Arabic Studies

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Arabic Studies


humanistic studies that deal with the history, economy, language, and civilization of the Arab peoples; the term “Arabist” came into use in Europe in modern times.

The first important sources for Arabic studies were the numerous works of Arabic-language authors, containing material on geography, history, Islamic law, Arabic ethnography, and the history of national movements, together with biographies of political, religious, and cultural leaders. Arabic studies began in Western Europe at the end of the 16th century. In the 17th and 18th centuries its main centers became Rome, Paris, and Leiden. During that period, interest in the Arab countries was chiefly stimulated by developing trade and diplomatic relations with the East and the practical needs of missionary propaganda. Arabic studies were intimately connected with theology; Arabic was studied for the interpretation of the Koran, the Muslim holy scriptures.

The foundations of Arabic linguistics in Europe were laid by the Arabic grammar of T. Erpenius at the beginning of the 17th century. Fragmentary information on Arabic history and historic geography collected by 17th-century Western European Arabists was summarized at that time by the English orientalist E. Pocock and the French B. de Herbelot. In the 18th century the German Arabist J. J. Reiske called for detaching Arabic studies from theology and for studying the history and civilization of the Eastern peoples as a part of universal history and world civilization.

The colonial policy of the Western European powers stimulated the further development of Arabic studies during the 19th century. Arabic studies were characterized by the prevalent interest in the Middle Ages and the predominance of linguistic interests over historic and economic ones.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries great advances were made in grammar by Sylvestre de Sacy in France, K. Caspari in Norway, W. Wright in Great Britain, and H. Fleischer, T. Nöldeke, and C. Brockelmann in Germany; in lexicography by J. Golius in Holland, G. Freytag and H. Wehr in Germany, E. Lane in Great Britain, and J. Belot in France; and to some extent in literary history by Brockelmann, I. Goldziher in Hungary, and R. Nicholson in Great Britain. In Russia the ground for Arabic linguistics was laid by the publication of an Arabic grammar and chrestomathy by A. V. Boldyrev in 1827. The works of V. R. Rozen played an important role in the development of Russian Arabic studies.

The advances of Arabic linguistics paved the way for the extensive publication in the 19th and early 20th centuries of Arabic medieval sources, preserved in the manuscript collections of European and Eastern countries. In the 19th and 20th centuries many Arabists published and also to some extent translated historical and geographical works into European languages—for example, J. J. Reiske, F. Wüstenfeld, T. Nöldeke, and J. Wellhausen in Germany; E. Quatremère and J. Reinaud in France; R. Dozy, M. J. de Goeje and M. T. Houtsma in Holland; D. Margoliouth in England; A. Sprenger and A. von Kremer in Austria; I. Guidi and L. Caetani in Italy; and F. Codera and J. Ribera in Spain.

In Russia, where the publication and translation of works by Arab authors was connected with research in Arabic sources on Russian history, Arabic studies were developed by Kh. D. Fren, V. F. Girgas, V. G. Tizengauzen, A. Ia. Garkavi, N. A. Mednikov, A. A. Vasil’ev, D. A. Khvol’son, and P. S. Savel’ev.

The publication of sources prepared the basis for the historical research of the 19th and early 20th centuries. At the start of the 19th century research consisted basically in retelling the contents of Arabic chronicles. In the middle of the 19th century research began to appear based on critical analysis of the sources—for example, the works of Sprenger, Dozy, and Kremer, and a series of monographs by Goldziher, Nöldeke, and Wellhausen. The methodology of the 19th- and early 20th-century historians determined their prevalent interest in religion, government and law; they saw Islam as the basic determining factor in the development of the society, life, and civilization of the Arabs. These views found their expression in the first edition of the Encyclopedia of Islam (Leiden, 1908–38), published in English, French, German, and Turkish. Only in the most recent studies have the problems of social and economic development been relatively fully clarified. Among foreign Arabists who dealt with these problems were the Frenchmen J. Sauvaget, E. Lévi-Provencal, and C. Cahen; the German C. H. Becker; the Englishmen D. C. Dennet, B. Lewis, and H. A. R. Gibb; and the Israelis A. Poliak and D. Ayalon. The recent social, economic and political history of the Arab countries was treated by C. A. Nallino and E. Rossi in Italy; G. Kampffmeyer in Germany; C. Adams, J. Heiworth-Dunne, and C. P. Issawi in the USA; A. Hourani and St. H. Longrigg in Great Britain; J. Berque in France; and others. Problems of Arab linguistics are elucidated in the works of the Americans R. S. Harrel and C. Ferguson and other scholars. These new tendencies are reflected to a certain degree in the second edition of the Encyclopedia of Islam, which began publication in 1954 in Leiden and Paris. (Fascicles 55 and 56 of the third volume appeared in 1969.) At the end of the 1930’s a collective work on the medieval history of the Arabs by P. K. Hitti (USA) and C. Brockelmann (Germany) began to be published. Recently, interest in contemporary Arabic literature and the modern Arabic literary language has increased among linguists.

The works of Arabic authors, linguists, historians, sociologists, and so on are gaining great importance in the development of Arabic studies. The modern Arabic historiography of Rashid al-Barrawi, Abd al-Rahman al-Rafii, Muhammed Sabri, Jawad Hi, Ibrahim Abduh, Raif Huri, al-Shafii, Kamil Ayad, and others rejects the colonizer mentality, characteristic of a number of works by European and American bourgeois Arabists.

