adab bios and abstracts

Samer Ali

Samer Mahdy Ali is Associate Professor of Arabic and Islamic culture at the University of Michigan. He is author of Arabic Literary Salons in the Islamic Middle AgesThe CALICO Journal: Special Issue on Hebrew and ArabicEncyclopedia of IslamThe Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies, Al-Qantara,TheJournal of Arabic Literature,The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Women. His research has earned seven national and international awards, including five  (U of Notre Dame Press), which theorizes how embodied face-to-face performance in group shaped the presentation, reception and transmission of Adab-literature in the Abbasid culture of both books and oral performance. He is also co-editor of . Dr. Ali has focused his research on the intersections of power, identity, and rhetoric in the Arabo-Islamic Middle Ages, and particularly how ordinary people embraced the Islamic humanities to gain respect and influence in society. His publications have appeared in the ,    and Fulbright Awards. At U-M, he teaches The Arabian Nights, Arab Women Poets, Islamic Law, and Classical Arabic Poetry. He is currently working on a book about the poet al-Mutanabbi and humanistic-adab approaches to structural peace.

The Question of the Scapegoat in al-Mutanabbi’s Poetry: Language as Peace Offering and Implications for Peace Studies Research

Scapegoating is a perennial phenomenon in political and linguistic ecosystems, becoming particularly overt in grim economic times, but how does scapegoating work precisely? René Girard’s “scapegoat mechanism” elaborates his early ideas on the mimetic nature of desire: For him, desire is intransitive, and arises out of competition with an “other” who attends to the same object. The rivalry between self and other escalates to the point of violence, which is then channeled toward a dispensable sacrifice, in the hopes of contenting the competitors. For Girard, a problem arises: the scapegoat sacrifice is not enough to really content, or at least not for long, and the cycle begins afresh. In the Christian tradition, the theory of Christus Victor suggests that the sacrifice of Christ is so unparalleled, it purges the believer’s heart of the evil of scapegoating, in principle, yet practice diverges from theory. In The 1001 Nights, the story of the“Merchant and the Demon” posits a scapegoat escaping his fate in exchange for marvelous stories, and in it, a mercantile model of payment in full for moral debts. While The Nights offers a vivid late medieval illustration, we can find earlier examples of this approach in the poetry of al-Mutanabbi (d. 965). This paper examines a suite of qasida-odes composed and performed by al-Mutanabbi to ransom four scapegoats. The odes stage the capacity of poetry to serve as a peace offering, payment in full for moral debts in exchange for liberty. Like money itself, language is a promissory note for an intangible debt; language serves to placate anger, and restore peace. Since humans have a seemingly endless capacity for anger, Mutanabbi’s mercantile approach to scapegoating poses productive lines of thought for the role of Adab in the emerging field of peace studies.

Catherine Ambler

Catherine Ambler is a PhD student at Columbia University, working on intertextuality and exchange in Persian and Arabic, with a focus on Timurid and Shaybanid circles. She is interested in ways in which texts assert, define, and transform their predecessors, particularly in connection with Sufism.

Bracketing History Within Adab: The Contested Past in al-Zaynī Barakāt

In Jamāl al-Ghīṭānī’s al-Zaynī Barakāt (1971) multiple networks of authority support, contend with, and interpenetrate each other in late Mamluk Cairo (1507-1517). Their dynamic relationships are conveyed, in part, through the proclamations, letters, reports, and other documents that the text sets alongside sections that narrate the lives of various characters. This structure recalls the propensity of Mamluk historiography to quote documents and tell history through biographies. However, the adab of al-Zaynī Barakāt supplants historiography as the matrix of the cited texts; a Mamluk history is, in fact, one of the texts that it brackets within itself. Al-Zaynī Barakāt draws from the resources of pre-modern adab not only in the use of forms of discourse of a high register, but also in the visibility that it gives to the circumstances of the production of discourse. At the same time, rather than limiting itself to pre-modern definitions of adab, al-Zaynī Barakāt incorporates traditions that are normally excluded from such definitions, especially Sufism. Rendered through this encompassing adab, Sufis, and Shaykh Abū al-Su‘ūd in particular, enter the narrative as bearers of their own conception of truth, rather than operating as characters among others in a monophonic frame. This truth makes itself felt on the historical record, but is incommensurable with it. As such, it has political force, suggesting that the historical moment is neither fully known nor controlled by those who assert mastery over it. 

