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An Anthology of Arabic Literature

From the Classical to the Modern

Edited by Tarif Khalidi

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An anthology of Arabic literature, ancient and modern, in both prose and verse

Introducing readers to the extremely rich tradition of Arabic literature, this Anthology covers some of its major themes and concerns across the centuries, from its early beginnings to modern times. The texts chosen are a 'library of personal preferences' of a scholar who has spent half a century or more in the company of Arabic books, marking then translating those passages that seemed to him to capture some of its most memorable moments.

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1. The poet and the wolf Al-Buhturi (d. 897)

2. A love and wine song Tamim ibn al-Muʿizz al-Fatimi (d. 984)

3. Elegy for a drinking companion ʿAbdullah ibn al-Muʿtazz (d. 908)

Bedouin chivalry

4. A Bedouin and his guest Al-Hutayʾah (d. c. 661)

Frivolous love

5. A girl called Hind ʿUmar ibn Abi Rabiʿa (d. 711)


6. A rain cloud Abu al-ʿAlaʾ al-Maʿarri (d. 1057)

Heretical verse

7. Faith and unbelief Abu al-ʿAlaʾ al-Maʿarri

Elegies I

8. A poetess mourns her brother Al-Fariʿah (d. c. 800)

9. Elegy for the celebrated vizier Nizam al-Mulk Muqatil ibn ʿAtiyya (d. c. 1111)

10. Elegy for a friend Abu al-ʿAlaʾ al-Maʿarri


11. Grey hairs Abu ʿAli al-Hasan ibn ʿAbdullah (d. c. 1001)

Poets and their daughters

12. A poet to his daughter Anonymous

13. A dying poet to his daughter Abu Firas al-Hamdani (d. 968)

Elegies II

14. Elegy for the fall of al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) Abuʾl Baqaʾ al-Rundi (d. 1285)

15. Elegy for the vizier Ibn Baqiyya, killed then crucified in 978 Abuʾl Hasan al-Anbari (d. 10th century)

Elegies III: humorous

16. Elegy for a tomcat Abu Bakr ibn al-ʿAllaf (d. 930)

17. Elegy for an extracted molar tooth Al-Babi (d. 1681)


18. A poet dying in exile Ibn Zurayq al-Baghdadi (d. 1029)


19. A woman bathing Abu Nuwas (d. 814)

Poetic fragments by various poets

20. On nature and natural objects

(i) The crescent moon

(ii) The new moon in daytime

(iii) The full moon behind clouds

(iv) The moon shining upon water

(v) The moon amid stars

(vi) The stars

(vii) The Pleiades

(viii) Gemini

(ix) Mars

(x) Vega

(xi) Vega, Altair and Pisces

(xii) Ursa Major

(xiii) Pitch-black night

(xiv) Dawn

(xv) A rainbow

(xvi) Midday heat

(xvii) Extreme cold

(xviii) A day both bright and cloudy

(xix) Shadows cast by leaves

(xx) The rose and the daffodil

(xxi) A red anemone

(xxii) Wallflowers

(xxiii) The Judas tree

21. On the joys and agonies of love


22. A poet defends his seduction of a young and innocent girl Bashshar ibn Burd (d. 784)




23. On authors and authorship

24. Advice to public speakers I

25. Advice to public speakers II

26. The power of suggestion

Animal fables

27. The lion, the wolf, the raven, the jackal and the camel Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ (d. 756)

28. The flea and the mosquito Bahaʾ al-Din al-ʿAmili (d. 1621)

Snappy answers

29. Al-Ajwiba al-muskita


30. On Ibn al-Shalmaghani, his execution and a brief mention of his heretical views Abuʾl Fida (d. 1331)

31. On Abu Talib al-Makki, the famous mystic Abuʾl Fida

32. Rival Qurʾans Abuʾl Husayn al-Haruni al-Zaydi (d. 1030)

33. Last will and testament Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni (d. 1085)


34. The psychology of old age Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 1209)

35. Education of the young Ghazali (d. 1111)

36. Firasa (physiognomy) Fakhr al-Din al-Razi

Foreign lands

37. England Ibn Saʿid al-Maghribi (d. 1286)

38. The land of the Franks Zakariyya ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini (d. 1283)

39. Ireland Zakariyya ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini

40. A medieval Lilliput Zakariyya ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini

41. Emperor Frederick II (d. 1250) tricks his rivals Ibn Wasil (d. 1298)

42. Propaganda during the Third Crusade, 1190 Abu Shama (d. 1268)

43. A Byzantine emperor’s finery Al-Qadi al-Rashid ibn al-Zubayr (d. late 11th century)

44. Diplomacy: embassy of Queen Bertha, daughter of Lothar Al-Qadi al-Rashid ibn al-Zubayr

Literary anecdotes

45. A lesson in generosity Ibn Khallikan (d. 1282)

46. A brilliant judge Ibn ʿAsakir (d. 1175), al-Safadi (d. 1363)

47. Poetic justice: revenge Ghars al-Niʿmah al-Sabi (d. 1087)

48. A clown at a caliph’s court Al-Sharishi (d. 1222)

49. A classic children’s story: Tanburi’s shoe Anonymous

50. Three real-life stories on the theme of ‘Ease following hardship’ Ahmad ibn Yusuf ibn al-Daya (d. c. 942)

51. Pre-Islamic Arabian lore

52. What kings must avoid Ibn al-Tiqtaqa (d. after 1302)


53. Theology as defined by a philosopher Farabi (d. 950)

54. On marvels and oddities of nature Masʿudi (d. 956)

55. Can a woman be a prophet? Ibn Hazm (d. 1064)

56. Paradise is a bore Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi (d. c. 1010)

57. What is laughter? Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi

58. A division of existents Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi

59. A humorous exchange on the subject of miserliness Ibn Qutayba (d. 889)

60. An argument over date wine Al-Zajjaji (d. 951)

61. The symptoms of love Ibn Hazm


62. Sexual manners Ghazali

Reflections on history

63. Civilisations and religious beliefs Jahiz

64. Were the ancients taller and longer lived than us? Masʿudi

65. Dismissing a vizier Ibn al-Athir (d. 1232)

66. Biographers Al-Subki (d. 1370)

67. Dynastic transitions Ibn al-Athir

68. The Mongol invasions Ibn al-Athir

69. The caliph ʿUthman and the First Civil War in Islamic history Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406)

70. Arab history comes full circle Ibn Khaldun

71. Causes of the decline of states Turtushi (d. 1126)

72. Military feudalism in Andalusia Turtushi

73. Religions and policies of ancient nations Turtushi

74. Are the conquests of Alexander the Great credible as reported? Yaqut (d. 1229)

History: direct witnesses

75. The death of Saladin, 1193 Abu Shama

76. Ibn Khaldun and Tamerlane: the great world historian meets the great world conqueror, 1401 Ibn Khaldun


77. Arts and crafts in cities Ikhwan al-Safaʾ (c. 10th–11th century)

Sufism (Islamic mysticism)

78. Sufi sayings and stories Abu ʿAbd al-Rahman al-Sulami (d. 1021)

79. Licit and illicit as colours: a Sufi view Abu Talib al-Makki (d. 996)

80. Sufi solitude Ghazali

81. How Satan enters the human heart Ghazali

Proverbs and aphorisms

82. Proverbs popular among the common people of Baghdad in the tenth century Al-Abi (d. 1030)

Literary judgements

83. The celebrated poet al-Farazdaq (d. 728) to a man who showed him his inferior verse Abu Zayd al-Qurashi (d. early 10th century)

