African Studies Arabic Language and Literature
by
Aida Bamia
  • LAST REVIEWED: 09 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0125

Introduction

There is a general tendency to confuse Arab and Muslim identities. While the majority of Arabs are Muslim, most Muslims are not Arabs. There are also non-Muslim Arabs. The first Arab conquests aimed at spreading Islam caused the Arabs to settle outside the Arabian Peninsula, extending their control over the Levant, North Africa, Mesopotamia, and the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula. The military conquests contributed to a gradual process of Arabization, even among non-Muslims. While all Muslims are required to pray in Arabic, they use their native languages to communicate among themselves, and to read and write. Some of those languages, Farsi, Urdu, and Pashtun, to cite only a few, are written in the Arabic script to this day. Two other languages, Swahili and Turkish (Ottoman), abandoned Arabic script, the former in the 20th century, with the advent of colonialism, and the latter in 1928, under Kemal Ataturk’s rule. The requirement for Muslims to pray in Arabic contributed to the safeguard of the language during the years of political turmoil, and under French colonialism in particular. An extreme example is Algeria, where Arabic was declared a foreign language, and it is thanks to the teaching offered in the zawiyas and the madrasas that Arabic survived in that country. This survey article examines the development of Arabic language and literature from pre-Islamic times, the Jahiliyya, to the contemporary period. It introduces the various literary genres of Arabic literature, including Francophone and Anglophone literatures written by Arab writers and the literature of the Mahjar. The area covered will be referred to as the Arab world, a more accurate name than the Middle East, which includes countries and cultures that are not Arabic. The Arab world consists of twenty countries, members of the Arab League established on March 22, 1945, and stretches over two continents, Africa and Asia. The literature of the Arab world will not be referred to as Islamic literature, as was the practice among some Orientalists. The approach to this coverage is historical, following Arabic literature and language in their trajectory throughout the Arab world, from the Jahiliyya, moving through the Islamic period, the Umayyads in Damascus, the Abbasids in Baghdad, the Umayyads in Andalusia, the Fatimids in Egypt, the Ottoman Empire, and ending in the contemporary period.

General Overviews

Though there is no shortage of sources in English on Arabic language and literature, the majority of primary sources are in Arabic. Despite an active translation movement, from Arabic into English, the bulk of the production has not been translated yet. It is important to approach Arabic literary texts, prose and poetry, with a solid background knowledge of Arab history. To this end, Hourani 1991 provides a general overview of the political and social history of the Arab world from pre-Islamic times to the modern period. A background on Islam would be beneficial, and Armstrong 2000 is an excellent introduction to the basics of Islam. The author points out the similarities between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Jahili literature was well served by Western scholars, and there is an abundance of published research on the topic, with a sizeable amount of translations despite the challenges of translating classical poetry, as explained in Irwin 1999, which offers a frank assessment of the difficulties in his anthology. The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature offers an in-depth coverage of classical and Modern Arabic literature. The Encyclopedia of Islam (Fleet, et al. 2007–), which is constantly updated in its online version, is an excellent resource on culture, religion, and literature. The Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature (Meisami and Starky 1998) offers quick access to the modern literary production. Déjeux 1973 is a comprehensive study of Francophone Maghrebi writers. Julian 1972 provides the required historical background for any researcher embarking on the study of the Maghreb.

  • Armstrong, Karen. Islam: A Short History. New York: Modern Library, 2000.

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    The author provides a concise history of Islam, its political empires, and its confrontations with the West, including the Crusades and colonialism. She provides a definition of a modern Muslim state. The book provides a useful list of books on the subject.

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  • Cambridge History of Arabic Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983–2006.

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    A six-volume series that provides in-depth surveys of Arabic literature and culture from the Jahiliyya to the modern period. The essays are authored by specialist in their fields. The titles of the six volumes are as follows: Arabic Literature to the End of the Umayyad Period; ʿAbbasid Belles-Lettres; Religion, Learning and Science in the ʿAbbasid Period; Modern Arabic Literature; The Literature of Al-Andalus; and Arabic Literature in the Post-Classical Period.

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  • Déjeux, Jean. Littérature Maghrébine de Langue Française. Montreal: Editions Naaman, 1973.

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    Déjeux was the first researcher to take an interest in the publications of Francophone Maghrebi writers. His presence in Algeria made it possible for him to collect works that soon became out of print. Déjeux shared his experience and advice with the researchers who sought his help.

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  • Fleet, Kate, Gudrun Kramer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas, and Everett Rowson, eds. Encyclopaedia of Islam. 3d ed. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2007–.

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    This very useful reference work, now in its third edition, is constantly revised and updated online. For those who are not familiar with the Encyclopaedia of Islam it is important to mention that the subjects covered are not limited to religious topics. The second edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam will be translated into Arabic by The National Translation Center of Tunisia. There is already a French version of the encyclopedia.

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  • Hayes, John R., ed. The Genius of Arab Civilization, Source of Renaissance. 3d ed. New York: New York University Press, 1992.

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    This wonderful book offers a wealth of information on Arabic culture, literature, and art. It includes excellent and concise essays on Arabic literature from pre-Islamic times to the modern period. Two guides for further readings, one in English and another in Arabic, constitute an added bonus.

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  • Hourani, Albert. The History of the Arab Peoples. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1991.

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    This is a history book concerned with the Arab peoples, their lives and culture, and the external and internal historical events that have shaped their lives. It covers the political and social history of the region from pre-Islamic times to the modern period. A series of maps illustrate the historical changes in the region. The style used in the narrative makes the book accessible to the specialist and the nonspecialist.

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  • Irwin, Robert, ed. Night and Horses and the Desert: An Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature. London: Penguin, 1999.

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    The book highlights the challenges facing a translator of classical Arabic poetry. The anthology begins with the classical period and ends with the formation of the Ottoman Empire. The book has a rich bibliography for the reader interested in an in-depth study of the subject.

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  • Julian, Charles-André. L’Afrique du Nord en Marche: Nationalismes Musulmans et Souveraineté Française. Paris: Julliard, 1972.

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    A must read for any researcher dealing with the Maghreb, for an in-depth understanding of the history of the region.

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  • Meisami, Julie Scott, and Paul Starky. Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature. London: Routledge, 1998.

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    This encyclopedia is limited to the literature of the Arab world and includes medieval and modern authors writing in Arabic. Exceptions were made for some francophone Maghrebi writers. Most entries are followed by a useful “Further Readings” list and “Text Editions” wherever applicable. It is a useful reference work for both students and specialists.

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Bibliographies

Altoma 1975 provides a unique bibliography of articles, books, dissertations, and translations in English on modern Arabic literature. Sakkut 2000 offers a bilingual bibliography, Arabic and English, of the Arabic novel, and a comprehensive list of Arabic magazines and journals. Déjeux 1973 (cited under General Overviews), offers a comprehensive bibliography of Maghrebi works in French, with special emphasis on Algeria, whereas Fontaine 1997 is limited to Tunisia. Zaydan 1999 is a comprehensive bibliography of contemporary Arab women writers and their publications.

  • Altoma, Salih J. Modern Arabic Literature: A Bibliography of Articles, Books, Dissertations and Translations in English. Bloomington: Indiana University Asian Studies Research Institute, 1975.

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    An especially useful source of information on research carried out in universities, indicating the subjects of dissertations available in an accessible location. There is also a list of Arabic books translated into English.

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  • Déjeux, Jean. “Bibliographie méthodique et critique de la littérature algérienne d’expression française, 1945–1970.” Revue de l’Occident Musulman et de la Méditerranée 10 (1971): 111–303.

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    A complete bibliography of two hundred Algerian literary works, followed by a shorter bibliography of Tunisian and Moroccan literary publications.

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  • Fontaine, Jean. Bibliographie de la Littérature Tunisienne Contemporaine en Arabe, 1954–1996. Publications de l’Institut des Belles Lettres Arabes 36. Tunis, Tunisia: Institut des Belles Lettres Arabes, 1997.

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    Includes an essay, in French, on the state of bibliographic composition and the difficulty in gathering missing works on Tunisian literatures for a bibliography. The author provides a wealth of information on published bibliographies of Maghrebi literatures. The Arabic section consists of lists of titles of modern Tunisian literary works organized by year of publication.

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  • Sakkut, Hamdi. The Arabic Novel: Bibliography and Critical Introduction, 1865–1995. 6 vols. Cairo, Egypt: American University in Cairo Press, 2000.

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    Sakkut provides a six-volume bibliography of the novel and the novella in the Arab world from 1865 to 1995. The preface contains a useful list of other reference works devoted to the Arabic novel written in Western and Arabic languages, each covering a specific historical period. The preface and the critical introduction for the series is bilingual, English-Arabic. It also provides a list of Arabic novels translated into English.

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  • Zaydan, Youssef. Masadir al-Adab al-Nisa ʿi fi al- ʿAlam al- ʿArabi al-Hadith, 1800–1996. Beirut, Lebanon: Al-Muʾ assassa al-ʿArabiyyah li al-Dirasa wa al-Nashr, 1999.

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    A comprehensive source of information on Arab women writers, their publications, and secondary sources related to their works. Biographies are concise but are not available for some authors. The book offers a single-volume, extensive source of information for a researcher interested in modern Arab women writings. It includes a bibliography of Arabic and Western journals with their place and date of publication.

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The Jahiliyya Period (450–610)

Arabic Literature dates back to the pre-Islamic period, commonly referred to as the Jahilyya. Literary activities of the Arabs during the Jahiliyya were centered in the Arabian Peninsula, and the literature produced then consisted primarily of a poetic genre, the qasida, a long rhymed poem composed according to a set of conventions as to the form, the subject matter, and the order of the various themes. The qasida reflects the values of the Bedouins—their social norms, their pride in their tribes, and their relationship with the fauna and the flora of the desert surrounding them. The poems were transmitted orally through memorization. Poets were a source of pride for their tribes and they were celebrated at an annual festival in ʿUkaz, a market where tribes from various regions of the peninsula gathered primarily for trade. The winning poem was copied in liquid gold and attached at the entrance of the Kaaba, hence the name, Muʿallaqat. Only seven odes survived, but it is known that there were ten such poems. Much of our knowledge about the pre-Islamic Arab society is derived from the Jahili qasida. The fame of the Muʿallaqat should not obscure the importance of other Jahili poets, such as the famous female poetess al-Khansa’ and the panegyrist an-Nabigha al-Dhubyan. A controversy was raised by the Egyptian writer and critic Taha Hussain over Jahili poetry when he claimed, to the dismay of many specialists, that Jahili poetry was written in post-Islamic times. It was Nasr al-Deen al-Asad who refuted Hussain’s arguments on historical grounds. One of the poets of the Muʿallaqat is the well-known “black night,” ʿAntara ibn Shaddad, a symbol of pride and courage, famous for his love for his cousin ‘Abla. His story is one of the three well-known siyar (story) narrated in spoken Arabic, in modern times; the other two are Sirat Bani Hilal and Sirat Baybars.

Primary Sources

Jahili poetry constitutes a real challenge for translators, which explains the paucity of translated texts. Lyall 1918–1924, a work on the huge corpus of the Mufaddaliyyat, is a welcome addition to the field of classical literature, along with Tuetey 1985 and the latest anthology, van Gelder 2013, which dedicates a large section to pre-Islamic poetry. Al-Khansa’ is celebrated as an outspoken woman and a poet who left her mark on the poetic genre of the elegy, as discussed in Shami 1999. Stetkevych 1993 is an in-depth study of some Jahili poems, and is better suited for specialists and graduate students.

  • Lyall, Charles. The Mufaddaliyat: An Anthology of Ancient Arabian Odes. 3 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1918–1924.

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    An English translation of classical poems collected and annotated by Mufaddal ibn al-Mufaddal. This translation and the original poems in Arabic require an advanced knowledge of Arabic and a strong background in Jahili poetry. It is destined for the specialist with an extensive knowledge of the literature of the period.

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  • Al-Mawsuʾa al-ʿAlamiyya li al-Shiʿr al-ʿArabi.

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    A website that provides texts and information on Arabic poetry from the pre-Islamic, Umayyad, Abbasid, and modern periods, both in classical and colloquial Arabic. There is an audio section on the site.

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  • Nour al-din, Hasan Jaafar. Mawsuʿat al-Shuʿarāʾ al-Saʾālika. Beirut, Lebanon: Rashad Press lil-Tibaʿah wa al-Nashr wa al-Tawziʾ, 2007.

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    This book reveals another side of the Bedouin society, that of the outcasts, those who revolted against that society and chose a life of freedom despite the material hardships they endured. They composed poetry but lived a life of freedom and pleasure.

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  • Shami, Yahya. Al-Khansāʾ Shāʿirat al-Rithāʾ. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Fikr al-Arabi, 1999.

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    This is an analysis of the poetry of the most famous female poetess of the end of the Jahili period. She was known for her moving elegies, especially the poems she wrote to mourn her brothers who died in battle. Women were the appointed poets of the elegies.

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  • Stetkevych, Suzanne Pinckney. The Mute Immortals Speak: Pre-Islamic Poetry and the Poetics of Ritual. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993.

