Arabic Language and Literature

Aida Bamia

in African Studies

ISBN: 9780199846733
Published online October 2013 | | DOI:
Arabic Language and Literature

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  • African History
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There is a general tendency to confuse Arab and Muslim identities. While the majority of Arabs are Muslim, most Muslims are not Arabs. There are also non-Muslim Arabs. The first Arab conquests aimed at spreading Islam caused the Arabs to settle outside the Arabian Peninsula, extending their control over the Levant, North Africa, Mesopotamia, and the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula. The military conquests contributed to a gradual process of Arabization, even among non-Muslims. While all Muslims are required to pray in Arabic, they use their native languages to communicate among themselves, and to read and write. Some of those languages, Farsi, Urdu, and Pashtun, to cite only a few, are written in the Arabic script to this day. Two other languages, Swahili and Turkish (Ottoman), abandoned Arabic script, the former in the 20th century, with the advent of colonialism, and the latter in 1928, under Kemal Ataturk’s rule. The requirement for Muslims to pray in Arabic contributed to the safeguard of the language during the years of political turmoil, and under French colonialism in particular. An extreme example is Algeria, where Arabic was declared a foreign language, and it is thanks to the teaching offered in the zawiyas and the madrasas that Arabic survived in that country. This survey article examines the development of Arabic language and literature from pre-Islamic times, the Jahiliyya, to the contemporary period. It introduces the various literary genres of Arabic literature, including Francophone and Anglophone literatures written by Arab writers and the literature of the Mahjar. The area covered will be referred to as the Arab world, a more accurate name than the Middle East, which includes countries and cultures that are not Arabic. The Arab world consists of twenty countries, members of the Arab League established on March 22, 1945, and stretches over two continents, Africa and Asia. The literature of the Arab world will not be referred to as Islamic literature, as was the practice among some Orientalists. The approach to this coverage is historical, following Arabic literature and language in their trajectory throughout the Arab world, from the Jahiliyya, moving through the Islamic period, the Umayyads in Damascus, the Abbasids in Baghdad, the Umayyads in Andalusia, the Fatimids in Egypt, the Ottoman Empire, and ending in the contemporary period.

Article.  22369 words. 

Subjects: African History ; African Languages ; African Music ; African Philosophy ; African Studies

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