SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Introduction to Arabic Literature

Module Code:
Module Withdrawn
30 credits
Year of study:
Year 2

This is a text-based module that introduces students to the distinct and varied prose and poetry genres in Arabic literature and their development in the two thousand years of the history of Arabic writing. The selection of texts is informed by five major aims: to familiarize students with the main Arabic literary genres, their historical developments and the cultural context of their production; to acquaint them with the major authors and works in divergent regions of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia; to develop their cultural literarcy, and linguistic and critical skills grounded in close analysis of literary expressions; to situate their aesthetics, ethics and politics in the intertextual dialogue between the ancient and the modern, and global context of intercultural exchange between East and East as well as East and West; and to articulate orally and in writing the major critical issues relevant to Arabic literature and literary studies.


Pre-requisite module:  155900896: Arabic 1

Co-requisite module - must be taken with 155900897: Arabic 2

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  1. Identify and charactize Arabic literary genres and locate their aesthetics, ethics and politics in the context of their cultural context and historical development.
  2. Understand the major Arab authors and Arabic texts and their significance in the development of Arabic literature.
  3. Situate the energy of literary creativity in the dynamism of intercultural dialogues.
  4. Productively employ the conceptual and critical tools to understand Arabic writing beyond its immediate communicative message.
  5. Critically articulate and analyze orally, through the practice of class participation and discussion, and in writing, through writing assignments, the major issues relevant to Arabic literature and literary studies.


Total of 22 weeks teaching consisting of a 2 hour lecture and a 1 hour seminar per week.

Scope and syllabus

Primary texts may vary from year to year, but a typical syllabus will consist classical and modern poems, narratives, essays, short and long stories, and dramatic texts.

Apart from introducing students to basic literary concepts and practices and to essential critical and analytical tools, the module readings and discussions will be guided by the following major themes: 

1. The Poet, his role in society, and the development of Arabic poetry.

2. The influence of the Qur'an and the Prophetic Tradition on the emergence of prose genres in Arabic writing and their aesthetics and ethics.

3. The global context of classical and modern Arabic literature: (a) Biblical, Chinese, Greek, Indian and Persian presence in classical Arabic Literature; and (b) Orientalism and European footprints in modern Arabic literature.

4. Arabic literary and critical responses to global aesthetics, ethics and politics.

5. Birth and transformations of Arabic literary genres.

6. Politics in Arabic literature.

7. Ethnicity, class and gender and the development of Arabic literature.

8. Modernities and their impact on literary sensibilities and critical thought.

9. Arabic literary criticism.

Method of assessment

One two-hour written examination taken in May/June (50%); a 2,500 word literary analysis of a classical or modern work (25%) due in Term 2, Week 2, Friday; a 2,500 word argument driven essay on classical or modern Arabic literature (25%) due in Term 3, Week 1, Friday.

Suggested reading

  • Allen, Roger. The Arabic Literary Heritage: the development of its genres and criticism (1998).
  • Cachia, Pierre. Arabic Literature: An Overview (2002).
  • Kilito, Abdefattha. The Author and His Doubles. Tr. Michael Cooperson (2001).
  • Monroe, James T. The Art of Badi' al-Zaman al-Hamdhani as Picaresque Narrative (1983).
  • Farrin, Raymond. Abundance from the Desert: classical Arabic poetry (2011).
  • Badawi, M. M. A Critical Introduction to Modern Arabic Poetry (1979).
  • Badawi, M. M. Modern Arabic Drama in Egypt (1987).
  • Hafez, Sabry. The Genesis of Arabic Narrative Discourse (1993).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules