Arabic literature

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Arabic literature in the narrower sense is literature in the Arabic language . In a broader sense, it also includes literary works by Arabic authors, regardless of the language in which the original was written. On the one hand, a number of important Arabic authors write in languages ​​other than Arabic, be it that they use the language of the former colonial country, as is often the case in the Maghreb , or that they live in exile and prefer the language of the country of exile. On the other hand, especially in the early days of Islam, there were important authors of non-Arabic origin who chose Arabic as the literary language.

The following five epochs are significant in the history of Arabic literature:

  • the old Arabic or pre-Islamic epoch (around 475 to 622)
  • the epoch of the orthodox caliphs and the Umayyads (622–750)
  • the Abbasid epoch (749–1258)
  • the era of decadence (1258–1798)
  • the epoch since Napoleon's Egyptian expedition (from 1798 to today)

Pre-Islamic period

Little is known directly from the pre-Islamic period. Most of the works have been handed down orally and, although their origin dates back to the 5th century, were not written down until the end of the 8th century - around 300 years later.


Lyric poetry was of particular importance. The oldest monuments are written in the traditional form of poetry, the Qaside (German: Kasside ). This is a polythematic poem with a constant meter and end rhyme. This form of poetry was decisive for Arabic poetry until modern times. The following were particularly widespread during this time: love poems, funeral poems (which mostly women wrote about the death of their relatives who fell in battle, but not about their own husbands), praise poems (about weapons, good mounts, etc.) B. doused an enemy Bedouin tribe with ridicule.

Imru 'al-Qais († around 540) is one of the most famous poets of this era . One of the seven poems from the highly esteemed Al-Muallaqat collection is ascribed to him: According to legend, these were placed on cloths that were hung in front of the gate of the Kaaba , which is why they were also called al-Mu'allakat (the hung up). Another poem in this collection comes from the famous hero Antara Ibn Shaddad al-'Absi († around 615). Other well-known poets of this time are Tarafa († around 569), Zuhair , Labid and the Hanif poet Umaiya ibn Abī s-Salt (died around 630).


From the prose the days of the Arabs should be mentioned, which depict important battles between rival Bedouin tribes.

Classic Islamic period

The Koran is designed in rhyming prose throughout and is one of the oldest surviving works in Arabic literature. Quotes from the Koran or allusions to the Koran pervade Arabic literature to this day.


For the poets around the Prophet Mohammed , the choice between paganism and Islam was one of the most important issues. While Mohammed's praise poet Hassān ibn Thābit (d. Between 659 and 673) glorified those who had embraced Islam, Hutai'a (d. After 661), whose conversion to Islam had been only superficial, followed suit the death of Muhammad of the Ridda movement and wrote abusive poems on Abū Bakr . At the time of the Umayyad Caliphate , the poem of praise for high-ranking personalities at court and the humiliating poem for the enemy played an important role. The two poets Farazdaq (640–728) and al-Jabir (653–729) mocked each other for decades in the most vicious way. Legend has it that al-Jabir died of grief when he learned of the death of his poet opponent. Many poems from this period also show an Islamic character. For example, in a satirical poem, al-Farazdaq reprimanded the Iraqi governor Chālid al-Qasrī for building a church for his mother, although he claimed to be the Imam of Muslims.

One of the most famous poets of praise from later times is al-Mutanabbi (915–965), who could also vigorously revile a former patron if he was disappointed by him and had found a more generous patron in the meantime.

Ghazals are Arabic love poems. Again and again the unhappy love of Laila and Majnun was sung about, who belonged to rival tribes and therefore could not marry.

Prose and rhyming prose

One of the most important representatives of the Adab literature is Amr Ibn Bachr Uthman, called Al-Jāhiz (i.e. the goggle-eyed) (776–869), the grandson of a black slave. He was famous for his literacy, his thirst for education, and his proverbial ugliness. Al-Jahiz wrote in an elegant style and had a sharp tongue. It is said that he found his death under an overturned pile of books. To a book fanatic one still says today: “You are like al-Jahiz.” One of his best-known works is the collection of anecdotes The Miser , in which he ridicules overly thrifty people.

