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date: 27 February 2024

Arabic Literary Theoryfree

Arabic Literary Theoryfree

  • Lara HarbLara HarbPrinceton University Department of Near Eastern Studies


The Arabic language has a rich history of literary criticism and theory, starting from the 8th century ce up to the 21st century. This literary criticism and theory engages with a poetic tradition that dates back to pre-Islamic times. The inquiry into literary quality was motivated by an interest in evaluating poetry, a general concern with eloquent speech, whether in verse or prose, and by the desire to articulate the beauty of the Quran. The transmission of Aristotle’s Poetics into Arabic also spurred interest in the poetic, particularly in Arabic philosophy. The study of eloquence crystallized into a standardized science by the 13th century ce, with branches focusing on (1) the role of syntax in literary beauty (the science of meanings); (2) simile, metaphor, and metonymy (the science of elucidation); and (3) rhetorical figures (the science of rhetorical figures).

The aesthetic developed in the early criticism of the 9th and 10th centuries was concerned with articulating the merits of an idealized classical style of pre-Islamic poetry, from which the “modern” poets of the early Abbasid period diverged. This classically oriented aesthetic was dominated by a concern with the truthfulness and naturalness of poetry, typical of the style of the “ancients,” on the one hand, and the limits of unrealistic imagery and affected artificiality, which characterized the more ornate modern Abbasid style, on the other. This binary outlook shifted after the 10th century, however, to an aesthetic of wonder. A theory of aesthetic experience began to develop, therefore, which was based on the ability of poetic language to evoke wonder in the recipient. As a result, wonder-enhancing characteristics such as strangeness, the unexpected, and the rare became essential components of aesthetic judgment. Moreover, the ability of language to make meaning manifest in ways that allow for an experience of discovery and hence wonder, became the foundation of aesthetic inquiry in post-10th century Arabic literary theory.


  • African Literatures
  • West Asian Literatures, including Middle East
  • Literary Theory
  • Poetry

A large body of Arabic texts that can be described as “literary theory” has come down to the modern world from the Islamic middle ages. While many remain in manuscript form scattered in libraries around the world, a substantial number is readily available in modern published critical editions. A much smaller portion, however, is available in English translation. Evaluative statements about poetry or prose can be found in many kinds of texts, which one would not necessarily describe as literary theory today. Nevertheless, the inquiry into poetic beauty and eloquence did develop into its own discipline, and by the 13th century, it became a standardized “science of eloquence.”1 Moreover, these critical works can reasonably be described as “theory” as they provide general principles that can explain aesthetic phenomena beyond the specific context of Arabic literature. The earliest extant works date from the late 8th century ce and the critical tradition continued in a more or less linear trajectory up to the 20th century. While modern Arabic theory is concerned with its literary history and “classical” heritage, the changes that took place in Arabic literature in the 20th century placed new demands on critics, altering the nature of Arabic criticism after the Nahḍa or the cultural “revival” movement of the late 19th century. These changes are too great to cover in this article, which focuses on classical Arabic literary theory.

Classical Arabic Literature

The subject matter of classical Arabic literary theory was first and foremost poetry, i.e., metered and rhymed verse. The Quran, and – on occasion – some prose writing and oratory, were also the subject of literary analysis. The earliest literary uses of the Arabic language date back to pre-Islamic Arabia, where by the 6th century ce, a highly developed poetic tradition had already been formed. Some of the earliest statements about the quality of poetry were pronounced in that period by judges at poetic competitions, which took place at the annual fair of ʿUkāẓ outside of Mecca. While initially a primarily oral tradition, this poetry began to be collected in anthologies in the first centuries after Islam. These anthologies in themselves already represent a system of aesthetic judgment. It is in this way that seven long pre-Islamic odes (sometimes ten, depending on the anthology), known as the muʿallaqāt (the suspended ones), came to be held in highest esteem.

As an Arabic writing culture began to develop after Muslim expansion to largely non-Arabic-speaking territories, pre-Islamic poetry came to represent a repository of pure Arabic, unadulterated by contact with other languages. It therefore garnered much attention from the burgeoning fields of lexicography and grammar.2 At the same time, pre-Islamic poetry came to represent an idealized “classical heritage” with which later poets had to contend. With the rise of the Abbasid Empire in the mid-8th century and the shift of the centers of cultural output to cities like Basra, Kufa, and Baghdad, the driving force behind literary production changed from a Bedouin tribal context to an urban patron-based system. Thus, many of the conventions and themes of old poetry had become outdated for the Abbasid poets. More importantly, with an established poetic canon in place and with a sentiment that the old poets had left nothing unsaid, the new poets were challenged with the task of making the old look new.3 Thus, a new style of poetry began to develop, spearheaded by the likes of Abū Nuwās (d. 813–815), the famous wine poet, whose poetry was seen as deviating from the ideals of the classical style. This new style, described as muḥdath (modern) at the time, was characterized by an increased use of rhetorical embellishment (badīʿ), more complex and abstractimagery, and a conscious engagement with an already established literary heritage.4

Two star poets of the 9th century came to represent the two different styles: The ideal classical style was best exemplified by the Syrian poet, al-Buḥturī (d. 897), who followed the manner of the “ancients” in his poetry. His older distant cousin of the same Ṭayyiʾ tribe, Abū Tammām (d. 846), came to represent the extremes of the new badīʿ style. About a century later, the Kufan poet, al-Mutanabbī (d. 965), took the new badīʿ style to another height. His poetry—and persona—earned him the description of “the poet who filled the world [with his fame] and occupied people [with his affairs].”5 These developments in poetry and the poets who forged them led to much discussion among literary critics about the merits and flaws of this modern style.

The beauty of the Quran was another major subject of discussion in the critical tradition. Neither poetry nor properly prose, the Quranic text was regarded as representing the highest level of linguistic beauty. In fact, it was so stunning that early Islamic historians report that its beauty alone was enough to make people embrace Islam.6 Its inimitable eloquence was regarded a miracle that could only have a divine origin and thus was evidence for Muhammad’s prophethood. Analyses of the eloquence of the Quran led to major developments in classical Arabic theories of aesthetic beauty.

As for prose, while some fragments of speeches from pre-Islamic times have been preserved, prose writing as such began to flourish within the first century after the spread of Islam. By the 8th and 9th centuries, a number of prose genres began to develop, including historical writing, oratory, and epistolary writing. A vibrant translation movement from Middle Persian, Syriac, and ancient Greek also made a large number of primarily philosophical and scientific ancient texts, as well as stories, such as the Fables of Bidpai (known in Arabic as Kalīla wa-Dimna), available in Arabic. A genre of anecdotal nonfiction, known as adab, started developing in this period as well, relating both stories about contemporary society and legends about pre-Islamic Arabia. Fictional works, such as the highly stylized genre of short anecdotes, known as the maqāmāt, the longer epic-like narratives, known as the sīra, as well as marvelous tales such as The Thousand and One Nights also come to form central components of the classical Arabic literary heritage.7

Nevertheless, prose per se did not enjoy the same attention from literary critics that poetry and the Quran did. Even when it did, such as in the case of the verbally ornate maqāmāt, critics and commentators were concerned with the same kinds of aspects that they discussed with regard to poetry and the Quran; that is, they were interested in language as a verbal art, not in narrative structures, for example. In fact, the overall structure of a literary work, whether a poem, chapter, story, or book as a whole, was rarely a concern for the critics.8 The focus of the discussion was generally on the intricacies of single phrases and images. Verses and short extracts were typically discussed independently outside of their original textual context. As a result, the subject of critical discussions could span different genres and forms, while the units of analysis remained the same.

Much of this literature would be recited and heard; thus medieval texts speak of the “listener,” not the reader or the spectator. Dramatic performance is attested in classical Arabic texts, and some shadow plays have survived from the 13th century.9 However, critical discussions did not extend to performance beyond, on occasion, that of the reciter of a poem or an orator.10 The spectacle of performance was not a main concern for critics, except when gesturing or the visual appearance of writing played a role in the poetic expression.11

Classical Arabic Literary Theory: Development and Parameters

The first four centuries after Islam, and in particular the 9th and 10th centuries, witnessed the birth of a critical tradition, which for the first time defined the parameters of analysis, developed technical terminology, and established the foundations of literary theory in Arabic. These pioneering attempts were wide-ranging and experimental, with terminology not yet clearly defined. This earlier period can be contrasted with the writings of later centuries, which had the luxury of building on and expanding their predecessors’ thinking. This albeit artificial boundary nevertheless does represent a boundary in the salient aesthetic criteria of evaluation, which shift from a predominantly classical aesthetic to an aesthetic of wonder. Geographically, the earlier authors tended to cluster around the main cities of the Abbasid Empire, including Baghdad, Basra, and Kufa. Later authors ranged in provenance from Andalusia to Bukhara, in present-day Uzbekistan. Despite the distance and the linguistic, religious, and ethnic diversity of the populations they came from, they all shared a common cultural heritage rooted in Arabic language and literature. Scholars who wrote criticism were often important poets themselves (though practically every educated person had a few verses to his name). However, they were also grammarians, Quranic exegetes, imams, judges, theologians, state officials, and philosophers.

One can identify different clusters of critical inquiry into literary quality in the 9th and 10th centuries, each driven by its own goals. (1) First, critics were concerned with poetry proper and became especially interested in establishing poetic standards, comparing the classical style of pre-Islamic poets with the modern style of the muḥdath poets. This “poetic” cluster focused primarily on rhetorical figures (badīʿ) and what constitutes a good meaning (maʿnā), on the one hand, and a good word choice (lafẓ), on the other. Although the study of poetic meter and rhyme developed into its own separate sciences of prosody (ʿilm al-ʿarūḍ) and rhyme (ʿilm al-qāfiya), meter and rhyme were often topics of discussion in treatises on poetry proper.12 (2) Medieval critics were also concerned with eloquence more broadly, whether expressed in the form of poetry or prose. This strand, which can be subsumed under the pivotal concept of bayān (elucidation), developed linguistic and semiotic theories, which added another angle of inquiry into literary theory, in particular with regard to the analysis of simile (tashbīh), figurative speech (majāz), metaphor (istiʿāra), and metonymy (kināya).13 (3) Closely related to works on eloquence and bayān were works concerned with the miraculousness of the Quran (iʿjāz). Since its inimitability was seen to rest (in part or in whole) in its eloquence, scholars of the Quran joined the critical tradition in identifying criteria of eloquence and poeticity. This “Quranic” cluster of works incorporated some aspects of the poetic but added to the discussion of meaning (maʿnā) and utterance (lafẓ), an examination of how the stringing together of utterances in a phrase affects meaning, something described as naẓm (sentence construction). Some of these three strands continued to develop independently after the 10th century. However, distinctions between them became imperceptible almost immediately. By the 13th century, the three approaches, with their unique foci, formed three branches of what became a comprehensive standardized “science of eloquence” (ʿilm al-balāgha). (4) Finally, the philosophers were also interested in defining poetic speech because of their engagement with Aristotle’s Poetics. Thisrepresents a fourth approach to literary theory. As they inherited from late antiquity a classification of the text as part of the Organon, Aristotle’s books on logic, the philosophers were concerned with making sense of poetic speech as a type of syllogism. This provided another take, particularly on simile and metaphor, as a means of attaining knowledge through logical reasoning. This approach, which began within philosophy proper in the 10th century, was subsequently taken up by some critics and applied to Arabic literary theory. This Aristotelian strand formed an approach distinct from the more dominant “science of eloquence,” with its own technical vocabulary drawn from philosophy. However, there is much overlap and cross-pollination. They both draw from a common cultural and literary well, after all, and look at the same aspects of speech. While their objectives and ways of describing literature may differ, the question underlying their inquiries is ultimately the same: what makes language poetic?

Poetic Criticism and Rhetorical Figures (Badīʿ)

The earliest works with critical remarks were not works of literary criticism proper. Nevertheless, they played a central role in forming the literary canon and thus the foundations of an ideal poetic model. Besides collecting old poetry in anthologies, early efforts of the late 8th and early 9th centuries focused on classifying poets based on various criteria, including merit. In addition to the implicit value judgement their classifications entail, works such as al-Aṣmaʿī’s (d. 828 or 831) Fuḥūlat al-shuʿarāʾ (The Master Poets) and Ibn Sallām al-Jumaḥī’s (d. 846) Ṭabaqāt fuḥūl al-shuʿarāʾ (The Classes of the Master Poets) constitute a treasure trove of opinions not only of the authors themselves, but of other authorities they cite. While these earlier classifications are limited to pre-Islamic and early Islamic poets, slightly later works, such as Ibn Qutayba’s (d. 889) al-Shiʿr wa-l-shuʿarāʾ (Poetry and Poets) and Ibn al-Muʿtazz’s (d. 908) Ṭabaqāt al-shuʿarāʾ (The Classes of Poets) begin to extend their corpus to include poets of the Abbasid era and representatives of the new style of poetry.

The earliest works rarely give much of an explanation for their ranking of poets beyond citing consensus among authorities. Ibn Qutayba, in his brief introduction to his work, however, begins to set general parameters of evaluation, distinguishing between the quality of meaning, on the one hand, and the beauty and ugliness of word-choice, on the other. Ibn al-Muʿtazz, himself a poet who was known for his modernist style, wrote another work entitled Kitāb al-badīʿ (The Book of Innovations), which came to constitute the first theoretical treatise to systematically classify the poetic devices that were deemed “innovations” (badīʿ) of the modern poets. These “innovations” which he identified amounted to rhetorical figures, which the word badīʿ henceforth came to denote. In defense of the new style of poetry, he sought to prove that the innovations of the muḥdath poets did not veer away from tradition, lending them legitimacy by providing copious examples of such figures from old poetry as well as the Quran and the prophet Muhammad’s sayings (ḥadīth). The breakthrough of this book was the identification and naming of these figures of speech, which at that point had not yet been classified. This began to establish a technical specialized vocabulary for literary criticism. Some of the figures he identified are familiar in Western traditions, such as metaphor, simile, and antithesis. Many, however, are less familiar, such as figures described as “feigned ignorance” (which entails an expression of amazement by pretending to not know), “affirming praise with what looks like blame,” and “having the end of a verse echo its beginning”. This list of around seventeen figures that Ibn al-Muʿtazz identified continued to develop and expand throughout the centuries to encompass ever more specific variations and new figures.14

With this foundation in place, 10th-century critics began to discuss in more depth the criteria for evaluating different aspects of poetry. Notable titles include Ibn Ṭabāṭabā’s (d. 934) ʿIyār al-shiʿr (The Standard of Poetry) and Qudāma ibn Jaʿfar’s (d. 948) Naqd al-shiʿr (The Assaying of Poetry). Works of applied criticism addressed the question of the new style head on by comparatively evaluating the poetry of the star poets of the 9th and 10th centuries. These include al-Āmidī’s (d. 980 or 981) multivolume work, al-Muwāzana bayn shiʿr Abī Tammām wa-l-Buḥturī (The Weighing of the Poetry of Abū Tammām and al-Buḥturī), and al-Qāḍī al-Jurjānī’s (d. 1001) al-Wasāṭa bayn al-Mutanabbī wa-khuṣūmih (The Mediation between al-Mutanabbī and His Opponents). As objective as these authors claimed to be, the framework itself of the discussion in the 10th century inevitably favored the classical style, which was praised for its naturalness, straightforwardness, and truthfulness. The new style, instead, was described as artificial, convoluted, far-fetched, and untruthful. Critics who favored the new style, in turn, defended it using the same framework. Thus, Abū Bakr al-Ṣūlī (d. 946), for example, accused its critics of not trying hard enough to understand the more abstract and complex poetry of the moderns.15 Others defended the value of falsehood in poetry, championing the use of hyperbole and fantastic imagery, which rendered the modern style “far-fetched” and “untruthful”. In describing the state of affairs, al-Marzūqī (d. 1030) explained that critics fell on a scale between two extremes: those who preferred truthfulness in poetry, and those who proclaimed that the best poetry is the most untruthful.16 It follows from this preference that one leans more toward natural poetry (maṭbūʿ) or an affected style (maṣnūʿ), respectively.17 The critical discourse therefore revolved around the degrees of falsehood and their acceptability, which in turn implied a person’s tolerance for artificiality. Generally, however, remaining close to realistic imagery was preferred, even among those critics, such as Qudāma ibn Jaʿfar, who famously defended falsehood in poetry.18

These 10th-century works culminated in the formulation of what came to be known as the “fundaments of poetry” (ʿamūd al-shiʿr). These were summarized by al-Marzūqī in seven points: (1) the nobility and correctness of the meaning and idea; (2) the eloquence and soundness of the wording; (3) the accuracy of the description; (4) the closeness of similes; (5) the congruity of the parts of the composition with each other and with the choice of meter; (6) the appropriateness of a word borrowed metaphorically for that for which it was borrowed; and (7) the harmony between the wording and the meaning, as well as its anticipation of the rhyme word.19 These fundaments formalized criteria of evaluation that were based on technical aspects of the craft, including meter and rhyme, practical linguistic considerations, such as the correctness, purity, and familiarity of the choice of words, and the appropriateness of meaning for a given purpose or against established convention. In addition, similes and metaphors should be close and appropriate, wording and meaning should be harmonious and naturally fitting the rhyme word. This scheme of evaluation was summarily one that held up the “correct” style of the ancients as the yardstick with which to measure poetry. Thus, the culmination of poetic criticism by the end of the 10th century was very much an expression of a classical aesthetic.

After the 10th century, the concern with the new style dwindled. Ibn Rashīq of Qayrawān (d. 10631064 or 1071) was one of the last critics to still address the question in his al-ʿUmda (The Foundation). However, works devoted to the classification of rhetorical figures continued to be written in the style of Ibn al-Muʿtazz for centuries to come, with ever-expanding lists due to increased specificity and new rhetorical innovations in poetry. Notable works in this tradition include Usama ibn al-Munqidh’s (d. 1188) Kitāb al-Badīʿ (The Book of Rhetorical Figures), Ibn Abī l-Iṣbaʿ’s (d. 1256) Taḥrīr al-taḥbīr fī ṣināʿat al-shiʿr wa-l-nathr (Explaining Embellishment in the Arts of Poetry and Prose), and ʿIzz al-Dīn al-Zanjānī’s (fl. mid. 13th century) Miʿyār al-nuẓẓār fī ʿulūm al-ashʿār (The Experts’ Criteria in the Poetic Sciences). Badīʿ was also regularly discussed in works on eloquence more broadly, as well as in works on the inimitability of the Quran, and it eventually came to form one of the branches of the standardized science of eloquence, known as ʿIlm al-badīʿ (the science of rhetorical figures).

In the 14th century, a new kind of poem, known as the badīʿiyya (the embellished one), was popularized by the Iraqi poet Ṣafī al-Dīn al-Ḥillī (d. c.1349) in which he sought to display his virtuosity in an otherwise religious poem in praise of the prophet Muḥammad, by employing all the various possible rhetorical figures. Al-Ḥillī’s own commentary on his poem served as a didactic work of rhetoric and established a genre of such auto-commentaries.20 One of the notable later works in this genre is ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī’s (d. 1731) auto-commentary entitled Nafaḥāt al-azhār (The Scents of Flowers), which lists 180 kinds of badīʿ.21

Eloquence and Semiotic Elucidation (Bayān)

From the very beginning, authors were also concerned with describing eloquence more broadly, whether in the form of verse, prose, or in the Quran. These authors were interested in understanding how meaning is made manifest, something they describe as bayān (lit. elucidation). The foundational efforts in this regard were advanced by al-Jāḥiẓ (d. 868–869) in his al-Bayān wa-l-tabyīn (Elucidation and Exposition). His all-encompassing approach had him discussing all matters that have the capacity to communicate meaning. Therefore, besides speech and writing, he included nonverbal forms of communication such as gestures, counting, and even objects as types of bayān.22 In the 10th century, Isḥāq ibn Wahb (d. after 946–947) provided a slightly modified classification of bayān in his Kitāb al-burhān fī wujūh al-bayān (The Book of the Demonstration of the Aspects of Bayān).23 He explained that meaning becomes manifest (1) in the essence of things through reflection; (2) in the heart through belief; (3) in speech through expression; and (4) in the book through writing.24 Eventually, works on eloquence focused primarily on bayān in speech, such as most notably in Kitāb al-ṣināʿatayn (The Book of the Two Arts) by Abū Hilāl al-ʿAskarī (d. after 1005), who saw himself building on al-Jāḥiẓ’s work on bayān.25

What is significant about this approach is that it looked at language from the perspective of how it communicates meaning. Literal and figurative forms of expression consequently became important topics of discussion in these works. In turn, this approach forged an understanding of figurative speech and other indirect forms of expression that is based on the capacity of such verbal forms to signify meaning. As a result, certain forms of poetic expression, which were otherwise treated as mere embellishments in poetic criticism, came to be treated from a semiotic perspective. In particular, simile (tashbīh), metaphor (istiʿāra), and metonymy (kināya) began to receive special treatment.

This semiotic “bayānī” approach to eloquence was greatly developed by ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī (d. 1078 or 1081) in his two seminal works, Asrār al-balāgha (The Secrets of Eloquence) and Dalāʾil al-iʿjāz (Signs of the Inimitability of the Quran).26 Al-Jurjānī argued that the relationship between a word as a “sound-image” (to borrow from modern semiotics) and the meaning it signifies is arbitrary. The beauty of words, therefore, cannot be in the way they sound, since this is something determined by linguistic convention and is not in the hands of the poet to control. There is nothing more eloquent in the fact that the word for “man” in Arabic is indicated with the utterance rajul, whereas in Persian the word for “man” is ādamī, al-Jurjānī argues.27 However, poets can influence how words signify their meaning if they express matters figuratively or implicitly. Such indirect signification can be achieved through some motivated relationship between a word’s lexical meaning and the intended meaning, something he calls the “meaning of meaning” (maʿnā al-maʿnā).28

This relationship could be one of similarity, in which case it is a metaphor. When one states, for example, “Here comes the lion,” in reference to a brave person, one implies that he is similar to a lion in his bravery. A word’s indirect meaning can also be motivated by a relationship of association, such as describing someone’s generosity by saying, “His hands abound with me (كثرت أياديه لديّ‎),” because of the association of the hand with giving. In this case, while it constitutes figurative speech (majāz), it is not a metaphor per se because it is not based on a relationship of similarity. Finally, a description can allude to something implicitly because it represents a consequence or a symptom of the intended meaning, something called kināya, which can loosely be translated as metonymy. An oft-cited example comes from a verse by the famed pre-Islamic poet, Imruʾ al-Qays (6th century), in which he describes his beloved as a woman who “sleeps in in the morning (نؤوم الضُّحى‎).” Her ability to be a late sleeper is a symptom of her aristocratic status: she has the luxury of being served, not needing to get up early to do chores. By describing her as such, therefore, the poet implies her social status through kināya without explicitly stating it. Al-Jurjānī and his successors make a point of emphasizing that kināya does not entail a figurative use of language because the symptom described is valid on a literal level. Nevertheless, it still represents a motivated form of expression because the intended meaning is still something other than the explicit meaning stated.

When using words correctly in terms of their lexical meaning, a poet is simply showing his proper knowledge of lexicography. However, a poet has the ability to play with the way words signify their meanings when he has their lexical meanings refer to other meanings. Such motivated ways of signifying meaning later came to form the subject of a second branch of the science of eloquence called the science of elucidation (ʿilm al-bayān). Significantly, this gives certain rhetorical figures, namely, metaphor and metonymy, a fundamental role in the expression of meaning and hence eloquence. Another figure that is later incorporated into the science of elucidation is simile. Al-Jurjānī, however, emphatically distinguished simile from metaphor and figurative speech and did not consider it among the figures whose meanings refer to other meanings.29 Its inclusion later in ʿilm al-bayān was generally justified for its forming the basis of metaphor.30 Nevertheless, both al-Jurjānī and later authors incorporated a detailed treatment of simile in their works from the perspective of how it “elucidates” meaning.

While the concept of bayān came to designate a specific area of study by the 13th century concerned with processes of figurative and implicit signification of words, early bayān works also began to investigate how syntax influences the communication of meaning. This interest in how words are strung together in a sentence, something described as naẓm (lit. the stringing of beads in a necklace), became a central concern for works on the miraculousness of the Quran (iʿjāz).31

Quranic Criticism and Sentence Construction (Naẓm)

The critical inquiry into what makes language poetic was also driven by the desire to articulate the beauty of the Quran. The inability of anyone to challenge the Quran by producing something like it was a sign for the early Muslim community of its miraculousness. Various theories explaining this failure to imitate the Quran were proposed, including, among others, the idea of ṣarfa (turning away or incapacitation), which held that there was nothing inimitable about the Quranic text per se, but that God blocked humans from being able to emulate it. Nevertheless, even those who located the causes of its inimitability elsewhere maintained that the Quran achieves a superior level of eloquence.32 Seeing that poetry was the highest example of eloquence in Arabic outside of the Quran, religious scholars were also interested in its analysis and participated in establishing standards of literary evaluation. As a result, works dedicated to the question of the inimitability of the Quran (iʿjāz) often engaged in extensive poetic criticism. What developed as a particular concern for the question of iʿjāz was naẓm, which one could loosely translate as linguistic composition or sentence construction. It is in the naẓm of the Quran where scholars ultimately located its inimitability.

Al-Jāḥiẓ already seems to have put forth the argument of naẓm in a now lost work entitled Fī l-iḥtijāj li-naẓm al-Qurʾān wa-salāmatihi min al-ziyāda wa-l-nuqṣān (The Argument for the Composition [Naẓm] of the Quran and Its Freedom from Superfluity and Deficiency). The earliest surviving treatises on iʿjāz from the 10th century also all ultimately prioritized composition, despite the variation in their approaches and organization of the material. Al-Rummānī (d. 994), in his al-Nukat fī iʿjāz al-Qurʾān (The Subtleties of the Inimitability of the Quran), divided eloquence into ten aspects, incorporating rhetorical figures such as paronomasia, as well as metaphor and simile, as central components of eloquence. However, in the end, he placed the Quran’s inimitability in its composition (taʾlīf).33 Al-Bāqillānī (d. 1013) also dedicated a large portion of his treatise, entitled Iʿjāz al-Qurʾān (The Inimitability of the Quran), to the iteration of the various figures of speech. However, although he acknowledged that badīʿ can add beauty to speech, he denied that it is what makes the Quran inimitable.34 Rather, he also argued that the uniqueness of the Quran’s eloquence lies in the consistent high quality of its sentence structures and composition (al-naẓm wa-l-taʾlīf).35 Sentence construction (naẓm) also formed a major component of al-Khaṭṭābī’s (d. 998) argument in his Bayān iʿjāz al-Qurʾān (Exposing the Inimitability of the Quran), the third major treatise from the 10th century addressing the question of the miraculousness of the Quran directly. Besides the beauty of words (lafẓ) and meanings (maʿnā), he emphasized the importance of the way in which words are strung together in a phrase (naẓm).36

These preliminary forays into the concept of naẓm were advanced considerably in the 11th century by ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī in his Dala’il al-i’jaz (The Signs of Inimitability). Following al-Khaṭṭābī, he emphasized that words and their meanings in and of themselves cannot be judged in isolation of the discourse for which they are employed. While individual words signify their specific meaning, it is only when they are put together in a sentence that one understands the relationship of the words with each other and the overall point of their use. Al-Jurjānī calls this overall understanding that is achieved through the totality of a construction the “image of meaning” (ṣūrat al-maʿnā).37 It is this final articulation of an idea and the form into which meaning is molded where a poet’s distinction should be assessed.

