Islamic literature

Islamic literature is literature written with an Islamic perspective, in any language.

Khurshidbanu Natavan was the daughter of Mehdi Gulu-khan, the last ruler of the Karabakh khanate (1748–1822), she is considered one of the best lyrical poets of Azerbaijan.

One term for this is adab. Although today adab denotes literature generally, 'in earlier times its meaning included all that a well-informed person had to know in order to pass in society as a cultured and refined individual. This meaning ... started with the basic idea that adab was the socially accepted ethical and moral quality of an urbane and courteous person'; thus adab can also denote the category of Islamic law dealing with etiquette, or a gesture of greeting.[1] More recently, studies have been done on the novelization of contemporary Islamic literatures[2] and points of confluency with political themes such as nationalism.[3]

Medieval adab works

According to Issa J. Boullata,

Adab material had been growing in volume in Arabia before Islam and had been transmitted orally for the most part. With the advent of Islam, its growth continued and it became increasingly diversified. It was gradually collected and written down in books, ayrab literature other material adopted from Persian, Sanskrit, Greek, and other tongues as the Arabic language spread with the expansion of Islam's political dominion in the world. It included stories and saying from the Bible, the Qur’ān, and the Ḥadīth. Eventually the heritage of adab became so large that philologists and other scholars had to make selections therefore, each according to his interests and his plans to meet the needs of particular readers, such as students seeking learning and cultural refinement, or persons associated with the Islamic state such as viziers, courtiers, chancellors, judges, and government secretaries seeking useful knowledge and success in polished quarters.[1]

Key early adab anthologies were the al-Mufaḍḍaliyyāt of Al-Mufaḍḍal al-Ḍabbī (d. c. 780 CE); Abū Tammām's Dīwān al-Ḥamāsa (d. 846 CE); ʿUyūn al-Akhbār, compiled by Ibn Qutayba (d. 889 CE); and Ibn ʿAbd Rabbih's al-ʿIqd al-Farīd (d. 940 CE).[4]

Islamic literature more generally

The best known fiction from the Islamic world is The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights), a compilation of many earlier folk tales set in a frame story of being told serially by the Persian Queen Scheherazade. The compilation took form in the 10th century and reached its final form by the 14th century; the number and type of tales have varied from one manuscript to another.[5] All Arabian fantasy tales were often called "Arabian Nights" when translated into English, regardless of whether they appeared in any version of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, and a number of tales are known in Europe as "Arabian Nights" despite existing in no Arabic manuscript.[5]

"Ali Baba" by Maxfield Parrish.

This compilation has been influential in the West since it was translated in the 18th century, first by Antoine Galland.[6] Many imitations were written, especially in France.[7][8]

Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, the national epic of Iran, is a mythical and heroic retelling of Persian history. Amir Arsalan was also a popular mythical Persian story, which has influenced some modern works of fantasy fiction, such as The Heroic Legend of Arslan.

Ibn Tufail (Abubacer) and Ibn al-Nafis were pioneers of the philosophical novel. Ibn Tufail wrote the first Arabic novel, Hayy ibn Yaqdhan (Philosophus Autodidactus ["The Self-Taught Philosopher"]), as a response to al-Ghazali's The Incoherence of the Philosophers. Ibn al-Nafis then wrote his novel Theologus Autodidactus ["The Self-Taught Theologian"] as a response to Ibn Tufail's. Both of these narratives had protagonists (Hayy in Philosophus Autodidactus and Kamil in Theologus Autodidactus) who were autodidactic feral children living in seclusion on a desert island; these are the earliest examples of a desert island story. However, while Hayy lives alone with animals on the desert island for the rest of the story, Kamil's story extends beyond the desert island setting, developing into the earliest known coming of age plot and eventually becoming the first example of a science fiction novel.[9][10][11]

A magic carpet, which can be used to transport its passengers quickly or instantaneously to their destination.

A Latin translation of Philosophus Autodidactus first appeared in 1671, prepared by Edward Pococke the Younger, followed by an English translation by Simon Ockley in 1708, as well as German and Dutch translations. These translations later inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe, regarded as the first novel in English.[12][13][14][15] Philosophus Autodidactus also inspired Robert Boyle to write his own philosophical novel set on an island, The Aspiring Naturalist.[16] The story also anticipated Rousseau's Emile in some ways, and resembles Mowgli's story in Kipling's The Jungle Book and Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan in that a baby is abandoned but taken care of and fed by a mother wolf.[17]

Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, considered the greatest epic of Italian literature, derived many features of and episodes about the hereafter directly or indirectly from Arabic works on Islamic eschatology: the Hadith and the Kitab al-Miraj (translated into Latin in 1264 or shortly before[18] as Liber Scale Machometi, "The Book of Muhammad's Ladder") concerning Muhammad's ascension to Heaven, and the spiritual writings of Ibn Arabi. The Moors also had a noticeable influence on the works of George Peele and William Shakespeare. Some of their works featured Moorish characters, such as Peele's The Battle of Alcazar and Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Titus Andronicus, and Othello, whose title character is a Moor. These works are said to have been inspired by several Moorish delegations from Morocco to Elizabethan England at the beginning of the 17th century.[19]

For the literature of some predominantly Islamic cultures, see:


  1. 1 2 Issa J. Boullata, 'Translator's Introduction', in Ibn ʿAbd Rabbih, The Unique Necklace: Al-ʿIqd al-Farīd, trans. by Issa J. Boullata, Great Books of Islamic Civilization, 3 vols (Reading: Garnet, 2007-2011), p. xiii.
  2. "The Novelization of Islamic Literatures: Introduction". Retrieved 2016-03-23.
  3. "Introduction to my book: Nationalism, Islam and World Literature: Sites of confluence in the writings of Mahmud al-Mas'adi". Retrieved 2016-03-23.
  4. Issa J. Boullata, 'Translator's Introduction', in Ibn ʿAbd Rabbih, The Unique Necklace: Al-ʿIqd al-Farīd, trans. by Issa J. Boullata, Great Books of Islamic Civilization, 3 vols (Reading: Garnet, 2007-2011), pp. xiii-xiv.
  5. 1 2 John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Arabian fantasy", p. 51, ISBN 0-312-19869-8
  6. L. Sprague de Camp, Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers: The Makers of Heroic Fantasy, p 10 ISBN 0-87054-076-9
  7. John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Arabian fantasy", p 52 ISBN 0-312-19869-8 fantasy world having little connection, if any, to actual times and places. A number of elements from Arabian mythology and Persian mythology are now common in modern fantasy, such as genies, bahamuts, magic carpets, magic lamps, etc. When L. Frank Baum proposed writing a modern fairy tale that banished stereotypical elements, he included the genie as well as the dwarf and the fairy as stereotypes to go.
  8. James Thurber, "The Wizard of Chitenango", p 64 Fantasists on Fantasy edited by Robert H. Boyer and Kenneth J. Zahorski, ISBN 0-380-86553-X
  9. Dr. Abu Shadi Al-Roubi (1982), "Ibn Al-Nafis as a philosopher", Symposium on Ibn al-Nafis, Second International Conference on Islamic Medicine: Islamic Medical Organization, Kuwait (cf. Ibn al-Nafis As a Philosopher, Encyclopedia of Islamic World).
  10. Nahyan A. G. Famy astronomy, cosmology and geology known in his time. His main purpose behind this science fiction work was to explain Islamic religious teachings in terms of science and philosophy through the use of fiction.
  11. Dr. Abu Shadi Al-Roubi (1982), "Ibn Al-Nafis as a philosopher", Symposium on Ibn al Nafis, Second International Conference on Islamic Medicine: Islamic Medical Organization, Kuwait (cf. Ibnul-Nafees As a Philosopher, Encyclopedia of Islamic World).
  12. Nawal Muhammad Hassan (1980), Hayy bin Yaqzan and Robinson Crusoe: A study of an early Arabic impact on English literature, Al-Rashid House for Publication.
  13. Cyril Glasse (2001), New Encyclopedia of Islam, p. 202, Rowman Altamira, ISBN 0-7591-0190-6.
  14. Amber Haque (2004), "Psychology from Islamic Perspective: Contributions of Early Muslim Scholars and Challenges to Contemporary Muslim Psychologists", Journal of Religion & Health 43 (4): 357–377 [369].
  15. Martin Wainwright, Desert island scripts, The Guardian, 22 March 2003.
  16. G. J. Toomer (1996), Eastern Wisedome and Learning: The Study of Arabic in Seventeenth-Century England, p. 222, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-820291-1.
  17. Latinized Names of Muslim Scholars, FSTC.
  18. I. Heullant-Donat and M.-A. Polo de Beaulieu, "Histoire d'une traduction," in Le Livre de l'échelle de Mahomet, Latin edition and French translation by Gisèle Besson and Michèle Brossard-Dandré, Collection Lettres Gothiques, Le Livre de Poche, 1991, p. 22 with note 37.
  19. Professor Nabil Matar (April 2004), Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Stage Moor, Sam Wanamaker Fellowship Lecture, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (cf. Mayor of London (2006), Muslims in London, pp. 14–15, Greater London Authority)

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