Another important work of classical literature is the collection of fables, Kalīla wa Dimna , which the Persian Ibn al-Mukaffa (executed in 755 or 756) translated from Middle Persian into immaculate Arabic and expanded it further. This collection goes back in essence to the Indian Panchatantra .

A special feature of Arabic literature is held in artful prose rhyme Makame . The famous Makamen of Hariri (1054–1122) are plays about clever beggars, swindlers and poor poets. The work belongs to courtly entertainment literature and is an imitation of the model of al Hamadhani .

The world-famous collection Thousand and One Nights , on the other hand, is not part of the high-level literature , which was initially presented by professional narrators to entertain the male guests, mainly in coffee houses. It is written in what is known as Central Arabic, a hybrid form between the classical standard Arabic used in the Koran and the Arabic dialects , which have always been reserved for oral use. Only because of their enthusiastic reception in Europe is the Arabian Nights now also regarded as literary valuable in Arab countries.

Modern literature

With Napoleon's Egyptian campaign at the beginning of the 19th century, Arabic literature awoke from centuries of stagnation. The European influences brought new impulses that artists dealt with and wanted to write about. In this general renewal movement ( Nahda ) the reformers Mohammad Abduh (1849-1905) and Al-Afghani (1838-1897) were in charge. The new literary development was favored by an improved school system and the emergence of a modern press, which became a platform for the writers and their works.

In Arabic literature, poetry has always been the most respected genre and changed its face little into the 20th century. Many authors such as B. Ahmed Shawqi (1868–1932) adhered to the tradition of monoreimes and fixed metrics. New poems in free verse, which gave the poetry a richer sound, did not emerge until around 1950. Important lyricists of this generation and founders of modern Arabic poetry include Badr Shakir as-Sayyab , Adonis and Mahmud Darwisch . It was only the numerous translations from English and French that stimulated new genres of Arabic literature. Dramas, novels, short stories and essays emerged. The big differences between the standard Fusha language and the spoken Arabic dialects are still a big problem today, and dialogues in written Arabic often seem unrealistic. The most important writers from this period include Egyptian authors such as the novelist and journalist Hussain Haikal (1888–1956), the short story writer Mahmud Taimur (1894–1974), who was influenced by Chekhov and Turgenev , the philosophically and religiously inspired Abbas el- Akkad (1889–1964), the historian Tāhā Husain (1889–1973), the playwright Taufiq al-Hakim (1902–1987) and the novelist Edwar al-Charrat (1926–2015).

Due to the political and social upheavals in the Arab world, the resulting problems were discussed in many different ways during this time. So wrote Etel Adnan (* 1925) works on the Lebanese civil war and Sahar Khalifeh (* 1942) deals with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Egyptian Qasim Amin (1863-1908) became one of the first advocates of female emancipation efforts with his writings. The feminist-oriented works emerging in this direction were accordingly mostly written by women. The representatives of this time include the Egyptian Nawal El Saadawi (* 1931) and the Lebanese Laila Balabakki (* 1936). From 1960 to 1970, poetry became increasingly political and socially critical, but it also showed mythical-religious currents, so that a wide range of topics developed. The ego and the search for identity are often at the center of these works . Representatives of modern Arabic poetry include the Lebanese Abbas Beydoun (* 1945), Ounsi Al-Hadjj (1937–2014) and the Iraqi Amal al-Jubouri as a female representative.

In 1988, modern Arabic literature gained international recognition when the Egyptian writer Nagib Mahfuz was awarded the Nobel Prize . The important Arabic authors of the 1990s include Abd ar-Rahman Munif , Adonis and Mahmud Darwisch .

Scientific literature

Arabic scientific literature has made a significant contribution by rescuing, revising and expanding the collected Greek specialist literature on the turmoil of the Great Migration , as well as establishing a connection with Indian and Chinese research traditions. Much of the work of medieval European scientists is based on translations from Arabic, particularly in astronomy , mathematics and chemistry .

See also:

Contemporary Arabic literature

The Arab world as a guest country at the Frankfurt Book Fair

Arabic literature was the focus of the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2004 . Via the Arab Writers' Association , not only "state writers" loyal to the regime were invited past the censorship authorities of the Arab world. Independently of this, publishers based in Germany and the rest of Europe invited the authors they represented.

On the occasion of the guest of honor appearance of the Arab world at the Frankfurt Book Fair, a list of Arabic literature in German translation was compiled, which can be accessed on the website of the guest of honor appearance.

Book market structures

In Arab countries, printing in Arabic began in the early 18th century with religious treatises by Christian communities in the area of ​​present-day Syria and present-day Lebanon. However, book printing did not take off until the beginning of the 19th century, triggered by a printing press that Napoleon had with him when he invaded Egypt .

Even today, the main focus of Arab publishing activities is in Lebanon and Egypt. Because of the relatively liberal legislation in Lebanon, many books are published here that would be banned by censorship in other Arab countries . Problems for the book industry do not only exist in the censorship, but also in the still widespread illiteracy and the fact that poorer sections of the population cannot afford books. Therefore, the number of copies of Arabic literature is often very low.

So far, only a few Arabic authors have been translated into German. Subsidies from publishers and translators are necessary, because Arabic fiction in German translation finds few readers.

Lenos Verlag and Unionsverlag are the market leaders in the German-speaking countries for the translation of fiction from Arabic . Interesting discoveries can also be made at the publishers Donata Kinzelbach , Edition Orient , Hans Schiler , Lisan Verlag , Jadara Verlag and Ammann . Some of these publishers have bilingual Arabic-German editions.

Europe is of particular importance for Arab literature because books can be published here that would fall victim to censorship in many Arab countries. An example of an Arab publisher based in Germany is Cologne-based Al-Kamel-Verlag, owned by Iraqi publisher and poet Khalid Al-Maaly .

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung often contains reviews of Arabic literature.

The Society for the Promotion of Literature from Africa, Asia and Latin America provides up-to-date information on modern Arabic literature .

Arabic poets and writers

Surname Lifetime country Remarks
Abu Tammam 788-845 Factory: Hamasa
Ibn al-Nadim † 995 or 998
al-Ma'arri 973-1057
Radua Ashur * 1946 Egypt
Taha Hussein 1898-1973 Egypt
Yusuf Idris 1927-1991 Egypt
Nagib Mahfuz 1911-2006 Egypt 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature
Chalil Mutran 1870 / 72-1949 Egypt
Salama Moussa 1889-1958 Egypt
Muntasir al-Qaffash * 1964 Egypt
Nawal El Saadawi * 1931 Egypt
Majj Al-Tilmissani * 1965 Egypt
Latifa Al-Zayyat 1923-1996 Egypt
Mustafa Zikri * 1966 Egypt
Yusuf Idris 1927-1991 Egypt
Chalil Mutran 1870 / 72-1949 Egypt
Salama Moussa 1889-1958 Egypt
Muntasir al-Qaffash * 1964 Egypt
Majj Al-Tilmissani * 1965 Egypt
Latifa Al-Zayyat 1923-1996 Egypt
Ahlam Mustaghanmi * 1954 Algeria
Ali Al Jallawi * 1975 Bahrain
Abd al-Wahhab Al-Bayyati 1926-1999 Iraq
Sargon Boulus 1944-2007 Iraq
Amal al-Jubouri * 1967 Iraq
Nazik al-Mala'ika 1922-2007 Iraq
Badr Shakir as-Sayyab 1926-1964 Iraq
Adnan al-Sayigh * 1955 Iraq
Sa'di Yusuf * 1934 Iraq
Hashem Ghareibeh * 1953 Jordan
Khalil Gibran 1883-1931 Lebanon
Yusuf al-Khal 1916-1987 Lebanon
Mourad Alami * 1952 Morocco
Mohamed Choukri 1935-2003 Morocco
Driss Chraïbi 1926-2007 Morocco
Tahar Ben Jelloun * 1944 Morocco
Abdellah Taïa * 1973 Morocco
Jabra Ibrahim Jabra 1920-1994 Palestine
Edward Said 1935-2003 Palestine
Fadwa Touqan 1917-2003 Palestine
Ghassan Kanafani 1936-1972 Palestine
Harun Hashem Rashid * 1927 Palestine
Ibrahim Touqan 1905-1941 Palestine
Izzu d-Din al-Manaasra * 1946 Palestine
Mahmud Darwish 1941-2008 Palestine
Mohammad Hamza Ghanayem 1953-2004 Palestine
Mohammad Hasib al-Qadi 1946-2010 Palestine
Muin Bseiso 1926-1984 Palestine
Rashad Abu Shawar * 1942 Palestine
Sahar Khalifeh * 1942 Palestine
Salim Alafenisch * 1948 Palestine
Samih al-Qasim * 1939 Palestine
Tawfiq Ziad 1929-1994 Palestine
Ghazi al-Gosaibi 1940-2010 Saudi Arabia and Jordan
Abd ar-Rahman Munif 1933-2004 Saudi Arabia and Jordan
El Tayeb Salih * 1929 Sudan
Usama Ibn Munqidh 1095-1188 Syria
Adonis * 1930 Syria
Amal Djarah 1943-2004 Syria
Yusuf al-Khal 1916-1987 Syria
Muhammad al-Maghut 1934-2006 Syria
Nizar Qabbani 1923-1998 Syria
Fuad Rifka 1930-2011 Syria
Zakaria Tamer * 1931 Syria
Suleman Taufiq * 1953 Syria
Abu al-Qasim al-Shabbi 1909-1934 Tunisia

See also


  • Khalid Al-Maaly , Mona Naggar: Lexicon of Arabic authors of the 19th and 20th centuries. Palmyra Verlag, Heidelberg 2004, ISBN 3-930378-55-8 .
  • Carl Brockelmann : History of Arabic Literature. CF Amelang, Leipzig 1901 (= Die Litteraturen des Ostens in single representations, VI.2) Reprint Elibron Classics, 2005, 225 pages, ISBN 0-543-99225-X
  • Petra Dünges: Children's and Young People's Literature from Arab Countries - An Introduction. In: International Youth Library . Report. Vol. 22, No. 1, 2004, ISSN  1013-0071 , pp. 18-21.
  • Manar Omar: Bibliography of the German translations of Arabic-language works. From 1990 to 2004. M. Omar, Cairo 2004.
  • Paul Starkey: Modern Arabic Literature. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh 2006, ISBN 0-7486-1290-4 .
  • Suleman Taufiq (ed. And translator): Women in the Arab world (= dtv 13261). Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-423-13261-2 (anthology).
  • Suleman Taufiq (ed. And translator): Arabic stories (= dtv 13263). Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-423-13263-9 (anthology).
  • Suleman Taufiq (ed. And translator): New Arabic poetry (= dtv 13262). Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-423-13262-0 (anthology).
  • Ewald Wagner: The Arab rank dispute poetry and its classification in the general history of literature (= treatises of the humanities and social science class of the Academy of Sciences and Literature in Mainz. Born in 1962, No. 8).
  • Wiebke Walther: A short history of Arabic literature. From pre-Islamic times to the present. CH Beck, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-406-52243-2 .
  • Stefan Weidner : Exquisite Orient. A guide through the literatures of the Islamic world. Edition Selene, Vienna 2004, ISBN 3-85266-239-7 .
  • Stefan Weidner (ed. And translator): The color of the distance. Modern Arabic poetry CH Beck, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-406-45860-2 (anthology).
  • Wiebke Walther: Brief History of Arabic Literature (From the pre-Islamic period to the present), 2004. 336 pages .: with 11 illustrations and 2 maps. Hardcover, ISBN 978-3-406-52243-7

Web links


  1. See James A. Bellamy: "The Impact of Islam on Early Arabic Poetry" in Alford T. Welch, Pierre Cachia (eds.): Islam: Past Influence and Present Challenge . Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 1979. pp. 141-167. Here p. 153
  2. Cf. also Nadia al-Bagdadi: Writing daughters. Autobiography and Family in Arab Women's Literature. In: Edith Laudowicz (ed.): Fatimas Töchter. Women in islam. PapyRossa, Cologne 1992 (= New Small Library. Volume 29), ISBN 3-89438-051-9 , pp. 181–197.
  3. On the death of the Lebanese poet Unsi al-Hadj co-founder of Arab surrealism at, accessed on February 28, 2015.
  4. Modern Arabic literature at, accessed on February 28, 2015.