Any discussion of Arabic literature must begin with the language itself. While the leading literary figures within the islamic Empire represented a diversity of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, the non-Arabs among them adopted the language of the Qur 'an as their universal medium ofexpression. Arabs have long considered their language a perfect instrument of precision, clarity and eloquence, as evidenced by the Qur 'an itself and by subsequent literary masterpieces. Since the Qur an was adopted as the fixed standard, a surprisingly vast and rich literature has accumulated over a period of fourteen hundred years.
The earliest form of Arabic literature known is the heroic poetry of the noble tribes of pre-islamic Arabia. It was there that the standard Arabic verse form, the qasidah, evolved. The qasidah, a long poem, often recounted incidents from the poet's own life or that of his tribe~-sometimes dramatically and, sometimes, with a distinctively epic flavor. Pre-Islamic poetry was transmitted and preserved orally until the latter part of the seventh century A.D., when the Arab scholars undertook a large effort to collect and record verses and shorter compositions that had survived in the memories of professional reciters.
During the Umayyad period (661-750 A.D.), the Arab way of life began to shift from a nodamic mode of existence to a more settled and sophisticated urban style. In accordance with Greek and Persian practices of the time, poetry was often accompanied by music, performed by women. In time, the poetic form was simplified: the complex and highly refined meters of the traditional Arabian poetry were replaced by shorter, freer meters which were adaptable to music. Poetry and music became inseparable, giving rise to the ghazal traditions, most strikingly illustrated in the famous Kuab atAghani, or "Book of Songs."

Arab literature flourished under the Abbasids, who rose to power in Baghdad in the mid~ighth century. The "golden age" of Islamic culture and commerce reached its zenith in the reigns of Harun al-Rashid and his son, al-Ma'mun. Arabic prose began to take its rightful place along with poetry; secular literature was at home alongside religious tracts. Abbasid authors of this era not only contri

  buted to the splendor of their age but also left an indelible mark on the European Renaissance.

The outstanding genius of Arab prose at that time was Abu 'Uthman 'Umar bin Bahr al-Jahiz (776-869), the grandson of a black slave who, having received a wide education in Basra, Iraq, became one of the period's leading intellectuals. Al]ahiz is best known for his Kigab al-Hayawan, "Book of Animals," an anthology of animal anecdotes, representing a curious blend of fact and fiction. His Kuab at- Bukhaia, "Book of Misers," a witty and insightful study of human psychology, is more revealing of Arab character and society than any other book of the time.

  The essays of al-Jahiz form a part of the large category of adab, polite literature or beltes-tettres. in the second half of the tenth century, a new literary genre appeared. This was known as ma-qamal "assemblies"-amusing anecdotes narrated by a vagabond who made his living by his wits. The maqamat were invented by Badi' al-Zaman alHamadhani (d. 1008); only fifty-two of his original four hundred maqamat have survived. AI-Hariri (d. 1122) elaborated upon this genre and stereotyped it, using the same format and inventing his own narrator and roguish hero. The popularity of the maqamal was only eclipsed by the rise of modern Arabic.
For many people, Abu al-Tayyib Ahmad alMutanabbi, may have been the greatest of all Arab poets. Born in Kufa, Iraq, and educated in Syria, alMutanabbi appeared in the early part of the tenth century. His themes recalled the traditional Arab

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