To illustrate this, al-Jurjānī famously compares poetry to goldsmithery. Just as a goldsmith shapes his raw material into, say, a ring, so does a poet shape his ideas into poetic speech. The same silver (or idea) can be molded in different ways. As craftsmen, the skill of the goldsmith or the poet lies in his shaping of the raw material or unarticulated idea. While the quality of the raw material can affect the beauty of the outcome, one assesses the poet as a poet from the aspect of his molding of his subject, not the quality of the material itself. Al-Jurjānī explains: “If we were to choose one ring over another because the quality of its silver is better or its gemstone is more precious, this preference would not be based on the ring as a ring. Likewise, if we were to choose one verse of poetry over another because of its meaning, the choice would not be based on a consideration [of the verse] as poetry or speech.”38

Espousing al-Jāḥiẓ’s famous declaration that “ideas are strewn on the road,” available for everyone for the taking, al-Jurjānī argued that it is how a poet expresses a given idea that distinguishes him, not the idea in and of itself.39 Following this formalist reasoning, he states that it is how the Quran articulates its message that is inimitable, not the message itself.40 Thus, while the truthfulness of the religion depended on believing in the miraculousness of the Quran, the proof of that miraculousness lay, for al-Jurjānī, in the aesthetic form of the Quran, not its content. The main component that shapes the articulation of content, for al-Jurjānī, is the way a sentence is constructed (naẓm).

Naẓm is not simply knowing the proper use of grammar. Anyone who knows Arabic can use grammar properly. That does not make him a poet. Rather it is knowing how syntax affects meaning or, as al-Jurjānī puts it: naẓm is “heeding the meanings of syntax.”41 Aspects of syntax that can affect meaning include such matters as the placement of objects and subjects in a sentence, the order of words, the use of particles and the refrainment thereof, the use of definite and indefinite words, and omission, among other linguistic and syntactical matters.42 The conscious manipulation of such structures can add emphasis, nuance, and even implicitly convey additional information.

For example, the placement of the object complement “partners” before mentioning the direct object “jinn” in the following Quranic verse conveys a specific meaning that any other order of words would not convey: “They made partners of God, the jinn” (وَجَعَلوا لِلَّهِ شُرَكاءَ الجِنَّ‎).43 Al-Jurjānī explains that this word order highlights the fact that what is problematic is that God was made to have partners, not that the partners were the jinn. If one were to say “they made the jinn partners of God,” the phrase suggests that the choice of partner is what is problematic, not the fact that they were made a partner in the first place.44 The grammatical role that each word plays remains the same. However, a simple manipulation of the order of words changes the meaning. As a result, beyond the choice of individual words, the construction of a sentence also participates in the construction of meaning. How words are strung together, therefore, plays a fundamental role in the final “image of meaning” a phrase articulates.

In later centuries, the study of naẓm developed into what became one of the main branches of the standardized science of eloquence known as “the science of meanings” (ʿilm al-maʿānī). What this branch looks at is precisely these nuances in meaning, which are conveyed through syntax.

The Science of Eloquence (ʿIlm al-Balāgha)

ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī made significant advancements in Arabic literary theory, and his two treatises on poetics and the miraculousness of the Quran, in turn, shaped the trajectory of the discipline for centuries to come. His successors organized their contents in various ways, starting with Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī’s (d. 1209) Nihāyat al-ījāz fī dirāyat al-iʿjāz (The Utmost Brevity in Understanding Inimitability). The most popular systematization of these ideas took place in the 13th century at the hand of al-Sakkākī (d. 1229) in his Miftāḥ al-ʿulūm (Key to the Sciences). This work, which besides eloquence covers all the literary sciences, including grammar, morphology, and prosody, along with al-Khāṭīb al-Qazwīnī’s (d. 1338) short and long commentaries on al-Sakkākī’s chapter on eloquence, form the basis of numerous super-commentaries up to the 20th century.45 They also represent the standardization of literary theory into a scholastic “science of eloquence” (ʿilm al-balāgha), which continues to be a part of madrasa curricula in the 21st century.

The science of eloquence identified and combined three main areas of inquiry, which were previously scattered across texts: (1) the “science of the meanings [of syntax]” (ʿilm al-maʿānī), which investigates how sentence structures communicate meaning; (2) the “science of elucidation” (ʿilm al-bayān), which investigates how words signify meanings figuratively and implicitly; and (3) the “science of rhetorical figures” (ʿilm al-badīʿ), which classifies the various “decorative” aspects of language.

The foundations of the science of meanings (ʿilm al-maʿānī) were established by al-Jurjānī in his inquiry into naẓm. However, al-Sakkākī and al-Khaṭīb al-Qazwīnī reconceptualized it by emphasizing a phrase’s correspondence to the demands of the context for which it was uttered, something they describe as muqtaḍā al-ḥāl (the requirements of the context). What al-Jurjānī had described as the “meanings of syntax” in his definition of naẓm, therefore, was later specified as “a correspondence with the requirements of the context.”46 The way a phrase is constructed, in other words, can imply something about the context. For example, while the two phrases “Abdallah is standing” or “actually, Abdallah is standing” ultimately convey the same general information about the state of Abdallah, they imply different states of assumed knowledge in the addressee. The first phrase, with its simple statement of the fact, implies an addressee with no particular knowledge about the situation. The second phrase, however, implies an addressee that has denied the situation. ʿIlm al-maʿānī proceeds to systematically and comprehensively map out the Arabic language and all the possible implications about the context various sentence structures can produce. Given this concern with language and context, this field of study is sometimes compared to pragmatics in modern linguistics.47

As for the science of elucidation (ʿilm al-bayān), al-Sakkākī and al-Khaṭīb al-Qazwīnī defined it as the science of “knowing how to convey the same meaning in different ways, by increasing the clarity in the way it is signified or decreasing it.”48 The clarity of a word’s signification cannot vary at the level of its lexical signification (al-dalālāt al-waḍʿiyya) as long as the listener is familiar with the word.49 Significations that the listener has to deduce through various associations, however, can be more or less clear in the way they indicate the intended secondary meaning, depending on the clarity or obscurity of these associations.50 This form of signification, which al-Jurjānī had previously designated as “the meaning of meaning,” was described in ʿilm al-bayān as “intellected signification” (dalāla ʿaqliyya).51 As a result, the so-called science of elucidation is not concerned with how meaning is elucidated directly through a word’s literal signification; rather it looks at the various ways in which meaning can be signified indirectly. The topics discussed under this science as a result cover tropicalallusive language and tropes, including figurative speech (majāz), which incorporates metaphor (istiʿāra), and metonymy or implied meaning (kināya). Because metaphor is a kind of intellected meaning that is based on similarity, simile became another standard topic addressed in ʿilm al-bayān.52

Finally, the rhetorical figures that form the subject of the third branch of the science of eloquence, ʿilm al-badīʿ, are described as “beautifying aspects of language,” which can embellish speech after the eloquent communication of the message is secured, that is, after considering the nuance of the sentence as a whole and its correspondence to the context (ʿilm al-maʿānī), and after considering the ways in which the words are made to signify their intended meaning (ʿilm al-bayān). In sum, sentence construction and the figurative and implicit employment of words are the main components of eloquence, which badīʿ figures beautify. Rhetorical devices were divided in this science into two kinds: those based on meaning (maʿnā), such as, for example, “disguising the intended meaning” (tawriya) or “fantastic etiology” (ḥusn al-taʿlīl), which entails giving a fantastic cause to explain the behavior of—typically—an inanimate object; and those based on words (lafẓ), such as paronomasia (tajnīs) and palindromes (qalb).

This classification of the aspects of eloquence was not the only one that existed in later criticism. Other schemes of organizing the material developed as well. One of the most notable examples presents itself in al-Mathal al-sāʾir (The Current Model), an important work written by Ibn al-Athīr (d. 1239), a contemporary of al-Sakkākī’s. His broad treatment of eloquence has an altogether different arrangement. While still covering more or less the same aspects of language discussed under the three branches of ʿilm al-balāgha, he treated them all under the rubric of bayān. He divides ʿilm al-bayān, in turn, into a craft based on words (ṣināʿa lafẓiyya) and another based on meaning (ṣināʿa maʿnawiyya). This division followed the schematization put forth by a contemporary of ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī’s by the name of Ibn Sinān al-Khafājī (d. 1074), who had also arranged his inquiry into eloquence by dividing linguistic elements on the basis of words and meanings in his Sirr al-faṣāḥa (The Secret of Articulateness). Nevertheless, despite the different taxonomies, the components of speech discussed remained the same.

Through all these efforts to describe eloquence and its components, a distinction began to be made between two levels of linguistic expression: articulateness (faṣāḥa) and eloquence (balāgha). Articulateness came to entail the correct use of syntax and vocabulary. Someone who is properly educated in grammar and lexicography can achieve this level. Eloquence, however, came to denote the level at which litterateurs and poets can outdo each other in the form of expression, and it is where the Quran’s distinction lies. Thus, balāgha is concerned with the beauty of linguistic expression given the proper use of language (faṣāḥa).

