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a medieval culture which took shape in the Arabian Caliphate during the seventh through tenth centuries as a product of cultural interaction between the Arabs and the peoples whom they conquered in the Near and Middle East, North Africa, and southwest Europe. In scholarly literature, the term “Arabic culture” is used to designate both the culture of the Arabic peoples themselves and the medieval Arab-language culture of a number of other peoples that became part of the caliphate. In the latter sense, Arabic culture is sometimes identified with the concept “Muslim culture” (that is, the culture of Muslim peoples), and its usage is conventional.
On the Arabian Peninsula, Arabic culture was preceded by the culture of the pre-Islamic Arabs—a nomadic and agricultural population which was in the stage of transition to an early form of class society. These people were essentially polytheists. During the fourth through sixth centuries, Arabic culture was influenced by the ancient Yemeni, Syro-Hellenistic, Judaic, and Iranian cultures. The characteristic element of pre-Islamic culture of this period (the so-called Jahiliya) was a developed oral folklore. The formation of what is properly known as Arabic culture dates to the birth of Islam (seventh century) and the creation of the caliphate, which turned, as a result of Arab conquests, into a vast state. The state and political community founded by the Arabs, supplemented by religious and, in most areas, linguistic communality as well, created the conditions for the development of common forms of cultural life among the peoples of the caliphate.
In its early stages, the formation of Arabic culture was primarily a process of appropriating, reevaluating, and creatively developing the legacy of the cultures of subjugated peoples (including ancient Greek, Hellenistic-Roman, Aramaic, and Iranian) in new ideological and sociopolitical conditions (Islam and the caliphate). The Arabs themselves gave to Arabic culture such components as the religion of Islam, the Arabic language, and the traditions of bedouin poetry. An important contribution to Arabic culture was made by the peoples who preserved their ethnic independence and then reestablished their national independence as well (the peoples of Middle Asia, Iran, and Transcaucasia) while adopting Islam. Those peoples of the caliphate who did not adopt Islam (Syrian Christians, Jews, Persian Zoroastrians, and members of the gnostic sects of Southwest Asia) also played an important role; in particular, their activity (especially that of the Syrian Nestorians and Sabaeans of Harrah) was bound up with the spread of the philosophical and ethical ideas and scientific legacy of antiquity and Hellenism. Many scientific and literary monuments of antiquity were translated into Arabic during the eighth and ninth centuries, including Greek, Syrian, Middle Persian, and Indian works. These works entered the body of Arabic literature in their Arabic translations and treatments; thus, they aided in establishing a link of succession to the culture of the Hellenistic world and, through it, to classical and ancient Eastern civilizations.
In addition to Damascus, the Umayyad capital, the main centers determining the formation of Arabic culture from the late seventh to the mid-eighth centuries were Mecca and Medina in Arabia and al-Kufah and Basra in Iraq. Religious and philosophical ideas, the first scientific achievements, canons of Arabic poetry, architectural models, and so on were disseminated and further developed in the provinces of the Umayyad Caliphate—the vast territory stretching from the Pyrenees to the Indus River.
With the formation of the Abbasid Caliphate (750), the center of Arabic culture in the east was transferred from Syria to Iraq—to Baghdad, which was founded in 762 and was the focus for the best cultural forces of the Muslims for almost three centuries. Arabic culture reached full flower in the ninth and tenth centuries. Its achievements enriched the cultures of many peoples, in particular, the peoples of medieval Europe, and made a notable contribution to world culture. First and foremost, Arabic culture contributed to the development of philosophy, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, geography, linguistics, history, chemistry, and mineralogy. The development of Arabic material culture and art (architecture and artistic crafts) was accompanied by remarkable monuments. Division of the branches of knowledge in Arabic culture is conventional, since like other medieval cultures it lacked clear differentiation among sciences and since the knowledge of most figures of Arabic culture was encyclopedic. Frequently a philosopher and mathematician was also an important historian, physician, geographer, poet, and linguist.
An important element in the flowering of Arabic culture was the fact that the scientific and literary developments were shared by all the peoples of the caliphate, Arabs and non-Arabs alike. The enrichment of Arabic culture was facilitated by the extensive possibilities for communication and mutual exchange of cultural achievements between the peoples of the Muslim East and also by active ties with many countries of the East and Europe.
The disintegration of the Abbasid Caliphate (mid-tenth century) as a result of the formation of independent states on its territory led to a narrowing in the dissemination of Arabic culture and the gradual decrease of its role in the general development of world culture. In Muslim Spain, which had been separated from the Abbasid Caliphate as early as the eighth century, the independent development of so-called Hispano-Arabic culture began. At the end of the ninth century, centers for an Iranian cultural and national renaissance took shape in the eastern provinces of the caliphate. The Persian language displaced Arabic in literature and poetry and then in certain humanistic sciences such as history and geography. Arabic retained its importance as the language of the Koran and in religious canonical disciplines (law and theology), a number of disciplines of natural science (medicine, mathematics, astronomy, and chemistry), and in philosophy. The centers of Arabic culture moved to Syria, Egypt, and Spain.
The best traditions of Arabic culture in science, literature, art, and material culture continued to develop in North Africa under the Fatimids (tenth through 12th centuries) and the Ayyubids (12th—13th centuries); however, they had less influence on the general progress of culture among the Muslim peoples of the East than during the eighth through the first half of the tenth centuries. Toward the end of the tenth century, Baghdad yielded precedence to Cairo.
During the eighth through tenth centuries, the importance of Arabic culture in the history of world culture was based on the discovery of new means of scientific, religious and philosophical, and artistic cognition of man and the world. The thrust of the efforts of Arabic cultural figures of succeeding periods was essentially toward systematizing and detailing this legacy.
Although the scientific and aesthetic traditions were not broken off, an epigonic orientation—compilative in science and imitative in literature—reasserted itself in the works of Arabic cultural figures after the 1250’s. Individual exceptions could not alter the general state of spiritual stagnation and the increasingly perceptible lag in the development of Arabic culture with respect to the rate of cultural progress in other countries of the Muslim East (Iran and Middle Asia in the 14th—15th centuries, Ottoman Turkey in the 16th century) and Europe.
Hispano-Arabic civilization flourished brilliantly during the tenth through 15th centuries. Its centers were Córdoba, Seville, Málaga, and Granada. The greatest progress was made in astronomy, mathematics, chemistry, and medicine. The progressive line of Arabic philosophy—al-Farabi (c. 870-c. 950) and Avicenna (ibn Sina, 980–1037)—was continued, for example, in the works of Averroës (ibn Rushd, 1126–1198). Some of the greatest literary works of Arabic culture were created in poetry and literature. Monuments of Hispano-Moorish architecture and applied art achieved worldwide renown.
A great achievement of Arabic culture in the late Middle Ages was the creation of a historical-philosophical theory of social development by the historian and sociologist ibn-Khaldun (1332–1406).
In the 16th century Arabic countries became provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Arabic culture fell into decline, although in this period the old cultural centers of Syria, Iraq, and Egypt retained by tradition their magnetic force for Muslim scholars.
A qualitatively new period of development in Arabic culture began in the first half of the 19th century. In the context of an economic and political renaissance, a burgeoning national liberation movement, and, finally, the formation of independent Arab states, contemporary Arabic culture took shape, primarilv in the individual Arab countries.
Exact and natural sciences. Initially, the center for the development of natural sciences in the caliphate was Syria and, to some extent, southwestern Iran. Translations into Arabic and commentaries on the works of the authors of antiquity were begun here. Translations from Greek and Syrian, which acquainted the Islamic scholars with much of the scientific literature of antiquity, were in many cases the sole sources by which Western Europe could become familiar with ancient science. For example, the Mechanics of Hero and many treatises by Archimedes have survived only in Arabic translation. Many technological innovations, such as the compass and fore-and-aft sail, some of which were taken from China and India, came into European usage through Arabic culture.
There was a period of rapid scientific development during the ninth through 11th centuries in the caliphate. Baghdad was transformed into a great scientific center with schools and libraries. Along with the creation of a vast literature in translation with commentaries, a scientific orientation closely tied to the solution of applied problems and practical tasks of construction, land surveying, and trade began to take shape here. Astronomy and mathematics, mineralogy, and descriptive geography developed intensively.
As the caliphate disintegrated into individual states (tenth century), new scientific centers arose alongside Baghdad: Damascus and Halab (Aleppo) in Syria, Cairo in Egypt, Maraga in Azerbaijan, Samarkand in Middle Asia, Ghazni in Afghanistan; in addition, centers of Hispano-Arabic culture arose—Córdoba and then Seville and Granada. At various times there were major scientific centers at Bukhara and Isfahan, where the Persian and Tajik poet and scholar Omar Khayyam (c. 1048-post 1122), who wrote his scientific treatises in Arabic, worked in the observatory from the end of the 11th century. The Hall of Wisdom opened in Cairo in the early 11th century, and it was here that the astronomer Ali ibn-Yunus (950–1000) and the mathematician and physicist ibn-al-Haytham (c. 965–1039) worked. In 1004 an observatory was built here.
In addition to the Greek legacy, the Hindu scientific tradition greatly influenced the development of mathematics in the countries of Islam. The decimal positional system using the zero, which had its origin in Indian mathematics, was spread. The first work in Arabic devoted to arithmetic was the treatise of al-Khwarizmi (ninth century), an outstanding representative of the Baghdad school. In the 15th century al-Kashi, a scholar from Samarkand, introduced decimal fractions and described the rules governing their use. From the works of abu-al-Wafa (940–98), the Middle Asian scholar al-Biruni (973–1048; according to other sources, after 1050), Omar Khayyam, and Nasir-al-Din al-Tusi (1201—80; according to other sources, 1274 or 1277), al-Kashi developed and systematized methods for extracting roots with natural indices. Al-Khwarizmi and Omar Khayyam played an extremely important role in the establishment of algebra as an independent mathematical discipline. Al-Khwarizmi’s algebraic treatise contains a classification of quadratic equations and methods for solving them; Omar Khayyam’s treatise contains a theory and classification of cubic equations. Al-Biruni, al-Kashi, and others made vital contributions to the perfection of calculation methods.
Of great interest are the ninth-century treatise of the brothers known as the sons of Musa, the work of Abu-al-Wafi on practical geometry, the treatises of Thabit ibn-Qurrah (c. 836–901), the treatise of ibn-al-Haytham on the area of conical sections and volumes of bodies obtained from their rotation, and the research of al-Nairizi (ninth-tenth centuries), ibn-Qurrah, ibn-al-Haytham, Omar Khayyam, al-Tusi, and others on the theory of parallel lines.
Islamic mathematics turned plane and spherical trigonometry from an auxiliary area of astronomy into an independent mathematical discipline. In the works of al-Khwarizmi, al-Marwazi, al-Battani, al-Biruni, and Nasir-al-Din al-Tusi, all six trigonometric lines in the circle were introduced, the dependence between trigonometric functions was established, all instances of the solution of spherical triangles were studied, the most important theorems of trigonometry were obtained, and various trigonometric tables of great accuracy were compiled.
Astronomy made important progress. At first, the works of Ptolemy and the Siddhanta, by Hindu astronomers, were translated with commentaries. The House of Wisdom with its associated observatory in Baghdad was the center for translating activity. Al-Fazari, father (died c. 777) and son (died c. 796), and Yaqub ibn-Tarik (died c. 796) translated Hindu astronomical treatises. Using Greek methods of simulating the movement of heavenly bodies and Hindu rules for calculation as starting points, Arabic astronomers worked out methods of determining the coordinates of luminaries in the heavenly sphere, as well as rules for moving from one of the three systems of coordinates in use to another. Even the treatises on astrology contained elements of important natural scientific knowledge. The zij—a collection of tables and rules of calculation of spherical astronomy—was widely employed. About 100 such collections of the 13th—15th centuries have survived. About 20 of these were compiled on the basis of observations made by the authors themselves in the observatories of many cities—for example, al-Biruni worked in Ghazni, al-Battani in al-Raqqah, ibn-Yunus in Cairo, Nasir-al-Din al-Tusi in Maragha, and al-Kashi in Samarkand. The Arabic astronomers achieved notable accuracy in measuring the ecliptic gradient. Under Caliph Mamun (ninth century) the degree of the meridian was measured in order to determine the size of the earth.
The legacy of antiquity in mechanics was further developed—the treatise of ibn-Qurrah on beam balances (korastun) and the treatises of al-Biruni, Omar Khayyam, and al-Khazin (12th century) on determining the specific gravities of metals and minerals. The cycle of works on general questions of mechanics had its origin in the translation and commentary on the works of Aristotle. Al-Biruni and Avicenna were among the commentators on the natural scientific works of Aristotle.
Many scholars worked in mineralogy (al-Biruni, al-Khazin, and the scholar and physician al-Razi).
There was information on physics—in particular, the physics of the atmosphere and geophysics—in the Canon of Masud, Mineralogy by al-Biruni, and the Book of Knowledge by Avicenna. Optics by ibn al-Haytham was widely known in Europe.
Great strides were made in medicine. Avicenna’s Canon of Medical Science was long the basic guide for medical practice in both the medieval East and Western Europe. Al-Biruni’s works included a treatise on pharmacology. The digest of medical knowledge by al-Razi (864–925) is known. Work was done in surgery, ophthalmology, therapy, and psychiatry.
Chemistry and botany were developed to some extent.
Geography. By its abundance of information, diversity of literary genres, and quantity of works, medieval Arabic geographic literature had no peer. Arabic geographers and travelers left descriptions of the entire Muslim East, as well as of a number of countries of Europe, North and Central Africa, the coasts of East Africa and Asia to Korea, and the islands of the Malayan Archipelago. Their works are the most important—and sometimes the only—source of information on many peoples during the Middle Ages. It was characteristic of Arabic geographical science that, in spite of the actual information about the geography of the earth which it had accumulated, in its theoretical constructions it took as its point of departure Ptolemy’s picture of the world and geographical theories. As a rule, cartographical material reproduced either Ptolemy’s maps or schematic maps going back to ancient Iranian prototypes.
