Decline of classical Arabic literature

الأدب العربي القديم في زمن الانحطاط

The expansion of Arab populations in the 7th and 8th centuries brought them into contact with a variety of different peoples who gradually influenced their culture. The ancient Persian civilization was, of all, that which had the greatest impact on Arabic literature. Persia always liked to consider itself the quintessence of Islamic culture despite the regression of its influence for several centuries. “Shu’ubiyya” is the name of the quarrel which opposed the rough, rural and desert life of the Arabs to that of the Persian world, easier and more refined. Although this provoked heated debates among scholars and contributed to the diversification of literary styles, it was not a damaging conflict as there was more important to do at the time, such as forging a unique Islamic cultural identity. . The Persian writer Bashshar ibn Burd summarized his own position in the following few lines of poetry:

He never sang the songs of the camels behind a mangy beast,
Neither pierced the bitter, completely hungry coloquinte
Neither will dig up a lizard from the ground and eat it …

The cultural heritage of Arab desert habitats continued to show its influence even though many writers and scholars lived in the great Arab cities. When Khalid ibn Ahmad listed the parts of poetry, he named the stanzas “bayt”, which means “tent”, and the feet “sabah”, which means “tent cord”. Even during the XXth century this nostalgia for the simple life of the desert appeared in the literature or at least the later writings were conscientiously brought up to date.

A slow resurgence of the Persian and a relocation of the government and the main learning centers in Baghdad reduced the production of Arabic literature. The themes and genres of Arabic prose were mostly taken up in Persian by authors like Omar Khayyam, Attar and Rumi, all of whom were clearly influenced by the early works. At first, the Arabic language retained its importance in the political and administrative fields, but with the rise of the Ottoman Empire its use was restricted to that of religion only. Thus alongside the Persian, the many variants of Turkish languages ​​dominate the literature of Arab regions until the twentieth century, while incorporating some sporadic influences from Arabic.

Indicative bibliography

– Jacques berque: les Arabes, Sindbad, 1973
– A. Miquel: the 1001 nights, Gallimard / la pleiade
– Arabic literature, PUF 1969
– Pierre Larcher: The mu’allaqât or the 7 pre-Islamic poems Ed Fata Morgana
– Marc Bergé, Les Arabes, Ed philippe Auzou-Lidis 1983
– Haroun al-Rachid and the time of the Thousand and One Nights André Clot Fayard, Paris, 1986