SOAS University of London

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

Classical Arabic Prose Literature and Adab

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2018/2019
Year of study:
Taught in:
Full Year

The module is an in-depth study of Arabic prose literature. This literature comprises a very extensive body of texts that has had much influence on non-Arabic literatures in both 'East' and 'West', and been much influenced by them in turn.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module students will be familiar with the history, development and critical assessment of the range of themes and styles in the various genres of classical Arabic prose literature. They will have gained a critical understanding of a number of texts selected from classical Arabic prose genres, such as maqama, hikaya, khabar, risala and drama, and an ability to comment on the literary (language, style and narrative) and social (function and cultural and identity politics) dimensions inherent in these texts. An advanced understanding of the workings of the Arabic literary language will have been acquired. Particular attention will be given to notions of "literariness" and the cultural and political role of literature in the Arabic context. Students will also gain familiarity with classical Arabic literary theory and criticism. Students are expected to be able to apply a range of critical theories to the literature in question and to demonstrate this in their course-work essays. Students are also introduced to key concepts of literary theory and given training in applying a variety of critical paradigms to their material. Course-work essays are based on supplementary texts which may be read in English translation, and are expected to take account of relevant critical literature.


This module will be taught over 22 weeks with a  2 hour seminar per week.

Scope and syllabus

The module syllabus covers a combination of the following topics:

  1. The emergence of development various genres of writing. 
  2. The rise and growth of adab compendia. 
  3. Anecdotal and narrative forms of storytelling. 
  4. Medieval Arabic drama. 
  5. The language and style of the Maqama. 
  6. Content and style of classical essay (risala). 

Method of assessment

A 2,000 word essay to be submitted day 1, week 1, term 2 (30%); a 3,000 word essay to be submitted day 1, week 1, term 3 (45%); a 15 minute oral presentation (10%); a 1,000 word textual analysis (15%).

Suggested reading

  • J. Ashitany, ed., 'Abbasid Belles-Lettres, Cambridge History of Arabic Literature, Vol. II (Cambridge, 1990). 
  • Roger Allen, The Arabic Literary Heritage (Cambridge, 1998). 
  • Mieke Bal, Introduction to the Theory of Narrative, 2nd edition (University of Toronto Press, 1999). 
  • Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination (University of Texas Press, 1981) and Speech Genres & Other Late Essays (University of Texas Press, 1986). 
  • A.F.L. Beeston, et al, eds., Arabic Literature to the End of the Umayyad Period, Cambridge History of Arabic Literature, Vol. I (Cambridge, 1983). 
  • Gerard Genette, Figures of Literary Discourse, tr., J. E. Lewin (Cornell University Press, 1980). 
  • Jaakko Hameen-Anttila, Maqama: A History of A Genre (Wiesbaden, 2003) 
  • A. Hamori, The Art of Medieval Arabic Literature (Princeton, 1974).
  • Hilary Kilpatrick, The Book of Songs (London, 2003). 
  • Stefan Leder, ed., Story-telling in the Framework of Non-fictional Arabic Literature (Wiesbaden, 1998).
  • M. R. Menocal, et al, eds., The Literature of al-Andalus, Cambridge History of Arabic Literature, Vol. V (Cambridge, 2000). 
  • J. T. Monroe, The Art of Badi' al-Zaman al-Hamadhani (Beirut, n.d.). Shmeul Moreh, Live Theatre and Dramatic Literature in the Medieval Arab World (Eindurgh, 1992). 
  • Wen-chin Ouyang, Literary Criticism in Medieval Arabic Islamic Culture (Edinburgh, 1997). 
  • G. J. van Gelder, Of Dishes and Discourse: Classical Arabic Literary Representation of Food (Richmone, Surrey, 2000). 
  • M. J. L. Young, et al, eds., Religion, Learning and Science in the ‘Abbasid Period, Cambridge History of Arabic Literature, Vol. III (Cambridge, 1990).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules