Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature – Edited by Julie Scott Meisami and Paul Starkey London
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ARABIC LITERATURE
The Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature has been a long time in the making. The first idea for a biographical dictionary in English of Arab personalities down the ages appears to have been put forward in the second half of the 1980s.
In subsequent discussion this rather general idea was modified to a more specific proposal, centering on writers of literature in Arabic, and preliminary entry lists were drawn up on this basis in around 1987 by Philip Sadgrove with the involvement of Roger Allen – lists which proved valuable when the present editors assumed responsibility for the work in 1990.
Taking as its model the series of literary Companions published by the Oxford UniverÂsity Press, the Encyclopedia was at this stage known as the Companion to Arabic Literature, and indeed it continues to be so known to many; the change in title was made at a someÂwhat later stage, as it became clear that the projected scope of the work brought it within the ambit of the series of Encyclopedias – both literary and other – already embarked on by Routledge.
Little needs to be said about the scope or rationale for a publication of this type. Although several reference sources of releÂvance to the field have existed for some time in European languages, there has been no work in English (or any other language, to our knowledge) which has covered in a single volume the most important authors, works, genres, key terms and issues in the Arabic literary tradition – classical, transitional and modern.
At one end of the spectrum, the monumental English and French versions of the first and second editions of the EncyÂclopaedia of Islam have been an indispensable reference tool for scholars and others interÂested in the writers and literature of the classical (and, to a more limited extent, the transitional) periods of Arabic literature, but have made no attempt to cover more modem developments in any depth.
At the other end of the spectrum, Volume III of Jaroslav Prusek’s Dictionary of Oriental Literatures, published in 1974, covers the pieces of literature of West Asia and North Africa including the modem period;
but its greater linguistic and geographical range inevitably means that the literature of any individual language cannot be covered in any great detail. We, therefore, see the current publication as filling an important gap.
In compiling the Encyclopedia, our aim has been so far as possible to emphasize the state of the art of current scholarship on Arabic literature, relying on recent research and less on received traditional opinion.
We have accordingly tried to provide an up-to-date assessment of the tradition by incorporating the latest views on the authors and subjects represented, which we hope will be less subÂject to rapid obsolescence than more traditionally oriented works. To what extent we have succeeded, must of course be for others to judge. In making our selection of entries, we have taken it as our assumption that the main users of the Encyclopedia will be students and academics working in Arabic language and literature and, more generally, in the fields of Middle Eastern culture, history and philosophy;
to these may be added studÂents and academics working in other Middle Eastern pieces of literature, and students of comparaÂtive literature, non-Western kinds of literature, and world literature.
Inevitably, in a publication of this sort, there will be gaps, and specialists in particular fields will no doubt wish to draw attention to omissions which they regard as important. Some omissions have of course been inevitÂable: given the need to keep the volume to a manageable size, it has simply not been possÂible to include everything.
In other cases, entries that appeared on the editors’ original list have unfortunately had to be abandoned when we failed to find contributors able and willing to produce suitable entries; while in other cases (fortunately only a few), promised contributions simply did not materialize.
On the other side of the coin, a few entries have been included which may strike most readers as rather unexpected; proffered by enthusiastic contributors, they on occasion simply seemed too interesting to turn down.
Particular difficulties were experienced in the case of living authors whose literary reputations are not yet secure; in general, writers who have come to prominence later than 1980 have not been included, but it has not been possible to operate a rigid cut-off date on any sensible basis and the inclusion or omission of contemporary authors is inevitably slightly arbitrary.
Equally arbitrary has been the inclusion of some North African writers writing mainly ( or in a few cases, exclusively) in French, where the general cultural context has suggested an exception to the usual principle that ‘Arabic literature’ is ‘literature written in Arabic’.
For the medieval period, the scope of ‘literature’ has not been restricted to belles-lettres but has been extended to other types of writing – history, biography, geography, philosophy, and so on – as medieval writers and readers did not make the same distinctions between various types of ‘literature’ as do modern ones.
The principles on which the volume has been organized are largely self-explanatory. Medieval and transitional period authors have been entered under their shura (the best-known element of their name), with crossreferences where necessary. Modern authors have been entered under the final, or family, element of their name, with cross-references in the few cases where readers might perhaps have expected to find the entry elsewhere.
For the medieval and transitional periods, dates have been given according to both the Islamic (AH/ hijrf) and Christian (AD/CE/ mfladl) calendars, but for the modern period, hljrf dates have not been included. Cross-references (in bold) within entries, and ‘See also’ references at the end of some entries, indicate other, related entries.
For transliteration from Arabic and Persian, the International Journal of Middle East Studies system has been used, as set out in detail on page xvii. Further information on Arabic names and some other technical points may be found in the Glossary (pp. 830-4); for further information on chronology, readers should consult the dynastic tables on pp. 835-41.
For reasons of space, no attempt has been made to compile exhaustive bibliographies for individual entries.
The primary objective has been to list translations and to refer the reader, where possible, to other secondary sources for further information on the subject of the entry; entries for classical authors may list published editions of the writer’s main works, but this has not been thought practicable in the case of modern writers.
In deciding which secondary sources to list, the primary emphasis has been on accesÂsibility; in the context of the present volume, this has inevitably led to a certain preference for English-language works, for which I hope that we may be forgiven.
In general, unless they are of particular importance, references to standard works such as the Encyclopaedia of Islam, Brockelmann’s Geschichte der arabisÂchen Literatur (GAS), Sezgin’s Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums, etc., have not been included in the bibliographies.
It remains to thank all those who have contribÂuted in whatever way to the volume. Our primary thanks go to the contributors themÂselves and to the two editorial advisers, Professor Roger Allen and Professor Renate Jacobi, who has provided much valuable advice at various stages of the operation, as well as contributing several entries on their own account.
Among contributors, it would, in general, be invidious to single out particular individuals, but special thanks are due, for the modern period, to Dr. Philip Sadgrove and Professor Shmuel Moreh, who have each taken responsibility for more entries than could reasonably have been demanded of them, and, for the medieval period, to Dr. G.H.J, van Gelder and Dr. Philip Kennedy,
who similarly contributedÂ· more than could or should have been expected, and to Dr. Thomas Bauer and Dr. Gert Borg, who stepped in at the last minute to take on entries which had not materÂialized.
Three contributors, Dr. Jean Dejeux of Paris, Dr. Michael Young of the University of Leeds, and Dr. David Semah of the University of Haifa, have sadly not lived to see their entries in print.
Finally, thanks are due to Dr. Cathy Hampton and Dr. Alma Giese, who translated several entries from French and German respectively, and to the succession of staff at Routledge who has shepherded the volume through the various stages of producÂtion with seemingly almost inexhaustible patience – especially to Mark Barragry, who was responsible for getting the project off the