84. The famous critic al-Asmaʿi (d. 828) on poetry Al-Marzubani (d. 994)

85. On verse and prose Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi

86. The introduction to a famous literary anthology Ibn Qutayba (d. 889)

87. The famous poet Abu Tamman on his verse Muhammad ibn Yahya al-Suli (d. 946)

88. When can a simile be considered truly remarkable? ʿAbd al-Qahir al-Jurjani (d. 1078)

Reflections on the state

89. The democratic city-state Farabi

90. Inaugural address by the Umayyad caliph Yazid III, a ‘democratic’ caliph Ibn Hamdun (d. 1166)


91. Christian Arabic polemics against Islam ʿAbd al-Masih al-Kindi (fl. early 10th century)

92. Debates with Jews and Christians Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (d. 1350)


93. Passages on Jesus in the Qurʾan Commentary (Tafsir) of Tabari (i) Jesus’ birth

(ii) Jesus speaks in his cradle

(iii) The livelihood of Jesus

(iv) The crucifixion of Jesus

(v) The death and ascension of Jesus

Wisdom literature

94. A famous scholar describes how he spends his days Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr (d. 1070)

95. Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad

96. Sayings of ʿAli ibn Abi Talib

97. Sundry wisdom sayings




Political protest

98. Three popular political songs Ahmad Fuʾad Najm (d. 2013)

(i) The mawwal of ful and meat

(ii) D’Estaing

(iii) Mickey

99. Two poems Muhammad al-Maghut (d. 2006)

(i) A frightened postman

(ii) Fear


100. A poet’s heretical credo Maʿruf al-Rusafi (d. 1945)


101. Christ after the Crucifixion Badr Shakir al-Sayyab (d. 1964)


102. Elegy for a woman (Scenes from a Baghdad alley) Nazik al-Malaʾika (d. 2007)

103. It’s time this heart withdrew Ahlam Mistghanmi (b. 1953)

104. To devotees of bullfighting Ahlam Mistghanmi


Popular historiography

105. A Damascene barber records the life around him Al-Budayri al-Hallaq (d. after 1762)

Short stories

106. A child’s secret Fuʾad al-Tikirli (d. 2008)

107. Three short stories Zakariyya Tamir (b. 1931)

(i) ‘Good morning’

(ii) Burglars

(iii) The eternal governor


108. A lecture given in Cairo in 1914 May Ziadeh (d. 1941)

109. Two autobiographical accounts ʿAnbara Salam al-Khalidi (d. 1986)

(i) A girl dons the veil in Beirut in 1907

(ii) Twenty years later: the unveiling

Personal experience

110. An Egyptian Muslim cleric defrocks (c. 1927) Ahmad Amin (d. 1954)

111. An encounter with George Bernard Shaw (c. 1910) Salama Musa (d. 1958)


112. The fat person Saʿid Taqyiddin (d. 1960)


113. Christ: a modern Muslim view ʿAbbas Mahmud al-ʿAqqad (d. 1964)

Personal experiences of war

114. Scenes from the First World War (Palestine) Khalil al-Sakakini (d. 1953)

115. Scenes from the First World War (Lebanon) (i) ʿAnbara Salam al-Khalidi

(ii) ʿAjjaj Nuwayhid

(iii) Yusuf al-Hakim

116. The Versailles Peace Conference (1919): an Arab perspective Rustum Haidar (d. 1940)

117. Two encounters with Anatole France (1844–1924) Rustum Haidar


118. Fanaticism Maʿruf al-Rusafi

Foreign lands

119. England in the 1840s Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq (d. 1887)

(i) A village in Cambridgeshire

(ii) English social classes

(iii) Cambridge and Oxford

(iv) Praiseworthy English customs

(v) English marriage customs

(vi) English children’s upbringing

(vii) English table manners

(viii) English and French prostitutes

Political writings: editorials

120. Who owns the ‘weapon’ of democracy? Joseph Samaha (d. 2010)

121. Hatred of America Joseph Samaha

122. Modern Syria’s literary and national renaissance Antun Saadeh (d. 1949)

123. A Marxist analysis of the term ‘civilisation’ Mahdi ʿAmil (d. 1987)

Muslim law

124. A modern Muslim jurist on punishments in Muslim sacred law ʿAbdullah al-ʿAlayli (d. 1996)

Aphorisms for our times

125. Aphorisms for our times Ibrahim al-Kuni (b. 1948)


Index of authors

About the Author

Tarif Khalidi has been the Shaykh Zayid Chair in Arabic and Islamic Studies at the American University of Beirut since 2002. He was the Sir Thomas Adams's Professor of Arabic at Cambridge between 1996-2002 and is the author of Arabic Historical Thought in the Classical Period (1994), The Muslim Jesus (2001), The Qur'an: A new translation (2008) and Images of Muhammad: Narratives of the Prophet in Islam Across the Centuries (2009).

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