Arabic literature: what it is, history and literary development, characteristics, works and more


What is Arabic literature? 

We refer to Arabic literature to designate a series of literary works and productions that were written in the Arabic language from the 6th century onwards, among which the Qur’an is one of the most important and representative works. Thus, this section includes all the production, both in prose and verse, of those who speak the Arabic language, using the Arabic alphabet, and who received an important influence from the Muslim culture.

It is important to bear in mind that the appearance of Muhammad marks a before and after not only in the event itself, but also in the culture and specifically in the development of Arabic literature, since his birth determines the strength of Islam that will expand throughout the area, not only covering the need to spread the faith, but also expanding the horizons of writing to reach as many people as possible. Although it began in Arabia, it soon began to spread from Spain to China.

History and origin of Arabic literature

It is so called because arab refers to nobility, good education and courtesy, so that Arabic literature is usually associated with an element that was part of the educated classes. This begins to develop properly after the Koran and the arrival of Islam, which is installed as a monotheistic religion of the Arabs, which caused the language and themes of the works undergo a major transformation, among other things because it became essential to begin to expand the faith, which generates that more authors begin to write in the popular language to reach a greater number of people.

Moments before the writing of the Koran, as well as prior to the rise of Islam, was called the period of ignorance or Jahiliyya, a term assigned by Muslims to refer to an ignorance of a religious nature. That is why very little is known of Arabic literature at this time, which was reduced to a purely oral transmission that had records dating from the last decades of the sixth century.

In addition to this, writing expands its themes, creating a great variety of texts that could now be read by all these people, so that biographies, legends, philosophical writings and more emerge. However, this situation was a source of debate, especially between two groups that discuss the consolidation of Arabic literature from two moments. One group argues that Arabic literature can only be considered in the Golden Age, between the eighth and thirteenth centuries, the time of its greatest flourishing and literary production. The second argues that its development continued until the 13th century and that it was nourished by foreign influences.

Development of Arabic literature 

The development and production of what was considered public poetry, which was brought to the attention of the inhabitants, was subject to three determined objectives. The first of these is the panegyric, called madh. This consists of a kind of compliment addressed to the tribe, but essentially to its elders and in fact, such is its relevance that it manages to expand to consolidate itself as the most implemented.

Subsequently we find the opposite satire that receives the name hijā’, which was used in order to verbally refute the enemies. And finally we find the rithā’, which was used as a form of praise focused on the deceased.

What is Arabic literature

On the other hand, in Arabic literature we find an important variety of genres and subgenres implemented in literary development, among them the following stand out:


After the biography of Muhammad became known, a strong tendency began to continue with the writing of this type of text, starting with the travelers’ accounts. Undoubtedly, the biography was a fundamental format that allowed to extend a different vision of what represented the Islamic and Arab culture worldwide.


Another of the most common forms of information storage used in Arabic literature from 750 A.D. to 1258 A.D. are the compilations or compilations of texts that included ideas, instructive stories, advice and poems in one place.


In the beginning it was a record that had details about situations that had happened to the author but also to the environment that surrounded him, so it included a series of descriptions of events and it is with the passage of time that also begins to appear the ideas and thoughts of the writer.


In particular, in Arabic literature poetry is written that often included themes related to love, in which the lady to whom such a feeling was professed was exalted. This became one of the main references of poetry between the ninth and tenth centuries. In addition, within Arabic literature there are types of Arabic poetry organized as follows:


Addressed to rulers and dignitaries.


Focused on offering apologies.


Considered a reflection of the senses that delves into feelings and expression.


Also called pride, in it the poet takes pride in his provenance and origin, despite its prohibition within the religion.


The etymology of the term refers to a poem for compliments or compliments.


During the early development of Arabic literature there emerges a large production of epic and fictional literature that would be written in ammiyyah, the language of the general population and which allowed that when recited or written, the information could be in the knowledge of the majority of people.


This was a form of prose that followed the structure of rhyme. This poetic form allowed the author to relate fiction and reality, so that authors often wrote short, fictionalized narratives that occurred within real settings.

Dramatic genre

This is a genre that begins to make its presence felt in modern times in Arabic literature, however, some experts claim that an ancient tradition that worked in this genre had already been identified but had not been consolidated as such, so it was not registered.


In Arabic literature, what stood out most in poetry was the philosophical inclination of the texts, among which authors such as Ibn al-Nafis and Ibn Tufail stood out. Most of the texts influence images of the protagonists in relation to self-taught individuals inside caves, living in deserted places.

characteristics of Arabic literature

Main characteristics of Arabic literature

Among the most important features of the literature developed from Arabic using the Arabic alphabet, we find the following:

Provenance: one of the most important aspects of Arabic literature has to do with the fact that its first appearance comes from oral transmission, so that it was born in the nomads, travelers and shepherds of the spaces of the Arabian Peninsula,

Content: in its beginnings, Arabic literature contained in its poetry stories of past events.

Rhyme: another of the most important aspects has to do with the form and composition of the works, given that when each of the stories began to be recorded in writing, they evidenced that they took a unique pattern followed by a specific rhyme and metric.

Female figure: as authors, women will not be exposed until the 7th century, where the first female poets are known, among them Layla al-Akhyaliyyah and Al-Khansa. However, they manage to have a great participation as characters within the Arab literary production, where they often appear in warrior protagonists. However, later on, several relevant names will emerge in authorship in different literary genres representative of Arab literature.

Literary criticism: another of the fields that we cannot leave aside when reviewing Arab literature is literary criticism, which has been present since its beginnings. Thus, a large number of study texts were produced, especially on poetry with titles such as “Criticism of Poetry” and “Rules of Poetry”.

Influence and decline: the great expansion of Arabic literature allowed it to connect with a large number of peoples that had an important influence on its literary production and culture, including contact with the ancient Persian civilization in search of an Islamic cultural identity.

Main works and most important authors 

Among the main representatives of Arab literature we find Al-Jashiz, outstanding because in his works he used to include the art of life and the Persian influence, besides Abu Muhammad Abd-Allah, writer of secular literature who is dedicated to the artistic production of subjects related to literary criticism, theology and philology, there is also Al-Baladhuri who relates the Arab wars and conquests in Muhammad’s time, Ahmad al-Tifashi, who makes an anthology of 12 episodes of Arab poetry, one of the most important works of Arab literature.

On the other hand, we cannot leave aside the Koran, which becomes the most important literary source of all Arab culture and which determines, to a great extent, the development of Arab literature.