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    The author provides the original Arabic text of the poems analyzed. Two muʿallaqas are considered here, that of Labid and Imriʾu al-Qais, as well as the elegies of al-Khansaʾ.

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  • Tuetey, Charles Greville. Classical Arabic Poetry: 162 Poems from Imrulkais to Maʿarri. London: KPI, 1985.

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    This collection begins with the Jahili period and ends with the Abbasid period. This would give the reader/researcher the ability to compare the poems of the various periods and assess the changes in form and content that took place in this literary genre.

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  • van Gelder, Geert Jan. Classical Arabic Literature. A Library of Arabic Literature. Anthology. New York: New York University Press, 2013.

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    This anthology is concerned with both classical poetry and prose from the Jahili period to the 18th century. The author concerns himself with literary texts as well as the social and cultural life of the Arabs in premodern times. This anthology is conceived to serve the needs of the specialist and the nonspecialist.

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Secondary Sources

Irwin 1999 is an especially valuable anthology for its introduction to the field of classical literature. A controversy was raised in Husayn 1926 and Husayn 1927, which was opposed by al-Asad 1969. Heath 1996 offers a detailed study of the famous story of ʿAntar Ibn Shaddad, while Lane 1954 and Reynolds 2006 reveal the interest of this form of storytelling, which endured to modern times. Both works confirm the theory on the Arab origin of the form of the story given in al-Shubashi 1964.

  • al-Asad, Naser al-Din. Mașādir al-Shi ʿr al-Jāhilī wa Qīmatuha al-Tārikhiyya. 4th ed. Cairo, Egypt: Dar al-maʿarif, 1969.

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    A very useful work for research to study Jahili poetry. The book stresses the historical importance of the cited sources.

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  • Heath, Peter. The Thirsty Sword: Sirat ʿAntar and the Arabic Popular Epic. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1996.

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    An academic analysis and historical background of the famous ‘Antar’s Sīra.

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  • Husayn, Taha. Fī al-Shiʿr al-Jāhilī. Cairo, Egypt: Maṭbaʻat Dār al-Kutub al-Mișrīyah, 1926.

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    This is the book where Husayn disputes the origin of Jahili poetry and attributes it to the post-Islamic period.

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  • Husayn, Taha. Fī al-Adab al-Jāhilī. Cairo, Egypt: Maṭbaʻat al-Iʻtimād, 1927.

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    Husayn reissued his fi al-Shiʿr al-Jahili under this new title.

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  • Irwin, Robert, ed. Night and Horses and the Desert: An Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature. London: Penguin, 1999.

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    The introduction offers an interesting discussion related to the challenges facing a translator of Jahili poetry and its difficulties. Irwin also points out the multiple cultural connotations and references in the images and symbols used by Arab poets that a Western reader would either misinterpret or misunderstand.

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  • Lane, Edward. Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians. London: J. M. Dent, 1954.

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    This book, first published in 1836, does not seem to have its place here, but Lane provides a firsthand account of life in Cairo in the early 19th century, when the sira used to be recited in public, for entertainment purposes.

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  • Reynolds, F. Dwight. “Sīrat Banī Hilāl.” In Arabic Literature in the Post-Classical Period. Edited by Roger Allen and D. S. Richards, 307–318. Cambridge History of Arabic Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521771603Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This is an analysis of one of the three major siras in Arabic literature.

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  • al-Shubashi, Muhammad Mufid. Al-Qissa al-ʿArabiyya al-Qadima. Cairo, Egypt: al-Muʾassasa al-Misriyya al-ʿAmma li al-taʾlif wa al-Tarjama wa al-Tiba‘a wa al-Nashr, 1964.

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    The author refutes the long-held belief that the Arabs did not know the form of the story. He argues that the Arab stories differ from the modern form of the short story and existed in a different frame, as narrated news or stories forming the subject of a poem. He traces the art of stories to the Troubadours who influenced the form of the story in Europe. He also refers to two well-known stories from the ancient Arabic literature, that of Kulayb and that of ‘Antara, in addition to the love story of Majnun Layla, among many others.

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Early Islamic Period

The year 622 CE marks the official beginning of the Islamic calendar, referred to as Hijri. The advent of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula led to significant societal transformation and the birth of the concept of the Ummah, the nation. The change was gradual, and some religious restrictions were harder to accept than others. Questions were raised as to the morality of poetry and its compliance with the teachings of Islam. It was not the poetry as a literary genre that the Prophet condemned when questioned about it, but the message it conveyed (see Daif 1974). His official poet, Hassan ibn Thabet (see Arafat 1974) was critical of the liberties taken by some poets in their language and behavior. At that time, a new Arabic style appeared in literary circles, a rhymed prose called saja‘ in line with the style of the Qurʾan. The new form did not achieve any significant success until two centuries later, during the Abbasid period, when it was used in a new literary genre called maqama. A fascinating account of the domestic life of the Prophet and Aisha’s involvement in the politics of the nascent Muslim society are described in Abbott 1942.

  • Abbott, Nabia. Aisha, the Beloved of Mohammed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942.

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    This book is a fascinating read. It provides an insight into life in the household of the Prophet, and the role Aisha played in political life, after the death of the Prophet. It greatly humanizes those religious characters and thus provides a human dimension lacking in historical books of the period.

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  • Arafat, Walid. Diwan of Hassān ibn Thābit. 2 vols. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar Sadir, 1974.

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    A translated and annotated book in two volumes of the poet’s diwan. An already established poet before his conversion to Islam at a mature age, Ibn Thabit placed his poetic dexterity and ironic style at the disposal of the Prophet.

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  • Daif, Shawqi. Al-ʿAşr al-Islamī. Cairo, Egypt: Dar al-Maʿarif, 1974.

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    Chapter four, section two, of the book offers some information on the Prophet’s attitude toward poets. It is clear that he did not condemn poetry as a literary genre but objected to the harsh language used by some poets, especially those from the Quraish tribe. The Prophet encouraged ibn Thabit to respond to their attacks.

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The Umayyad Period (661–750)

The Umayyad rule was one of enthusiasm and ambition. With its capital in Damascus and its proximity to diverse civilizations, the Umayyad dynasty was eager to conquer, spread the new religion, and acquire wealth and power. Yet nostalgia for desert life lingered, and to satisfy this urge for space and the freedom of the desert, the Umayyad caliphs built winter palaces in the Jordanian desert. They trained their male children in the sports of the desert to give them a taste of the past and the tribal values of their forefathers. Yet their winter palaces revealed an inclination for pleasure and luxury, as well as an appreciation of art, visible in the painted ceilings. Scholars busied themselves with various activities: setting the grammatical rules of the Arabic language, translating scientific books and Greek philosophy, reflecting on their content, and adding their own commentaries. The cultural and poetic inclinations of some caliphs guaranteed the future of poetry, still following the form of the pre-Islamic qasida. Tribal values were gradually eroding, but poets continued to praise good wine and companionship.

Al-Naqaʾed

There were two major literary trends among the poets of the period, one of which was the naqaʾed, concerned with the social and political life of the caliphs. The second trend ushered in a tradition of love poetry. The most prominent poets of the naqaʾed were Jarir and al-Farazdaq, who engaged in a kind of verbal duel, composing polemic poems known as naqaʾed. Each poet was cheered on by his supporters. Al-Akhțal did not fail to join Jarir and al-Farazdaq on occasion. Abulfaraj 2012 portrays accurately the verbal rattling that is the style of the naqaʾed, while the essays in Beeston 1983 cover all aspects of life during the Umayyad period.

Umayyad Love Poetry

Whereas the poets of the naqaʾed were preoccupied with the social and political life of the caliphs, there was another group of poets concerned only with love themes. Some, known as the ʿUdhri Poets, described a kind of platonic love that kept them in a state of suffering, while others wrote unabashedly about their love and relationships and came to be known as profane poets. Arberry 1977 and Rais 1995 provide a useful study on the topic.

ʿUdhri Poets

The name ʿUdhri is disputed by critics, as some attribute it to the ʿUdhra tribe, who counted among its members many love poets. Others explain the name according to its linguistic meaning of “platonic.” Regardless of the origin of the name, ʿUdhri poetry flourished during the Umayyad period, and the most famous love poet, Qais al-Mulawwah, better known as majnūn Layla, according to the name of his beloved, belonged to the tribe of Bani Amer. The two other well-known ʿUdhri poets are Jamil, who loved Buthayna (see Jamīl Buthayna, cited under ʿUdhri Poets: Secondary Sources), and Qais, whose beloved was named Lubna. The love poet par excellence, ‘Umar ib Abi Rabiʿa (see Shāʿer al-Ghazal, cited under ʿUdhri Poets: Secondary Sources), was a wealthy dilettante, the son of a powerful and wealthy family. He was unabashed and sensual, glorified love, and made of his real and imaginary feminine conquests the subject of his daring poems. Many of those women belonged to noble Arab tribes and were often on their way to perform their pilgrimage, the hajj, when he met them. The poet declared in his poems that he helped the women he courted in his poetry achieve fame throughout the Arabian Peninsula. Culturally, the Umayyad period marked the first step in the change that gradually occurred in Arab life, transitioning from a tribal society with a strongly anchored ʿasabiyya, to a somewhat urban society, finding its ties in the concept of Ummah and establishing connections with Muslims in other countries and of different races. What seems surprising is the continued flourishing of the Arabic language and even its adoption by the conquered peoples.

Primary Sources

Love poetry in the Umayyad period occupied an important place in the cultural life of the people. Scholars of Arabic literature in the modern period have paid attention to both the profane poems and love poems of Abi Rabiʿa. See Abi Rabiʿa 1978, Abi Rabiʿa 1995, and Petit and Voisin 1993.

Secondary Sources

ʿUdhri poets continue to appeal to the modern Arabic readers and scholars; see Kinany 1951 and the two cited undated works by al-ʿAqqad (Shāʿer al-Ghazal, and Jamīl Buthayna).

  • al-ʿAqqad, ʿAbbass Mahmud. Jamīl Buthayna. Collection Iqraʾ 13. Cairo, Egypt: Dar al-Maʿaref, n.d.a.

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    The author, a well-known modern Egyptian writer, analyzes the poetry of a Umayyad ʿUdhri poet, Jamil, whose poems revolve around his beloved, Buthayna.

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  • al-ʿAqqad, ʿAbbas Mahmud. Shāʿer al-Ghazal, ʿUmar ibn Abi Rabiʿa. Collection Iqraʾ 2. Cairo, Egypt: Dar al-Ma ʿaref, n.d.b.

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    This book deals with an Umayyad poet, often referred to as the erotic or profane poet, who achieved great success in conquering the hearts of the women he courted.

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  • Kinany, A. Kh. The Development of Ghazal in Arabic Literature, Pre-Islamic and Early Islamic Periods. Damascus: Syrian University Press, 1951.

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    The book provides a detailed study of love poetry prevalent during the Umayyad period, with its two tendencies, the platonic love of the ʿUdhri poets and the profane poetry of Omar Ibn Abi Rabiʿa.

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The Abbasid Period (750–1258)

After a century of Umayyad rule, the Abbasid dynasty was established in Baghdad, with a heavy loss of human lives. The Abbasids were true to their black banners, and they showed no mercy for the Umayyads, killing their descendants to put an end to any claim to the Caliphate. The Abbasid dynasty is considered the golden age of Arab culture; particularly famous was Haroun al-Rachid’s caliphate and his luxurious palaces, which inspired the description of luxurious settings in Alf Layla wa Layla (The Arabian Nights). The Abbasids established their capital in Baghdad, built in 762 as far as possible from Damascus. They were close enough to Iran and benefited from its refined culture, but they were also subject to its interference in the political life of the caliphate, especially from the Barmaks. The Abbasid period was distinguished by its wealth and its rich culture (see Ashtiany, et al. 1990). Much of the organized cultural activity took place at Dār al-Hikma (the House of Wisdom). Scholars from varous part of the world flocked to Baghdad to interact with their Arab counterparts at Dar al-Hikma, which included a library endowed with a rich collection of valuable books. There, an intensive translation of the major scientific and literary works took place. Women in the palaces of the caliphs played both a visible and a hidden role in court politics, as described in Abbott 1986.

  • Abbott, Nabia. Two Queens of Baghdad: Mother and Wife of Harun al-Rashid. London: Al-Saqi, 1986.

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    A fascinating story of two very strong women during what is referred to as the golden period of Abbasid rule, that of Harun al-Rashid. The book reads like a novel, though nothing is fictitious about the intrigues in the harem and the manipulations of two important women in the life of the Caliph Harun al-Rashid, his mother, and his wife Zubayda.

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  • Ashtiany, Julia, T. M. Johnstone, J. D. Latham, R. B. Serjeant, and G. Rex Smith, eds. ʿAbbasid Belles-Letters. Cambridge History of Arabic Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521240161Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The book consists of a collection of essays on various literary genres, which flourished during the Abbasid period.