Aristotelian Arabic Poetics

The early Abbasid period witnessed a vibrant translation movement of literary and scientific texts from the cultures of the regions to which Islam had spread, including Greek philosophy.53 Among the works that were translated in that period was Aristotle’s Poetics, which entered into Arabic, along with the Rhetoric, as parts of the Organon, a classification inherited from late antiquity. As a result, philosophers were interested in the work and major commentaries were written on it by, namely, Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā, d. 1037) and Averroes (Ibn Rushd, d. 1198).54 However, due to the foreignness of the original text to them and the desire of the philosophers to make sense of the Poetics as part of logic, their approach is idiosyncratic, both with respect to contemporaneous Arabic literary criticism and to modern Western understandings of the Poetics. Aristotle, after all, was writing about the Greek dramatic genres of tragedy and comedy, in addition to epic poetry, which were unfamiliar to and different from Arabic literature. One translation of the terms, which Averroes famously adopted in his commentary, rendered tragedy and comedy as the Arabic genres of praise poetry and satirical invective.55 However, more significant than their mapping of Greek genres onto Arabic ones was their application of Aristotelian poetics to Arabic critical concepts.

The pivotal concept of mimesis (muḥākāt), which for Aristotle refers to the representation of life through plot and dramatic performance, was equated in Arabic philosophy with the poetic devices of simile and metaphor.56 Averroes even applies plot elements to simile and metaphor, such that recognition (anagnorisis), which is rendered “deduction” (istidlāl) in the Arabic commentaries, became the process of deducing or “discovering” the similarity between the two things compared in simile or metaphor and reversal (peripeteia) was understood as antithesis, namely, the juxtaposition of two antithetical metaphors.57

This application of mimesis to the poetic devices of simile and metaphor, which were otherwise treated in Arabic works on eloquence under the rubric of elucidation (bayān), was fitting for the philosophical understanding of poetic speech as a means of logical attainment of knowledge. The simile, and by extension the metaphor, lends itself well to syllogistic expression. Avicenna spells this out using a typical comparison in Arabic poetry of a handsome person to a moon: “If one says ‘so-and-so is a moon’ because he is fair of face, then one reasons as follows: so-and-so is fair of face; everyone who is fair of face is a moon; therefore so-and-so is a moon.”58 Nevertheless, Avicenna explains the kind of acknowledgment of the truth of the conclusion of a poetic syllogism as a “make-believe” one (takhyīl), sometimes described as “imaginative assent” in modern scholarship; whereas the other types of syllogism (demonstrative, dialectical, sophistic, and rhetorical) lead to various degrees of actual acknowledgment of the truthfulness of their conclusions (taṣdīq).59 He explains with regard to the moon simile: “If one accepts what is in this statement, then the conclusion must follow. The poet, however, does not really want this conclusion to be believed, even if he seems to, insofar as he is a poet; rather, his aim is to make one imagine the necessary conclusion as a result of the soul’s appreciation of the object of praise.”60 This concept of a “make-believe” acknowledgement of the truth of a syllogism, which was already proposed by al-Fārābī (d. 950) but then greatly developed by Avicenna, provided a new solution to the problem of fitting the Poetics into the logical sciences. Philosophers of late antiquity faced with the same problem proposed solutions that were based on a truth-scale, in which poetic syllogisms were considered absolutely false in contrast to the “absolute truth” of demonstrative ones.61 This shift to the characterization of the poetic syllogism as “make-believe” is significant as it emphasized poetry’s ability to evoke the imagination rather than its falsehood.

The philosophical approach was subsequently adopted by some literary critics and applied to Arabic poetry outside of a strictly philosophical program. These include, namely, the Andalusian rhetorician of Cartagena, Ḥāzim al-Qarṭājannī (d. 1285), in his Minhāj al-bulaghāʾ wa-sirāj al-udabāʾ (The Path of the Eloquent and the Light of the Lettered), and the Moroccan from Sijilmāsa, Abū Muḥammad al-Qāsim al-Sijilmāsī (d. c. 1330), in his al-Manzaʿ al-badīʿ fī tajnīs asālīb al-badīʿ (The Novel Trend in Classifying the Techniques of Literary Figures).62 These works represent a unique development in Arabic literary criticism distinctive for their adoption of technical philosophical terminology. This is especially evident in the way they use the term takhyīl (make-believe) and in their employment of the term muḥākāt (mimesis), which is otherwise almost never seen in Arabic literary theory. Nevertheless, they apply these concepts to the same aspects of language identified and discussed in non-Aristotelian Arabic literary theory. Their divergent description of eloquence and poeticity ultimately has more in common with other approaches to Arabic literary theory than with Aristotle’s Poetics. Moreover, the influence of Aristotelian (or rather Avicennan) poetics on Arabic literary theory is not limited to these texts, which adopt its terminology explicitly. Though the matter is debated, ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī’s works show signs of influence from philosophy.63 Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī’s writings, as well as al-Sakkākī’s, especially in his chapter on deduction (istidlal) in his Miftāḥ al-ʿulūm (Key to the Sciences), also betray close links to philosophy that have yet to be fully researched.64


The poetic critical tradition, with its focus on the innovations of the modern (muḥdath) style of poetry, in contrast to the ideal style of the ancients, culminated by the end of the 10th century with the establishment of a classical aesthetic. Besides the correct employment of good-sounding words, the adherence to conventional meanings and imagery, and the proper use of meter and rhyme, this—what one may term—“old school of criticism” based its evaluation of poetry on criteria of truthfulness and naturalness. The works on eloquence and the inimitability of the Quran from this early period were also influenced by this aesthetic.65 However, a different framing of literary quality began to emerge in philosophy and out of the bayān and Quranic critical traditions that looked at linguistic components from the perspective of how they elucidate meaning. Instead of focusing on the characteristics of the old style as opposed to the new, whose relative quality ultimately depended on personal preference for realistic or fantastic imagery, philosophy and works of bayān and iʿjāz started investigating what about eloquent language in general makes it beautiful. Significantly, this inquiry into literary beauty was linked with an emphasis on aesthetic experience.

From the very beginning, one finds statements that point to the emotional impact that poetic speech has on the soul. The Quran’s miraculousness was also evinced by the awe-inspiring impact it had on its listeners. As a result, the question of what makes language beautiful was rephrased as a question about what makes language moving to the soul; that is, what ways of conveying meaning through language can produce an emotional experience in the listener? This experience, which was variously described as pleasure, splendor, and joy, or simply as a “movement to the soul,” ultimately amounted to an experience of wonder. The characteristics of language they identified as leading to this experience of wonder were ultimately based on its ability to make the listener go through a process of discovery. The beauty of figures, including simile and metaphor, as well as rhetorical figures and sentence construction, came to be explained based on their ability to produce and delay the discovery of meaning. Moreover, characteristics of strangeness, obscurity, and farfetchedness that the old school criticized for their affectedness and untruthfulness were now legitimized within this new aesthetic framework precisely because of their ability to allow for an experience of discovery and, hence, wonder. This theory, which began to manifest itself after the 10th century mainly with ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī in his works on poetics and the inimitability of the Quran, but also in philosophy with Avicenna, can be said to represent a “new school of criticism.”66

Al-Jurjānī presents the principles of this aesthetic of wonder most elaborately in his extensive discussion of simile in his Asrār al-balāgha (The Secrets of Eloquence). The basis of this theory lies in an observation he makes about the source of pleasure: “The pleasure of the soul is based on being lifted from the hidden to the visible, being presented with the plain after the enigmatic, being moved from the known to the better and more intimately known.”67 This principle of—what one may call—“discovery” is rooted in the idea of bayān or elucidation. Significantly, al-Jurjānī attributes to it the very cause of pleasure arising from poetic language. Simile, he goes on to detail, is one way of presenting an idea that allows for such an experience of discovery to take place in the listener. He stipulates that the more effort is required to figure out the meaning of the comparison, the more rewarding is the experience of discovery: “It is human nature that if something is gained after searching, effort, and yearning, its attainment is more beautiful and pleasurable.”68 As a result, the less obvious a comparison is and the stranger and more unusual it is, the more effort is required to discover its meaning, and the more pleasurable it is. Al-Jurjānī defines strangeness in turn by linking it to the speed with which an image is comprehended:

The general cause of strangeness (gharāba) lies in the intended similarity being one that the mind does not reach quickly and which does not occur to the imagination immediately, but rather only after the soul’s analysis, recollection, and scrutiny of the images it knows and the activation of imagination in order to bring forth what has been hidden from it.69

As a result, the more a simile requires one to slow down and contemplate, the more beautiful it is.70 Later, as al-Jurjānī’s theories of comparison became formalized as part of ʿilm al-bayān, his successors classified the various aspects of simile and the nature of the things compared on the basis of their strangeness and familiarity, on the one hand, and their ability to enhance the experience of discovery, on the other.

