arabic poetry seems to have been very limited. It appears mainly in ascetic and mystic poetry and in such meditative poems as those written by al-Maarri, where the religious element is very strong.
  • 16 - The Maghāzī literature
    pp 344-351
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.017
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The early books of maghāzī include accounts of events which are not military expeditions, such as the treaty-making at Hudaybiyah, the Prophet's last pilgrimage. In terms of form as well as theme, maghāzī literature is superficially reminiscent of the pre-Islamic accounts of tribal battles: both deal with battles and are an mélange of prose and verse. Urwah b. al-Zubayr was the first to classify the material on the maghāzī. His importance as an early architect of the maghāzī literature is confirmed by the frequency of the citations from him in the later authorities such as Ibn Ishaq, Musa b. Uqbah, and al-Wāqidī. The handling of the battle of Badr illustrates characteristics more broadly representative of their individual works. Al-Wāqidī's version of Badr is still the best-knit and contains much incidental material of great historical interest, such as the details of the Meccans' investment in the caravan ambushed at Badr.
  • 17 - The Sīrah literature
    pp 352-367
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.019
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The development of Sīrah literature is closely linked with the transmission of the Ḥadīth and should be viewed in connection with it. The Sīrah aimed at giving information about the men who aided the Prophet loyally and faithfully, about stubborn opponents and enemies who persecuted him and those who later fought him, about hypocrites who concealed unbelief and hatred in their souls and about Companions who suffered and fought for him. A subject of considerable importance in the formation of Sīrah literature, comprehensively dealt with also in some commentaries on the Qur'ān, was the stock of stories about the creation of the world. The process of elaborating and enlarging upon the stories of the Qur'ān widened the scope of the Muslim conception of history. Genealogy was an essential subject of the Sīrah literature. Traditions stress the purity of the Prophet's pedigree and the qualities of his ancestors.
  • 18 - The poetry of the Sīrah literature
    pp 368-373
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.019
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The earliest extant source for the poetry of the Sīrah literature is al-Sīrat al-nabaiviyyah, composed by Muhammad b. Ishaq b. Yasar b. Khiyar, which has survived in the edition made by Abu Muhammad Abd al-Malik b. Hisham. A large number of the poems included in the work is attributed to the "poet laureate" of the Prophet, namely Hassan b. Thabit b. al-Mundhir b. Haram al-Khazraji. While many of the pre-Islamic themes are present in his poetry, that of war, and in particular, the war conducted by the Prophet against the unbelievers, achieves prominence. The variants to the poems of Hassan are likewise of significance in casting a new light on the oral nature of his poetry. The stylistic differences and anachronisms in the corpus of Hassan's poetry thus reflect a living oral tradition. The picture that emerges is one of an oral-formulaic tradition that employs many of the themes common to pre-Islamic poetry; that is uneven in style and quality.
  • 19 - Fables and legends in pre-Islamic and early Islamic times
    pp 374-386
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.020
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Arabic fables and legends are inseparable from Arabian thought. They reveal every fashion, involve every social class and reflect every change in the evolution of Arabic literature. Arabian legend is ultimately derived from stories common to the Ancient Eastern civilization. Proof of the existence of Ancient Eastern prototypes in the Arabian fable during the Prophet's lifetime is provided by Ibn Ishaq as he describes Muhammad's enemies in Mecca. Two principal sources which shed light on the earliest corpus of Arabian legend; pre-Islamic poetry and the Persian-influenced Märchen collections of Umayyad and early 'Abbasid times. Fables of the pagan Jurhumites and their activities in Mecca's shrines, of which they were custodians, are to be found integrated with the records of the Banu Israil, the Amalekite. Early South Arabians, who were well equipped to relate the legends of the orient at large, as well as the glories of Himyar, occupy a unique place in this rich and rewarding genre of Arabic literature.