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Prose Writings

The Abbasid period can be truly considered the age of the triumph of prose with al-Jahiz’s contribution of serious works, while al-Hamazani and al-Hariri provided a lighter kind of prose known as maqamat. Worthy of mention is Ibn al-Muqaffa‘s Kalila and Dimna and Abu al-Faraj al-Asfahani’s Kitab al-Aghani (Book of songs). Abu ʿUthman bin Barh al-Jahiz (b. 776–d. 869), raised Arabic prose to a high level of sophistication and refinement (see Jabri 1932). His books are distinguished by a deep knowledge of the subject and a sense of humor that endears them to the reader, making his book on animals, Kitāb al-Hayawān, and his book on misers, Kitab al-Bukhalaʾ, entertaining and educational at the same time. Al-Jahiz 1997 provide a translation of Kitāb al-Bukhalāʾ, while Montgomery 2006 provides a more in-depth analysis of Kitab al-Bayan Wa al-Tabyin. It is difficult to provide dates for al-Jahiz’s individual publications. We know, however, that they were completed during the 9th century, and al-Jahiz explains that he received monetary rewards from the persons to whom he dedicated his books. The author’s popularity is certainly due to his stylistic skills, his intellect and broad knowledge of the subjects he tackled, and for the genre of writings he contributed. It was known as adab and was quite different from that of the government scribes, the kuttab, and the more terse style of the religious and philological scholars of the time. Al-Jahiz’s books were an answer to a reading public in search of writings that were more in tune with their taste and their life, a trend they found in the author’s “rhetorical contest,” arguing for and against an issue. Al-Jahiz achieved his success thanks to a novel approach to adab, relying on a wealth of diverse sources and his personal experience, as explained in Pellat 1969 and Hajiri 1962.

  • al-Asfahani, Abu al-Faraj. Kitab al-Aghani. 8th ed. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Thaqafa, 1990.

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    A major work of prose of this period. This “Book of Songs” consists of stories, songs, and poems, and it filled twenty-four volumes. Akin to a present-day anthology, this huge work provides information on the cultural and artistic life during Harun al-Rashid’s rule. The purpose of the author was to inform his readers and entertain them.

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  • Hajiri, Muhammad Taha. Al-Jahiz, Hayatuhu wa Atharuhu. Cairo, Egypt: Dar al-Ma ‘aref, 1962.

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    The author provides a detailed study of al-Jahiz’s life and a study of his writings.

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  • Jabri, Shafiq. Al-Jāhiz, Muʿallim al-ʿAql wa al-Adab. Damascus, Syria: Kullīyat ʼal-ʼĀdāb, 1932.

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    A prominent intellectual of his time, al-Jahiz wrote books that revealed his deep knowledge of the topics discussed and a style that appealed to the readers of his time—and to today’s scholars. Jabri explains Jahiz’s ability to both stimulate the intellect and amuse with his refined wit.

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  • al-Jahiz, Abu ʿUthmān bin Barh. The Book of Misers: A Translation of Al-Bukhalāʾ. Translated by ‘Izzidin Ibrahim and R. B. Serjeant. Reading, MA: Center for Muslim Contribution to Civilization, 1997.

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    A recent English translation of Al-Jahiz’s book Kitāb al-Bukhalāʾ.

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  • Montgomery, James E. “Al-Jāhiz’s Kitāb al-Bayān wa al-Tabyīn.” In Writing and Representation in Medieval Islam. Edited by Julia Bray, 91–152. London and New York: Routledge, 2006.

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    The author follows the theory presented by Pellat on the nature of Kitab al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin, explaining that it is not a literary book, but a political and philosophical essay, especially in connection to Mu‘tazilism.

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  • Pellat, Charles. The Life and Works of Jāḥiẓ. Translated by D. M. Hawke. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.

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    This English translation of Pellat’s analysis of al-Jahiz’s style and unique contributions to Arabic literature sheds light on the special qualities of the writer; it explains his popularity during his time and his appeal to today’s reader.

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The Maqama

Another kind of prose writing, known as maqama (assembly), consisted of rhymed prose and was meant for entertainment. A narrator leading the life of a vagabond, traveling in Persia, relates dramatic anecdotes based on his personal experience. The form of the maqama achieved fame at the hands of two writers, BadI‘ al-Zaman al-Hamadhani (d. 1008) and al-Hariri (d. 1122). Whereas Hamadhani’s stories combined originality, wit, and an ability to play with words, al-Hariri’s stories revealed an exaggerated concern with language, playing with words and depending on a seemingly inexhaustible amount of vocabulary. Dawed 1980 puts the art of the maqama in the historical context of the Abbasid period, while al-Shubashi 1964 considers it the precursor of the modern short story. Khudayr 2008 approaches the maqama from the angle of language. Tlili 2009 applies an intertextual approach. The revival of the form of the maqama during the period of the Nahda failed to achieve the success and the popularity of the two Abbasid writers (see Modern Arabic Literature: Prose).

  • Dawed, Hamed Hifni. Al-Adab al-Eqlimiyya fi al-ʿAsr al-ʿAbbasi al-Thani. Algiers, Algeria: Diwan al-Matbu ‘at al-Jami ‘iyya, 1980.

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    The author covers the development of the literary genres that flourished during the Abbasid period from the year 334 to 656 Hijri. He discusses the place of the genre of the maqama in Abbasid society and provides a short selection from al-Hamadhani’s Maqamat.

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  • Khudayr, ʿAbd al-Husayn. Maqamat al-Hariri: dirasah Lughawiyah. Baghdad, Iraq: Dar al-Shu’un al-Thaqafiyya al-ʿAmma, 2008.

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    The author provides an analysis of al-Hariri’s Maqamat from the angle of language, the sajaʾ or rhymed prose, elevated to a high level of sophistication by the two authors of the maqamat, al-Hariri and al-Hamadhani.

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  • al-Shubashi, Muhammad Mufid. Al-Qissa al-ʿArabiyya al-Qadima. Cairo, Egypt: al-Muʾassasa al-Misriyya al-ʿamma li al-Taʾlif wa al-Tarjama wa al-Tiba‘a wa al-Nashr, 1964.

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    A concise reference to the art of the maqama as a precursor of the art of story telling, with a reference to the few maqamas written in the premodern and early modern periods.

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  • Tlili, Sarra. “Retelling ‘al-Maqama al-Madiriyya’: Intertextuality between a Modern Short Story and a Classical Maqāma.” Journal of Arabic Literature 40.3 (2009): 319–334.

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    The author chose the short story, “al-Naqra Masduda” by the modern Tunisian writer al-Bashir Khrayyef in her intertextual study of al-Hamadhani’s “al-Maqama al-Madiriyya,” as both authors display a deep sense of humor in their works.

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Alf Layla wa Layla

It was during the Abbasid period that the most famous book of folk tales, Alf Layla wa Layla (The Arabian Nights) was written down. This book has not ceased to inspire various art forms, stage settings, plays, and endless movies since its first translation into French, by Antoine Galland, in 1704–1713, and Richard Burton’s English translation in 1850 (see Bencheikh and Miquel 2005 for a more recent translation). Scholars used it to prove their theories in various fields, regarding the art of narrative, women solidarity and Shahrayar’s murderous inclinations, among many other themes. There are also quite sophisticated studies of the literary dimensions of the tales, such as Ghazoul 1980 and Miquel 1981.

Poetry

Poetry remained central to the cultural life of the period, and with al-Mutanabbi, Abu Nuwas, ibn al-Rumi, among many others, it achieved a major change in its content and form. It managed to shed its ties to Bedouin life and to the restricting rules of the rhymed qasida. The major poetic figure of the Abbasid period is al-Mutanabbi. Husayn 1936 provides an analysis of his work. Other poets, such as Abu Nuwas, Abu al-ʿAtahiya, Ibn al-Rumi, Ibn Burd, and al-Buhturi, were famous as well. It is thanks to them that the Arab ode abandoned the restricting rules of the classical qasida. Some poets even ridiculed those who continued to submit to these rules. Poets competed for excellence and for favors from the caliphs and powerful governors. In contrast, the philosopher and blind poet Abu al-ʿAlaʾ al-Maʿarri avoided fame, as discussed in Husayn 1955.

The Umayyads in Al-Andalus

The Umayyad dynasty was revived in Spain thanks toʿAbd al-Rahman I ben Muʿawiya, “al-Dakhil” (b. 756–d. 788), who, having survived the massacre of his family by the Abbasids, managed to reach Spain. With help from his family’s supporters, he managed to declare himself emir, but he did not claim the caliphate to avoid angering the Abbasids in Baghdad. The coexistence of a Western and a rich Arab-Islamic culture benefited the field of literature and arts (see al-Rikabi 1966). A new and lighter form of the poem appeared, the muwashshah, intended to be sung. A liberal Andalusian society welcomed the playful nature of the muwashshah. Women poets blossomed in this atmosphere, most famous among them Wallada bint al-Mustakfi She was renowned for her poetry but also for the jealousy she provoked between two major poets and political figures of her time, Ibn Hamdun and Ibn Hamdus, as is made clear in al-Bustani 1960. A new genre in poetry, the zajal, was introduced by Ibn Quzman. Like the muwashshah, it was meant to be sung. The major work in prose was Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi’s Tawq al-Hamāma (al-Andalusi 1997), an essay on love. The Andalusan society, described at length in Abbas 1960 and Jayyusi 1992, provided a wonderful example of religious tolerance and cultural coexistence, but the power struggle among the princes weakened the empire and led to its downfall in 1492.

Fatimid Literature (909–1171)

Fatimid rule was not very popular in the Arab world. Many restrictions were placed on the population by the imams, and according to Husayn 1963, much of the Fatimid poetry was destroyed and some compilers were reluctant to include them in their anthologies. The Fatimid seem better remembered in the Maghreb, where the name of ‘Uqba ben Nafi‘, responsible for their presence in that region, is highly respected. Qutubuddin 2005 detailed study of al-Mu’ayyad’s Diwan, shed light on the religious purpose of Fatimid poetry, concerned mainly with spreading their message, the da‘ wa. A historical background provided in Hamdani 1962 offers an understanding of the Fatimids. Ibn Rashiq 1907 was written by a well-known critic of Arabic poetry in Fatimid Tunisia in the 11th century. Tunisia counted among its scholars of the time the very well-known historian and sociologist, Abd al-Rahman Ibn Khaldun.

The Ottoman Empire (1281–1922)

The Ottoman Empire marked a shift in the center of power and the advent of a different culture in the region. The caliph was now referred to as the sultan, the official language of the rulers was Turkish, and Istanbul became the capital. It is generally believed that Arabic literature experienced a period of downfall and serious weakness during Ottoman rule. Little attention was paid to culture, and representatives of the sultan were accused of greed and exploitation of the populations. Some scholars refute such an accusation and point out significant literary achievements in the field of poetry. Most critics however, describe the situation in the Arab World during Ottoman rule as one of cultural decadence, or inhitat. The Christian communities experienced discrimination and felt threatened, as noted in Jaber 2011. Many regions in greater Syria lived in dire poverty and in constant fear of the abuses of Turkish tax collectors, described in Nasrallah 2012. Some of the major waves of immigration, especially to the United States, took place during that time, as detailed in Shaker 1997.

  • Jaber, Rabiʾ. Durūz Bilghrād: Hikāyet Hannā Yaʿqub. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Adab lil-Nashr wa-al-Tawziʿ, 2011.

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    This novel relates the strange adventure of a poor Christian Lebanese egg vendor who is taken prisoner to replace another missing prisoner. His efforts to explain the mistake fail and he endures a long ordeal, across the Ottoman Empire, being moved from one prison to another. The author reveals the abject condition of the prisons and the inhumane treatment of the prisoners through the odyssey of Hanna Yaqub.

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  • Nasrallah, Ibrahim. Qanādīl Malek al-Jalīl. Beirut, Lebanon: ASP, 2012.

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    This novel sheds light on the exactions and manipulations of some Ottoman rulers in the Levant to maintain their control over the populations of the region.

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  • Shaker, Evelyne. Bint Arab: Arab and Arab American Women in the United States. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997.

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    Shaker, a descendent of this group of enterprising women who immigrated to America, often without their husbands, describes their hardships during the trip and the difficulties of the first years, as they struggled to make a living and feed their families.

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Premodern Period (1805–1920)

Egypt was spared some of the harshness of the Ottomans when Muhammad Ali, a Mamluk officer, took over power, built a strong army, and provided Egypt with political autonomy. The educational missions of young Egyptians he sent to England and France were a virtual window on the Western world. It was an imam, Rifaʿa Rafi ‘al-Tahtawi (1801–1873), sent to guide the members of the mission (in 1826) and help them perform their religious duties, who contributed greatly to the entry of Western culture (French in his case) into Egypt. Upon his return he established a school of language, Madrasat al-Alsun, to teach foreign languages and form translators and interpreters. Tahtawi described his French experience in a book, Takhlīş al-Ibrīz fī Talkhīs Bārīze (Tahtawi 1935) and reveled in its democratic system and social life, much to the dismay of Ali, who saw in the book an indirect criticism of his autocratic regime. The English translation, Newman 2004, is still a fascinating read despite the passage of time, but al-Maqdisi 1963 puts the author and his work in context. The contact with the West led to a feverish translation movement from both French and English. A nascent press played an important role in disseminating literary works and opened the way for women to be heard, as they were able to publish their writings from the privacy of their own homes. Syrian immigrants who settled in Egypt contributed to the country’s cultural activities, thus giving it an edge over other Arab countries.