The foundation of Soviet Arabic studies was laid by I. Iu. Krachkovskii, V. V. Bartol’d, and A. E. Krymskii. Taking up the best traditions of prerevolutionary Russian Arabists, the Soviet Arabists opened a new epoch in the development of Arabic studies. Gradually, economic, historical, and linguistic research became differentiated, and interest in contemporary problems and current events in the Arab countries intensified. Soviet scholars, grounded in Marxist methodology, have studied the ancient history of Southern Arabia, the origins of Arabic feudal society and the history of Islam (E. A. Beliaev, N. V. Pigulevskaia, A. Iu. Iakubovskii, I. P. Petrushevskii, and others), and the history of Arab civilization and social ideas in medieval and modern times. Great attention has been paid to the development of capitalism under colonial conditions and to the national liberation movement in Arab countries (A. M. Shami, Kh. I. Kil’berg, A. M. Goldobin, L. N. Kotlov, G. I. Mirskii, S. R. Smirnov, N. A. Ivanov, R. G. Landa, N. S. Lutskaia, and others). A collective work on the new history of the Arab countries was created by V. B. Lutskii (two editions were published posthumously). The works of several Soviet Arabists clarify the social structure of Arab society, the social formations in Arab countries, and the development of political life and ideologies. Soviet Arabists continued the tradition of publishing and translating monuments of the Arabic Middle Ages (Krachkovskii, M. A. Sal’e, A. P. Kovalevskii, T. A. Shumovskii, P. G. Bulgakov, P. A. Griaznevich, A. B. Khalidov, and others), of studying Arabic numismatics, epigraphy (V. A. Krachkovskaia), and Arabic sources for the history of the peoples of Transcaucasia and the Caucasus (G. V. Tsereteli, Z. M. Buniiatov). The Soviet literary historians wrote on classical Arabic literature (Krachkovskii, V. I. Beliaev, I. M. Fil’shtinskii) and on contemporary Arabic prose (Krachkovskii, K. V. Ode-Vasil’eva, A. A. Dolinina, D. I. Iusupov, and others). In linguistics, an Arabic grammar was published by N. B. Iushmanov, a syntax by D. V. Semenov, dictionaries by Kh. K. Baranov (1957), G. Sh. Sharbatov (1964), and V. M. Borisov (1967), and studies in the history and structure of classical and modern Arabic by Ia. S. Velen-chik, Tsereteli, B. M. Grande, A. S. Lekiashvili, A. A. Kovalev, Sharbatov, Iu. N. Zavadovskii, and others. Tsereteli and I. N. Vinnikov published monographs on the language of the Soviet Arabs of Middle Asia.

The works of scholars in socialist countries abroad, including research by the Polish Arabists T. Lewicki, T. Kowalski, and L. Hirszowicz and the Czech I. Hrbek, made an important contribution to the study of Arabic sources, of the history of medieval national movements in Arab countries, and of modern problems.

The problems of Arabic studies are treated by the Institute of Eastern Studies in Moscow and its Leningrad branch; the Institute of Africa; the institutes of ethnography and philosophy of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR; the institutes of oriental studies of the Azerbaijan, Georgian, Armenian, Uzbek, and Tadzhik academies of sciences. Arabists are prepared at the Institute for Oriental Languages (since 1972, Institute of the Countries of Asia and Africa) of the Moscow State University (MGU), at the oriental faculty of the Leningrad State University (LGU), at the universities of Baku, Tashkent, Tbilisi, Dushanbe, and Yerevan. The problems of Soviet Arabic studies are dealt with in such periodicals as Narody Azii i Afriki and Aziia i Afrika segod-nia and such publications as Palestinskii sbornik and Semiticheskie iazyki.

Abroad, Arabic studies are conducted at the universities of Leiden, Paris, Oxford, Cambridge, Halle, Prague, Rome, Cairo, Damascus, Beirut, Baghdad, Algiers, Tunis, Rabat, Khartoum, and Hyderabad and at the Arab League Institute of Higher Arab Studies in Cairo, the Islamic Study Institute in Baghdad, the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and at other scholarly centers.

Publications dealing with problems of Arabic studies are Arabica (Leiden-Paris, since 1954), Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient (Leiden, since 1957), Oriente moderno (Rome, since 1920), Le Monde oriental (Uppsala, 1906–32), Révue des études islamiques (Paris, 1927–52), Mit-teilungen des Seminars für orientalische Sprachen: West-asiatische Studien (Berlin, 1898–1938), Journal Asiatique (Paris, since 1822), The Middle East Journal (Washington, D.C., since 1946), Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (London, since 1917), Révue Africaine (Algiers, since 1956), Majallat al-Majma al-ilmi al-Arabi (journal of the Arab Academy of Sciences, Damascus, since 1921), IBLA: Révue de l’Institu des Belles Lettres Arabes (Tunis, since 1938), Novy orient (Prague, since 1946), and Rocznik orientalistyczny (Warsaw, since 1914).


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The section of the article on history has been compiled from the article by V. B. LUTSKII in Sovetskaia Istoricheskaia Entsiklopediia. The philological section was written by G. B. SHARBATOV.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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