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Arabic Literature


Admission requirements

MSA4, Teksten Arabisch 1, Media Arabic.
Test during first class (15%).


This course has two goals: (i) to introduce students to salient aspects of the development of Arabic literature from pre-Islam to the present day; and (ii) to train students to read the literature in its original Arabic.

We begin with the earliest recorded types of Arabic prose to explore the foundations from which Arabic literature developed. The course studies the Qur’an, hadith (traditions of the Prophet Muhammad and early Muslim community), and early Arabic translations of pre-Islamic Middle Eastern literatures. We then explore the main kinds of literary production in medieval Islam: adab prose, popular storytelling and poetry. The course closes with literature in the modern period, examining how prose and poetry ‘traditions’ responded and were changed through processes of ‘modernisation’.

Each week’s classes will begin with a short lecture related to the style and content of the primary texts assigned for the week’s reading. Students are also required to read one secondary reading in English for discussion of the lecture topic. The class will then read, translate and analyse the primary Arabic texts.

All required readings and the Arabic texts will be posted on Blackboard.

Course objectives

Students will:

i) learn the main genres of Arabic literature and their historical development;
ii) be introduced to modern scholarship on Arabic literature;
iii) learn to read Arabic literary texts in their original language with the aid of a dictionary;
iv) develop their proficiency in Arabic and Arabic grammar; and
v) be introduced to the fundamentals of pre-modern Arabic and practice reading pre-modern texts



Mode of instruction

Attendance and active participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to prepare for and attend all sessions. The convenors need to be informed without delay of any classes missed for a good reason (i.e. due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family issues, problems with residence permits, the Dutch railways in winter, etc.). In these cases it is up to the discretion of the convener(s) of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. The maximum of such absences during a semester is two. Being absent without notification and/or more than two times can result in exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

Course Load

Total course load: 140 hrs

  • Lectures/Seminar – 4 hours/week x 13 weeks = 52 hours

  • Study of Arabic texts for translation in class = 70 hours

  • Study of secondary literature and preparation of essay = 18 hours

Assessment method


  • Test

  • Participation

  • Essay, on a topic to be set by the convenor

  • Exam

To be allowed to sit for the essay and the exam, students must satisfy the following skills requirement throughout the course:

  • Vocabulary Tests The tests will cover vocabulary encountered in the primary readings There will be 3 tests, once every 4 weeks during the semester


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average:
Test 15%, participation 10%, essay 25% and exam 50%


There is no resit opportunity for the test, participation or essay. Students who do not receive a passing final mark may take a resit of the exam which will count again for 50%.

Exam review

If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will be organized.

Reading list

Students will receive a detailed week-by-week handout of the required readings at the beginning of the course.
The detailed syllabus and readings will also be available on Blackboard.

In preparation for the course, students may wish to consult the following:

  • Allen, Roger, The Arabic Literary Heritage. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005.

  • Badawi, M. M. (ed), Modern Arabic Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992.

  • Cachia, Pierre, Arabic Literature: an overview. London: Routledge, 2003.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in [English]) and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr. P.A. Webb