The geographical notions of the pre-Islamic Arabs were reflected in ancient poetry and in the Koran. The appearance at the turn of the ninth century of translations and treatments of astronomical and geographical works of the authors of antiquity, especially Ptolemy, initiated the development of Arabic scientific geography, which employed rules of calculation and tables of spherical astronomy. The highest achievement of this branch of Arabic geography was, along with the works of al-Battani and al-Khwarizmi, the astronomical-geographical and geodetic work of al-Biruni. The first works of descriptive geography also appeared in the ninth century—the works of ibn Khurdadhbih (c. 820-c. 912/913), Qudamah ibn-Jafar (first half of the tenth century), and al-Yaqubi (died 897 or 905), for example—and stories of travels, which contained both fantastic and real information about the countries and peoples beyond the caliphate—for instance the collection by Abu Zaid al-Siraf (early tenth century) and the works of Buzurg ibn-Shahriyar. The genre of travel description continued to develop: the notes of ibn-Fadlan and Abu Dulaf (both tenth century), the travel diaries of Abu Hamid al-Garnati (died 1170), ibn-Jubayr (died 1217), and ibn-Battutah (1304–1377), the description of the journey by Patriarch Makarios of Antioch to Russia, and so on.
Arabic geographical literature came into its prime in the tenth century. Particularly significant were the works of representatives of the classical school of Arabic geography; they were devoted to descriptions of sea routes and regions of the Muslim world and contained a wealth of geographical and historical-cultural material—the works of al-Istakhri and ibn-Hawqal (tenth century) and al-Muqaddasi (946/47-c. 1000). Between the 11th and 14th centuries, geographical dictionaries and general descriptions of the universe appeared, such as cosmographies summarizing previously accumulated geographical material—the dictionaries of Yaqut (1179–1229) and al-Bakri (died 1094), the cosmographies of al-Qazwini (died 1283), al-Dimashq (died 1327), and Abu al-Fida. In Europe, al-Idrisi (1100–1165 or 1161) achieved the greatest renown: his work, with 70 maps, was considered the best geographical treatise of the Middle Ages, containing, in addition to a description of the Muslim East, diverse information about the countries and peoples of Western and Eastern Europe. The subsequent development of geography was mainly in the creation of vast compilations, especially of cosmography and historical-topographical descriptions of individual cities and countries (for example, the works of al-Maqrizi). The geographical sections in the works of al-Nuwayri, al-Umari, al-Qalqashandi, and others are of great value. A major contribution to Arabic geographical science was made by the works of Vasco da Gama’s pilot, ibn-Majid (15th century), and of al-Mechri (16th century), both of whom consolidated the theory and age-old practices of Arabian navigation.
Philosophy. The essential content of the history of Arabic philosophy in the Middle Ages was the struggle between the Eastern Peripatetics, who drew on the Hellenistic heritage, and the partisans of religious-idealistic doctrines. The prehistory of the development of what can properly be called philosophical thought in the Arab East dates to the second half of the eighth century and is bound up with the Mutazilites—early representatives of rational theology (kalam) who, beginning with the discussion of questions of divine attributes and freedom of the will, ended up developing concepts which not only lay beyond the limits of the problems of religion, but even undermined faith in certain basic dogmas of Islam. Thus, consistently carrying through the idea of monotheism, the Mutazilites denied that the deity had any positive attributes supplementing his essence. In particular, by denying god the attribute of speech, they rejected the notion that the Koran existed from time immemorial; on this basis, they arrived at the conclusion that an allegorical interpretation of the Koran was acceptable. The Mutazilites developed the concept of reason as the only criterion of truth and the proposition that the creator was unable to alter the natural order of things. The notion of the atomic structure of the world was widespread among the Mutazilites. Thus, on the one hand, they laid the basis for rational theology and, on the other, cleared the way for the appearance of the purely philosophical freethinking of the Peripatetics.
The doctrine of the Asharites (followers of al-Ashari, 873 or 874–935/36) developed as a reaction against the ideas of the Mutazilites. The Asharites channeled rational theology into the philosophical defense of the dogmas of divine providence and miracle (it is precisely to this doctrine that the term kalam is frequently applied, and for the most part its exponents are called mutakallims). According to the teaching of the Asharites, nature is a conglomeration of atoms and their attributes, re-created every moment by god, with no connections between them; there are no causal and consequential relationships in the world, they asserted, because the most high is able to give any object any form or movement at any given moment.
Sufism arose as a counterpoise to both the speculations of the theologists and the teachings of the Peripatetics. Along with elements of the Muslim world view, the Sufis used the ideas of Gnosticism and Neoplatonism to develop a teaching concerned with the paths which lead man through renunciation of worldly passions and religious thinking to the contemplation of god in mystical intuition and to an ultimate union with him. At the same time, at certain stages of its development Sufi ideas were subject to interpretation in the spirit of naturalistic pantheism.
At first, Sufi mystics were persecuted by the orthodox clergy. Their beliefs were legitimized by al-Ghazzali (1059–1111)—the greatest exponent of religious-idealistic philosophy. In his critique of the Peripatetics, whom he regarded as “heretical” and “contrary to the faith,” al-Ghazzali defended the principles of the Asharites along with those of mystical Sufism; he refused, however, to adopt the atomic theory of the Asharites. Ibn al-Arabi (1165–1240) may also be considered one of the influential representatives of Sufism.
The basis of the system of the Eastern Peripatetics was the philosophy of Aristotle—which was transmitted to the Arabs through Syrian translators, to some extent in the interpretation of the Athenian and Alexandrian schools—and also other teachings from antiquity, in particular, the political theory of Plato. The interpretations given Aristotle by the Eastern Peripatetics opened the way for atheistic and even materialistic concepts. Thus, the proposition of a double truth was contained in latent form even in the teaching of the Mutazilites, who proposed an allegorical interpretation of the dogmas of Islam.
The founder of Eastern Peripatetic thought was al-Kindi (c. 800–879), who was the first figure in Arabic philosophy to give an exposition of the contents of the basic works of Aristotle. He was also the first to represent (on the basis of a classification of intellects which goes back to Alexander of Aphrodisias) rational knowledge as the joining of the mind of the individual to the universal, divine intelligence The deism of al-Kindi and his notion of god as a faceless, “remote cause” were developed in al-Farabi’s Neoplatonic theory of emanations. The ontological and gnoseological ideas of al-Farabi were deepened and detailed by the greatest thinker of the Middle Ages, Avicenna, who asserted the immortality of matter and the independence of individual phenomena of life from divine providence.