The principle of discovery also formed the basis of the beauty of figurative speech, metaphor, and metonymy. These figures, which, as shown, were described as forms of indirectly signifying meaning, are inherently more beautiful than saying something directly. This is precisely because they allow for a process of discovery that a literal and explicit expression does not; the meaning is not handed to the listener in a straightforward way, but has to be deduced. Following the same reasoning used to describe the aesthetics of simile, the more effort is required to grasp the intended meaning of figurative and implicit forms of expression, the more beautiful they are. In the case of metaphor, this can be achieved through basing it on an unusual similarity between the literal and figurative meanings, or through the combination of several metaphors to create a more complex image. It can also be enhanced by masking its metaphorical status and treating it as if it were literally true, reinforcing the “make-believe” metaphoric claim.71 Similarly, with regard to meaning that is implied through kināya, the more steps are required to adduce this implied meaning, the more beautiful it is.72

The beauty of sentence construction (naẓm) was conceived of in a similar way. Syntax can convey further meaning implicitly. This added nuance that a sentence produces through its particular construction, in turn, has to be deduced by the listener or reader. Beauty arises from this experience of examination and subsequent discovery the listener goes through when grasping the meanings of syntax. These implicit meanings serve to make a statement correspond properly to the demands of the context. One can add even further nuance by making a sentence correspond to the context in ways that are contrary to expectation. This can produce certain effects such as sarcasm and wit. Here again, the further away the intended meaning of a phrase is from the basic information it communicates directly and the more the revelation of its full meaning is delayed through its particular construction, the more one is required to slow down and contemplate, increasing the reward of discovering the meaning.73

The underlying aesthetic of rhetorical figures (badīʿ) is also based on their ability to evoke wonder. Although the treatment of these forms of embellishment did not enjoy the same theoretical depth as that of bayān figures and sentence construction, many of the figures that were identified as badīʿ entail intrinsic linguistic structures of obscuration, deception, and trickery that lead to surprising and unexpected meanings once discovered. Al-Jurjānī attributes the beauty of paronomasia (tajnīs), for example, to the unexpected “added meaning despite the appearance of repetition.”74 Figures of disguise, such as tawriya (lit. disguising), play with the ambiguity of double meaning, misleading the listener to one meaning only for him to discover that the other meaning is intended. Even figures of distribution and symmetry, such as a figure known as laff wa-nashr (lit. rolling and unrolling), entail the presentation of information in ways that are less straightforward, and hence require more effort for their meaning to be discovered.75

This aesthetic of wonder is also evident in the interpretations of Aristotle’s Poetics in the Arabic context. The philosophers explicitly associate takhyīl (make-believe), the kind of acknowledgment of the truth of a poetic syllogism, with an experience of wonder. Avicenna describes this acknowledgement as a “compliance due to the wonder and pleasure that are caused by the speech itself.”76 While in Aristotle’s Poetics, wonder can result from plot elements such as anagnorisis and peripeteia, in the Arabic context, the wonder effect is analyzed as resulting primarily from simile and metaphor, which are equated in Arabic with mimesis. Like in non-Aristotelian Arabic theory, this wonder effect is attributed to the ability of these poetic devices to require deduction and allow for an experience of discovery in the listener, which both Avicenna and Averroes liken to learning.77 They also attribute the poeticity of metaphor to the strangeness with which it imbues speech.78 Averroes develops this idea further with the concept of “alteration” (taghyīr), which he considers the defining aspect of poetic speech. “Poetic speech is altered [speech],”79 he states, by which he means speech that is “put forth in an unusual way” through the use of badīʿ, similes and figurative speech, as well as unusual sentence constructions.80 Such alterations bestow speech with a strangeness that fills one with wonder, he explains in his commentary on the Rhetoric:

Just as the inhabitants of a town experience awe and reverence when seeing foreigners come upon them, so is the case with strange words when they happen upon the ears of the listener. Therefore, he who desires to succeed in these two arts [i.e., rhetoric and poetry] must make their speech strange. The beauty of altered words [. . .] depends on the degree of their strangeness.81

Though the philosophers approached literary criticism from a completely different perspective and were motivated by different factors than their contemporaries, the underlying parameters and aesthetic sensibility that guided their analysis of poetic speech and their interpretation of Aristotle’s Poetics were in agreement with those of the cultural context in which they lived.82

Influence and Aftermath

Arabic literature and criticism greatly influenced the development of the literary and critical traditions of other languages of the Middle East, including Persian, Hebrew, and Ottoman Turkish. The earliest critical works in Persian, for example, focused on badīʿ, following the Arabic model of classifying rhetorical figures. These include Rāduyānī’s (writing between 1088 and 1114) Tarjumān al-balāgha (The Interpretation of Eloquence), Rashīd al-Dīn Waṭwāṭ’s (d. 1177) Ḥadāʾiq al-siḥr fī daqāʾiq al-shiʿr (The Gardens of Magic in the Subtleties of Poetry), and Shams-e Qays’s al-Muʿjam fī maʿāyīr ashʿār al-ʿajam (The Compendium of the Standards of the Poetry of the Persians), written in 1232–1233, which also includes a discussion of Persian prosody. The philosophical engagement with Aristotle’s Poetics continued in Persian via Avicenna with Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī (d. 1274).83 The scholastic study of eloquence was also taken up in Persian in later centuries, namely, by Muḥammad Hādī Māzandarānī (d. 17211722) in his Anvār al-balāgha (The Lights of Eloquence).84 In 12th-century Andalusia, one also finds works applying Arabic badīʿ to Hebrew poetry, namely, Moses Ibn Ezra’s Kitāb al-muḥāḍara wa-l-mudhākara (The Book of Discussion and Conversation).85 Maimonides also deals with Aristotle’s Poetics as part of his treatise on logic, along the lines of Islamic philosophy.86 The science of eloquence continued to be taught in schools all over the Middle East under the Ottoman Empire. Adaptations of the system first established by al-Sakkākī and al-Khaṭīb al-Qazwīnī were produced in Ottoman Turkish, including İsmâil Ankaravî’s (d. 1631), Miftâhu’l-belâga ve misbâhu’l-fesâha (The Key to Eloquence and the Light of Articulateness), and Cevdet Paşa’s Belâgat-ı Osmâniyye (Ottoman Rhetoric), published in 1881.

Despite the persistent importance of the Arabic literary tradition in the region in the 20th century, modern Arabic literature started to look very different from its classical heritage. With the drastic changes in the political and literary landscapes the Middle East witnessed in modern times, the focus of Arabic literary theory shifted to new concerns, not least of which was the question of how to negotiate the relationship with its rich literary tradition while seeking to modernize.87

Discussion of the Literature

Modern scholarship on classical Arabic literary theory has focused on phenomena, specific terms and poetic devices, and individual authors, as well as providing comprehensive overviews. The phenomena studied have included the questions of truth and falsehood in poetry, originality and influence, naturalness and artificiality, appropriateness of utterances and ideas, grammatical correctness, and the unity and structure of a poem as a whole.88 Scholars have also focused on specific literary terms and analyzed their usage and signification in different disciplines and over time, including key concepts such as majāz (figurative language), takhyīl (image evocation and make-believe imagery), and metaphor.89 Finally, besides studies on specific authors, several valuable surveys have been published giving historical overviews of medieval Arabic literary theory and criticism and its development.90

The focus of this scholarship has tended to be on the first five centuries after Islam. As a result, the aftermath of the developments in the 11th century were not always followed through on. It is, therefore, not uncommon to come across statements in 20th-century scholarship that deem classical Arabic criticism “traditionalist” and “resistant to innovation.” The standardization of the study of eloquence into a science in the 13th century also tends to be viewed as an ossification of literary theory, resulting in the dismissal of centuries of commentaries as unworthy of study. This is a symptom of broader tendencies in the field to focus on the “golden age” of the Abbasid era and dismiss the study of later centuries, which are sometimes described as “post-classical,” “decadent,” and “stagnant.” Luckily, this is changing in the field at large, particularly with the recent efforts of Thomas Bauer and Muhsin al-Musawi and their students.

Besides the question of traditionalism and ossification, another topic of discussion in the field has centered on what has been described as the “atomistic” or “molecular” nature of Arabic literary criticism. Modern scholars have puzzled over the focus of the Arabic critical tradition on aspects of poetry, which rarely go beyond the single phrase or verse. Geert Jan van Gelder has provided a comprehensive overview of all the discussions of larger poetic structures in classical works, which, while minimal, do exist in the tradition.91 Wolfhart Heinrichs laments, in a famous article entitled “Literary Theory and the Problem of Its Efficiency,” that classical Arabic literary criticism failed to describe Arabic poetry comprehensively, be it with regard to the understanding of complex structures that exceed the single line, recognizing the history of literary development, or accounting for nontraditional poetic genres, such as Sufi poetry.92 The premises of this judgment have been criticized.93 Moreover, recent scholarship has also begun to highlight the sophistication of the molecular nature of Arabic literary theory, something that was all too often dismissed in 20th-century scholarship as mere taxonomy.

Another approach that has shaped modern scholarship on Arabic literary theory has been the tendency to separate the strands or clusters of classical theory. Thus, iʿjāz is often studied in isolation as its own phenomenon, as is the Aristotelian tradition. While the technical terminology and goals of each strand differ, there is much overlap and more consistency in their conceptions of the poetic than these differences let on.