The Mahjar School

Levantine immigrants to North and South America formed a literary movement that became known as the Mahjar school. The North American school included the well-known Jubran Khalil Jubran (Gibran), who was critical of his society (see Jubran 1947, Jubran 1948, Jubran 1957), Mikha ’il Na ‘ima, Eleyya abu Madi, and others. They maintained their contact with writers in the Arab world and greatly influenced their literary production (see Khouri 1987), including introducing them to Romanticism. Jubran’s al-Ajniha al-Mukassara influenced the Tunisian poet Abu al-Qasem al Shabi, who, despite his short life, left his stamp on modern Arabic poetry and the poetic image. Both the North American school (Abbas and Nejm 1957) and the less well known South American school, known as al-‘Usba al-Andalusia (Nashʾat 1966, Hasan 1958) maintained strong links with their country of origin. This is stressed in Sarraj 1964, a concise study of the movement in North America. The journal Mashriq & Mahjar, extends its interest to research on migration covering the whole Middle East.

Modern Arabic Literature

The cultural renaissance in the Arab World, commonly known as the Nahda, began at the end of the 19th century. The gradual contact with the West led first to a translation movement of Western prose writings, soon followed by writings revolving around local issues.

Prose

Modern Arabic literature is characterized by the commitment of the writers to be the voice of their people, to defend their rights and draw attention to their social ills. The short story and the novel offered a suitable platform for that trend, and those committed works published primarily in daily newspapers were well received by the reading public. Having lived for almost four centuries under Ottoman rule, Arab writers were eager to assert their Arab identity, the major factor that differentiated them from the Ottomans. Two Lebanese novelists, Georg Zaidan (d. 1914) and Maʿruf al-Arnaʾut, championed the movement, writing historical novels that highlighted the past glories of the Arabs and their contributions to world civilization. Zaidan, primarily a historian, wrote twenty-one historical novels, most of which were inspired by Arab-Islamic history, and only a few of which revolve around modern history. The revival of the maqama failed to capture the interest of the readers the way it did during the Abbasid Period (750–1258). The Egyptians Hafez Ibrahim (b. 1898–d. 1902) and Muhammad Muwelhi (b. 1858–d. 1930) each wrote a maqama that met little interest from the reading public. It is the short stories of Mahmoud Taymur and Mahmoud Taher Lashin that set solid foundations for that literary genre in Egypt. In pre–World War II Tunisia, a group of young writers published literary works that depicted their society’s ills and their feeling of bewilderment, relying on their sense of humor to lighten up their oblique criticism. Two writers in the group, known as Jama‘at Taht al-Sur, Ali al-Du‘aji and Bashir Khrayyef, published significant works.

Primary Sources

The three historical novels by Georji Zaydan (Zaydan 1900, Zaydan 1908, Zaydan 1914) do not constitute an exhaustive list, but are meant to reveal Zaydan’s choice of topics. For a complete list, see Sakkūt 2000 (cited under Prose: Secondary Sources). Humor provided al-Du‘aji, Khrayyef, and other members of their group with a tool to face their personal difficulties and theirs society’s problems (see al-Du‘aji 1969, Khrayyef 1971). In colonized Algeria, Ahmed Reda Huhu relied on irony in his writings (Huhu 2001). In Egypt, Lashin 1964 and Taymur 1967, Mahmud Taher Lashin and Mahmoud Taymur, each in his unique style, provided a lively portrayal of Egyptian society during the first half of the 20th century.

  • al-Du‘aji, Ali. Sahertu Minhu al-Layali. Tunis, Tunisia: al-dar al-Tunisiyyah li al-Nashr, 1969.

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    This collection of short stories provides a window on Tunisian family life, such as the abusive husband, the overwhelming mother in law, the revolted daughter, to cite only a few examples. Translated by William Granara as Sleepless Nights (Tunis, Tunisia: Fondation Nationale, Beit ai-Hikma, 1991).

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  • Huhu, Ahmad Redà. Al-A‘ māl al-Kāmela: Al-Qisas. Algiers, Algeria: Manshūrat Rabitat Kuttab al-Ikhtilaf, 2001.

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    Huhu is little known outside the Maghreb, despite his excellent skills as a short story writer and his sketches built on a biting irony and humor. This is his complete collection of short stories.

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  • Khrayyef, Basir. Mashmum al-Full. Tunis: al-Dar al-Tunisiyya li al-Nashr, 1971.

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    Most short stories in this collection were published in 1937, in the newspaper Al-Dustur. The particularity of those short stories revolving around the life of Tunisian society is the fact that the dialogue was written in colloquial Tunisian. The harsh criticism Khrayyef met for his use of the colloquial language in a literary work discouraged him deeply. It took him twenty years to return to writing, publishing mainly novels.

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  • Lashin, Mahmud Taher. Yuhka Anna. Cairo, Egypt: al-Dar al-Misriyya li al-Tiba ‘a wa al-Nashr, 1964.

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    This collection of short stories authored by Lashin is characterized by a biting sense of humor and an ability to depict the essence of Egyptian life. Lashin studied engineering and worked in that field all his life, while writing was a hobby for him.

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  • Taymur, Mahmoud. Al-Bārona Umm Ahmad. Cairo, Egypt: Dar al-Maʿaref, 1967.

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    Taymur is one of the early short story writers in Egypt. His humorous portrayal of distinct characters of the Egyptian society endeared him to his readers.

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  • Zaydan, Georji. 17 Ramadan. Beirut, Lebanon: Al-Maktabah al-Shaʻbīyah, 1900.

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    The events of the novel concern ‘Ali, the last and fourth rightly guided Caliph, his confrontation with Mu ‘awiya, the founder of the Umayyad Empire.

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  • Zaydan, Georji. ʿArūs Farghānah. Egypt: Maṭbaʻat al-Hilāl, 1908.

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    The events of the novel take place in Samarra, capital of the Abbasid Empire during the Caliphate of al-Muʾtasem bi-Allah. It addresses the Persian’s efforts to revive their empire.

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  • Zaydan, Georji. Shajarat al-Durr. Egypt: Matbaʻat al-Hilāl, 1914.

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    The novel relates the story of the assassination of Turan Shah, the last king of the Ayyubid dynasty. It was followed by the appointment of Shajarat al-Durr as the queen of Egypt, the first queen in Islam.

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Secondary Sources

The Arabic novel and short story gradually achieved a prominent place in Arab society, seriously challenging poetry (see Allen 1987). The center of activity for this genre was the Levant, as narrated in Moosa 1997, and Egypt, as explained in Haqqi 1960. Finally, Sakkūt 2000 offers a very useful and complete panorama of the Arabic novel.

Journals

Some of the early journals, such as Al-Muqtataf and Al-Hilal, played an important role in promoting prose writings, providing readers with an affordable means to obtain a novel or a short story. Poetry, due to the length of most poems, was easier to publish in journals.

Poetry

Though the modern period saw a slow shift toward prose writing, poetry continued to enjoy great respect and consideration among the reading public. But the poets felt the need for change. Arabic poetry, long the major literary genre in literature, underwent a change in modern times, leading to two types of poems, free verse and poetic prose, with the best contributions in this field coming from Mahjar poets al-Rihani (in 1920) and Jubran. The latter was influenced by Whitman’s poetic theory; he formulated it in an essay titled “al-Shiʿr al-Manthūr” (Poetic prose). A group of modernist writers in Lebanon, and primarily Lewis Awad in Egypt, were concerned with the same issue. In Tunis, the twenty-year-old poet al-Chabi denounced the restrictions of classical Arabic poetry in 1929 (see al-Shabi 1975). Yet it was the Iraqi Nazik al-Malaʾika who was credited with the formulation of the theoretical foundations of this new form of poetry (see al-Malaʾika 1962). The movement was not without opponents, however, and huge debates took place between supporters of the old and new schools, as described in Jayyusi 1977, Jayyusi 1987, and Khouri 1987. The change freed the poets of the constraints of the taf ‘ela and opened the door to a huge production of the finest poems with modernist themes. It is on the pages of the journal Shiʿr that modern Arabic poetry and the issue of free verse has received full attention.

  • Jayyusi, Salma Khadra. Trends and Movements in Modern Arabic Poetry. 2 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1977.

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    This extensive and in-depth study of the development of modern Arabic poetry is a very useful work for a researcher interested in following the path of Arabic poetry in the modern period.

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  • Jayyusi, Salma Khadra, ed. Modern Arabic Poetry: An Anthology. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987.

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    The introduction to this anthology provides valuable information on the evolution of Arabic poetry. The arrangement of the poets according to historical periods is very helpful.

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  • Khouri, Mounah A. Studies in Contemporary Arabic Poetry and Criticism. Piedmont, CA: Jahan, 1987.

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    Chapter 7 of this book provides a detailed analysis of the development of free verse in the Arab World and its connection with the Romantic movement in America.

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  • al-Malaʾika, Nazik. Qadāyā al-Shiʿr al-Muʿāşer. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-ʿilm Lil-Malayin, 1962.

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    There are five editions of this book and al-Malaʾika wrote an introduction to the fourth edition. She explained that twelve years had passed since her book was published and her own definition of free verse had changed. Moreover, she needed to address the comments of the critics and the proponents of rhymed verse.

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  • al-Shabi, Abou al-Qasem. Al-Khayal al-Shiʿri ʿEnda al-Arab. 2d ed. Tunis: Al-dar al-Tunisiyya li al-Nashr, 1975.

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    The content of this book is the lecture that, the then 20-year-old al-Shabi delivered in 1929. He was strongly influenced by the Lebanese-Syrian literary school, particularly Jubran and the whole Romantic movement. His poems reflect his call for poetry to reflect the realities of life.

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  • Shiʿr. 1957–.

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    Founded by Adonis (Ali Ahmad Saʿid) and Youssef al-Khal in 1957 in Beirut to promote modern Arabic poetry and debate the issue of free verse. Considered to be a platform for avant-garde poetry.

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Drama

The early activities of the Arabic theater began in Lebanon, and the first plays performed there were primarily translations from French. Marun al-Naqqash wrote, in 1847, a play titled al-Bakhīl (the miser), clearly inspired by Molière’s L’avare. Syrian and Lebanese playwrights took their troupes to Egypt, where a receptive public helped drama flourish. The pioneer playwrights Naqqash and Ya‘qub Sannu‘ were inspired by Western playwrights and, to a certain extent, by Arab sources, particularly the Arabian Nights. Drama took time to assert itself because it was not considered a respectable literary genre in a culture where poetry predominated. It was with Tawfiq al-Hakim’s Ahl al-Kahf, inspired by the Qurʾan, that drama acquired respectability. Al-Hakim also wrote Ya Tale‘ al-Shajara, inspiried by the theater of the absurd. The poet Ahmad Shawqi wrote a play in verse titled, Masra‘ Cleopatra in the last years of his life. Generally speaking, the theater in the Arab world has witnessed ups and downs for various reasons, some due to the quality of the plays performed, others of purely material nature, and others as a result of the competition from television. Yet the exceptional quality of some plays has succeeded in attracting even the most reluctant viewers, as witnessed in the case of al-Ramli’s Bil ‘Arabi al-Fasih, in 1994.

Primary Sources

The popularity of the theater in Egypt increased with plays revolving around social problems, Farag 1985, and plays with a political theme, achieved a huge success, including al-Ramli 1994 in Egypt, and Wannus 1980 in Syria. Wannus’s play lashed out against the country’s political regime. In Iraq, drama was political in nature and denounced corruption and social injustice. In Algeria, where the colonial power fought nationalist sentiments, the plays of Ahmad Reda Huhu, performed in colloquial Algerian, were immensely popular. In Morocco, al-Saddiqi constructed his plays around the classical Arabic literary heritage (see al-Saddiqi 1998). In Egypt, the theme of al-Ramli’s play Bil-ʿArabī al-Fasīh (al-Ramli 1994) revolved around the Palestinian question, angering many Arab rulers but achieving a huge popular success in Egypt and in other Arab countries.

  • Al-Duʿaji, ʿAli. Masrah ʿAlī al-Du ʿājī. Tunis, Tunisia: Dar al-Janub li al-Nashr, 2002.

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    It is a posthumous publication of the Tunisian al-Du ‘aji’s plays, collected, introduced and revised by Tawfīq Baccār.

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  • Farag, Alfred. Al-Qāfila, aw ʿAlī Janāh al-Tabrīzī wa Khādimuhu Quffah. Cairo, Egypt: General Egyptian Book Organization, 1985.

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    Amusing in appearance, this play has a more serious political and psychological significance. Translated by Rasheed al-Enani as The Caravan, Or Alī Janāh al-Tabrīzī and his Servant Quffa (1989).

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  • al-Hakim, Tawfiq. The Tree Climber: A Play in Two Acts. Translated by Denys Davies-Johnson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966.

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    Arabic title: Yā Tāle ʿal-Shajara. This play falls under the genre of the theater of the absurd. The author chose that approach in reaction to his disappointment with the 1952 revolution.

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  • al-Ramli, Lenine. In Plain Arabic: A Play in Two Acts. Translated by Esmat Allouba. Cairo, Egypt: American University in Cairo Press, 1994.

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    Arabic title: Bil-ʿArabī al-Fasīh, published 1992. The subject of the play revolves around the disappearance of a Palestinian student and efforts to find him. It provides the author with an opportunity to criticize Arab regimes who offer mainly verbal support to the Palestinian question. The play was very popular and was one of the longest running plays in Egypt. Its presentation in Egypt coincided with the Madrid peace talks between Arab and Israeli representatives. The Arabic version of the book includes critical comments from various writers.

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  • al-Saddiqi, al-Tayyeb. Maqāmāt Badīʿ al Zamān al-Hamazānī. Kenitra, Morocco: Al-Boukeli, 1998.

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    Using a system of digression, the author dramatizes the classical literary genre of a maqama, from the Abbasid period.

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  • Wannus, Sa ʿdallah. Haflet Samar min Ajl Khamsa Hizayrān. 2d ed. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Adab, 1980.

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    The date of June 5 in the title refers to the Arab defeat of 1967. Wannus is extremely critical of Arab politics that led to that defeat.

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Anthologies

The two anthologies Jayyusi and Allen 1995 and Jayyusi 2003 are extremely useful books. Especially useful is the introduction to Jayyusi and Allen which narrates the evolution of the theater and drama in the Arab world. The two anthologies include, translations of some of the major plays, as well.

Secondary Sources

A large number of works deal with the Arab theater and its history, such as Rashid 1960, Altoma 2000, Moosa 1997 and Sharaf al-Din 1972. Some books are concerned with women’s place in the theater, such as Hashem 2002, while others, like El-Khouri 1978, are devoted to the study of avant-garde theater in the countries that followed that trend. Hefied 2003 provides a nostalgic look at the trajectory of the theater in Algeria through photos of its major actors.

Dictionary

Kassab-Hassan and Elias 1997 is a unique reference work that provides a trilingual definition of drama terms, in English, French, and Arabic.

  • Kassab-Hassan, Hanan, and Marie Elias. Dictionary of Theater: Terms and Concepts of Drama and Performing ArtsArabic-English-French. Beirut, Lebanon: Librarie du Liban, 1997.

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    Establishes comparisons between Western and Arab drama. There is a comprehensive bibliography at the end of the book, listing Arabic and foreign resources for the theater.

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Culture Clash and Generation Confrontation

Contact with the West resulted in culture shock for many of the young Arab men sent to Europe to study or work. Writers portrayed that conflict in some noteworthy novels, such as those of the Egyptians Yehya Haqqi (Haqqi 1975) and Tawfiq al-Hakim (al-Hakim 1980); the Sudanese al-Tayyeb Salih (Salih 1966), the Moroccan Driss Chraibi (Chraibi 1986); the Lebanese Suhail Idris (Idris 1977); and the Algerian Mouloud Ferouan (Feraoun 1957). Salih 1966 is the best novel on the issue of this culture clash, and Hassan 2003 provides an indepth analyses of the novel, its message and its narrative technique. Changed by their Western experience, members of the younger generation questioned the authority of the elders, and many of the religious and social traditions of their society. While female writers, especially from the Maghreb, wrote novels about the generational confrontation, their works do not describe a destabilizing cultural clash like the one experienced by their male counterparts, and it seems appropriate to ask at this juncture whether women adapt more easily than men to a different culture than their own.

Women Writers

Despite the contributions made by women to the field of poetry during the Jahiliyya and in al-Andalus during the Umayyad period, their involvement with the cultural life up to the Nahda was negligible in most Arab countries. They emerged slowly in the 19th century, publishing poems, short stories, and essays.

The Pioneers

Some women were well served by being born in families of intellectuals who home-schooled them. This was the case of ‘Aisha al-Taymuriyyah, Malak Hifni Nasef (better known by her pen name, Bahithat al-Badiya; see Nasef 1998), Warda al-Yazijy, and Zainab Fawwaz. The most visible woman writer in the first half of the 20th century was Mayy Ziyadeh (Ziyadeh 1975), who held a literary salon attended by major Arab writers. Zeidan 1996 sheds light on Ziyadeh’s immense literary contribution and her involvement in Egypt’s social and cultural life, where she resided for the longest part of ther life. Gradually, society changed, thanks to the efforts and courage of reformists such as Hoda Sha‘ rawi and Qasem Amin in Egypt, and al-Taher al-Haddad in Tunisia. While the latter two male thinkers used religious arguments to back their support for women’s rights, some male writers questioned women’s ability to discuss serious topics. Women’s abundant literary production of novels, poems, and essays were the best way to counter that argument.

The Novelists

Contemporary female writers—such as the Egyptians Latifa al-Zayyāt (al-Zayyat 2000), Salwa Bakr (Bakr 1991), the Palestinians Sahar Khalifeh (Khalifeh 2012), and Liana Bader, the Moroccan Leila Abuzeid (Abuzeid 2000), the Lebanese Hanan al-Shaikh (al-Shaykh 1994), the Syrian Ghada al-Samman (al-Samman 1997), to name only a few, skillfully tackled political and feminist themes. Mustaghanmi includes Algeria’s political events in her novel Mustaghanmi 2012, as does al-Samman in al-Samman 1997, regarding the Lebanese civil war. And though settled in Paris, the Syrian al-Nu’eimi (al-Nu‘eimi 2012) evokes Syria’s civil war.

  • Abuzeid, Leila. The Last Chapter. Translated by Leila Abouzeid and John Liechety. Cairo, Egypt: American University in Cairo Press, 2000.

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    The novel portrays the relationship between men and women and the reaction of the female protagonist toward the little consideration men give to women’s opinions, no matter how valuable. Originally published in Arabic as Al-Fasl al-Akhīr. (Casablanca: Matba‘at al-Najah al-Jadida, 2000).

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  • Bakr, Salwa. Al-ʿAraba al-dhahabiyya lā Tas‘ad elā al-Samāʾ. Cairo, Egypt: Sina, 1991.

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    The novel takes place in a women’s prison in Egypt, revealing the psyche of the prisoners and the circumstances that led to their incarceration.

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  • Khalifeh, Sahar. Of Noble Origins. Translated by Aida Bamia. Cairo, Egypt: AUC American University in Cairo Press, 2012.

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    The author traces the history of a Palestinian family, going back to Ottoman times and continuing in the 20th century. The members of that family find themselves confronted with two enemies, the British Mandate and the early activities of the Zionist movement. Originally published as Asl wa Fasl (Beirut: Dar al-Adab, 2009).

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  • Mustaghanmi, Ahlam. Al-Aswad Yaliqu Biki. Beirut, Lebanon: Hachette Antoine, 2012.

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    Framed within a love story between a businessman and an Algerian-Syrian singer is Mustaghanmi’s evocation of two bloody political events, the Algerian black decade of the 1990s and the ongoing Syrian civil war. Mutaghanmi is especially critical of Algeria’s policy of forgiveness for those incriminated in the massacres of the black decade.

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  • al-Nu‘eimi, Salwa. Shibh al-Jazira al-ʿArabiyya. Beirut, Lebanon: Riad el-Rayyes Books, 2012.

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    The author presents a very independent woman who refuses to be manipulated by the political authorities of her country. Concerned about her safety, she decides to leave but finds herself unable to sever her ties with the homeland, especially as she mourns the lost friends who could not stay away from their country and paid with their lives, their return.

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  • al-Samman, Ghada. Beirut Nightmares. Translated by Nancy N. Roberts. London: Quartet, 1997.

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    A fascinating journal of a woman writer unable to leave her apartment during the Lebanese civil war. Originally published as Kawabis Beirut (Beirut: Dar al-Adab, 1976).

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  • al-Shaykh, Hanan. The Story of Zahra. Translated by Peter Ford. New York: Anchor, 1994.

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    The story of a young woman desiring to ascertain herself during the Lebanese civil war, but falls victim to the bullet of a sniper she had loved and trusted. Originally published as Hikāyet Zahra. (Beirut: Dar al-Adab, 1980).

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  • al-Zayyat, Latifa. The Open Door. Translated by Marilyn Booth. Cairo, Egypt: American University in Cairo Press, 2000.

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    Narrates the liberating decision of a young Egyptian woman to join the fighters in the Suez Canal region. Originally published as Al-Bāb al-Maftūh (Cairo: Maktabat al-Anglo al-Misriyyah, 1960).

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Anthologies and Biographies

Two anthologies, Badran and Cooke 1990 and Chaulet-Achour 1999, serve two regions in the field of literature. The first deals primarily with the Mashriq and introduces women writers and activists, while the second is concerned only with Francophone writers. Though Sakakini 1969 is not an anthology, it deserves to be included here because it includes the life and work of May Ziyadeh, a women’s rights advocate. For an in-depth, detailed study of Tunisian women writers, Fontaine 1994 is quite a useful book. Tuqan 1990 is a personal memoir of a woman poet, while Zeidan 1995 offers an academic study of Arab women novelists’ contribution to modern Arabic literature. Ashour, et al. 2008 has the added advantage of providing bibliographies of novels written in Arabic and in translation, both English and French. They also cover the whole Arab world, Maghreb, and Mashriq.

  • Ashour, Radwa, Ferial Ghazoul, and Hasna Reda-Mekdashi, eds. Arab Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide, 1873–1999. Cairo, Egypt: American University in Cairo Press, 2008.

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    The book offers a historical introduction to women’s literary contribution to various literary genres throughout the Arab world. There is a bibliography of works originally written in Arabic, in English and in French and those translated into English.

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  • Badran, Margot, and Miriam Cooke, eds. Opening the Gates: A Century of Arab Feminist Writing. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.

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    The book includes a useful introduction and translated excerpts from the works of Arab writers and activists whose efforts have contributed to the emancipation of the Arab woman.

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  • Chaulet-Achour, Christiane. Noûn, Algériennes dans l’écriture. Paris: Editions Séguier, 1999.

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    The author of the anthology narrates the trajectory of Algerian women concerns through the works of women writers. It provides an interesting angle to approach the topic.

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  • Fontaine, Jean. Ecrivaines Tunisiennes. Tunis, Tunisia: Editions le Gai Savoir, 1994.

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    Detailed study of the literary production of Tunisian women writers.

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  • Sakakini, Wadad. May Ziyādeh fī ḥayātihā wa-āthārihā. Cairo, Egypt: Dār al-Maʿārif, 1969.

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    Narrates the activities of a pioneer woman who achieved fame through her writings and her literary salon at a time when women had very limited access to the outside world. Ziyadeh used her talent and time to encourage other women and promote their works.

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  • Tuqan, Fadwa. A Mountainous Journey: An Autobiography. Edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi. St. Paul, MN: Graywolf, 1990.

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    Tuqan describes her life growing up in Napluse and her journey to perfect her poetic skills under the guidance of her brother Ibrahim Tuqan. The book ends with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967. Originally published as Rihla Sa‘ba, Rihla Jabaliyya (Acre: Dar al-Aswar, 1985). Translated by Olive Kenny; Salma Khadra Jayyusi, poetry translated by Naomi Shihab Nye.

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  • Zeidan, Joseph T. Arab Women Novelists: The Formative Years and Beyond. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

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    An in-depth study that traces the path of Arab women novelists in the Arab world, starting with the pioneers. The book includes a useful bibliography for future research in this field.

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Women’s Oral Poetry

Illiterate women found in oral poetry a medium to voice their feelings in all-women gatherings such as in the game of the buqala in Algeria (Bertrand 1983) and the tibrāʾ in Morocco, the Western Sahara, and Mauritania (Tauzin 2001). Women in the Western Egyptian desert relied on short poems to convey their emotions (Abu-Lughod 1986). Mikhail 2004 deserves attention for its diversity of topics and Joseph 2007 is an extensive and valuable coverage of women’s contribution to literature and art.

Journals

It is important to single out some journals and magazines either founded by women, such as Rose al-Youssef, Hawwa, and Sayyedatī, Majallat Bint al-Nil or edited by womensuch as L’Egyptienne, launched by the Egyptian Feminist Union. These journals have given women a voice from behind the confines of their homes. Through them, women writers communicate to the outside world and with each other through their published, signed articles.