In the 12th century, the center of philosophical thought moved to the west of the Muslim world to Spain. Here, in Andalucía, similar humanistic themes were developed by ibn-Bajjah, who reflected on man’s ability to achieve complete happiness and union with the active intelligence through a process of purely intellectual perfection without mystical illuminations. Ibn-Tufayl in a philosophical Rob-insonade described the history of the mastery and understanding of nature by mankind and simultaneously gave an account of the concept of double truth in allegorical form. However, Andalucian philosophy—and with it, the whole body of medieval Arabic philosophy—reached its peak in the works of Averroës, who defended Peripatetic ideas against the attacks of the Asharites and al-Ghazzali and who created an independent philosophical doctrine. Rejecting the teaching of Avicenna that forms are introduced into matter from the outside, Averroës advocated a thesis which held that forms are inherent in matter. Averroës also denied the immortality of individual souls: all that was eternal was the human intellect, which joined the active divine intelligence—the embodiment of the ultimate goal of human knowledge. Averroës’ concept of dual truth played a great role in the history of medieval philosophy.
Another great thinker of the Arab West was ibn-Khaldun, who rightly considered himself one of the founders of the philosophy of history.
Arabic philosophy found a second life in Europe in the activity of the Averroists (the followers of Averroes) and other fighters against the official ideology of Catholicism.
Historical studies. Arabic historiography emerged as an independent discipline at the turn of the eighth century. The earliest historical writings date from the end of the seventh century. The material used in the early Arabic historical works was the historical-genealogical traditions of Arab tribes, semilegendary accounts of pre-Islamic states in southern Arabia and of Arabian principalities in Syria (Ghassanids) and Iraq (Lakhmids), and traditional religious-historical accounts of the rise and spread of Islam, more particularly of the acts of Muhammad and his companions.
The concept of world history in Arabic historiography was influenced by the koranic view of the past as a successive series of prophetic missions and by the seventh- and eighth-century Muslim genealogists and exegetes who combined the genealogical tree of the Arabs with the biblical Table of the Nations. The development of astronomical sciences (the establishment of a chronology of world history), the utilization of Iranian traditional epic-historical material (translations of the Book of Kings of Sassanid Iran), and the apocryphal Judeo-Christian traditions played an important part in the establishment of historiography.
Medieval Arabic historiography was based on a theological interpretation of world history as the translation into reality of the divine plan for the human race. At the same time it recognized man’s responsibility for his actions and considered the task of the historian to teach from experience. The notion of the didactic value of history, accepted by most Muslim historians, was formulated particularly clearly by ibn-Miskawayh (died 1030). The Arabic historians did not go beyond narrative history and only ibn-Khaldun made an attempt to set forth historical events in relation to their causes, after working out original teachings on the general laws of the development of human society.
The professional historians were preceded by expert collectors of genealogies and oral tribal traditions. These materials were systematized by Muhammad al-Kalbi (died 763) and completed and recorded by his son Hisham al-Kalbi (died c. 819). In addition to the monumental collection of Arab genealogies by Hisham al-Kalbi, similar collections were compiled by Muarrij al-Sadusi (died 811), Suhaim ibn-Hafs (died 806), Musab al-Zubairi (died 851), Zubayr ibn-Bakar (died 870), ibn-Hazm (died 1030), al-Qalqashandi (1355–1418), and others. The most remarkable figure of the first period of Arab historiography was Muhammad al-Zuhri (died 741 or 742), who combined the compilation of genealogies and tribal legends with an interest in the political history of the caliphate. He was the author of one of the first accounts of the traditions of the military campaigns of Muhammad (the so-called maghazi). The first large historical work in Arabic (a history of ancient prophets and a biography of Muhammad), by ibn-Ishaq (704–768 or 767), served as a model for subsequent works on the same theme. Of greater importance are the works of al-Waqidi (747–823) and ibn-Sad (died 843) and the later compilations of ibn-Said al-Nasa, Nur-al-Din al-Halabi, and others. Hagiographic literature, popular in the Middle Ages, consisted primarily of fantastic tales about prophets and Muslim saints and belongs to the same genre.
From the middle of the eighth to the middle of the ninth centuries, historical works dealt primarily with specific events in the history of Arab conquests and the civil wars of the caliphate in the seventh and early eighth centuries—for example, Abu Mikhnaf (died 774), Abu Ubayda (died c. 824), and especially al-Madain (died about the middle of the ninth century). For a long time Iraq remained the center of Arabic historiography. Works presenting accumulated material in an orderly historical narrative began to appear after the 850’s. The most important works, by al-Baladhuri (c. 820-c. 892), Abu Hanifa al-Dinaveri (died about 895), and al-Yaqubi, deal with general history, which had become the leading form of historiography in its prime (ninth century through the first half of the 11th). These works, which are usually in the form of annals, give a survey of world history from the Creation and the early history of the Muslim community, with an account of Arab conquests, to the political history of the caliphate during the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties. The biggest work of this kind is the multivolume Annals of Prophets and Kings by al-Tabari (838 or 839–923). Other works that gained renown were the general histories of al-Masudi (died 956 or 957), Hamzah al-Isfahani (died in the second half of the tenth century), and ibn-Miskawayh and later ibn al-Athir (1160–1233 or 1234), ibn-Khaldun, and others. The ninth- and tenth-century historians were distinguished by the scope of their views, which reflected their encyclopedic interests and knowledge; this is particularly true in the case of al-Yaqubi and al-Masudi, who collected material on the history and culture of peoples outside the Muslim countries.
As a result of the development of local political awareness in the states which were established in the Abassid Caliphate beginning in the second half of the tenth century, dynastic and local chronicles predominate in Arabic historiography. Their authors were primarily court historiographers, usually secretaries in the civil service, viziers, and the like, and not scholarly historians. Biographical chronicles became prevalent, devoted to the history of secretaries and viziers—for example, al-Jahshiyari (died 943) and Hilal al-Sabi (969–1056)—and judges—for example, Waqi al-Qadi (died 918), al-Kindi (died 961), and al-Khushani (died 971). Local historiography was represented by works on the history of individual towns, districts, and provinces. Thus the history of Mecca is told by al-Azraq (died c. 858), of Baghdad, by ibn Abu Tahir Tajfar (819 or 820–893); and of Egypt, by ibn Abd al-Hakam (c. 798–871) and the Spanish Muslim author Abd al-Malik ibn-Habib (c. 796–853). Of special interest is the historical encyclopedia of the Yemeni historian al-Hamdani (died in the second half of the tenth century), which contains information on the genealogies, history, archaeology, geography, and literature of southern Arabia. At a later period, works of this kind dealt mainly with the biographical details of local political, religious, and cultural figures, and many of these works combine annals with political biographies. Such are the histories of Baghdad by al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (1002–1071), of Damascus by al-Qalanis (died 1160) and ibn-Asakir (1105–76), of Halab (Aleppo) by ibn-al-Adim (1192–1262), and of Granada by ibn-al-Khatib (1313–1374). Dynastic histories, the first two examples of which were a history of the Buwayhids by Ibrahim al-Sabi (died in 994) and a history of the Ghaznevids by al-Utbi (961–1022; according to other sources died in 1036 or 1040), acquired great popularity in the 12th and 13th centuries, particularly in Syria, which had become the center of Arabic historiography. The local dynasties of the Zangids and the Ayyubids found their historiographers in Imad al-Din al-Isfahani (1125–1201), ibn-Shaddad (1145–1234), Abu Shama (1203–1268), and more particularly ibn-Wasil (1207–1298). General histories were also composed here by Abu al-Fida (1273–1331), al-Sahab (1247–1353 or 1347), ibn-Qasir (c. 1300–1373), and others. In the 15th and 16th centuries Egyptian historians assumed a leading role in Arabic historiography; they included the authors of histories of the Mamluks, historical encyclopedias (al-Nuwayri; 1279–1332), general chronicles (ibn-al-Furat; 1334–1405), and in particular, a galaxy of highly erudite historians such as al-Maqrizi (1364–1442), al-Ayni (1361–1451), ibn-Taghri-Birdi (1409 or 1410–1470) and al-Suyuti (1445–1505), who wrote many volumes on the political, socioeconomic, and cultural history of Egypt.
Biographical literature, properly speaking, occupied one of the main places in Arabic historiography; it included the general dictionaries of Yaqut, ibn-Khallikan (1211–1282), and al-Safadi (1296/97–1363) and the collected biographies of philosophers, doctors, and natural scientists by ibn-al-Qifti (1172–1248), ibn Abu Usaybiah (1203–1270), and others. Historical works in Arabic were written not only in Arab countries but in other Eastern Muslim countries as well, including India, Iran, Turkey, and East Africa. The period of Turkish hegemony (from the 16th to the beginning of the 20th centuries) is represented mainly by epigonic compilations of general and local history and historical-bibliographical collections. A history of Andalucía by al-Maqqari (1591/92–1632) and the biographical works of the Egyptian historian al-Khafaji (died 1659) are more valuable.
Literature. Arabic literature has its roots in the oral literature of the family-tribal society of the Arabian Peninsula. Early works written from the eighth to tenth centuries include the anthology Muallaqat (The Selected or Suspended), compiled by Hammad al-Rawiyah (694/95–772) and containing seven masterpieces by seven different poets; the Mufaddaliyat and the Asmayyat of the philologists al-Muffadal (died 786) and al-Asmay (died about 830); two anthologies called Hamasah (Valor) compiled by Abu Tammam (c. 796–845) and al-Buhturi (821–897); the divan of the Hudhayl tribe poets, The Book of Poetic Criticism by ibn-Qutaybah (died 889); The Book of Expression by al-Jahiz; the anthology Book of Songs of Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani (897–967); divans of individual poets; and collections of proverbs.
Ancient Arabic literature is original, and external influences are insignificant. Literature was cultivated most by the nomadic herdsmen (bedouins), but it also spread to the seminomadic and sedentary populations of agricultural oases and towns. Its main form was poetry, whose sources can be traced to work songs, lullabies, and hunting and caravan songs; the genres of songs abusing the enemy (hija), and of prowess (fakhr), revenge (sar), mourning and elegies (ritha) developed early, as did elements of love and descriptive lyrics (nasib and wasf). The beginnings of artistic prose go back to remote antiquity—the oratorical address and recitals of tribal battles (ayyam al-Arab) and other memorable events.
The poetry of the fifth through seventh centuries, at its peak of development, set the criteria for poetic language, meter, and aesthetic ideals and long determined the poetic themes and artistic approaches of Arabic literature.
The central figure in pre-Islamic poetry is the poet himself, who is presented as a bedouin and patriot of his tribe. This idealized representation of the poet-bedouin is set against a realistic background of nomadic life, fighting and hunting scenes, and views of the Arabian desert. The basic forms of ancient Arabic poetry were the qasida and the amorphous fragment (qita, mukatta). A characteristic feature of Arabic poetry is the monorhyme: as a rule each verse consists of one sentence and forms an independent semantic and aesthetic whole. The language of ancient Arabic poetry is characterized by an extremely rich vocabulary, flexible syntactical constructions, and greatly diversified concrete figurative devices.
Arabian tradition has preserved the names of some 125 pre-Islamic poets, ranging from the end of the fifth to the first half of the seventh century, including Imru al-Qais, to whom is attributed the creation of the classical form of qasida; Tarafa, author of a remarkable qasida-mu’aliaga; Antara ibn-Shaddad, the bard of military prowess and love; Zuhair and Labid, considered the best exponents of the vital wisdom and ethical ideals of bedouin society; Shanfara and Ta’abbata Sharran, who sing of the free life of the lone desert brigand; Alqama Urwa ibn al-Ward, Harith ibn-Hillizah, and Amr ibn-Kulthum, heroes and bards of their tribes; the first court panegyrists—al-Nabigha, Abid ibn al-Abras, and Hatim; the vagabond poet al-Asha, famous for his satyric and bacchanalian verses; the poetess al-Khansa; the Jewish poet Samawal; and the Christian Adi ibn-Zayd, whose verses combine gay drinking songs with sad reflections on such themes as the vanity of the world.
The first Arabic literary treasure was the Koran, which contains the religious teachings of Muhammad, accounts of biblical themes, exhortations, and the laws of the Islamic community and state. All subsequent Arabic literature is influenced by the Koran. Muhammad and his companions were at first opposed to poetry because it was a customary form for expression of heathen ideology. For a short while, the development of poetry was weakened, but its traditions and artistic forms were preserved while its ideological content underwent some minor changes under the influence of the new faith of Islam. Syria and Iraq became the centers of poetry, and the Umayyad court produced such outstanding poets as al-Akhtal, al-Jarir, and al-Farazdaq.
New forms in the poetry of that period appear in the aristocratic circles of the main urban centers of the caliphate, where the love lyric in the form of a short poem was developed. Outstanding representatives of this genre were Umar ibn-abi-Rabiah of Mecca (641-c. 712 or 718). In Mecca other well-known poets were ibn Qais al-Ruqayat and Abu Dahbal; in Medina, Ahwaz; and in Damascus, Caliph Walid II. Among the bedouins in Arabia a pleiad of poets developed with the theme of idealized, or Udhrite, love (named after the tribe of Udhra). The poet and his beloved formed a faithful pair dying of unsatisfied love. Subsequently romances were composed about such famous couples as Jamil and Buthaynah, Majnun and Layla, and Kusayyr and Azza. The story of Majnun and Layla has gained worldwide renown.
From the middle of the eighth century, representatives of subjugated peoples played an increasingly important part alongside the Arabs in the creation of Arabic literature. In the caliphate interest in Arabian antiquity grew, theories were developed on language, style, and metrical composition, and the most important works of the ancients were translated into Arabic. The development of prose was particularly influenced by translations from Middle Persian (Pahlavi). Ibn-al-Muqaffa (executed in 759) translated Kalila and Dimna, which goes back to the Hindu collection Panchatantra, and the Middle Persian collection of epic legends and chronicles Khudhay-namah (Book of Kings). Aban Lahiki (died 815) set Kalila and Dimna and books on Mazdak Sinbad, and others into Arabic verse. The influence of Southwest Asian civilization, particularly of Iran, was also felt in poetry, which had become predominantly urban. Arabic poetry was to some extent rejuvenated, demonstrated in the preference for the short, elegant poem with an independent theme and a “new style” (the badi), the main feature of which was the use of formerly unknown forms—tropes and similes—in place of the cumbersome qasida. The pioneer of the “new style” was the poet and freethinker Bashshar ibn-Burd (died 783). The love lyric, in an erotic-hedonistic vein, continued to be composed by a group of poets at the Abbasid court, including Muti ibn-Iyas, Waliba ibn-Hubab, Ibrahim al-Mawsili and his son Ishaq, and Dibil. The great master of verse Abu Nuwas (762–815) stands out among them. Abu al-Atahiyah (died 825) was an innovator who, in verses imbued with ascetic feeling and reflection, consciously avoided traditional poetic conventions. The new style gradually gained recognition and acquired its theoretician in ibn al-Mutazz (861–908). Even then, however, there were poets who preserved the qasida tradition, which had itself been influenced by the new style: Marwan ibn Abu Khalaf (721–797), Muslim ibn al-Walid (died 803), and particularly the ninth-century poets Abu Tammam and al-Bukhturi.
Arabic prose reached a high level in the eighth and ninth centuries; ground for it was prepared by transcriptions of folklore, koranic studies, and translations of scientific and literary works from Syrian, Middle Persian, and Greek. The developing historical literature of this period included traditions, legends, and accounts of events; geographical works contained descriptions of distant countries by merchants and travelers. Literary prose was also enriched by the epistolary and oratorical styles. Some authors achieved a high level of expression and mastery in business correspondence, oratory, and sermons. A mixture of stories on diversified subjects with variegated cognitive and didactic material is found in numerous works of the great Arab prose writers al-Jahiz (767–868) and ibn-Qutaybah (828-c. 889), who in his Sources of Information (ten books) sorts out a large amount of literary material according to such themes as government, war, and friendship. This work was imitated by other writers. In the ninth century the Persian collection Hazar Afsana (A Thousand Tales) was translated into Arabic and was the prototype of A Thousand and One Nights.
The disintegration of the caliphate was one of the causes of the decentralization of literature. In the tenth century, Halab (Aleppo) became the most important of the regional literary centers. Here, at the court of the Hamdanid ruler Sayf al-Dawla, lived the poet-panegyrist Mutanabbi (915–965). His eulogistic and satirical qasidas are replete with stylistic embellishments, studied metaphors, hyperboles, and similes; he excelled in polished verse. The poet Abu al-Ala al-Maarri (973–1057) lived in Syria in the 11th century. He began by imitating Mutanabbi and then further perfected verse technique by introducing complicated double rhymes. Among outstanding prose writers of the tenth century were Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi (died 1009) and al-Tanukhi (940–94). Rhymed prose gained acceptance in secular literature. Abu Bakr al-Khwarizmi (died 993) wrote witty epistles in that form (Rasail). Badi al-Zaman al-Hamadhani (died 1007) created an original genre—the maqamat—regarded as the highest achievement of Arabic prose. Hamadhani’s maqamat formed a cycle of 50 picaresque stories or anecdotes about the adventures and changes of fortune of a resourceful vagabond. The maqamat permeated literature through urban folklore. However, while Arabic prose retained its liveliness and directness in Hamadhani’s work, it degenerated into stylization among his many imitators, including al-Hariri (1054–1122).
The Arabic literature of Andalucía (Arab Spain), closely connected with the Maghreb, stood apart. From the eighth to the tenth century Andalucía remained culturally a province of the caliphate, and works composed in the eastern part of the caliphate were models for its poetry. Among Andalucian poets were al-Ghazal (770–864), who wrote delicate lyrics and an epic poem on the Arab conquest of Spain; ibn Abd Rabbih (860–940), who wrote a popular anthology entitled The Unique Necklace and anacreontic verses; and ibn-Hani (died 972) who composed some 60 qasidas. However, not only did local color gradually appear in Andalucian lyrical poetry, but the strophic verse forms of the muwashshah (the girdled) and zajal (melody) came into being, which until then had not existed in Arabic poetry. These forms were born among the common people as a result of the interaction of the Arab, Berber, and local Romance cultures. Once it had gained entry into literature, the muwashshah, first mentioned at the end of the tenth century, spread to the eastern part of the caliphate. In the thirteenth century it grew stereotyped in form and deteriorated into a formalistic exercise. The zajal escaped stylization and remained the favorite popular genre of Muslim and Christian Spain. It extended to other Arab countries and would seem to have influenced the development of early Provençal poetry. The divan of the most important representative of that genre, ibn-Quzman (c. 1080–1160), has been preserved.
Andalucian poetry in literary Arabic reached its highest development in the 11th century, when the Córdoban Caliphate broke into several emirates. Court literary circles were formed in each; panegyric, erotic, and bacchanalian poetry predominated everywhere. Seville, with its poets and patrons of the arts al-Mutadid (1012–1069) and al-Mutamid (1040–1095), became an important center. Al-Mutamid died in captivity in Morocco, where his companion had been the famous lyrical poet from Sicily, ibn-Hamdis (1055–1132), who had voluntarily joined him. The last important poet of Cór-doba, ibn-Zaydun (1003–71), lived in Seville. Many Andalucian poets of the 11th through 13th centuries were famed for their elegies on the fall of the Arab dynasties and cities under the blows of the Reconquista. They included ibn-Abdun, al-Waqqasi, ibn-Khafajah, and Salih al-Rundi. Ibn-Hazm, the author of A Dove’s Necklace, an original treatise on love, and ibn-Tufayl (c. 1110–1185), the author of the philosophic romance The Living One, Son of the Vigilant, were noteworthy.
Arabic literature from the middle of the eleventh century, despite a quantitative growth, bears the marks of decline. Mysticism became prevalent in poetry and didacticism in prose. Mystical poetry was characterized by a combination of bacchanalian and erotic themes with ecstatic addresses to the deity. Its best-known representatives were the Andalucians ibn al-Arabi (1165–1240) and al-Shushtari (died 1269) and the Egyptian Umar ibn-al-Farid (1182–1235). The Sicilian ibn-Zafar (died 1169) made somewhat timid attempts at creating the historical short story. The Syrian emir Usamah ibn-Munqidh (1095–1188) wrote the only literary autobiography in medieval Arabic literature, The Book of Exhortation. Ibn Arab-Shah (1392–1450), taken from Baghdad to Samarkand by Tamerlane, was the author of a didactic anthology, Pleasant Fruit for Caliphs, in which he rewrote north Iranian tales in a florid style.
With the decline of written literature, which had served the cultural and aesthetic needs of the major feudal lords and the narrow circle of educated people, oral poetry began to flourish. In Egypt and Syria, the centers of Arabic literature after the 13th-century Mongol invasion, the muwashshah and the zajal forms became prevalent. The Sufi poets and even the court poet Baha-al-Din Zuhayr (1187–1258) endeavored to write in a language close to the people. Ibn-Daniyal (13th-century Egypt) recorded crude shadow plays.