Tarek El-Ariss

Tarek El-Ariss (PhD, Cornell 2004) is Associate Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at the University of Texas at Austin and Associate Editor of Journal of Arabic Literature. He is the author of Trials of Arab Modernity: Literary Affects and the New Political (Fordham UP, 2013) and editor of The Arab Renaissance: A Bilingual Anthology of the Nahda (MLA, forthcoming 2017). His current book, The Leaking Subject: Arab Culture in the Digital Age (with reviewers, Princeton UP), examines the way that cyber modes of confrontation, circulation, and exhibitionism shape contemporary writing and critiques of power in the Arab World and beyond.


Adab in the Digital Age

Adab (literature, culture, ethics) in the nahda context involved a disciplining and refinement project that was meant to bring about the modern Arab subject. Most studies of modern and contemporary Arabic literature and culture continue to rely on this adab framework that ties in aesthetics (novel), politics (nation state), and intersubjectivity (public sphere). Yet, what we have been observing in the Arab digital age is the emergence of new aesthetics, politics, and social relations that break with adab in the nahda imaginary. This paper engages not only new adab practices but also explores the kinds of crossings between Arabic writing in the digital age and classical genres (most notably, akhbar). Focusing on Twitter in the Arab world, the paper argues that cyberspace has opened a portal into the classical, into the affective and the unruly, thereby staging the collapse of the epistemic break associated with the nahda as a comprehensive and historically circumscribed modernizing and disciplining project.

C. Ceyhun Arslan

C. Ceyhun Arslan is a Ph. D. candidate in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. His current project, Ambivalences of Ottoman Modernity: Nahda, Tanzimat, and World Literature, reframes our understanding of modernity as expressed by or constructed in Arabic and Turkish literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His work on Ahmad Shawqi has recently appeared in Middle Eastern Literatures and he has a forthcoming publication on the process of canonization in Comparative Literature Studies.  


Towards a Politics of Adab: Reconceptualizing Shuʿūbiyya through al-Bīrūnī’s Critique of Alexander's Persian Patrimony

My paper is a close and comparative study of Arabic and Turkish literary histories of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries such as Kitāb tārīkh ādāb al-lughah al-ʻArabīyah (1911-1914) by Jurjī Zaydān, Al-Adab al-ʻArabī al-muʻāṣir (1957) by Shawqī Ḍayf, Tarih-i edebiyat-ı Osmaniye (History of Ottoman Literature, 1912) by Şehabeddin Süleyman, and 19uncu asır Türk edebiyatı tarihi (History of 19th Century Turkish Literature, 1939) by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar. It argues that these works describe the Ottoman literature as the final destination of a teleological Islamic literary history whose origins rest in pre-Islamic Arabia. They also project this history as the mirror image of a European history that has a similarly teleological trajectory whose origins lie in ancient Greece and Rome. For example, these works compare medieval Arab poets such as Abū Tammām and Mutanabbī with Greek poets such as Homer and Virgil and describe the influence of medieval Arab poems on Ottoman Turkish writers as akin to the influence of classical Greek and Latin works on French writers. Through such a comparison, early modern Arab authors generated a cultural kinship between Arab and Western civilizations, while affirming a sense of superiority over the Turkish culture. At the same time, this comparison allowed early modern Turkish authors to project medieval Arabic works as texts of a classical tradition whose influence they have to overcome to create the nationalist Turkish literature. My work thus calls for a reframing of the current disciplinary divisions between the classical and the modern in the study of Middle Eastern literatures. It also demonstrates that moments of contact between Arab and Turkish cultural spheres—translations, intertextualities, and the study of each other’s language, history, and literature—in the late Ottoman Empire were not mere points of intersection between two discrete movements, nahḍa (Arab modernity) and tanzimat (Turkish modernity), but instead were constitutive of them.

Xavier Ballestín

Xavier Ballestín teaches Medieval History, Byzantium and Islam, and Al-Andalus at University of Barcelona in History and Archaeology Department. He holds a Doctorate in History (1998) and the Advanced Arabic Teaching Certificate (2000) from the State Languages School of Barcelona. His training in Arabic includes a scholarship in the Arabic Syrian Republic at the Arabic Teaching Institute for Foreigners, University of Damascus, where he lived for two years (1988-1990), and two summer courses in the Institut Bourguiba pour les Langues Vivantes (1985-1986). He worked in Yemen during two short archaeological fieldwork campaigns (1998) (1999) as a team research member in charge of Arabic sources and translation in the field. His doctoral thesis - Mafakhir al-barbar. Estudi i traducció – is the translation and study of a late medieval anonymous text (c. 1314), a - maǧmūʿa - dealing with Berber history. His research interests are the intellectual culture and written production of Islamic scholars in the Iberian Northeast – Catalonia -, the understanding of the relationship between legitimacy, power exercise and state structures in al-Andalus and the Magrib and the network of tribal settlements, Arabic and Berber, in the Western Mediterranean during the High Middle Ages.


