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Reading pre-modern Arabic Texts


****### Admission requirements

  • Students must have completed BA2 Arabic Literature;

  • Students wishing to take the course who have not completed BA2 Arabic Literature may join the course if their Arabic level is sufficient, this will be determined by the lecturer and prospective students must seek the lecturer’s consent before the beginning of the course.


This course has two goals: (i) to train students to read pre-modern Arabic literature (i.e. texts written before 1800) in their original Arabic; and (ii) to teach students how to use Arabic reference tools: such as pre-modern dictionaries, pre-modern geographical lexicons and biographical dictionaries.

The course is divided into three thematic parts. Part I studies texts of pre-modern travel literature; Part II studies religious-themed texts (fiqh and Sufi writing) and Part III covers poetry. Focus will be on reading and translating Arabic texts with added emphasis on teaching the tools students can use to better understand the Arabic literature.

Over its long literary history, the Arabic language developed, and texts which were considered ‘classics’ to medieval Muslims often included references and vocabulary that had become archaic or obscure. Medieval Muslims developed a rich literature of commentaries and lexicons to help make the old texts understandable, and the texts we will read in this class will be supplemented by such ancillary Arabic writings.

Students will learn how to use Arabic-Arabic dictionaries to explore the meanings of difficult words encountered, geographical dictionaries to look up place names mentioned in the literature, biographical dictionaries to learn about the people mentioned in the texts, and commentaries on poetry.

All the required Arabic texts will be posted on Blackboard.

Course objectives

Students will:

i) learn to read Arabic literary texts in their original language with the aid of a dictionary;
ii) develop their proficiency in Arabic and Arabic grammar;
iii) learn the skills necessary to use the commentary and ancillary literature;
iv) be able to start using pre-modern Arabic sources for research purposes; and
v) learn about the cultural practices and production in the pre-modern Muslim world.



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

140 hrs

Lectures/Seminar – 2 hours/week x 13 weeks = 26 hours
Study of Arabic texts for translation in class = 86 hours
Preparation of homework and poetry assignment = 28 hours

Assessment method


  • Participation

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

  • Homework Assignment

  • Preparation of poem for end of Semester Arabic Party

  • Exam


  • Participation: 10%

  • Vocabulary Tests: 20% -The tests will cover vocabulary encountered in the primary readings -There will be 4 tests, once every 3 weeks during the semester

  • Homework Assignment: 10%

  • Preparation of poem for end of Semester Arabic Party: 10%

  • Final exam: 50%

The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


Students who receive a failing grade will have an opportunity to retake the Exam; the exam re-sit date will be determined by the lecturer and count 50% towards the final grade.

Exam review

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


Blackboard ( will be used for:

  • All compulsory primary texts

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.
Young, Latham and Serjeant (eds), Religion, Learning and Science in the Abbasid Period. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990.
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

Registration Contractonderwijs
Course is not available as à la carte.


Haneen Omari


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).