Writing in French

The Arab writers of the Modern period who write in French are commonly referred to as Francophone. The majority of Francophone writers in the Maghreb are Algerians. Their education was shaped by 130 years of French colonialism, which denied them their identity and discouraged the study of Arabic, giving it the status of a foreign language. The lucky few who attended French schools had no choice but to express themselves in French. The Algerian war of independence (1954–1962) increased the need among the intellectuals to present their cause to the French public in the metropolis. Their writings were published in France, and some considered it their patriotic duty to speak up. The situation in Morocco and Tunisia was not as dire and both countries, especially Tunisia, had a vibrant literary production in Arabic, even during the colonial period, thanks to a strong bilingual education and solid ties with the Mashriq. The impact of French culture in Mauritania is rather weak and its Francophone literature is very limited. Though Libya is, geographically, a natural extension of the Maghreb, its cultural ties are rather bound to the Mashriq. Maghrebi writers continued to write in French long after their country’s independence, citing two reasons for their choice: a greater access to publishers, and a larger readership. The list of Francophone Maghrebi writers would be too long to include in this bibliography. The best approach would be to consult the specialized Anthologies, encyclopedias, and Journals devoted to the region.

Primary Sources

Francophone Maghrebi writers have achieved recognition among French intellectuals, regardless of the topics chosen for their works. The Moroccan Benjelloun (Benjelloun 1987), received the prestigious French Prix Goncourt in 1987 for La Nuit Sacré, a sequal to the very popular L’enfant de Sable. The Algerian Assia Djebar was elected to the Academie Française in 2005, a major achievement that was preceded by numerous literary awards. Djebar has remained deeply attached to her native Algerian culture, though she has never failed to raise questions regarding the use of the French language (see Djébar 1999). In her work she strives to reveal the human values that connect Arab Islamic culture to Western values (see Djébar 1987). The Tunisian Hédi Bouraoui, a novelist and poet residing in Canada, writes in French and promotes multiculturalism; see Bouraoui 1998.

  • Benjelloun, Tahar. The Sand Child. Translated by Alan Sheridan. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987.

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    Inspired by his Moroccan society, Benjelloun dramatizes in this novel the eagerness of Moroccan fathers to have a male heir. One day he decided that the next baby will be a boy even if she is born a girl. Originally published as L’Enfant de sable (Paris: Seuil, 1985).

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  • Bouraoui, Hédi. La Pharaone. Tunis, Tunisia: L’Or du Temps, 1998.

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    The author raises the issue of Arab nationalism in this novel.

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  • Djébar, Assia. Ombre Sultane. Paris: J. C. Lattes, 1987.

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    A novel in which Djebar tackles the difficulties in the lives of couples where women try to assert themselves. Translated by Dorothy S. Blair as A Sister to Scheherazade (London: Quartet, 1987).

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  • Djébar, Assia. Ces voix qui m’assiegent: En Marge de ma Francophonie. Paris: Albin Michel, 1999.

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    Despite the little choice available for Algerian writers of her generation and Djebar’s frequent declarations regarding a decision to write in Arabic, her wish materialized in a single book. She co-wrote with her ex-husband, Walid Garn, a play titled Ihmirar al-Fajr (Algiers, Algeria, 1969). It is obvious that the use of a foreign language was not an entirely comfortable experience for her.

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Secondary Sources

The publications cited here provide a useful background for a researcher working on Maghrebi literature. Déjeux 1982 puts publications in context and provides a rich bibliography, Turin 1971 explains the cultural situation in Algeria during the colonial period, and Bamia 2007 offers an updated survey of Algerian literature written in both French and Arabic.

Anthologies

Some anthologies cover all the Maghrebi countries, including Gaasch 1996 and Memmi 1965, while others concentrate on a specific Maghrebi country, such as Achour 1990, Bonn 1990 and Senac 1971, dealing solely with Algeria. Only a few anthologies and encyclopedias of African literature include Maghrebi writers, such as Gikandi 2003, Aidoo 2006, and Wisner 2013.

Journals

With the growing interest in the Maghreb, the Journal of North African Studies serves both as a platform for publication and a resource for researchers, especially in the humanities and the social sciences. It is a journal devoted to the region and is published in English. Research in African Literature is devoted to the literature of the whole of Africa and thus helps establish ties between the different regions and writers of the continent. The French journal Europe has devoted complete issues to each of the three Maghrebi countries—Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco (see Special Issue: Littérature Algérienne and Special Issue: Littérature Marocaine).

Francophone by Choice

Lebanon has produced a sizeable group of Francophone writers. Some live in Lebanon and others, such as Amin Maalouf (see Maalouf 1984 and Maalouf 2012), reside in France. Their works are imbued with the culture and traditions of their country of origin. In Egypt the most renowned Francophone writer, Qut al-Qulub al-Demerdash, was enamored of French literature and chose to write in French (see al-Demerdash 1958). The fact that she was the spiritual leader of the Muhammadia Sufi brotherhood did not deter her. The Algerian novelist Yasmina Khadra chose to live in France and adopted his wife’s name, for security reasons (see Khadra 2005). The Moroccan Laroui (Laroui 2010) teaches literature at the University of Amsterdam. There is also the Saudi Ahmed Abodehman (Abodehman 2003) who published one novel in French to this day.

Anthologies and Dictionaries

Francophone Lebanese writers form the largest group in the Mashriq, having chosen to express themselves in French (Khalaf 1974 and Zein 1998 provide useful introductions).

Anglophone by Choice

The number of writers who write in English is modest, but among them the Egyptian Ahdaf Soueif achieved world renown through her novels, Soueif 1992, Soueif 1999, her short stories, and essays, Soueif 2004. Other less well-known writers have been publishing in English also out of choice, such as the Libyan Hisham Matar. The Sudanese writer Leila Aboulela achieved recognition with her first novel, the Translator (Aboulela 1999), dubbed by a reviewer as a halal novel due to its Islamic theme. What is clear in the case of Arab writers who express themselves in English is their proximity to their culture and country of origin. Matar’s two novels (Matar 2006 and Matar 2011) revolve around Libyan life and politics, and Aboulela 2010 is imbued with an Islamic spirit and Sudanese culture.

The Dilemma of Classification

The question to be raised here is the issue of classification and identification. As most anthologies are devoted to specific countries or continents, one wonders whether Arab-American, Mahgribi-Francophone, or Arab-British writers would be classified as French, American, Canadian, or British? Politics and history are certainly major factors in the classification process, for before Algeria’s independence, Kateb Yacine was cited in French anthologies as a full-fledged French writer. After Algeria’s independence, Yacine found his place among the Francophone writers of his country. The new generation of Maghrebi writers born in France came to be known as the Beur, a name they chose as an identity to distinguish themselves from both full-fledged French writers and Maghrebi writers, once they discovered an impossible affiliation with either of those two groups. The issue of classification was passionately debated in Algeria soon after independence, and many questioned the place of Francophone Algerian writers. But the matter does not seem to preoccupy the Algerian cultural circles anymore, possibly due to a greater diversity in writing, an important Arabic literary production, and a nascent Amazight literature. It seems appropriate, however, to ask what defines a national literature: its language, its message, or the nationality of its authors? What weighs more in the balance, the linguistic choice or the message at the heart of the work? More complex than the situation of Maghrebi writers is that of Palestinian writers who have chosen to write in Hebrew, such as Anton Shammas and Sayed Kashua. The unresolved Palestinian question makes their linguistic choice a thorny issue and antagonizes both Arabs and Israelis, for different reasons.

Primary Sources

Kashua 2004 and Shammas 1988 exemplify the complex and intricate political issue of the Palestinian problem. Kashua is a Muslim Palestinian and an Israeli citizen, while Shammas is a Christian Palestinian and Israeli citizen, but both write in Hebrew.

Secondary Sources

The major questions here concern the issues raised in Balaban 1989, regarding Shammas; concern over Francophone and Anglophone Arab writers’ identity (Handel 2001), the issue of Palestinians living in exile (Grossman 1995), concern over the self-image of the second- and third-generation Maghrebi writers, called Beur (Laronde 1993 and Hargreaves 1992), and the difficult question of seeking to define a Maghrebi writer (Larrivée 2002). The big issue is specifying the factors that define an individual’s affiliation to a nation. The questions raised by the various critics reveal the complexity of the question.

Contemporary Literature

The Arab contemporary literary scene is dominated by the figure of a Noble Prize winner, the Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz (b. 1911–d. 2006). A prolific writer, Mahfouz gave the Arabic novel the respectability and importance it had sought since its early beginnings in 1914, when Muhammad Hussain Haykal published his novel Zeinab without revealing his name. Soon other names appeared on the scene, revealing great literary capabilities, such as the Sudanese novelist al-Tayyeb Saleh. His very successful Season of Migration to the North (see Salih 1966, cited under Culture Clash and Generation Confrontation) has somewhat overshadowed his other literary publications. It is important to note his last publication, Saleh 2005, however. ADAB.com provides up-to-date information on the translation of Arabic literary books into English.

Anthologies

It is important to provide references to anthologies, since they can help budding researchers find answers to their questions and inquiries, and possibly reveal an unexpected direction for their research on Arabic literature. Two such anthologies are Jayyūsi 2004 and Neuwirth, et al. 2010. For a comprehensive study of 20th century literature, Ben Salem 1990, Fontaine 1989, Fontaine 1999, and William and Watterson 1995 provide useful surveys. Baccar and Garmadi 1981 is a valuable anthology, offering a French translation of Arabic Tunisian peoms.

  • Baccar, Taoufik, and Salah Garmadi. Ecrivains de Tunisie. Anthologie de Textes et Poèmes Traduits de L’Arabe. Paris: Editions Sindbad, 1981.

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    This anthology offers a valuable introduction to Tunisia’s modern Arabic poetry, selections of poems translated into French and short biographical notices on the poets are included in the collection.

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  • Ben Salem, Omar. Mukhtarat Qisasiyya li Kuttab Tunisiyyin. Tunis, Tunisia: Al-Dar al-ʿArabiyya li al-Kitab, 1990.

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    The book provides excerpts from the novels and short stories of 20th-century Tunisian writers, preceded by a short biography for each one.

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  • Fontaine, Jean. Al-Adab al-Tūnisī al-Muʿāsir. Tunis, Tunisia: al-Dar al-Tūnisiyya li al-Nashr, 1989.

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    The book provides a survey of contemporary Tunisian literature written in Arabic. It includes a lengthy bibliography extremely helpful for researchers.

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  • Fontaine, Jean. Histoire de la littérature tunisienne. 3 vols. Tunis, Tunisia: Cérès Editions, 1999.

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    This is a three-volume anthology. It provides the history of Tunisian literature from the origins to the contemporary period. It covers both Arabic and Francophone literature of Tunisia.

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  • Jayyūsi, Salma Khadra, ed. Modern Arabic Fiction, an Anthology. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

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    The introduction offers a survey of the history of Arabic storytelling from classical times to the modern period. The anthology includes 160 fiction writers from the Arab world, with translated selections of their works and their biographies.

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  • Neuwirth, Angelika, Andreas Pflitsch, and Barbara Winckler, eds. Arabic Literature: Postmodern Perspectives. London: Saqi, 2010.

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    Essays cover all literary genres, focusing on writers who write in Arabic and foreign languages. The book is divided in three sections: “Memory,” “Polygamy of Place,” and “Gender Transgressions.” First published in German as Arabische Literatur, Postmodern, in 2004.

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  • William, Malcolm, and Gavin Watterson. An Anthology of Moroccan Short Stories. Tangier, Morocco: King Fahd School of Translation, 1995.

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    The anthology contains translations of Arabic short stories. The authors provide a useful list of Arabic collections of short stories, to the year 1993.

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Special Issues

Mukhtārāt Mūrītāniyyah 1994 and Special Issue: Littérature Mauritanienne 1995 focus on Mauritanian literature, while the special issues of Research in African Literatures (Abu-Haidar 1997 and Marx-Scouras 1999) include useful essays.

Journals

Specialized journals such as Alif, Al-Adāb, and Banipal provide academic essays on topics dealing with Arabic literature and fill a gap in the field of literary studies.

The Algerian War of Independence in Literature

Algeria’s war of independence has continued to preoccupy Algerian writers long after the country achieved its independence, including Assia Djebar (Djebar 1967), Mohammed Dib (Dib 1968), Taher Djaout (Djaout 1984), Abd al-Hamid ben Haduqa (Haduqa 1975), and al-Taher Wattar (Wattar 1974a and Wattar 1974b). Cox 2002 deals with that topic in her assessment of the Algerian Arabic novel. Poetry preceded prose writings, and poets also found the war of independence to be a rich source of inspiration, as seen in Muʾayyed n.d., Memmi 1963, and Rekaybi 1994.

The Palestinian Nakba

A thorny issue in the history of Modern Arabic literature is the Palestinian Nakba of 1948. The tragedy opened the way to difficult questions and impossible solutions, to displacement in search of a means of survival (Kanafani 1978, Kanafani 1969), and disputed territorial rights and a lost homeland (Habibi 2002). Poetry kept the flame alive, and Darwish’s works (Darwish 1978, Darwish 2009) are powerfully evocative, though he writes mainly of his nostalgia for days past and describes painful border crossings, loss of freedom and the ordeal of displacement and denied identity. The poet Barghouti skillfully used prose to convey the oddity of the situation in the occupied West Bank (Barghouti 2000 and Barghouti 2011).

  • Barghouti, Mourid. I Saw Ramallah. Translated by Ahdaf Soueif. Cairo, Egypt: American University in Cairo Press, 2000.