The Umayyads of al-Andalus and al-Manur ibn Abī ‘Amir [Almanzor]: The fabrics of adab, legitimacy, authority and rule

Adab’s knowledge and the development of the skills for practicing it have been usually associated to scholars and cultured people who, on the one hand, had an outstanding ability in writing, prose or verse, on the other, they used to show their proficiency in courtly milieus, where rulers rewarded them or punished them according to criteria that lie beyond the scope of literature aesthetics and court fashion, as these criteria were directly related to dynasty policies, power struggles and partisan jealousy amongst courtiers and officials. The best framework to understand the development of adab practice as a weapon of political struggle and policymaking is a thorough comparison of literary production and high culture between two ages, which will provide the reader with a comprehensive view about how adab, understood as a channel of high culture and court policy, changed. The area to be studied is al-Andalus in the Xth century, and the two ages to be compared are, first, the high tide of the Umayyad caliphate with ‘Abd ar-Rahman an-Nasir (929-961) and his son, al-Hakam al-Mustansir bi-Llah (961-976), where authority, rule and leadership remained in the hands of male and adult members of the Umayyad clan; second, the age of Abu ‘Amir Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Abi ‘Amir al-Mansur (976-1002), known as Almanzor/Almansor, a man who, in spite of being neither Umayyad nor Qurayshite, exerted full authority on behalf of caliphal legitimacy, in this case, in the name of the incumbent Andalusian Umayyad caliph, Hisham al-Mu’ayyad bi-Llah (976-1009).

Francesca Bellino

Francesca Bellino received her PhD from Florence University, Philology Department, in 2005. Her dissertation focused on legendary maghazi literature and, more specifically, on the textual tradition of the Futuh al-Yaman, known also as Ghazwat Ra’s al-Ghul, by Abu al-Hasan al-Bakri (thirteenth cen.?). She taught Arabic literature and language in Turin University from 2007 to 2016. She is currently visiting fellow at the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. She has written on various genres of the so-called popular literature of the post-classical period, such as legendary maghazi literature, epics, Islamic legends (in part. Moses, Tamim al-Dari, Cain and Abel) and stories of the Arabian Nights collection (in part. Sindbad the Sailor and Uns al-Wujud and al-Ward fi al-Akmam). She also has carried out researches on geographical literature and encyclopedism and translated into Italian al-Qazwīnī’s Cosmography. She is currently writing a monograph on the Seven Travels of Sindbad the Sailor with a comparative critical edition of the Arabic, Garshuni and Neo-Aramaic versions.

Embassies and exchanges of letters and gifts in the Seven Travels of Sindbād the Seafaring Merchant: interferences between Adab and Arabian Nights

In 1922, Paul Casanova published an article in which he attempted a textual analysis of the Seven Travels of Sindbād in view of the information arising from the manuscripts preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris. He reviewed a number of episodes, examining sources and any references in Arabic literature, with particular attention on the embassy of Sindbād the Seafaring Merchant to the king of the island of Serendīb and the exchange of letters and gifts with the caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd. Casanova had identified the precursors of this episode described between the sixth and seventh travel in some passages of al-Mas‘ūdī’s Murūǧ al-ḏahab. Before him, already De Goeje (1889) and Chauvin (1904) had focused on this episode, which only appears in the oldest, independent, drafting of the Seven Travels of Sindbād, arguing that it would characterize the so-called “A-redaction” (i.e. a redaction of the story not incorporated into the frame of the Arabian Nights and therefore not divided into nights). 

This paper attempts to analyze the episode of the embassy of Sindbād to the king of Serendīb on the basis of new textual evidence. On the one hand, it considers the episode of the embassy with the exchange of letters and gifts in the context of adab literature. Indeed, some other authors such as al-Ǧāḥiẓ and Ibn ‘Abd al-Rabbih convey this same episode but referring to different figures. On the other side, recently discovered manuscripts of the Seven Travels of Sindbād allow to reconsider this episode in the context of the textual history of the story itself.

Gowaart Van Den Bossche

Gowaart Van Den Bossche is a Ph.D candidate at Ghent University. His research focuses on the cross-pollination of historiography and literature in the medieval Islamic world, specifically in the context of the late medieval Mamluk sultanate of Egypt and Syria. In evaluating historical sources he is interested in questions of authorial agency, the construction of historical narratives, and reception aesthetics. 


Writing the biography to excel all others: Sultanic biography in the early Mamluk Period as Literary Performance of Social Status

During the early Mamluk Period a small corpus of sultanic biographies was written by two scions of the renowned Bānū cAbd al-Ẓāhir kuttāb dynasty: Muḥyī l-Dīn b. cAbd al-Ẓāhir (d. 1293) and his maternal nephew Shāfic b. cAlī (d. 1330). Three biographies by each writer survive dealing with the reigns of Baybars (d. 1277, two biographies), Qalāwūn (d. 1290, two biographies), al-Ashraf Khalīl (d. 1293) and al-Nāṣir Muḥammad (d. 1341). These texts have mostly only received historical-critical attention and have been mined for historical information and archival documents (correspondence, treaties, diplomas of investiture, etc.), or they have been interpreted as propagandistic constructions of legitimisation. The important literary level of these texts has received hardly any specific attention, despite their often being written in ornate rhymed prose and including many self-written poems. This paper proposes to look at these texts from the perspective of a competitive court culture that was in constant flux, in which kuttāb had to navigate the uncertain waters of political allegiances and had to (re)negotiate their own position vis-à-vis the sultan and other members of the ruling elite. This did not only result in biographies that legitimised political authority, but also generated the idea that such a biography should be a literary tour de force, embodying those ideals of adab that were deemed essential to the office of kātib. This paper thus thinks of adab as a means to perform and negotiate patronage and social status, and explores some of the many shades of late medieval adab in relation to historiography, secretarial writing, and panegyrics.

Owen Cornwall

Owen Cornwall is a visiting lecturer at Columbia University in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies. In 2015-2016, he was a Mellon postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto.  He is currently working on a book manuscript about Alexander the Great in the premodern Persian literary tradition. 


Towards a Politics of Adab: Reconceptualizing Shuʿūbiyya through al-Bīrūnī's Critique of Alexander's Persian Patrimony

This presentation attempts, from the perspective of Arabic adab, to re-theorize the conceptual framework for analyzing the political stakes of premodern multilingual literary practice. The MESAAS department at Columbia has been on the forefront of re-theorizing premodern transregional languages away from the sterile "vehicular languages" framework posited by Deleuze and Guattari towards the more robust frameworks of "The Arabic Republic of Letters," "Persian literary humanism," and "The Sanskrit Cosmopolis."  To put these frameworks into conversation, this paper uses as an ansatzpunkt the rich critique by the polymath al-Bīrūnī (d.1048CE) of Alexander the Great's dubious and controversial Persian ancestry.  

Departing from the dichotomy of "roots and routes," this paper will identify filiamentary modes of thinking (in both senses of "fils" as "son" and "fils" as string/wire) in al-Biruni's critique of the supposed Persian patrimony of Iskandar (Alexander the Great), to show how roots and routes were co-produced through "cultural techniques," Bernard Siegert's supple concept.  By tracing the concepts of sabab (cause, path, or heavenly chord), nasab (genealogical relation) and ʿaṣab (nerve, chord) through an interdisciplinary selection of Arabic adab (from natural science, the Qur'an, and animal fables) this paper analyzes the complex filiamentary modes of thinking that pervade al-Bīrūnī's critique of Alexander's Persian birth narrative. 

Jonathan Decter

Jonathan Decter is Associate Professor and Edmond J. Safra Professor of Sephardic Studies at Brandeis University.  His first book, Iberian Jewish Literature: Between al-Andalus and Christian Europe, was awarded the Salo W. Baron Prize for best first book in Jewish Studies (2008).  His research focuses on the intellectual and cultural production of Arabic speaking Jews during the medieval period.  His forthcoming book on Jewish panegyric writing is entitled Dominion  Built of Praise: Panegyric and Legitimacy among Mediterranean Jews.  

The Jewish Ahl al-Adab of al-Andalus

The writings of medieval Arabic speaking Jews readily reveal that these authors embraced the concept of adab in the expansive sense of incorporating knowledge in poetry, oratory, rhetoric, and grammar as well as a refined, urbane code of etiquette.  For over two generations, modern scholars have referred to Jews in the Islamic West who adopted these values as “courtier rabbis” though it is preferable to refer to them as ahl al-adab (people of adab), a term by which they sometimes referred to themselves.  Using the concept of a “community of practice” as it has emerged in social linguistics, this paper will study the ways in which Jews in the Islamic West used the concept of adab in order to define the contours of a distinct social group.

Haifa Alfaisal

Haifa Alfaisal is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature in the Department of English Language and Literature and King Saud University in Riyadh. She obtained her PhD from the University of Essex in 2005. Her publications include Religious Discourse in Postcolonial Studies: Magical Realism in Hombres de maíz and Bandarshah (2006), “Indigenous Epistemology and the Decolonisation of Postcolonialism” in Studies in Social and Political Thought (2011), and “World Reading Strategies: Border Reading Bandarshah” Alif 34 (2014). Her research interests involve exploring the epistemological bias in postcolonial theory, coloniality in world reading strategies and role of modernity/coloniality in the rise of modern Arabic literary criticism. He most recent publication is "Liberty and the Literary: Coloniality and Nahdawist Comparative Criticism of Rūḥī al-Khālidī’s History of the Science of Literature with the Franks, the Arabs, and Victor Hugo (1904)." Modern Language Quarterly no. 77. She is currently Visiting Scholar at the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies (IMES) Department at the University of Edinburgh.


The Politics of Literary Value in Early Modernist Arabic Comparative Literary Criticism

 The modernist epistemic de-linking with the “medieval Islamic republic of letters,” Muhsin Musawi argues, is attributable to both the incursions of Enlightenment infused European discourse and a failure to read the import of the republic’s significant cultural capital. This paper will explore the effects of Eurocentric incursions into the transformations in literary value in the works of two of the earliest known works of comparative Arabic literary criticism: Ruhi Al-Khalidi’s 1904 The History of the Science of Literature with the Franks, the Arabs and Victor Hugo and Ahmad Dayf’s 1921 Introduction to the Study of Arab Balagha. Tracking these epistemological shifts in literary value will involve employing the various theoretical formulations of the decolonial school of thought; primarily Walter Mignolo’s coloniality/modernity complex. In so doing I direct my attention towards the internalisation of Eurocentric critiques and their instrumentality in transforming literary value. I will also be focusing on the politics involved in such processes, thereby presenting a decolonial perspective on the modernists’ engagement with their Arabic critical heritage.

Lillian Farhat

Lillian Farhat holds ABD in Political Science from Rutgers University, with concentration in Political Theory, Comparative Politics and Women Studies. Working on manuscript entitled: Ibn Khaldun, the First Social Scientist and World Historian. My areas of scholarly activities are: Medieval Islamic Political and Social Thought, the modern Arabic Historical Novel, Arab Women Writers, and Arabic Language and Culture. I have taught for over thirty years Arabic language and culture, at The Department of Africana Studies, Rutgers University and Arabic Language Director at the Department of World Languages and Cultures, the College of New Jersey. Developed and taught classes on the Contemporary Arab World, Modern Arabic Literature, Arab Society and the Media, in addition to teaching elementary to advanced levels in Arabic language, and media classes in Arabic. Presented papers on teaching Arabic to English speakers at several language associations. Also, presented papers on literary authors such Youssef Awad, and Hoda Barakat, and historical figures like Ibn Battuta, and Ibn Khaldun.                            


Adab and Ibn Khaldun’s Political Vision

The sixth chapter of Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah, nearly a third of the entire work, covers a range of topics deemed central to the constituent elements and requirements of urban culture under the rule of a relatively stable political dynasty.  The first half of this chapter begins with law, continues to religion both as theology and as Sufi practice, enumerates the physical sciences, then rounds off the discussion with a critique of philosophy and the foundational pillars of Islamic urban culture. The second half of the chapter demonstrates that the “language sciences” are no less a pillar of urban life than law and religion, and are necessary to sound interpretations and scholarship in both domains. He discusses the central tenants of his pedagogy, linguistic and literary theory.  I argue that Ibn Khaldun relies on the social theory he developed in previous chapters, and articulates his political vision critical of al-Farabi’s ideal city. In my presentation, I will focus on the meaning and significance of Adab for Ibn Khaldun which can be best discerned; in his attack on severity in the instruction of children, in his curriculum for the development of the full faculties of adults, in his liberal views of linguistic variety, and in his appreciation of Andalusian culture. The classic concept of Paideia aids in integrating and understanding key aspects of Ibn Khaldun’s concept of Adab.  His central aim is to prevent the suppression of the “independent spirit” which the historian considers an essential virtue for a Muslim community. In his view, Adab assists in the maintenance of social solidarity, and in the realization of his vision of freedom. A vision that entails the development of the capacities to articulate and seek rightful claims, to seek justice. 

Aida Gasimova

Aida Gasimova is a professor of Arabic Literature at Baku State University. Her research interests cover a wide range of topics within Classical Arabic Literature, Arabic short picaresque stories – so-called maqamat, poetry of al-Mutanabbi, Mental-Spiritual State of pre-Islamic Arabs, Qur’anic Symbolism in Azeri Turkic Sufi Poetry. 

In 1998 she was awarded “Abdulaziz Saud al-Babtin’s prize for grandchildren of Imam al-Bukhari”. In 2013 she was granted Open Society Foundation’s Global Faculty award and held two years visiting scholarship at Duke University. In 2016 she held Library research fellowship at California State University, Sacramento. She is currently working on two projects “Qur’anic Symbolism in Depiction of the Facial Features in Azeri Turkic Sufi Poetry” and “Mental-Spiritual State of pre-Islamic Arabs”. She has numerous academic publications in several languages (Arabic, Russian, English and Azeri Turkic) including articles in prestigious peer-reviewed European academic journals and participated in international conferences and workshops.


Droit du Seigneur in Adab Tradition

Lord’s right of the first wedding night has been a focus for much Western European historiography. Celebrated movie “Brave heart” by Mel Gibson once again directed attention to the odious privilege of governing classes to deprive ordinary men, particularly those of captivated nations from the right to spend the first wedding night with their brides. The institution is called by different terms: Jus primae noctis, jus cunni, jus junnagu, jus coxea locandae in Latin, droit du seigneur in France, cullage, cuissade in Spanish. There has been much controversy in European scholarship about the origin and peculiarities of such a right, its existence in different countries of the medieval Europe.  European scholars enumerated different sides of the custom, its social roots, its connection with the ancient beliefs, superstitions and traditions, its reflecting violations of women’s right in despotic regimes. Nevertheless, medieval Arabic tradition which maintains considerable amount of khabar on droit du seigneur are still out of the scholarly discussion. The present paper aims to analyze passages related to the lord’s right in the adab books by al-Jahiz, Abu l-Faraj al-Isfahani, al-Qazvini and others, as well as commentaries on the classical poetry which maintain poems connected with droit du seigneur. My first acquaintance with the tradition shows two groups of khabars about  the topic. The first group of khabars revolves around practicing the custom in relationships between the legendary tribes Tasm and Jaddis, to be more precise, aroundthe king of Tasm‘Amliq, “whose reign has been based on oppression, harassment, bad behavior and injustice,” as al-Isfahani describes it. The plot of the khabar includes some interesting moments as a disguising of a man, the brother of the bride into bride’s attire, and his killing the despotic ruler. The second group of the legends is related to the khabars of the legendary Jewish knight of Yathrib -- Fityun. The paper aims to explore sources of these legends, that requires comparative analysis with the traditions of neighboring nations, particularly with the ancient Mesopotamian, Jewish and Greek texts which appear to be directly related to the custom.  Throughout the paper the role of khabar and sh‘ir will be discussed in contouring frameworks of adab.

Mohamed Wajdi Ben Hammed

Mohamed Wajdi Ben Hammed is a PhD student at Columbia University in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies and the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society. He holds a Master’s in Literature from the University of Notre Dame. He works on questions of religion and the state in medieval and modern Arabic Literature. He is interested in Sufi Arabic literature and the place of Sufism in modern Arabic thought as far as questions of tradition, post-colonialism and modernity are concerned. He is also interested in Persian Sufi literature and poetics.

Gretchen Head

Gretchen Head is currently Assistant Professor of Literature in the Humanities Division at Yale-NUS College in Singapore. She holds a PhD in Arabic literature from the University of Pennsylvania and has been a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. She has published articles in the Journal of Arabic Literature, Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, Portal 9: Stories and Critical Writing about the City, The Global South, and the Journal of North African Studies. She is coeditor (with Nizar F. Hermes) of the forthcoming The City in Arabic Literature: Classical and Modern Perspectives (Edinburgh University Press). 


Resistance to Loss through the Perseveration of Form: al-Tuhāmī al-Wazzānī and the Practice of Adab in the 20th Century

In a 1983 preface to Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, Albert Hourani acknowledges that he may have “distorted” the thought of the writers he considered, exaggerating the “modern” elements in their thought, in turn emphasizing a break with the past rather than continuities. His call to consider thinkers of a different kind – those still working within an inherited mode of thought grounded in the framework of institutions like the Azhar in Cairo, the Zaytuna in Tunis, or the Sufi brotherhoods – has been only partially heeded. The dominant story of the nahda remains one of oppositions (tradition vs. modernity etc.). Recent arguments suggest that with the nahdah, adab is redefined, shifted away from its original semantic range and refigured as a concept in line with modern globalized ways of reading that reimagine religious practices and textual traditions. This paper will suggest a different way to interpret adab, both as a textual tradition and an embodied mode of reading, in the 20th century through an analysis of al-Tuhāmī al-Wazzānī  al-Zawiyah. Published in 1942, it is an autobiographical work that retains its ties to a premodern tradition of Sufi life writing widespread in North Africa; al-Wazzanī models his portrait of selfhood on predecessors dating back to at least the fifteenth century and in function the text follows the established practice of its genre. But, he also manipulates the form to record the pain experienced by his city under Spanish occupation. His search for spiritual fulfillment merges with Tetouan’s drive for independence and autonomy. Here, the category of adab, as both a way of writing and reading, is adapted and expanded to create a new hybrid literary form which becomes an act of resistance, a way to reclaim the city’s pre-colonial identity and to record its collective suffering. The people of Tetouan (al Taṭwaniyun) join the autobiographical “I” of the narrator as a collective protagonist of equal importance, the story just as centrally a chronicle of the city’s traumatic past and present as the author’s development. Adab, for al-Wazzani, is a defense against the violence of his city’s foreign occupation. Yet it nevertheless becomes something hyphenated, for just as he draws on earlier literary structures, he both uses the modernized Arabic that was the result of language reforms catalyzed by the Arab world’s encounter with imperial Europe and incorporates his colonizer’s narrative techniques, internalizing the colonial violence within the practice of adab itself.  

Nizar F. Hermes

Nizar F. Hermes holds a PhD in Comparative Literature and Near Eastern Studies from the University of Toronto and is an Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Virginia. He is author of The [European] Other in Medieval Arabic Literature and Culture, Ninth-Twelfth Century AD (2012) and co-editor with Gretchen Head of The City in Arabic Literature: Classical and Modern Perspectives (forthcoming Edinburgh University Press, 2017).  He is currently working on a monograph entitled Of Cities and the Poetic Imagination in the Premodern and Precolonial Maghrib, 9th-19th Centuries AD.


The Jocular Shaykh: Towards Teaching the Humanistic Treasures of Adab

In my talk, I present a teaching project in English translation inspired by the largely neglected jocular adab treasures of classical Islam.  American universities, I argue, should offer more courses on Arab humor, pleasantry, and fun-making. It is mystifying that this amusing chapter of Arabic-Islamic literature and culture isamong the least taught in the American academy. The disinterest in Arab humor in American universities would probably be justified ifcourses on western and non-western humor were equally neglected, but this is absolutely not the case. In fact, it is all too easy to notice the abundance and popularity classes on (classical) Chinese, Japanese, and (in particular) Jewish humor, as well as ancient, medieval, and early modern western humor including the jocular tradition of the Greeks and Romans. This is aside from the plethora of courses on the history and theory of humor from antiquity to modern times, which figure frequently as course offerings in various American departments including comparative literature, philosophy, anthropology, history, and psychology.

Elizabeth M. Holt

Elizabeth M. Holt is Assistant Professor of Arabic in the Division of Languages and Literature at Bard College.  She holds a Ph.D. in Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures and Comparative Literature from Columbia University, and a B.A. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University.  She serves as Associate Editor of the Journal of Arabic Literature. Dr. Holt is the author of Fictitious Capital: Silk, Cotton, and the Rise of the Arabic Novel (Fordham University Press, 2017), and is in the midst of a second book, "Imperious Plots: Arabic Literature and the Cultural Cold War," about how the Congress for Cultural Freedom, a CIA-founded and -funded cultural organization of American empire, shaped Arabic literature in an age of decolonization and cold war.

Adab and the Cultural Cold War

Over the course of the 1950s and 1960s, Arabic literature and the Arabic language itself became theaters of cultural cold war.  Both the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), covertly founded and funded by the CIA from 1950, and the increasingly Soviet-sponsored Afro-Asian Writers Association (AAWA) -- like the 1955 Bandung conference for Afro-Asian solidarity that inspired it -- looked to Arabic as a lingua franca of cultural cold war in the decolonizing nations of Africa and Asia.  From the mid-1950s, just after Bandung, the CCF had begun to intervene in Arabic culture, hosting the 1961 Rome Conference for Arab writers, and publishing the Beirut-based Arabic journal Ḥiwār from 1962-67, all part of the CIA’s covert mission to curate a global non-Communist Left and a propaganda of cultural freedom through the imperial geographic rubric of area studies.  Seeking distribution for Ḥiwār in all Arabic speaking countries, the CCF also oversaw a special 1965 issue of Ḥiwār on Africa, publishing some of the earliest Arabic translations of twentieth-century sub-Saharan African literature.  The AAWA would in turn publish their journal Afro-Asian Writings (soon to be called Lotus) in Arabic and English (and later also French) from 1968 in Cairo in a counter-effort to unify the anti-imperial, decolonial cultural struggle in African and Asian countries, with Soviet support.  In the process, Arabic’s adab networks, networks that had sustained past Islamic empires, became targets of cold war cultural imperialism.

Christian Junge

Christian Junge studied Comparative Literature and Arabic Studies in Berlin, Paris and Cairo. He was Junior Lecturer at the Seminar for Semitic and Arabic Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin. From 2011 to 2015 he was Fellow of the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin, where he received his PhD with a study on “The Exposure of Words – Gender, Pleasure, and Language in al-Shidyaq’s ‘as-Saq’ (1855)”. Since 2015, he is lecturer and research assistant at the Center for Near and Middle Eastern Studies (CNMS) at the Philipps-University Marburg.  His research focuses on modern Arabic literature and philology in the 19th century and affect in the 21st century. His most recent publications include: “On Affect and Emotion as Dissent: The Kifāya-Rhetoric in Pre-Revolutionary Egyptian Literature“, in: Commitment and Beyond. Reflections on/of the Political in Arabic Literature Since the 1940s, Friederike Pannewick, Georges Khallil (Eds.), Wiesbaden (2015). He is also co-coordinator (together with Barbara Winckler) of the international summerschool project “Arabische Philologien im Blickwechsel –نحو دراسات عربية برؤى متعددة” ( that seeks to strengthen Arabic as a modern language of research.


Enumeration as Adab: On Lists That Matter

Enumeration is an important, yet often neglected feature of both classical and modern Arabic literature that importantly constitute the ‘literariness’ of its texts. This paper presents a broad range of examples from classical to postmodern literature, including texts from authors like al-Tawhidi, al-Nafzawi, al-Shidyaq, Darwish and Khoury, in order to reveal the importance of this feature in Arabic literature. Drawing from studies of Roland Barthes, Umberto Eco and Sabine Mainberger, this paper discusses different theoretical perspectives on enumeration.

While enumeration is a very widespread phenomenon, its contribution to Adab is very different according to its authors, genres, periods and – most importantly –  to different concepts of Adab and its ‘adabiyya’ or ‘literariness’. My paper traces the tight relationship between lexicography and literature. Focussing on the ‘thinking of language’ (Sprachdenken) in these texts as a metalinguistic and metaliterary autopoiesis, it analyses the epistemic and aesthetic importance of word lists for Adab texts in different period of times.

From a more general perspective, Adab itself is enumerative: it may be described as a compilation of texts for certain epistemic and aesthetic purposes. If we translate this enumerative understanding of classical Adab texts to modern Adab texts, one might shift the focus from the narration (sard) to enumeration (sard) and develop a new understanding of literary textuality as an enumerative “art of anthology” or as an compiling archive of texts, words, and thoughts.

Boutheina Khaldi

Boutheina Khaldi is Associate professor of Arabic and comparative literature at the American University of Sharjah. She has published a monograph in English: Egypt Awakening in the Early Twentieth Century: Mayy Ziyādah’s Intellectual Circles (Palgrave, 2012), a book in Arabic: Al-Muḍmar fῑ al-Tarassul al-Niswῑ al-‘Arabῑ (2015) (The Implicit in Arab Women’s Epistolary Writing), and co-edited three textbooks: Al-Adab al-‘Arabī al-Ḥadīth: Mukhtārāt, Al-Wafī fī Turāth al-‘Arab al-Thaqāfī, and Turāth al-'Arab al-Ma'rifī.


Al- Urjῡzah as a Viable Adab Medium

Although it was regarded as the origin of all Arabic meters, the rajaz poem (urjūzah) has never gained a high position in al-adab al-‘Arabī, especially in the pre-Islamic and Umayyad periods. It was looked down upon as easy to compose and hence of low prestige: “the donkey of poets” (ḥimār al-shu‘arā’). Some went as far as to consider it saj‘. In the Abbasid period and onward scientists like Avicenna (d. 1037), Ibn ‘Abd Rabbih (d.  940), Ibn Ṭufayl (d. 1185), Ibn al-Yasamīn (d. 1204), Ibn Mālik (d. 1274), to mention but a few, chose the urjūzah to make their scientific discoveries accessible to everybody.

In this presentation I study three urjūzahs. The first is by Ibn al-A‘ṣam in medicine, the second, by Jibrān al-Abdalī in geography, and the third by lisān al-Dῑn ibn al-Khatīb in history. I argue how poetry in general, and al- urjūzah specifically, through its structure, played an important role in simplifying scientific concepts.

Mana Kia

Mana Kia is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies at Columbia University. She is broadly interested in comparative and connective social and cultural histories of West, Central and South Asia (from roughly the 17th-19th centuries), about which she has published a number of articles. She is currently completing a book entitled, The Persianate: Transregional Sensibilities of Belonging before Nationalism, and has begun a project on various forms of companionship between early modern Iran and India.