During the 13th through 15th centuries and later, original popular works of the sirah type (literally “descriptions of life”)—that is, cycles of heroic and love stories dealing with historical and fictional characters and events—became popular. In European terminology they are known as tales of chivalry. These works were performed by actor-narrators in the streets and squares. The best-known examples of the sirah deal with the sixth-century poet-warrior Antarah and his beloved Ablah, the Mamluk sultan Baybars, the resettlement of the banu-Hilal tribe in Egypt and North Africa, and Zu al-Khimme. Some of them appear to have developed very early. They were handed down through the centuries, and the narrators of each generation added new episodes and details, thus introducing anachronisms and contradictions. The events of the Crusades are reflected in the sirah (the heroes usually perform feats of valor in their battles with the “infidels”—the Franks or Byzantines). The collection of tales A Thousand and One Nights also belongs to this form of popular literature; the entire sirah about Umar ibn-al-Numan was included in the collection, together with folklore and literary material.
Arabic literature from the 16th to the 18th century was confined in a rigid scholastic and traditional framework and was of limited significance; only the uninterrupted tradition of manuscript copying, which has preserved many literary treasures of the past, was important.
Architecture, decorative and applied art, and fine arts. The art sources of Arab countries are complex. In southern Arabia they stem from the cultures of the Sabaean, Minoan, and Himyaritic states (first millennium B.C. to the sixth century A.D.) in the area of the Mediterranean Sea and East Africa. Ancient traditions are visible in the architecture of tower-like houses in Hadhramaut and in the multistoried structures of Yemen, whose facades are decorated with raised colored designs. In Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Maghreb, styles of Arab medieval art also sprang from local sources, under some influence of Iranian, Byzantine, and other cultures.
ARCHITECTURE. The main cultic building of Islam became the mosque, where the prophet’s followers gathered to pray. The mosques, which consisted of a fenced-in court and a colonnade (which laid the foundation of a court or columnar type of mosque), were created in the first half of the seventh century in al-Basrah (635), al-Kufah (638), and al-Fustat (640’s). The Arab colonnade mosque achieved a high artistic level in Damascus, the Umayyad capital. The builders of the Damascus Mosque (early eighth century) made excellent use of the local Hellenistic, Syrian, and Byzantine architectural traditions and decorated the building with polychromatic mosaics depicting an architectural landscape. The mosques of al-Qayrawan (Sidi-Okba, seventh-ninth centuries) and Córdoba (eighth-ninth centuries) are majestic.
Columnar construction long remained paramount in Arab monumental cultic architecture—for example, the-mosques of ibn-Tulun in Cairo (ninth century), of Mutawakkil in Samarra (ninth century), of al-Hassan in Rabat and Qait-bay in Marrakech (both 12th century), and the Great Mosque in Algiers (11 th century)—and it influenced the Muslim architecture of Iran, the Caucasus, Middle Asia, and India. Domed structures, whose early model is seen in the octagonal Qubbat-al-Sakhrah Mosque in Jerusalem (687–961), were also developed in Arab architecture. Later, various cultic and memorial buildings were topped by domes, most frequently to crown the mausoleums over the tombs of famous people.
Under the Umayyads, there was a great deal of secular construction. Cities were fortified, suburban palaces and caliphs’ castles built (al-Mushatta, Qusayr Amrah, Qasr al-Hayr al-Garbi, Qasr al-Hayr al-Sharai, Hirbet al-Mafjar); they were decorated with three-dimensional sculptures, carvings, mosaics, and wall paintings.
Much urban construction was done under the Abbasids. Baghdad, founded in 762, was, like Hatra and Ctesiphon, a city with a circular plan. In its center were the palace and the mosque, and on the perimeter was a double ring of defensive walls. Rectilinear planning predominated in Samarra (the capital of the caliphate from 836 to 892), which stretched along the Tigris River; there are ruins of huge brick palaces and houses of the nobility, which had rectangular courts, arched reception halls, and walls covered with carved ornaments and polychromatic paintings. The mosques of Samarra had ziggurat-like minarets.
The structures in Fatimid Cairo (founded in 969) belonged to a special school of Arab architecture. The stone city walls formed a square; some 11th-century gates, from which the main city streets radiated, have been preserved. The fortress architecture was marked by the expressiveness of simple monumental forms. Fatimid Cairo was embellished with palaces, caravansaries, baths, stores, residential houses, and mosques, of which grandiose al-Khakim and al-Azhar and al-Aqmar and al-Salihibn-Ruzzik, decorated with graceful stone carvings, have survived.
Between the 13th and the early 16th centuries, the architecture of Egypt and Syria had very close ties. Extensive fortress construction—for example, of citadels in Cairo and Halab (Aleppo)—was undertaken. The spatial principle that had dominated monumental architecture (the mosque with the court) gave way to grandiose architectural dimensions: high dome-bearing drums rose above the smoothness of mighty walls and great portals with deep niches. Majestic buildings of a four-iwan type (before then known in Iran)—the Maristan (hospital) of Qalawun (13th century) and the Mosque of al-Hasan (14th century) in Cairo, mosques and madrasahs (religious schools) in Damascus and other Syrian cities—were constructed. Numerous domed mausoleums were also built, sometimes forming a picturesque ensemble (the Mamluk cemetery in Cairo, 15th—16th centuries). Colored stone inlay was widely used to decorate external and interior walls in addition to carving. In 15th- and 16th-century Iraq, colored glazes and gilt were applied—for example, in the mosques of Musa al-Kadim in Baghdad, Hussein in Karbala, and imam Ali al-Negef.
Arab architecture had a period of high development in the Maghreb and in Spain during the 10th—15th centuries. Cas-bahs (citadels fortified by mighty walls with gates and towers) were constructed in Rabat, Marrakech, Fès, and other large cities, as were madinahs (commerce and trade quarters). The large colonnaded mosques of the Maghreb with their many-tiered square minarets are marked by an abundance of crossing naves and richly carved ornaments (mosques in Tlemcen and Taza, for example) and are decorated with wood carvings, marble, and mosiacs of colored stones; the 13th- and 14th-century madrasahs in Morocco were similarly decorated. Besides the Mosque of Córdoba, Spain has other outstanding monuments of Arab architecture: the Giralda minaret erected in Seville by architect Jeber in 1184–96; the gates in Toledo, and the Alhambra Palace in Granada, a masterpiece of Arab architecture and decorative art of the 13th- 15th centuries. Arab architecture influenced the romantic and Gothic architecture of Spain (the Mudejar style), Sicily, and other Mediterranean countries.
The invasion of Arab countries by Ottoman Turks in the 16th century brought with it the influence of Ottoman architecture, especially in cultic architecture. However, local construction and artistic traditions continued to develop in secular architecture.