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    Barghouti describes his visit to his homeland after a long absence and the emotions it triggered as he met old acquaintances. There is in the book a tribute to the enduring spirit of resilience of the Palestinians living under occupation. Originally published as Raʾaytu Ramallah (Beirut: Al-Markaz al-Thaqafi al-ʿArabi, 1998).

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  • Barghouti, Mourid. Wulidtu Hunak, Wulidtu Huna. Beirut, Lebanon: Riyad al-Rayyes, 2011.

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    On his second visit to the occupied territories Barghouti is accompanied by his son Tamim, who visits the land of his paternal ancestors for the first time. A poet, the young man who grew up between two dialects, Egyptian and Palestinian, manages to conquer his Palestinian relatives’ hearts with his poetry and his Palestinian accent. Published in English as I Was Born There, I Was Born Here (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2011).

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  • Darwish, Mahmud. Yawmiyyat al-Huzn al-ʿAdi. 2d ed. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-ʿAwda, 1978.

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    In these poetic prose texts, the poet writes about his feelings, his experiences, and his search for the elusive homeland. Writing is viewed as a means to end the daily sadness of a Palestinian refugee, or at least to reduce its virulence.

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  • Darwish, Mahmoud. La Uridu Lihadhi al-Qasida an Tantahi. Beirut, Lebanon: Riad El-Rayyes, 2009.

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    This is Darwish’s last collection of poetry, published posthumously after his death in 2008. The collection includes verses that may be a premonition of the poet’s death: he asks life to wait for him, while the singers are tuning their instruments for the farewell song.

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  • Habibi, Emile. The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist. Translated by Salma Jayyusi and Trevor LeGassick. New York: Interlink, 2002.

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    In a black humor mood and a setting akin to the style of the Fantastic literary trend, the author skillfully uses the historical and political elements of the Palestinian Nakba as a framework for his characters. The events are related by Saeed, sitting on a pole in space and observing the earth from his location. Originally published as Al-Waqaʾe‘ al-Ghariba fi Ikhtifa’ Saeed Abi al-Nahs al-Mutashaʾel (1974).

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  • Kanafani, Ghassan. ʿAʾed Ela Haifa. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-ʿAwda, 1969.

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    A couple who left their baby boy behind in the turmoil of their forced departure from Haifa return to their home after twenty years, and find it occupied by a Jewish Polish immigrant family. Their reunion with their lost child is bittersweet, as they see him in Israeli military uniform. Parents and son confront each other, debating the question of responsibility. English translation available as Return to Haifa (1960).

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  • Kanafani, Ghassan. Men in the Sun, and Other Palestinian Stories. Translated by Hilary Kilpatrick London: Heinemann Educational, 1978.

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    It is the tragic death of three Palestinian men smuggled illegally across the Iraqi border, in search of work in Kuwait. Originally published as Rijal fi al-Shams, 1963.

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The Search for Palestine

A new generation of Palestinians, too young when their parents escaped the dangers of life in Palestine as it embarked on a civil war facing an armed enemy determined to expel them from their homeland, returned looking for their roots and searching for traces of the places their parents had evoked while in exile. For most however, those return trips ended in disappointment and heartaches as they witnessed their homes occupied by Israeli immigrants and a changed Palestinian society, quite different from the one their parents described to them, a society whose members were self-serving, disgruntled, and wanting to survive at any price. For many, the national struggle to liberate Palestine had taken a back seat.

  • Amiry, Suad. Golda Slept Here. Doha, Qatar: Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation, 2014.

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    The author describes the heart-wrenching experience of Palestinians who endure the double loss in their life, that of the homeland and that of their houses, which they are able to see occupied by Israeli immigrants. Some are invited to visit by the new occupants, as related by Karmi 2015, while others are turned away.

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  • Karmi, Ghada. Return: A Palestinian Memoir. London: Verso, 2015.

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    Dr. Karmi, a medical doctor by profession, left a comfortable life in England, where she had lived since her parents immigrated to that country, and returned to the West Bank as an employee of the UNPD to work as a consultant to promote the Palestinian cause through the relevant ministry in Ramallah. Her experience ended in a failure and disappointment and revealed the widespread corruption prevalent in government agencies.

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  • Al-Madhun, Rab’i. Masa’er: Kunsherto al-Holocost wa al-Nakbah. Beirut, Lebanon: al-Mu’assassah al’Arabiyya lil dirasa wa al-Nashr, 2015.

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    Despite its title, meaning “destinies,” the novel revolves around a return trip to Palestine, specifically Acre, where one of the characters was born and grew up, coming to fulfill the wish of her dead mother to place some of her ashes in the house where the family lived. The search for the house and for advice from friends and acquaintances put the couple face to face with a changed society and the realization of the difficulties surrounding the life of the Palestinians in Israel. Having returned with a hope to establish themselves in Palestine, the couple decided to return to England where they had settled, disheartened by the difficulties and even the impossibility of fulfilling their project, as they would never be granted a residency and a work permit. Al-Madhun’s sense of humor lightens up the mood in this somber fictionalized reality.

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Secondary Sources

There are a few publications devoted to the sole study of Palestinian literature, but Kanafani 1968, el-Asmar 1978, and Jayyūsi 1992 are worthy of mention, as they deal with the special situations of Palestinians in both the occupied territories and in Israel.

  • el-Asmar, Fouzi. To Be an Arab in Israel. Beirut, Lebanon: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1978.

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    In his autobiography the author, a Christian Palestinian, provides an insight into the bitter experience of being a Palestinian living in Israel. He describes the discrimination practiced against Arab-Israelis, regardless of their religion. El-Asmar was arrested and imprisoned following the publication of a collection of poetry, but he was later released thanks to the support of his leftist Israeli friends.

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  • Jayyūsi, Salma Khadra, ed. Anthology of Modern Palestinian Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

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    The anthology includes an introduction to modern Palestinian literature, covering writers in the diaspora and the West Bank. Very useful translations of excerpts from various literary genres.

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  • Kanafani, Ghassan. Al-Adab al-Filastini al-Muqawem Taht al-Ihtilal, 1948–1967. Beirut, Lebanon: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1968.

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    A fiction writer, Kanafani offers in this book a survey of Palestinian resistence literatrure. He examines three literary genres: poetry, the short story, and drama. He provides poems written by well-known poets and others less well known, as well as the full text of a short story and a play.

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Turmoil in Contemporary Arab Societies

Major political movements led to a change in government in Iraq (1958) and Egypt (1952–1953), in the fifties putting an end to two monarchies. The concept of an Arab unity held by Jamal Abd al-Nasser created a sense of rapprochement that found a favorable echo among intellectuals. Access to free school education and to higher education helped the literacy efforts and gave people access to written texts, with an important role being played by the press and later by the modern media. Crushed dreams and lost opportunities were translated in words in Adnan 1978, Haydar 2000, and Adonis and Qabbani’s poetry (Adonis 2004). Injustices were denounced in Mahfouz 2007, and social ills were daringly revealed in the novel Al-Aswani 2004. Nizar Qabbani’s dejection at the news of Arab military defeats is expressed in Qabbani 1967.

The Arab Spring

The political malaise and absence of freedom in Arab societies exploded in open opposition to the Arab regimes, a movement that began in Tunisia, then reaching Egypt and culminating in Libya. Literature quickly took hold of these events and formed their themes around them. The early works lacked the depth of analysis that the passing of time has provided; such early works revolving around that topic are rather superficial in their handling of this major event. This is true of most Arab writers.

  • ‘Abd al-‘Al, Ghada. Fudul al-Qitta. Cairo, Egypt: al-Misriyyah lil-Nashr wa al-Tawzi’, 2016.

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    In this collection of essays, the author is very critical of different aspects of her society, especially those regarding women, and the sexual harassment they experienced during the Arab Spring, as well as the social restrictions applied mainly to women. She blames Egyptian society for being biased in favor of men.

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  • Boudjedra, Rachid. Printemps. Paris: Bernard Grasset, 2014.

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    Writing after a long period of silence, the Algerian Boudjedra tried to assess the impact of a possible Arab Spring on the Algerians, who had just ended the tragic black decade.

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  • al-‘Iraqi, Naser. Com,parse. Cairo, Egypt: Al-Dar al-Misriyya al-Lubnaniyya, 2016.

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    The book describes the enthusiasm of the Egyptian youth for change during the early days of the Arab Spring. The author assesses the reasons for the failure of the revolution and attributes it to the lack of leadership and a clear agenda, a conclusion that many political analysts had also reached.

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  • Khadra, Yasmina. Qu’attendent les Singes. Paris: Pocket, 2014.

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    This novel by the Algerian Khadra responds in a way to Boudjedra’s question regarding an Arab Spring in his country and concludes that having endured the tragic events of the 1990s, the Algerians were not ready to launch their own Arab Spring, despite the presence of sincere and devoted people in this corrupt society.

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  • Khadra, Yasmina. La Derniere Nuit du Rais. Paris: Julliard, 2015.

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    The main character of the novel is Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi, who reflects on his own life, assessing the events that contributed to shaping his personality.

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  • Matar, Hisham. The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between. London: Penguin, 2017.

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    Matar continues his search for his kidnapped father and returns to Libya after Qaddafi’s downfall and death, following scanty information provided by freed prisoners who claimed to have talked to him or heard him in the notorious prison. The author describes Libyan society following the downfall of the regime and refers to the state of confusion and mistrust that ensued.

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  • Qandil, Fuad. Dawlat al-‘Aqrsb. Cairo, Egypt, 2011.

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    The author relates the impact of the events of 25 January 2011 on the lives of the Egyptian people.

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  • Rabi’, Mubarak. Hubb Fibrayer, 2015.

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    The Moroccan author describes the confusion of the Maghrebi youth regarding the events of the Arab Spring and the sudden departure of the Tunisian president, Ben Ali. The novel reveals also some of the corruption prevalent in his society.

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Arab Women Writers between Education and Technology

Arab women writers have benefitted from modern technology, and the first novels based on e-mail communication were written by women (al-Saniʾ 2007, Wehbe 2012). Education has given women a voice and a means to confront society, revealing its hidden shortcomings, often in a confrontational voice (Khalifeh 1988, Mustaghanmi 2003, Saadawi 1984, Ashour 2011). Writers have not confined themselves to the geographical boundaries of their individual societies, however, as seen in al-Tahawi 2010. There is also a greater freedom now in discussing intimate and taboo topics, and a look inward to examine their own personal feelings, as seen in the writing of more autobiographical novels, a trend adopted in al-Samman 1997.

  • Ashour, Radwa. Specters. Translated by Barbara Romaine. Northampton, MA: Interlink, 2011.

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    A faculty member in the history department at an Egyptian university denounces favoritism in promotions and appointments, and ends up quitting her position. Her research revolves around the massacres of Deir Yassin, which took place at the beginning of the confrontation between Palestinians and Jewish armed forces. Original title: Atyaf (Cairo: Riwayat al-Hilal, 1999).

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  • Khalifeh, Sahar. Lam Na ‘ud Jawari Lakum. Beirut, Lebanon: Manshurat Dar al-Adab, 1988.

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    The novel revolves around a group of modern Palestinian young men and women facing issues related to love, relations, and marriage. They are torn between traditions and emancipation. The title, we are no more your slaves, is very telling about women’s view of their own emancipation.

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  • Mustaghanmi, Ahlam. ʿAber Sarir. Beirut, Lebanon: Manshurat Ahlam Mustaghanmi, 2003.

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    The male protagonist in this novel gives the author some freedom in raising issues surrounding love and sexual relations. The novel is set among the events of the 1990s in Algeria. The author is very critical of the political power in the country.

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  • Saadawi, Nawal. Mudhakkarati fi Sijn al-Nisa. Cairo, Egypt: Dar al-Mustacbal al-Arabi, 1984.

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    In her defiant style and attitude, Saadawi wrote her memoires while in prison during Anwar Sadate government.

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  • al-Samman, Ghada. Al-Riwaya al-Mustahila. Beirut, Lebanon: Manshurat al-Samman, 1997.

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    The author is concerned with women’s oppression in Arab societies. The setting of the novel is the city of Damascus, the writer’s birthplace, described during the 1940s and the 1950s. It sheds light on the cultural, social, and political life of the city during that period.

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  • al-Saniʾ, Rajaʾ ʿAbdallah. Girls of Riyadh. Translated by Marilyn Booth. New York: Penguin, 2007.

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    Despite the restrictions imposed on women in the Saudi society, the Internet and e-mail gave them the means to communicate. Translation of Banat al-Riyad (Beirut: Dar al-Saqi, 2006).

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  • al-Tahawi, Miral. Buruklin Hayits. Cairo, Egypt: Dar Mirit, 2010.

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    A divorced Arab woman finds herself alone with a young son, in New York. She struggles with her emotions in this new found freedom.

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  • Wehbe, Jahida. Al-Azraq wa al-Hudhud, ʿEshq fi al-Facebook. Beirut, Lebanon: Al-Saqi, 2012.

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    A chance meeting of two persons on facebook that leads to a love story.

