SOAS University of London

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

PG Classical Arabic A: Biography and History

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2022/2023
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Term 1

This is an intermediate language acquistion module that complements Arabic 3 A/B, and/or Arabic 4A/B, by familiarizing students with genres and styles of Arabic writing through the reading and study of authentic 7th-13th classical literary texts. These materials reflect the rise and development of classical Arabic-Islamic culture and thought and include excerpts from a range of key disciplines and traditions of learning.


Arabic 2A/B or equivalent

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

- Acquire additional vocabulary;

- Reinforce grammar and syntax learned in Arabic 3 A/B, and/or Arabic 4 A/B;

- Be familiary with the content and style of classical literary texts inspired through the rise of the rise of classical Arabic-Islamic culture;

- Distinguish between MSA and Classical Arabic;

- Recognize different genres of classical Arabic writing and identify their features.


Total of 20 weeks teaching with 2 hours language study/lecture and a 1 hour seminar.

Scope and syllabus

Course readings and discussions are guided by, but not exhaustive of, or exclusive to, the following major themes:

1. Excerpts from forms of prose and poetry; the Qur’an; Arabic biography Sīra, ḥadīth and biographical literature.

2. Classical works by religious scholars, philosophers and historians, including autobiographical works.

3. Grammatical and lexicographical texts

4. Classical Arabic travel writing, including geographical exploration, pilgrimage, the journey in search of knowledge, and adventures at sea and in the desert. Classical Arabic accounts of cities, regions, holy sites and scholarly networks and assemblies.

5. Universal histories and regional histories

Method of assessment

  • Two essays each at 15%: one to be submitted in Term 2 and one to be submitted in Term 3
  • One final exam 70%
  • The exact assessment deadline dates are published on the relevant module Moodle/BLE page

Suggested reading

Primary texts

A huge range of pre-modern classical Arabic literary texts from a variety and genres is now available online and can be accessed through

Internet Archive



Reference sources

Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān, Jane McAuliffe, (ed.), (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2002. 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006). (A-D), (E-I), (J-O) (P-Sh) (Si-Z). This is now available on-line through the Library’s website.

Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics, Kees Versteegh (general ed.), (Leiden, Boston: E.J. Brill, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009). Five Vols.


Lanes Lexicon online

Lane, Edward. Arabic-English Lexicon. 2 vols. Cambridge, UK: Islamic Texts Society, 1984. [ISBN: 9780946621033]

Arabic-English Dictionary of Qur’anic Usage, Elsaid Badawi and M.A.S. Haleem, (E.J. Brill, 2008).


Adamson, Peter. Philosophy in the Islamic World. First edition. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Brinner, William M. Lives of the Prophets. Brill, 2009.

Brown, Jonathan. Hadith: Muhammad's Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World (Oxford : Oneworld, 2009).

El Shamsy, Ahmad. Rediscovering the Islamic Classics: How Editors and Print Culture Transformed an Intellectual Tradition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020.

Hirschler, Konrad. The Written Word in the Medieval Arabic Lands: A Social and Cultural History of Reading Practices. Edinburgh, 2013.

Hoyland. Robert. Arabia and the Arabs : from the Bronze Age to the Coming of Islam (London ; New York: Routledge, 2001).

Humphreys, R. Stephen. Islamic History (London, New York: I. B. Tauris, 1999).

Khalidi, Tarif. Arabic Historical Thought in the Classical Period. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Motzki, Harald. The Biography of Muhammad: the Issue of the Sources. Brill, 2000.

Netton, Ian. Seek Knowledge: Thought and Travel in the House of Islam. Curzon, 1996.

Neuwirth, Angelika. The Qur’an in Context: Historical and Literary Investigations into the Qur’anic Milieu. Edited by Angelika Neuwirth, Nicolai Sinai, and Michael Marx. Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 2010.

Robinson, Chase. Islamic Historiography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Ryding, Karin C. Arabic: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Schoeler, Gregor. The Genesis of Literature in Islam: from the Aural to the Read (Edinburgh : Edinburgh University Press, 2009).

Sinai, Nicolai The Qur’ān: A Historical-critical Introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017.

Sluglett, Peter with Andrew Currie. Atlas of Islamic History. London: Routledge, 2014.

Touati, Houari. Islam & Travel in the Middle Ages. Chicago, 2010.

Versteegh, Kees. The Arabic Language. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008.

Versteegh, Kees. Landmarks in Linguistic Thought III: the Arabic Linguistic Tradition (London, New York: Routledge, 1997).

Zadeh, Travis. Mapping Frontiers Across Medieval Islam. I.B. Tauris, 2011.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules