History of Arab Literature

Jirjī Zaydān was born in Beirut, Lebanon, into a Syrian Orthodox family of modest means. After a mediocre experience at local schools, he moved to Egypt to study at al-Qaṣr al-ʻAynī medical college, but he abandoned medicine in favor of a literary and publishing career. He founded Dar al-Hilal printing and publishing house and in 1892 brought out the weekly al-Hilal magazine, which continues publication to this day. Al-Ahram newspaper and al-Hilal became the most long-lived and influential media advocates for Egyptian national causes and modernizing progress based on Western models. Zaydān was one of the most influential media figures of his generation. With Zaydān as editor, publisher, and contributor, al-Hilal reached a wide regional audience. His commitment to national pride, intellectual curiosity, and energetic entrepreneurship derived from the book Self-Help by the Scottish author Samuel Smiles, which had been translated into Arabic in 1886. Zaydān did not limit himself to popular journals. His History of Arabic Literature consists of four volumes, of which the first two volumes are presented here bound together and covering the pre-Islamic period to the 11th century. In his support for modernization, Zaydān ran afoul of some contemporaries who claimed he was a Mason. The work is illustrated with graphics from European sources. Each volume has a table of contents and a price list of Zaydān’s books available for sale, in person or by mail order. These up-to-date features of bookmaking give this work a modern feel quite different from the manuscript tradition or the early works of the Bulaq Press.

Students' Guide

Zakarīyā ibn Muḥammad al-Anṣārī, a Shafi’i jurist, teacher, and Sufi, was born in Egypt and studied at al-Azhar, the Sunni Islamic center of learning in Cairo. Throughout his long career (he lived about 100 years), al-Anṣārī held many positions as judge and Sufi authority. He is recognized as a major figure in medieval Sunni jurisprudence. He studied under the greatest teachers of the age and influenced later generations, being referred to by the honorific Shaykh al-Islam. Manhaj al-Ṭullāb (Students' guide) is an abridgement of Nawawī’s Minhāj al-Ṭālibīn (Path of knowledge seekers), a major juridical reference from the 13th century. It was followed by longer commentaries by numerous authors and became a standard teaching text, which was often reprinted at the Bulaq Press and elsewhere. The press was one of the principal institutions established by visionary suzerain Muḥammad ʻAlī (reigned 1805−49). Founded along modern administrative principles, it served the government and private persons by producing works of science, engineering, and history, as well as literary and Islamic classics. This copy was printed at the Bulaq Press in 1868 under the supervision of its director, Husayn Husni. The book is instantly recognizable in appearance, typography, paper, and layout as a product of this famous press. The colophon is typical of the times, containing a long encomium to Isma’il Pasha, Egypt’s ruler.

Poetry Collection

Born in what is now the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, ‘Ali ibn al-Muqarrab (1176 or 1177−1231 or 1232) had an adventurous life that included political intrigue and involvement with trade as well as literary accomplishment. Writing in the early 13th century, he is said to have been one of the last poets before modern times to have composed in the classical style. His Diwan (Poetry collection) is lauded for its historical as well as literary qualities. It is considered a primary source for geography and history as well as genealogy and information about the social and cultural conditions of his region. Al-Muqarrab’s tribe, the al-‘Uyuni, ruled portions of the coast of the Arabian Peninsula for more than 150 years, from the 11th to the 13th centuries. Failed political ambitions caused al-Muqarrab to flee to Baghdad and Mosul (present-day Iraq). Historian ‘Abd al-Khalaq al-Janbi discusses many of the strengths and weaknesses of al-Muqarrab as a historian, and notes the confusion in reference works over his name and the authorship of works attributed to him. Manuscripts of the Diwan are found in many Western and Middle Eastern libraries. The edition presented here was printed in Mecca in 1889 and reprinted in Bombay in 1892.

Secret of Success

Samuel Smiles was a Scottish author and physician. He dropped out of school at 14 years of age but returned to finish the study of medicine at the University of Edinburgh. His most famous work, Self-Help, which Ya’qub Sarrūf here translates into Arabic, made him a best-selling author and celebrity. Sarrūf was one of the earliest graduates of the American University in Beirut. He was a significant figure in what is called the Arab renaissance of the second half of the 19th century and was awarded an honorary doctorate from his alma mater in 1890. As a publisher, Ṣarrūf founded the general interest magazines al-Muqtaṭaf in 1876 and al-Muqaṭṭam in 1889. He was an active translator. Secret of Success advocates self-reliance as the key to a life of advancement and prosperity. It includes biographies of notable personalities and their success stories. In this edition, he adds commentary and pertinent Arabic proverbs. Also included are indexes and a glossary of English terms. The book was first published in Beirut in 1880. This second revised edition, printed at Muqtataf Press in Cairo in 1886, added proverbs, quotations, and biographies of inspiring personalities from East and West.

Literary Essays by Classical Arab Authors

Jesuit scholar Louis Cheikho was born in Mardin, Turkey, and educated at the Jesuit school in Ghazīr, Lebanon. He remained associated with the seminary and its successor institution in Beirut, Université Saint-Joseph, throughout his life. Cheikho studied in Europe and eventually gained a world-wide reputation as a Semitist and authority on Eastern Christianity. Al-Machriq, the journal he founded in 1898, is a principal resource for scholars in these fields. It is supplemented by Melanges de l’Université Saint-Joseph and Proche-Orient Chrétien from the same publishers. The work presented here, ‘Ilm al-Adab (Literary essays by classical Arab authors), is the second of two volumes containing commentaries of leading authorities on rhetoric and public discourse, such as Averroes, Avicenna, and Ibn Khaldūn. The second half of the work is devoted to poetics. Cheikho opens the subject by discussing comments by Averroes on Aristotle. From there he covers the various goals of the poet, such as praise, persuasion, apology, and ridicule, giving examples of each. Despite his stature as a scholar, Cheikho has been criticized for some aspects of his work, which is seen by some as marred by parochialism and bias. ‘Ilm al-Adab is carefully printed with complete vowel pointing, footnotes, and indexing.

Summary of the History of the Arabs

Louis-Amélie Sédillot was a French astronomer and orientalist, son of Jean-Jacques Sédillot, who influenced the boy toward pursuing these same interests. Sédillot the younger translated and published Arabic astronomical works. Khulasat Tarikh al-‘Arab (Summary of the history of the Arabs) is a translation and adaption by ‘Ali Mubārak Pasha of Louis-Amélie Sédillot’s Histoire des Arabes. Mubārak is revered as the father of modern education in Egypt. Born in a rural village in the Nile delta, he rebelled at the quality of his early schooling. After more unsuccessful years of schooling in Cairo, he eventually was chosen for education in military sciences in Cairo and in France. He returned to Egypt after several years to practice as a civil engineer and later as overseer of the reform of Egypt’s rudimentary school system. He is also credited with founding the National Library and Archives of Egypt. The rank of basha (pasha) was awarded by Egyptian monarchs. It denoted the highest rank in civil administration or recognition of extraordinary accomplishment in public service. The designation did not imply nobility, nor was it hereditary, except as applied to men of the dynasty of Muḥammad ʻAlī Pasha. Khulasat Tarikh al-‘Arab is an outline of Arab history with a table of contents, introduction by Mubarak, and index. It begins with the geography of Arabia and Arab history before the Prophet Muhammad, and proceeds to cover Arab customs and the achievements of Arab civilization until the Napoleonic invasion of 1798. It was printed at the Muḥammad Mustafa Press in Cairo in 1892.

Three Collections of Proverbs and Sayings

This printed book was published in 1883 at the famous Jawa’ib Press founded by the Arab printer, author, and journalist Ahmad Fāris al-Shidiyāq. As is often the case with early printed books, the publication itself has received more attention than the contents of the work. Jawa’ib Press was established in the Ottoman capital of Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1860 and operated for about 20 years publishing the newspaper al-Jawa’ib (begun in 1861) as well as more than 70 Arabic classics and tracts. Books were printed in runs of several thousand and distributed throughout the Empire. Like the progenitor of Ottoman printing, the ethnically Hungarian Ibrahim Müteferrika (circa 1670–1745), al-Shidiyāq came from outside the tightly structured expectations of the majority culture. Al-Jawa’ib Press belongs as much to Ottoman as to Arab cultural history. Largely neglected in academic research, al-Shidiyāq has recently received increased biographic, bibliographic, and literary attention. The three works in this volume are typical of collections of proverbs and “wisdom literature,” a genre that continues to occupy the popular and scholarly imagination. They are careful but not critical editions of manuscript originals, no doubt transcripts of works al-Shidyāq found in libraries in Istanbul or transcribed on his travels. Typical of works from this press, the volume is printed in a pleasing, readable format. There is an informative colophon giving production details. The three works contained in the volume are Amthal al-‘Arab (Arab proverbs) by Mufaḍḍal al-Dabbī, Asrar al-Hukama’ (Secrets of the wise) attributed to the famous calligrapher Yāqūt al-Mustaʻṣimī, and a collection of sayings and anecdotes from “the ancient philosophers,” notably Plato.