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Secondary Sources

It is important in the study of the individual contribution of Arab women novelists to place them in the historical context of their societies. Such an approach provides a more accurate understanding of both their role and their struggle. Majaj, et al. 2002 and some of the publications of the conferences on “Creative Arab Women,” including Al-Riwaya al-Nisaʾeyya al-ʿArabiyya 1999, are quite significant.

  • Majaj, Lisa Suhair, Paula W. Sunderman, and Thérèse Saliba, eds. Intersections: Gender, Nation, and Community in Arab Women’s Novels. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2002.

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    The book includes a very useful historical overview of the trajectory of modern Arab women writers, in addition to essays on individual contribution of outstanding women novelists, considered in the context of their countries’ modern history.

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  • Al-Riwaya al-Nisaʾeyya al-ʿArabiyya. Al-Multaqa al-Thaleth li al-Mubdi‘at al-ʿArabiyyat. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar Kitabat wa Mahrajan Susa al-Dawli, 1999.

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    The book consists of the essays presented at the conference by specialists in the field, and creative texts by women novelists and poets.

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Contemporary Mashriq Literature

Contemporary Arabic literature has moved slowly away from its strong commitment to political and social causes, and the interests of numerous writers have branched to other spheres. Most moved from committed literature to reflections on personal and moral issues, often inspired by their own life experiences. Yet some have kept their interest in major political issues, such as the Palestinian problem. Poetry also took a different track, becoming an independent form and not a means to convey a national or emotional message, and as a result becoming more receptive to wider humanitarian themes going beyond the geographical confines of Arab societies.

Primary Sources

Naguib Mahfouz shifted to a spiritual topic in Awlad Haratina (Mahfouz 1981, first published in 1967), after an early interest in Pharaonic subjects, followed by social issues. Personal reflections and a look back at life experiences was the choice made by al-Ghitani at the approach of retirement in his six-volume Dafater al-Tadqwin (al-Ghitani 2003–2008). Long involved in communist ideology, Sunallah Ibrahim moved to more personal issues in At-Talassus (Ibrahim 2007), while Edward al-Kharrat evoked his Coptic background and his favorite city in Turabuha Za’faran (al-Kharrat 1989). Iraqi voices made themselves heard from their countries of exile, as in Bader 2009. Changes in Arab societies following the discovery of oil were best depicted in Munif 1984–1989, while the Palestinian problem is at the center of Khury 2003. Taher 2009 put Taher’s deep knowledge of the Egyptian society and Western traditions at work.

  • Bader, Ali. Papa Sartre. Translated by Aida Bamia. Cairo, Egypt: American University in Cairo Press, 2009.

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    The protagonist, Abd al-Rahman, returns to his native Iraq intent on launching an existentialist movement similar to that of his idol, Jean Paul Sartre. But he fails to achieve his aim, and leads a life of debauchery thanks to his wealth and his family prestige. Originally published as Baba Satre (Beirut: Riad el-Rayyes, 2001).

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  • al-Ghitani, Jamal. Dafātir al-Tadwīn. 6 vols. Cairo, Egypt: Dar al-Shuruq, 2003–2008.

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    Each volume of this collection carries a separate title and deals with a different life experience of the author. But they all reveal a high level of stylistic innovation in prose writing, a trend that characterized al-Ghitani’s literary career early on.

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  • Ibrahim, Sunallah. Al-Talassus. Cairo, Egypt: dar al-Mustaqbal al-‘Arabi, 2007.

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    Though the author denies that this book is an autobiography, the story is narrated throught the eyes of a young boy, possibly the author. He discovers some aspects of the intimate life of adults by spying on them from behind closed doors.

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  • al-Kharrat, Edwar. City of Saffron. Translated by Frances Liardet. London and New York: Quartet, 1989.

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    Al-Kharrat is a Coptic Egyptian writer who has a strong love for Arabic language and his native city, Alexandria. This is where he spent his teenage years and made some moving life discoveries. Though the events of the novel resemble those of the auhtor’s real life, al-Kharrat does not claim his book to be an autobiography. Originally published as Turabuha Za‘faran (Cairo: Dar al-Mustaqbal al-ʿArabi, 1986).

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  • Khury, Elyas. Bab al-Shams. 3d ed. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Adab, 2003.

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    Tells the story of the Palestinian dispersement, including life in the diaspora but also people’s efforts to keep their memories alive. The author based his novel on real life stories gathered from Palestinian refugees.

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  • Mahfouz, Naguib. Children of Gebelawi. Translated by Philip Stewart. London: Heinemann, 1981.

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    Originally published in Arabic in 1967 as Awlad Haratina. This novel is based on the story of creation, using ordinary Egyptians, a father and his sons who betrayed his trust and as a result, they were thrown out of the compound where they enjoyed a carefree life. It recalls the story of Adam and Eve and the loss of Paradise.

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  • Munif, ‘Abd al-Rahman. Mudun al Milh. Beirut, Lebanon: al-Mu’assasa al-‘Arabiyya li al-Dirasat wa al-Nashr, 1984–1989.

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    A quintet of novels, each carrying a different title. They relate the social and psychological impact of the discovery of oil on the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula. An English translation is available in Peter Theroux’s Cities of Salt (New York: Random House, 1987).

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  • Taher, Baha. Sunset Oasis. Translated by Humphrey Davies. London: Sceptre, 2009.

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    The Egyptian novelist Taher presents in this novel the life of an Egyptian-Irish couple. In his usual discreet approach to intimate topics, Taher offers an insight into the couple’s sexual life. Originally published as Wahat al-Ghurub (Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 2007).

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Secondary Sources

Literary criticism, especially in the field of poetry, has assessed Arabic poetry with new tools and a different critical outlook, as in Abbas 2001. Two anthologies, Ghalm 1981 and Jayyusi 1989, cover the Arabian Peninsula and reveal the circumstances of the late appearance of modern literature in the area.

  • Abbas, Ihsan. Ittijahat al-Shiʿr al-ʿArabi al-Mu‘aser. 3d ed. Amman, Jordan: Dar al-Sharq li al-Nashr wa al-Tawzi‘, 2001.

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    A critical study of contemporaruy Arabic poetry during the last thirty years. The author considers that contemporary Arabic poetry is an independent form, whose significance is often obscure. It is not meant to establish a bridge between the poet and the public. He studies poetry’s position in relation to time, the city, cultural heritage, love, and society. The author provides in the appendix the full text of the poems that he analysed at length.

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  • Ghalm, Ibrahim ʿAbd Allah. Al- Qissa al-Qasīra fī al-Khalīj al-ʿArabī, al-Kuwait wa al-Bahrain. Baghdad, Iraq: Matbaʾat al-Irshad, 1981.

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    An analytical and critical study of the short story in the Arabian Gulf, Kuwait, and Bahrain. The reason provided by the author for joining those countries in a single book is the shared historical and cultural circumstances that impacted their history.

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  • Jayyusi, Salma Khadra, ed. The Literature of Modern Arabia: An Anthology. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989.

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    This is the first collective work to introduce the poetry and prose of the Arabian Peninsula in an English translation. The introduction written by Shukry M. Ayyad is very helpful for a study of the evolution of this literature and its themes.

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Contemporary Maghrib Literature

The Maghrib counts among its writers an important number of authors who write in Arabic and whose contributions are sometimes overshadowed by the misconception of a Francophone Maghrib; this does not hold true anymore. In Libya, Ahmad Faqih and Ibrahim al-Kawni, both prolific writers, have contributed fiction works of superior quality. A child of the desert, al-Kawni uses the region and its culture as a background for his novels, such as al-Kawni 2006. Faqih achieved a literary feat with the publication of his twelve-volume novel Faqih 2008. Post-independence Algeria witnessed the publication of important fiction works in Arabic with two writers who left their mark on the novel and the short story, Abd al-Hamid ben Hadūgua and al-Taher Wattar. A younger novelist, Wasini al-A’raj was first inspired by his student years in Syria and soon turned his attention, at the end of the 1990s, to the bloody events of the black decade in his country, Algeria (al-Aʾraj 1995). He continues to dominate the literary scene with works that take place in non-Arab societies, the US in this case (al-Aʾraj 2009) and tackles divers issues. The Arabic novel in Morocco found a voice through a historian, Ahmad al-Tawfiq. His writings, such as al-Tawfiq 1997, are inspired by his Berber traditions. Mauritanian literature is slowly making its way among Arab readers through writers such as Moussa Ould Ebnou, who writes in both French and Arabic (see Ould Ebnou 1994).

Secondary Sources

  • Harrison, Olivia C., and Teresa Villa-Ignacio, eds. Souffles-Anfas: A Critical Anthology from the Moroccan Journal of Culture and Politics. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016.

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    Souffles-Anfas was a literary journal published in 1972; though short-lived, it distinguished itself by the revolutionary tone of its publications. The critical anthology based on a selection of publications from the journal sheds light on the revolutionary spirit of the published texts.

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The Politicizing of Islam

The most important phenomenon of the 21st century is the spread of a conservative interpretation of Islam and an effort among the religious authorities to increase the political power of imams, whose role in Sunni society in particular has been limited to the confines of their mosques and heading the daily prayers of their communities both in Muslim and Western societies. Their efforts at radicalizing the Muslim youth as well as converting non-Muslims is growing and in some cases has led to suicide attacks both in Muslim and in Western societies. The most recent literary publications have seized on the trend and addressed it by means of the novel.

  • Al-Ash’ari, Muhammad. Al-Qaws wa al-Farasha. Al-Dar al-Bayda’: al-Markaz al- Thaqafi al-Arabi, 2011.

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    The novel portrays the bewilderment of parents at their children’s choice of the Jihad. Their son’s decision to join the mujahidin and subsequent death as a suicide bomber lead to the divorce of the couple. The author describes a Moroccan society unprepared for the radicalization of a young generation believed to be immune to religious fanaticism.

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  • Hamdi, Khawlah. An Tabqa. Cairo, Egypt: Kayan lil-Nashr wa al-Tawzi’.

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    This novel portrays the role of those imams in France who are taking advantage of the precarious conditions of the illegal immigrants. It reveals the negative impact that those actions have on French society and the mistrust that prevails between the two communities. The author addresses illegal immigration and the dangers surrounding the crossing of the sea with unfit boats, which leads to serious tragedies.

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  • Khal, ‘Abdoh. Sudfat Layl. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar Al-Saqi, 2016.

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    The author portrays the role of the imams in a Saudi town and their efforts to push suicide bombing in the name of Islam. The writer reveals the corruption of some of those imams who tried to benefit financially from the situation. The novel reveals the hidden relationships among Saudi youth, and their ability to establish relationships despite the social restrictions imposed on them.

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  • Sansal, Boualem. 2084: La fin du monde. Paris, 2015.

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    The author, a francophone Algerian novelist, portrayed the struggle for power between Muslim sects.

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  • Al-Shaikh, Hanan. Adhara Lundunstan. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Adab, 2015.

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    The author reveals the hypocrisy of those who use religion to obtain favors, while distorting the teachings of Islam, especially with the intention of controlling women.

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  • Zaydan, Youssef. Muhal. Cairo, Egypt: dar al-Shourouq, 2012.

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    This is the first of a trilogy where Zaidan highlights the tragic consequences of the war in Afghanistan against the Taliban. Victim of a mistaken identity, a young Sudanese journalist is taken prisoner and shipped to Guantanamo.

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  • Zaydan, Youssef. Guantanamo. Cairo, Egypt: dar al-Shourouq, 2014.

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    This is the second volume of the trilogy describing the life of the journalist incarcerated in the detention center and struggling to prove his innocence. It reveals the frustration of the young journalist whose efforts to prove his innocence fail to convince his captors. It is a poignant portrayal of the moral suffering of the prisoners, who live in isolation; for many, religion becomes the strongest resource for their survival and moral strength.

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  • Zaydan, Youssef. Nour. Cairo, Egypt: Dar al-Shourouq, 2016.

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    This is the third volume of the trilogy, portraying the life of the main character, Nour, following the sudden disappearance of her beloved friend. The author reveals the difficulties encountered by single women in Egyptian society and their strength to fight for their rights.

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Secondary Sources

  • Boumediene, Lakhdar, and Mustafa Ait Idir. Witnesses of the Unseen. Stanford, CA: Redwood, 2017.

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    It is the story of two Algerians falsely accused of involvement in plotting an attack against the American embassy in Sarajevo; after their initial release, they were later arrested by American special forces and sent to Guantanamo where they endured torture and harassment for seven years. The true account of those two prisoners reinforces what Zaydan describes in his novel and seems at times exaggerated.

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Mashreq-Maghreb

Despite the important differences, both cultural and political, between these two regions of the Arab World, literature provides us with examples of exceptional and often unknown expressions of solidarity and brotherhood. The focal point of this relation has always been the Algerian war of independence, which won both material support and moral backing from Arab leaders and peoples. The presence of Algerian students and revolutionaries in various Arab countries led to writing that reflected gratefulness and appreciation of this Arab brotherhood. But less known is the moral support provided by the Maghrebi people for the struggle of the Palestinian people and their cause.