A spirited defense of Arab identity from a time of political unrest
In ninth-century Abbasid Baghdad, the social prestige attached to claims of Arab identity had begun to decline. In The Excellence of the Arabs, the celebrated litterateur Ibn Qutaybah locks horns with those members of his society who belittled Arabness and vaunted the glories of Persian heritage and culture. Instead, he upholds the status of Arabs and their heritage in the face of criticism and uncertainty.
The Excellence of the Arabs is in two parts. In the first, Arab Preeminence, which takes the form of an extended argument for Arab privilege, Ibn Qutaybah accuses his opponents of blasphemous envy. In the second, The Excellence of Arab Learning, he describes the fields of knowledge in which he believed pre-Islamic Arabians excelled, including knowledge of the stars, divination, horse husbandry, and poetry. By incorporating extensive excerpts from the poetic heritage“the archive of the Arabs”Ibn Qutaybah aims to demonstrate that poetry is itself sufficient evidence of Arab superiority.
Eloquent and forceful, The Excellence of the Arabs addresses a central question at a time of great social flux, at the dawn of classical Muslim civilization: What does it mean to be Arab?
About the Author
Ibn Qutaybah (d. 276/889) was a renowned judge and writer known for many influential works on a wide range of subjects, including Qur'anic exegesis, poetry and poetics, and statecraft.
Sarah Bowen Savant is Professor at The Aga Khan University, London, and the author of The New Muslims of Post-Conquest Iran.
Peter Webb is Lecturer in Arabic Literature and Culture at the University of Leiden and the author of Imagining the Arabs: Arab Identity and the Rise of Islam.
Jack Weatherford is the former DeWitt Wallace Professor of Anthropology at Macalester College. He is best known for his book Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World.
Table of Contents
Letter from the General Editor iii
Note on the Text xxx
Notes to the Introduction xxxii
Book 1 Arab Preeminence 1
Book 2 The Excellence of Arab Learning 97
Horse Husbandry 101
Augury, Lithomancy, Geomancy, and Soothsaying 115
Wisdom Poetry 145
Wisdom in the Prose and Rhyming Aphorisms of the Arabs 154
Further Reading 231
Index of Qur'anic Verses 234
About the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute 248
About the Translators 249
The Library of Arabic Literature 250