Discourse on Universal History

This work is a translation into Arabic of Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet’s history of the world, Discours sur l’histoire universelle (Discourse on universal history), in which the author argues for the divine right of kings. Bossuet’s book, originally published in 1681, is regarded as a classic statement defining the monarch as the embodiment of the state. Bossuet wrote the book for the benefit of the crown prince of France and based his argument on an interpretation of Biblical history. The work was translated by ‘Abd Allah al-Bustāni. It was commissioned for translation and publication by Bishop Yūsuf ibn Ilyās al-Dibs, primate of Lebanon and president of al-Da’irah al-‘Ilmiyah (The Scientific Society). It is difficult to understand why the bishop selected this work, since the political circumstances of the Ottoman Levant of the late-19th century differed radically from 17th century France. He may have endorsed it for its edifying content and judged it appropriate for teaching in schools under his authority. The work was printed at the Catholic Press in Beirut in 1882, which at the time was administered by Bishop al-Dibs. ‘Abd Allah al-Bustāni was a Maronite Catholic writer and teacher of Arabic. Little is known of Shakir al-‘Awn, whose name appears on the title page as co-translator.

Poetry Collection of Ṣafī al-Dīn al-Ḥilli

Scholars consider al-Hilli one of the leading poets of postclassical times, that is, the period following the fall of the Abbasid Empire in 1258. His Diwan (Collection of poems) is in 12 chapters, which cover a variety of personalities and occasions and recount in verse vignettes his travels with the Egyptian Mamluk ruler Qalāwūn (died 1290) on his campaign to Mardin in eastern Anatolia. The poems are preceded by an autobiographical note in saj’ (rhymed prose). Al-Hilli was a recognized master of all forms of classical and popular poetry as well as a theoretician of prosody and literary history. The present collection showcases the poet’s facility with numerous poetic forms and themes. The work was printed in Beirut in 1892 with support from Lebanese writer and journalist Nakhlah Qalfāṭ. It is not known who edited the text or what manuscripts were used in its preparation, but it seems likely that Qalfat, who had been a bookseller, might have financed publication because of his wide-ranging literary interests and appreciation for humor and satire, as many of the poems pertain to the enjoyments of life. The work was printed at al-Adab Press, which was owned by the teacher and author Amin al-Khuri. It is well printed, considering the irregularity of the stanzas and the need for careful vowel pointing.

Lanterns Burning for Students Discerning

This mid-19th century publication is a basic textbook of Arabic grammar and syntax. Originally written by Jirmānūs Farḥāt (circa 1670–1732), it was edited by the famous Lebanese teacher and scholar Buṭrus al-Bustānī. Jirmānūs, Maronite bishop of Aleppo, composed his work at a critical time in the history of the Maronite rite of the Catholic Church as it sought to develop a national identity. With the help of scholars and writers such as Jirmānūs, a solution was found in the Garshuni script, that is, the native Arabic of the Maronites rendered in Syriac script for works of liturgy and philosophy. Books in the Syriac language were translated into Arabic, but written in Syriac script, the resultant Syro-Arabic being called Garshuni or Karshuni. A century or so after Jirmānūs composed his grammar, al-Bustānī edited and published the text as a comprehensive Arabic textbook with only his own name appearing on the title page, although he is explicit in describing his work as a commentary on Jirmānūs’s original. As if to emphasize the 19th-century transition from Garshuni to Arabic script, the work introduces the Arabic alphabet and basic rules for vocalizing short vowels. Butrus al-Bustānī was one of the leading figures of the Arab renaissance of the 19th century. Like his contemporary Ahmad Fāris al-Shidyāq he searched for personal and cultural identity within Ottoman-Islamic society. Unlike al-Shidyāq, however, he converted to Protestantism rather than Islam, influenced no doubt by his contact with American missionaries in Beirut. This copy of Misbah al-Talib fi Bahth al-Matalib (Lanterns burning for students discerning) provides no publication information.