  • 20 - Umayyad poetry
    pp 387-432
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.021
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Umayyad poetry abounds with experiments. Many aspects of the poem were explored. New moods and themes were introduced, points of emphasis were shifted, and old motifs reappeared, intensified and sometimes exaggerated. This is a period in which an unrivalled revolution took place spontaneously, unbound as yet by imposed traditionalism. Before proceeding to examine the development of Umayyad verse and its main characteristics, one would do well to look at the poetic situation during the forty years preceding the Umayyad age. In the early Islamic period poets discovered that poetry had acquired a new aim. It became a medium for the glorification of Islam and the Prophet, in which a new poetic idiom and a different emphasis had to be acquired. Umayyad poetry is accordingly a poetry of conflict and contradictions. It is important to the literary and social historian because it is perhaps the truest representation of the inner consciousness of the Arab people during the first century of Islam.
  • 21 - Music and verse
    pp 433-459
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.022
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Apart from its intrinsic interest, the relationship between music and verse is of particular concern because of the often-mooted possibility that music may have made a significant contribution to the developments that took place in Hijazi poetry during the first/seventh century. Discussions of the various categories of music are rather more instructive. Two main types are distinguished, hudā and ghinā, the latter further subdivided into naşb, sinād and hazaj. In relation to the poetic corpus, the term 'pre-Islamic' may in the present context be regarded not literally, as a confident statement of date, but rather as an indicator of social background and mode of composition. The balance between music and verse may also have been subtly affected by changes in the relationship between voice and accompanying instruments. The one obvious area where one might conceive of a stable, consciously maintained and readily quantifiable relationship between early Arabic music and verse is in fact in their rhythmic structure.
  • 22 - The Greek impact on Arabic literature
    pp 460-482
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.023
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The early years of Islam saw the transformation of the Middle East from a contested territory between the two great successor states, Byzantium and Persia, into the centre of a new and articulated civilization with a character distinctively its own. The oldest Arab historical traditions were genealogical and anecdotal, and the earliest Arabic works of history were annalistic chronicles and collections of accounts of striking traditions. In the great Hellenistic centres which were to fall to the Arabs, Greek traditions of mathematics, medicine and astronomy had flourished in the pagan period. Muawiyah, founder of the Umayyad line, was said to stay up long hours of the night studying the history and policy of foreign rulers. The processes by which Greek themes and modes of thought were made at home in the Islamic world of Arabic literature, not merely disguised, but adjusted to the Islamic experience and the Arabicidiom, is a fascinating and complex subject than the movement of translation itself.
  • 23 - The Persian impact on Arabic literature
    pp 483-496
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.024
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The roots of Islamic, essentially Arabic, self-expression in the early medieval period lie in the three great literary traditions of the Arabs themselves and of the two peoples whose world-empires had for centuries contended for mastery in the East, the Persians and the Greeks. By Islamic times, all direct cultural and literary contact with Median and Achaemenid Persia had disappeared. A whole millennium had passed since, in the see-saw of Graeco-Persian hostilities, Alexander the Great had victoriously brought Hellenistic political and cultural influence eastwards into the Persian lands. Ibn al-Muqaffa concerned himself with the once-glorious imperial heritage of Persia, the exploits of its monarchs and the achievements of its material culture. The symbiosis of Arabic and Persian culture within the Abbasid caliphate had its counterpart in the linguistic as well as the literary field, and the adoption of Persian loanwords into Arabic, noted as a trickle in the pre-Islamic and Quranic times, becomes widely diffused.
  • 24 - The Syrian impact on Arabic literature
    pp 497-501
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521240154.025
  • View abstract
    Summary
    To understand how Syriac came to exercise its important influence on Arabic literature it is necessary to have a clear picture of the development of Syriac literature itself. Words of Syriac or Aramaic origin in the Qur'ān demonstrate the cultural influence which the Syrians were already exerting on the very beginnings of Islamic civilization. Syriac also made a significant contribution to the writing of Arabic. For two centuries before Islam the Syrians had been translating Greek works into Syriac. The first recorded translation from Syriac into Arabic was a version of the Four Gospels which was made by a number of translators in AD 643 during the patriarchate of John of the Sedras, Patriarch of Antioch. With the Islamic intellectual awakening of the eighth and ninth centuries the translation work of the Syrians from Greek into Syriac entered a new phase: the retranslation of Syriac versions of the Greek works into the new imperial language, Arabic.

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