Primary Sources (in Translation)

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  • Cantarino, Vicente. Arabic Poetics in the Golden Age: Selection of Texts Accompanied by a Preliminary Study. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1975. (Various selections)
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  • Dahiyat, Ismail M. Avicenna’s Commentary on the Poetics of Aristotle: A Critical Study with an Annotated Translation of the Text. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1974.
  • al-Fārābī and Arberry, A. J. “Fārābī’s Canons of Poetry.” Rivista Degli Studi Orientali 17 (1938): 266–278.
  • van Gelder, Geert Jan. Classical Arabic Literature: A Library of Arabic Literature Anthology. Library of Arabic literature. New York: New York University Press, 2013. (Selections from Ibn Rashīq, 277–280; and ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī, 281–296.)
  • van Gelder, Geert Jan, and Marlé Hammond, eds. Takhyīl: The Imaginary in Classical Arabic Poetics. Cambridge, UK: Gibb Memorial Trust, 2008. (Various selections)
  • von Grunebaum, G. E. A Tenth-Century Document of Arabic Literary Theory and Criticism: The Sections on Poetry of Bâqillânî’s Iʿjâz al-Qurʾân. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1950.
  • Ibn Rushd. Averroes’ Three Short Commentaries on Aristotle’s “Topics,” “Rhetoric,” and “Poetics” (Jawāmiʿ li-kutub Arisṭūṭālīs fī l-jadal wa-l-khaṭāba wa-l-shiʿr). Edited and translated by Charles E. Butterworth. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1977.
  • Ibn Rushd. Averroes’ Middle Commentary on Aristotle’s Poetics. Translated by Charles E. Butterworth. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986.
  • al-Jurjāni, ʿAbd al-Qāhir. Die Geheimnisse der Wortkunst (Asrār al-balāgha) des ʿAbdalqāhir al-Jurjānī. Translated by Hellmut Ritter. Wiesbaden, Germany: In Kommission bei Franz Steiner, 1959. (German)
  • al-Jurjānī, ʿAbd al-Qāhir. Les signes d’inimitabilite en grammaire de l’expression. Translated by Hrazem Rachad. Tanger, Morocco: Université Abdelmalik Essaâdi, École supérieure Roi Fahd de traduction, 2006. (French translation of Dalāʾil al-iʿjāz)
  • al-Khattabi, al-Rummani, and ʿAbd al-Qāhir Jurjānī. Three Treatises on the Iʿjaz of the Qur’an: Qur’anic Studies and Literary Criticism. Translated by Issa J. Boullata. Edited by Muḥammad Khalaf Allāh Aḥmad and Muḥammad Zaghlūl Sallām. Reading, UK: Garnett, 2014.
  • Mehren, A. F. Die Rhetorik der Araber. Copenhagen: Verlag Von Otto Schwartz, 1853. (A summary in German of the sciences of bayān and badīʿ based on al-Khaṭīb al-Qazwīnī’s Talkhīṣ)
  • Simon, Udo Gerald. Mittelalterliche arabische Sprachbetrachtung zwischen Grammatik und Rhetorik: ʿilm al-maʿānī bei as-Sakkākī. Heidelberg, Germany: Heidelberger Orientverlag, 1993, 57–350. (German translation of the section on the “science of meanings” in al-Sakkākī’s Miftāḥ)
  • al-Ṣūlī, Muḥammad ibn Yaḥyā. The Life and Times of Abū Tammām. Translated by Beatrice Gruendler. Library of Arabic Literature. New York: New York University Press, 2015.

Further Reading

  • ʿAbbās, Iḥsān. Tārīkh al-naqd al-adabī ʿinda al-ʿArab: naqd al-shiʿr min al-qarn al-thānī ḥattā al-qarn al-thāmin al-hijrī. Amman, Jordan: Dār al-Shurūq li-l-Nashr wa-al-Tawzīʿ, 1993.
  • Abu Deeb, Kamal. al-Jurjānī’s Theory of Poetic Imagery. Warminster, UK: Aris & Phillips, 1979.
  • Abu Deeb, Kamal. “Literary Criticism.” In ʿAbbasid belles-lettres, edited by Julia Ashtiany, T. M. Johnstone, J. D. Latham, R. B. Serjeant, and G. Rex Smith, 339–387. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
  • Ajami, Mansour. The Neckveins of Winter: The Controversy over Natural and Artificial Poetry in Medieval Arabic Literary Criticism. Studies in Arabic literature. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1984.
  • Ajami, Mansour. The Alchemy of Glory: The Dialectic of Truthfulness and Untruthfulness in Medieval Arabic Literary Criticism. Washington, DC: Three Continents Press, 1988.
  • Bonebakker, Seeger Adrianus. “Aspects of the History of Literary Rhetoric and Poetics in Arabic Literature.” Viator 1 (1970): 75–95.
  • Bonebakker, Seeger Adrianus. “Poets and Critics in the Third Century A.H.” In Logic in Classical Islamic Culture, edited by G. E. Von Grunebaum, 85–111. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1970.
  • Hamarneh, Walid. “The Reception of Aristotle’s Theory of Poetry in Arab-Islamic Medieval Thought.” In Poetics East and West, edited by Milena Doleželová-Velingerová, 183–201. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Toronto Semiotic Circle, Victoria College in the University of Toronto, 1989.
  • Hamarneh, Walid. “Arabic Theory and Criticism.” In The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism, edited by Michael Gorden, Martin Kreiswirth, and Imre Szeman, 55–62. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.
  • Harb, Lara. Arabic Poetics: Aesthetic Experience in Classical Arabic Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  • Heinrichs, Wolfhart. Arabische Dichtung und Griechische Poetik: Ḥāzim al-Qarṭāǧannīs Grundlegung der Poetik mit Hilfe Aristotelischer Begriffe. Beirut, Lebanon: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1969.
  • Heinrichs, Wolfhart. The Hand of the Northwind: Opinions on Metaphor and the Early Meaning of Istiʿāra in Arabic Poetics. Abhandlungen für die Kunde des Morgenlandes. Wiesbaden, Germany: Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft, Kommissionsverlag Franz Steiner, 1977.
  • Key, Alexander (ed.). ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī [Special issue]. Journal of Abbasid Studies 5, no. 1–2 (August 2018).
  • Key, Alexander. Language between God and the Poets: Maʿnā in the Eleventh Century. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2018.
  • Larkin, Margaret. The Theology of Meaning: ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī’s Theory of Discourse. New Haven, CT: American Oriental Society, 1995.
  • Ouyang, Wen-chin. Literary Criticism in Medieval Arabic-Islamic Culture: The Making of a Tradition. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997.
  • Puerta Vílchez, José Miguel. Aesthetics in Arabic Thought: From Pre-Islamic Arabia through al-Andalus. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2017.
  • Van Gelder, Geert Jan. Beyond the Line: Classical Arabic Literary Critics on the Coherence and Unity of the Poem. Studies in Arabic Literature. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1982.


  • 1. For an evaluation of classical Arabic literary criticism as a discipline, see Wen-chin Ouyang, Literary Criticism in Medieval Arabic-Islamic Culture: The Making of a Tradition (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997).

  • 2. On the rise of a writing culture in the early Abbasid period, see Gregor Schoeler, The Genesis of Literature in Islam: From the Aural to the Read, ed. and trans. Shawkat M. Toorawa, rev. ed. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Press, 2009).

  • 3. Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad Ibn Ṭabāṭabā, ʿIyār al-shiʿr, ed. ʿAbbās ʿAbd al-Sātir (Beirut, Lebanon: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 1982), 15.

  • 4. On the modern style, see Stefan Sperl, Mannerism in Arabic Poetry: A Structural Analysis of Selected Texts (3rd century AH/9th century AD–5th century AH/11th century AD) (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989); Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych, Abū Tammām and the Poetics of the ʿAbbāsid Age (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1991); and Huda J. Fakhreddine, Metapoesis in the Arabic Tradition: From Modernists to Muḥdathūn (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2015).

  • 5. Ibn Rashīq al-Qayrawānī, al-ʿUmda fī maḥāsin al-shiʿr wa-ādābih wa-naqdih, ed. Muḥammad Muḥyiddīn ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd, 5th ed., 2 vols. (Beirut, Lebanon: Dār al-Jīl, 1981), I, 100.

  • 6. On the beauty of the Quran and the history of its aesthetic reception, see Navid Kermani, God Is Beautiful: The Aesthetic Experience of the Quran, trans. Tony Crawford (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2015).

  • 7. For an introductory overview of Arabic literature, see Roger Allen, An Introduction to Arabic Literature (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000). For a good snapshot of classical Arabic literature, see translated selections in G. J. H. van Gelder, Classical Arabic Literature: A Library of Arabic Literature Anthology (New York: New York University Press, 2013).

  • 8. The dearth of critical discussion of larger structures did not mean that such unifying structures did not exist in classical Arabic poems. While narrative was not generally a structuring device for poems, scholars have pointed out various other unifying structures, such as ring composition (Michael Zwettler, The Oral Tradition of Classical Arabic Poetry: Its Character and Implications [Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1978]; James Monroe, “Oral Composition in Pre-Islamic Poetry,” Journal of Arabic Literature 3 [1972]: 1–53); structuralist theories highlighting binary oppositions (Adnan Haydar, “The Muʿallaqa of Imruʾ al-Qays: Its Structure and Meaning, I,” Edebiyat 2, no. 2 [1977]: 227–261; Kamal Abu Deeb, “Towards a Structural Analysis of Pre-Islamic Poetry,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 6, no. 2 [1975]: 148–184; and Stefan Sperl, Mannerism in Arabic Poetry); and anthropological theories which explain Arabic poems’ structures in terms of rites of passage (Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych, The Mute Immortals Speak: A Pre-Islamic Poetry and the Poetics of Ritual [Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993]). Moreover, there was some discussion of transitions and sequence of themes in the critical tradition, something van Gelder has outlined comprehensively in Beyond the Line: Classical Arabic Literary Critics on the Coherence and Unity of the Poem (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1982).

