NEAR E 529 A: Classical Arabic Literature in Translation

Winter 2021
TTh 4:30pm - 6:20pm / * *
Section Type:
Joint Sections:
NEAR E 329 A
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

Instructor: Terri DeYoung                                                                       Class Location: on line

Office: 246 Denny Hall                                                                        Class Time: TTh 4:30-6:20

(in the office suite, second floor)                                                        SLN: 18098 (329) / 22003(529)

Office Hours:  by appointment

Telephone: (206)543-6184

or (206)543-6033 (dept. office—leave message)



Course Description: This course will familiarize students with the more important trends in Arabic literature during the period when it dominated literary production in the Islamic world, as well as giving relevant information about salient developments in creative expression, both in Arabic and other national traditions before the rise of Islam. Since this is an introductory course we will use only texts in translation, no knowledge of Arabic is required for the course.

               In the quarter, we will trace the course of classical/medieval Arabic literature from its beginnings in the pre-Islamic period (approximately 500-600 C.E.) to the end of the Abbasid caliphate, which fell to the Mongols in 1258 C.E. While such a survey approach will necessitate a strong emphasis on literary history, other topics to be discussed will include: rhetorical elements of the Arabic language , the crystallization of the qasidah poem, literature in a religious and courtly context,  the role of women in the development of classical Arabic literature, attitudes toward fictional narrative, and the interests underlying canon-formation—that is, which authors and texts become part of the educational system, how they are read, and by whom.

               We will read poems from the jāhilīyah (the Pre-Islamic period), a selection from the Qur’an, ‘Udhri love poetry from early Islam, political texts and essays, and the animal fables of Kalilah and Dimnah.


Learning Goals

By the end of the course, you will be familiar with:


1) the differences between fuṣḥá (Standard / Literary Arabic), Classical Arabic, Quranic Arabic, MSA (Modern Standard Arabic) and colloquial forms of Arabic


2) the different periods of Arabic literature, including the jāhiliyah (pre-Islamic period)


3) the genres of Arabic poetry


4) the development of Arabic prose


5) the relationship between Arabic poetry and the Qur’ān


6) the meaning of the term adab in Arabic literature.



Course Requirements: The grade for this course will be determined primarily through evaluation of the student’s written projects for the course.


Writing Assignments:

               A short position paper (at least 2 pp. long) will be due on Friday 15 January 2021 at midnight). The topic of the paper will be “What are my goals in taking this class?” This paper will count for 5% of the final course grade.

               A second position paper (at least 2 pp. long) will be due tentatively on Friday29 January 2021 at midnight), answering either question 1) “How does the Bedouin lifestyle affect the values of jahiliyah literature?” or, 2) “How does the Qur’an evaluate  literature?” This paper will count for 10% of the final course grade

               A third position paper (at least 3 pp. long) will be due tentatively on Friday 19 February 2021 at midnight), answering either “What is the role of love in Classical Arabic literature?” or “What is the importance of poetry vs. prose in Classical Arabic Literature?” This paper will count for 15% of the final course grade.


Discussion Posts

               Two discussion posts will be due after we discuss in class the following two authors: 1) Imru al-Qays (the Mu‘allaqat) and 2) Ibn Marzuban (“The Merit of Dogs over those who wear clothes”). This second discussion post will address the question: "How effective is Ibn Marzuban's defense of dogs?"

The discussion posts will count for 5% each of the final grade.


Question Sets

                A set of three questions (see  handout posted in Canvas for examples) will be due at the beginning of discussion about each of the following sets of texts in class 1) Udhri (love) Poetry, 2) Adab prose,  and 3) Kalilah and Dimnah  See the Assignments list (in Canvas) for exact due dates. The questions will count for 20% of the total grade.



            There will be one exam, a take-home final exam (tentatively due Friday 19 March, 2021 at midnight). Students will have the option to substitute (with the instructor’s permission, obtained at least two weeks in advance of the end of classes) a final paper (about 5-8 pages in length) for the take-home final exam. This paper will be due on the same day as the final exam..

 The Take-Home Final Exam or Paper will count for 35% of the final grade.



Class Participation

               The remaining 5% of the grade will be based on in-class participation. This means that you will be expected to have read the “Primary Readings” before coming to class, and do whatever other reading is necessary so that you can participate actively in the class discussions. Regular attendance records (according to University Regulations) may not be included in this portion of the grade, so it is up to the student to participate in the class discussion, in order to receive full credit for “class participation.”


