literature: literary works written in the Arabic language. The great
body of Arabic literature
includes works by Arabic speaking Turks, Persians, Syrians, Egyptians,
Indians, Jews, and other Africans and Asians, as well as the Arabs themselves.
The first significant Arabic
literature was produced during the medieval golden age of lyric poetry,
from the 4th to the 7th cent. The poems are strongly personal qasida,
or odes, often very short, with some longer than 100 lines. They treat
the life of the tribe and themes of love, fighting, courage, and the chase.
The poet speaks directly, not romantically, of nature and the power of
God. The qasida survive only through collections, chiefly the Muallaqat,
Hamasa, Mufaddaliyat, and Kitab al-Aghani. The most esteemed of these
poets are Amru
Ibn Shaddād al-'Absī, and Zuhair.
The structure of the Arabic language is well-suited to harmonious word-patterns, with elaborate rhymes and rhythms. The earliest known literature emerged in northern Arabia around 500 AD and took the form of poetry which was recited aloud, memorised and handed down from one generation to another. It began to be written down towards the end of the seventh century. The most celebrated poems of the pre-Islamic period were known as the mu'allaqat ("the suspended"), reputedly because they were considered sufficiently outstanding to be hung on the walls of the ka'ba in Makkah.
During the 19th century, printing in Arabic began in earnest, centered in Cairo, Beirut, and Damascus. Newspapers, encyclopedias, and books were published in which Arab writers tried to express, in Arabic, their sense of themselves and their place in the modern world. Simultaneously with a reaction against Western models in Arabic literature, the novel and the drama, forms never before used, developed. Notable 20th-century–early 21st-century writers in Arabic include the novelists Naguib Mahfouz, winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Literature, Abdelrahman Munif, Sonallah Ibrahim, and Yahya Hakki; the playwrights Ahmad Shawqi and Tawfiq al-Hakim; the poets Hafiz Ibrahim, Badr Shakir as-Sayyab, Nazik al-Malaika, Abdul Wahab al-Bayati, Mahmoud Darwish, and Adonis; and the short-story writers Mahmud Tymur and Yusuf Idris.
The Western center of Arab
culture was Spain, especially Córdoba under the Umayyads. The Spanish
Arabs produced fine poets and scholars, but they are less important
than the great Spanish philosophers—Avempace, Averroës, and Ibn Tufayl.
Since 1200 in Spain and 1300 in the East, there has been little Arabic
literature of wide interest. The most outstanding Arabic writer of
the 20th century was Naguib Mahfouz, a prolific Egyptian novelist, playwright,
and screenwriter who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1988. Other
prominent writers from Egypt - which has long been the intellectual centre
of the Arab
world - include Taha Hussein, Tawfiq al-Hakim, Sayed
Hafez, and M. Hussein Heikal.
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