DECORATIVE, APPLIED, AND FINE ARTS. Arab art vividly embodied the decorative principle inherent in the artistic thought of the Middle Ages, which engendered extremely rich ornamentation, distinctive in each area of the Arab world, but related by laws of development. The arabesque, derived from ancient sources, was a new type of design created by the Arabs in which mathematical strictness of construction was combined with free artistic fantasy. The epigraphic ornament—a calligraphic execution of inscriptions incorporated in the decorative pattern—was developed.
Ornament and calligraphy used widely in architectural decor (stone, wood, and stucco carvings) are also typical of applied art, which flourished greatly and fully expressed the decorative quality of Arab artistic genius. Ceramic articles were decorated with colorful designs: glazed dishes for everyday use in Mesopotamia (centers in Raqqah and Samarra); lusterware, painted in iridescent golden hues, manufactured in Fatimid Egypt; and Hispano-Moorish lusterware of the 14th—15th centuries, which had a great influence on European applied art. Arab-patterned silk fabrics—Syrian, Egyptian, and Moorish—enjoyed world fame. The Arabs also wove pile rugs. They decorated artistic objects made of bronze with the finest chasing, engraving, and silver and gold inlay (bowls, pitchers, censers and other wares); the artifacts of the 12th—14th centuries in Mosul in Iraq and some trade centers of Syria were wrought with special skill. Syrian glass, covered with the finest designs in enamel, and Egyptian artifacts of mountain crystal, ivory, and precious wood were famous.
Art in Islamic countries developed in a complex manner, interacting with religion. The mosques and the holy Koran were decorated with geometric, plant, and epigraphic patterns. However, in distinction to Christianity and Buddhism, Islam refused to make broad use of fine art to propagandize religious ideas. More than that, the so-called genuine hadiths, made into law in the ninth century, forbade the representation of living creatures and especially of man. The theologists of the 11th—13th centuries (al-Ghazzali and others) pronounced these images to be a very grave sin. Nevertheless, artists continued to depict man and animals throughout the Middle Ages in realistic and mythological scenes. During the first centuries of Islam, before theology had developed its aesthetic canons, the abundance of realistically treated paintings and sculpture in the Umayyad palaces testified to the strength of the artistic traditions that preceded Islam. In later years, representation in Arabic was the result of essentially anticlerical aesthetic views. For example, in the Epistles of the Brethren of Sincerity (tenth century), art was defined “as imitation of the images of existing objects, both artificial and natural, and both human and animal.”
Fine art reached great heights of development in Egypt in the tenth through 12th centuries. Depictions of men and genre scenes adorned building walls in al-Fustat, as well as ceramic trays and vases (the master Saad and others), and were carved into designs on ivory and wood (1 lth-century panel from the Fatimid Palace in Cairo, for example) and woven into linen and silk fabrics; bronze vessels in the shape of animals and birds were made. Similar developments were taking place in the art of Syria and Mesopotamia in the tenth through 14th centuries: court and other scenes were part of exquisite chased and inlaid ornamentation on bronze artifacts and of the painted designs on glass and ceramics.
Arabic book miniature painting occupied a prominent place in the art history of the world. In Egypt, miniature painting of the ninth and tenth centuries (which originated in Faiyum) and of the 11th—12th centuries was stylistically related to Coptic art. Byzantine influence is discernible in Syrian miniature painting. The art of miniature book illustration attained great heights in Iraq in the 12th and 13th centuries. Several stylistic directions existed there. One of them (possibly of North Iraqi origin) is distinguished by terse illustration of scientific tracts (such as the pages from the Materia medica of Dioscorides, illustrated by Abdullah ibn-Fadl in 1222, kept in various world museums). A truly magnificent example of the Iraqi school of miniature painting are the illustrations for al-Hariri’s Maqamat, full of lively observations expressed in an eloquent, imaginative style and in sonorous colors, which have come down to our times in several manuscripts (outstanding are the miniatures of a 1237 manuscript by artist Yahiya ibn-Mahmud of Vasit, Paris National Library, and the early-13th-century manuscripts that belong to the Leningrad division of the Institute of Oriental Studies). Miniature painting in Iraq experienced a new uplift at the end of the 14th century when Junayd Sultani worked in Baghdad; he was the outstanding artist who created the miniatures for the manuscript of Hamasah by Hadja Kermani in 1396 (British Museum in London).
Fine art was less developed in Western Arab countries. However, decorative sculpture portraying animals, designs with animal motifs, and miniature painting (the manuscript History of the Baiyads and Riyads, 13th century, Vatican Library) were created there.
Arab art as a whole was a bright, original phenomenon in the history of world artistic culture in the Middle Ages. Its influence extended to the entire Muslim world and spread far beyond its borders.
Music. Arab music grew out of the fusion of Arab art with the art of conquered countries. The early bedouin period of its development is characterized by the unity of music and poetry. Information has survived concerning ancient Arab professional singer-poets (shairs), the song genres huda (caravan songs) and habab (the songs of horsemen), and musical instruments: duff (small square tambourine), mizhar (primitive skin-bellied lute), and rabab (a kind of one-stringed violin).
After the conquest of Iran and parts of Byzantium and the establishment of dominion over Middle Asia and Egypt, the Arabs assimilated the traditions of more developed cultures: they absorbed the main musical theories of the Greeks; under the influence of Persian and Byzantine melodies, the Arab sound range expanded to two octaves; and some Arabic modes and instruments came under Iranian influences. The flowering of classical Arab music began at the end of the seventh century. It is based on seven-tone modes which employ intermediate intervals or commas (less than one-eighth of a whole tone), as well as the main tones. The melodic peculiarities of Arab music have determined the distinctive manner of singing in which the glissando (sliding up and down the scale) is much in use. The ornate melismatic style that invests the music with its original quality is characteristic of Arabic music.
Classical Arab music is primarily vocal. The most popular genre is the vocal and instrumental ensemble in which the singer has the leading role. The greatest singers of the Umayyad period were ibn-Misjah, ibn-Muhriz, and Jamilah and her pupils. Ibrahim al-Mawsili (742–804), his son Ishaq (767–850), the founder of the Baghdad school, and Mansur Zalzal were outstanding musicians of the Abbasid period.
Arab musical scholarship attained a high level. Some of the outstanding music theorists of the Middle Ages were al-Kindi, who developed and applied to Arab music the metaphysical doctrine of universal harmony of Neoplatonism; al-Isfahani (897–967), who composed The Great Book of Songs; Safi-al-din Urmavi (1230–1294), who wrote the tract on acoustics and harmonic relations al-Sarafiya, an outstanding medieval work on musical science of the East. The most important information on music of the East is contained in the works of al-Farabi (The Great Book of Music), Avicenna (ibn Sina), and others. In the Middle Ages, Arab music influenced the art of music in Spain and Portugal and the development of some European musical instruments.
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P. A. GRIAZNEVICH (introductory section, historical science, geography),
M. M. ROZHANSKAIA (natural and exact sciences),
A. V. SAGADEEV (philosophy),
A. B. KHALIDOV (literature), and
B. V. VEIMARN (architecture and fine art)