            Students enrolled in 329 will have the option to substitute (with the instructor’s permission at least two weeks in advance of the end of classes) a final paper of 5-8 pp. for the final exam. The paper will be due at the time of the Final Exam



For 529 Students:

Those taking this course under the “529” number will be required to turn in a paper (of at least 10 pp.) instead of the take-home exam

            In addition, those enrolled in 529 will be required to prepare 1 presentation (about 15 minutes) to be given in class outlining the background of two of the authors covered in the course, or they may write an additional research paper of at least 5 pp.  Students enrolled in the 529 section of the course should consult the instructor about these presentations as soon as possible. The additional assignments will count for 20% of the final grade.



Failure to turn in any assignments or take any tests on time may result in an automatic .3 deduction in the student’s grade for that assignment or test. It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that all assignments are submitted on time and in readable format to the instructor.


Plagiarism: Plagiarism occurs whenever someone uses the ideas or writings of another as their own without giving due credit. This applies to both exams and papers. All policies in place concerning academic honesty at the University of Washington apply to this course.  It is the student’s responsibility to become fully informed about those policies. Refer to the University of Washington Student Conduct Code (WAC 478‐120), for more information on the subject, or Search “Student Academic Responsibility” on the University of Washington homepage.



Writing Credit (“W”):

      If students are interested in obtaining “W” (writing) credit for the course, they should contact the instructor as soon as possible. Basically, “W” credit can be awarded for completing all the written assignments for the course (and revising them if necessary) + one 5 page extra paper due by the eighth week of the course (to allow time for revision)


For Students With Special Needs: If you would like to request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact Disabled Student Services, 448 Schmitz, (206) 543-8924 (V/TTY). If you have a letter from Disabled Student Services indicating you have a disability that requires academic accommodations, please send the letter to the instructor as soon as possible and plan to set up a private conversation on Zoom so we can discuss the accommodations you might need for the class.


Religious Accommodation starting in Autumn 2019, the University of Washington implemented the following new policy about arrangements for religious observances:


“Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy ( Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (”

More information on the policy is available on the webpage for the Office of the University Registrar.



Classroom Courtesy: In an online course, our communication will visible and audible to all. For fully private communication, you should use individual email or send a message to the instructor on Canvas. You should log in to class on time. Test your camera and audio prior to the session.


 Please do not attend online lessons in your pajamas or while in bed.


It is better not to have private conversations not relevant to the course content (everyone can hear what you are saying) during the Zoom sessions. The chat function will be enabled during the class, and you are free to use it.


Hydration is important. Therefore it is more than acceptable to drink water (or other beverages) during class.   Since the consumption of food during sessions often interferes with class participation and is distracting to others, you are requested to avoid this during the Zoom sessions. Your cooperation with these requests will be appreciated


Communications Devices: Please do not use cell phones (or other communications devices) for making calls while logged into Zoom. If you must take a call, please log out. As a general rule you should turn phones off during the Zoom session to minimize disturbance.


Class Breaks. Whenever possible, there will be a break of approximately 10 minutes halfway through each class lecture. This will be an opportunity for students to conduct any personal business necessary outside of the Zoom learning environment




Course Readings:

                There is one text required for the class and available at the University Bookstore. This is: Ibn al-Muqaffa‘, Kalilah and Dimnah, trans. Thomas Ballantine Irving. This book will not be required until the second half of the course.

A selection of translated texts (and other readings) will be made available by e-mail directly (and on Canvas) to students during the quarter. If you think you cannot receive texts by e-mail attachment or on Canvas, please talk to the instructor individually as soon as possible, in order to make suitable arrangements so that you can get access to the texts promptly. These will constitute the "Primary Readings" for the quarter.


                ”Recommended Readings” are for the most part available in the Odegaard Undergraduate Library, either on line or in the stacks. “Supplementary” and background readings will mostly be found in the Suzzallo/Allen library, either in the Reference area or the stacks. You should see the instructor if you have any difficulty obtaining access to one of these recommended or optional readings



Background Reading: Many new and useful critical works about Arabic literature have become available in the last twenty years. One absolutely essential new resource for information about authors, genres, and cultural activities, both medieval and modern, is The Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature (1998), ed. by Julie Scott Meisami and Paul Starkey. It is available in the Suzzallo and Odegaard library reference sections , PJ7510 E53 1998 and on Google books.. Another useful resource (especially for early medieval works) is Vol. 311 of The Dictionary of Literary Biography (Volume title is: Arabic Literary Culture, 500-925). A copy of the text of this volume is available in the Suzzallo Reference area, but the material is also available on-line through the UW Library web site. Go to the “Research Data Bases” section on the UW Library home page, and type in “Literature Resource Center” in the database query box. Then you will need to type in the name of the author you want to research, and you will be taken to the appropriate article from The Dictionary of Literary Biography, which you can read online or print out for study at your leisure. A second valuable resource for our course will be Volume 6 of the series World Literature and Its Times: Profiles of Notable Literary Works and the Historical Events That Influenced Them (Middle Eastern Literatures and Their Times)  This volume is not available online, but a copy of the text will be on 4-hour reserve in Odegaard (PJ 307 M67 2004), so that you can Xerox or scan the relevant articles.

                 For a recent general introduction to Arabic literature (not limited to our period, but including modern material as well), I recommend Professor Roger Allen’s  The Arabic Literary Heritage: The Development of its Genres and Criticism (1998) PJ7510 A44 1998. Additional useful material on these subjects may still be taken from R[eynold] A. Nicholson, A Literary History of the Arabs (1907) (in Odegaard stacks, PJ7510 N5 1930), but caution should be exercised in consulting this source, since some of the information is outdated and the author suffers from an “Orientalist” bias and lack of knowledge about literary theory. The index at the back of the volume is complete and valuable.

                A new anthology of Arabic literature was published by New York University Press in 2013. It contains a valuable introduction by Prof. Geert van Gelder of Oxford University (we will cover in our class several issues he discusses). The selection of poems and prose does not favor the most well known or influential works and authors in Arabic literature, but the works included are a valuable supplement to those we will cover in our class. Available on line.

                As a further supplement to our class material, the second (and increasingly the third) edition of The Encyclopedia of Islam (1953-2020) contains concise biographical articles and bibliographies about the majority of individual authors studied in the course. It is available on-line (for registered UW students only) and in the Suzzallo reference stacks, DS37 E5 1960-.

                The basic bibliographical reference work for articles and (in some cases) monographs on Islamic subjects written in European languages is the Index Islamicus (Z7835 M6 L6), which is available in the Suzzallo reference stacks and on-line. The Index is not cumulative, so to find older articles, you will have to look for them in the print volumes. There is, unfortunately, still no comprehensive reference work for articles on these subjects in Arabic.

                Recently, Cambridge University Press has also been publishing volumes in a series devoted the history of Arabic literature in all historical periods. The quality of these volumes in uneven, however, so they cannot be recommended as highly as the references mentioned in the paragraph above. The volumes about the Abbasid period are generally good, but the volumes treating early developments, Arabic Literature to the End of the Umayyad Period (1983), and Hispano-Arabic works, The Literature of Al-Andalus (2000), are not as successful and should be consulted with caution (ask the instructor if you want more information).


                For linguistic study of Arabic and its evolution, especially prior to the rise of Islam, Kees Versteegh’s The Arabic Language(1997) provides indispensable information. It is on reserve in Odegaard (PJ6075 V46 1997). An earlier volume that also contains much relevant information is Anwar Chejne’s The Arabic Language (available on line).  Irfan Shahid’s four-volume study of Byzantium and the Arabs (in the stacks of Odegaard, DS62.25 + various) in the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries C.E. similarly provides exhaustive information about Arab society prior to Islamic times. Standard reference works on Persian literature, like Jan Rypka’s History of Iranian Literature (in Suzzallo reference stacks, PK6097 R913), and on Byzantine literature, like N.G. Wilson’s Scholars of Byzantium (1983, 1996, available on line), provide useful perspectives on these parallel traditions.


                For general reading on the culture and history of medieval Islam, I recommend three books. The first is an introduction to Islam as a religion that includes extensive historical background. This is An Introduction to Islam by Frederick M. Denny, BP161.2 D46 1985 (available on-line at the UW Library website). You may also want to read through Albert Hourani’s History of the Arab Peoples, DS37.7 H67 1991 (multiple copies are available in the UW Libraries, but it is not on line), which is a well-written and highly informative introductory history. A third option (especially for graduate students) is Marshall Hodgson’s The Venture of Islam, DS36.85 H63 (1974, available on line). This was the first book to apply modern methods of historiography and cultural analysis to the study of the medieval Islamic world. It is not well-written, but its astute analyses of medieval Islamic culture have not yet been superseded. Copies of both books are available in Suzzallo and Odegaard libraries. You can also generally find copies for sale at The University Bookstore and other large chains in the general books department.






Last updated:
June 15, 2024 - 8:26 pm