  • 9. Li Guo, The Performing Arts in Medieval Islam: Shadow Play and Popular Poetry in Ibn Daniyal’s Mamluk Cairo (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2012); and Shmuel Moreh, Live Theatre and Dramatic Literature in the Medieval Arab World (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1992).

  • 10. For a discussion of the role of performance, particularly in praise poetry, see Beatrice Gruendler, “Abbasid Praise Poetry in Light of Dramatic Discourse and Speech Act Theory,” in Understanding Near Eastern Literatures: A Spectrum of Interdisciplinary Approaches, ed. Verena Klemm and Beatrice Gruendler (Wiesbaden, Germany: Reichert Verlag, 2000).

  • 11. References to these are rare, however. See Lara Harb, “Beyond the Known Limits: Ibn Dāwūd al-Isfahānī’s Chapter on ‘Intermedial’ Poetry,” in Arabic Humanities, Islamic Thought: A Festschrift for Everett K Rowson, ed. Shawkat Toorawa and Joseph Lowry (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2017).

  • 12. On discussions of phonetic, metrical, and rhyme practices in classical Arabic poetry, see Geert Jan van Gelder, Sound and Sense in Classical Arabic Poetry (Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2012).

  • 13. Each of these terms has a complex history in classical Arabic literary theory. Their correspondence to English terms is not exact. For a quick reference, see entries on majāz, istiʿāra, and kināya in the Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics, ed. Kees Versteegh et al. (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2005–2009).

  • 14. For a list of the standard Arabic rhetorical figures with definitions in English, see Wolfhart Heinrichs, “Rhetorical Figures,” in Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature, ed. Julie Scott Meisami and Paul Starkey (London: Routledge, 1998), 656–662.

  • 15. See al-Ṣūlī’s defense of Abū Tammām in his letter to Abū l-Layth Muzāḥim ibn Fātik published in: Abū Bakr al-Ṣūlī, Akhbār Abī Tammām, ed. Muḥammad ʿAbduh ʿAzzām, Khalīl Maḥmūd ʿAsākir, and Naẓīr al-Islām al-Hindī, 3rd ed. (Beirut, Lebanon: Dār al-Āfāq al-Jadīda, 1980), 1–56; and see translation in The Life and Times of Abū Tammām, trans. Beatrice Gruendler (New York: New York University Press, 2015).

  • 16. Abū ʿAlī Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Marzūqī, Sharḥ Dīwān al-Ḥamāsa, ed. Aḥmad Amīn and ʿAbd al-Salām Hārūn (Beirut, Lebanon: Dār al-Jīl, 1991), I, 11–12.

  • 17. al-Marzūqī, Sharḥ Dīwān al-Ḥamāsa, I, 12.

  • 18. For Qudāma’s espousal of the idea that “the best poetry is the most untruthful,” see Qudāma ibn Jaʿfar, Naqd al-shiʿr, ed. Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Munʿim Khafājī (Beirut, Lebanon: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 2004), 94. For his qualification of this position, see Qudāma ibn Jaʿfar, Naqd al-shiʿr, 201–202. For more on the question of truthfulness and falsehood in poetry, see Wolfhart Heinrichs, Mubālagha, in Encyclopedia of Islam, ed. P. Bearman, T. Bianquis, C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, and W. P. Heinrichs, 2nd ed. (Brill Online, 2012); J. Christoph Bürgel, “Die beste Dichtung ist die lügenreichste: Wesen und Bedeutung eines literarischen Streites des Arabischen Mittelalters im Lichte komparatistischer Betrachtung,” Oriens 23–24 (1974): 7–102; and Mansour Ajami, The Alchemy of Glory: The Dialectic of Truthfulness and Untruthfulness in Medieval Arabic Literary Criticism (Washington, DC: Three Continents Press, 1988).

  • 19. al-Marzūqī, Sharḥ Dīwān al-Ḥamāsa, I, 9–10.

  • 20. Geert Jan van Gelder, Badīʿiyya, in Encyclopaedia of Islam, ed. Gudrun Krämer Kate Fleet, Denis Matringe, John Nawas, and Everett Rowson, 3rd ed. (Brill Online, 2009).

  • 21. A summary of the work in translation can be found in Pierre Cachia, The Arch Rhetorician or the Schemer’s Skimmer: A Handbook of Late Arabic badīʿ drawn from ʿAbd al-Ghanī an-Nābulsī’s Nafaḥāt al-azhār ʿalā nasamāt al-asḥār (Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1998).

  • 22. al-Jāḥiẓ, al-Bayān wa-l-tabyīn, ed. ʿAbd al-Salām Hārūn, 7th ed., 4 vols. (Cairo: Maktabat al-Khānjī, 1998), 76. For an overview of al-Jāḥiẓ’s understanding of bayān see Badawī Ṭabāna, al-Bayān al-ʿArabī: dirāsa fī taṭawwur al-fikra al-balāghiyya ʿinda al-ʿArab wa-manāhijihā wa-maṣādirihā al-kubrā (Cairo: Maktabat al-Anjlū al-Miṣrīyah), 54–62. See also Yasir Suleiman, “Bayān as a Principle of Taxonomy: Linguistic Elements in Jāḥiẓ’s Thinking,” in Studies on Arabia in Honour of Professor G Rex Smith, ed. J. F. Healey and V. Porter (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 273–295.

  • 23. Isḥāq ibn Wahb’s book was mistakenly attributed to Qudāma ibn Jaʿfar and published as the latter’s work under the title Naqd al-Nathr (Qudāma ibn Jaʿfar, Naqd al-nathr [or: Kitāb al-burhān fī wujūh al-bayān], ed. Taha Hussein and A.H. al-ʿAbbādī [Cairo, 1933]). Newer accurate editions have since been published, including Isḥāq Ibn Wahb, al-Burhān fī wujūh al-bayān, ed. Aḥmad Maṭlūb and Khadīja al-Ḥadīthī (Baghdad, Iraq: Baghdad University, 1967).

  • 24. Isḥāq Ibn Wahb, al-Burhān fī wujūh al-bayān, 56.

  • 25. See Abū Hilāl al-ʿAskarī, Kitāb al-ṣināʿatayn, ed. ʿAlī Muḥammad al-Bijāwī and Muḥammad Abū l-Faḍl Ibrāhīm (Cairo: ʿĪsā al-Bābī al-Ḥalabī, 1952), 5.

  • 26. The 11th-century scholar, ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī, is not to be confused with the 10th-century critic, al-Qāḍī al-Jurjānī, who authored al-Wasāṭa bayn al-Mutanabbī wa-khuṣūmih (The Mediation between al-Mutanabbī and His Opponents).

  • 27. ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī, Dalāʾil al-iʿjāz, ed. Maḥmūd Muḥammad Shākir, 5th ed. (Cairo: Maktabat al-Khānjī, 2004), 44.

  • 28. Al-Jurjānī, Dalāʾil al-iʿjāz, 263.

  • 29. Lara Harb, “Form, Content, and the Inimitability of the Qurʾān in ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī’s Works,” Middle Eastern Literatures 18, no. 3 (2015): 301–321.

  • 30. See al-Sakkākī, Miftāḥ al-ʿulūm, ed. ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd Hindāwī (Beirut, Lebanon: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 2000); al-Qazwīnī, al-Īḍāḥ fī ʿulūm al-balāgha (Beirut, Lebanon: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 2003), 216.

  • 31. For this comparison, see Abū Hilāl al-ʿAskarī, Kitāb al-ṣināʿatayn, ed. Muḥammad Amīn al-Khānjī (Cairo: Maṭbaʿat Maḥmūd Bek, 1902), 120.

  • 32. While initially the idea of ṣarfa seemed to negate other theories about the Quran being inimitable in its eloquence, later theologians, such as al-Rummānī, do not consider the theories of ṣarfa and inimitability mutually exclusive and cite both as proofs of the miraculousness of the Quran. See al-Rummānī, al-Nukat fī iʿjāz al-Qurʾān, in Thalāth rasāʾil fī iʿjāz al-Qurʾān, ed. Muḥammad Khalaf Allāh and Muḥammad Zaghlūl Sallām (Cairo: Dār al-Maʿārif, 1976), 75. Other aspects of iʿjāz discussed by medieval authors also include the Quran’s revelation of unknown ancient events of the past, as well as the comprehensiveness of the laws it contains (Maḥmūd al-Sayyid Shaykhūn, al-Iʿjāz fī naẓm al-Qurʾān [Cairo: Maktabat al-Kulliyyāt al-Azhariyya, 1978], 24). Scientific iʿjāz also comes to be discussed in later centuries. See Naʿīm al-Ḥimṣī, Fikrat iʿjāz al-Qurʾān min al-baʿtha al-nabawiyya ilā ʿaṣrinā al-ḥāḍir, 2nd ed. (Beirut, Lebanon: Muʾassasat al-risāla, 1980), 91, and 98–99, who credits the 11th-century theologian, al-Ghazālī, with having started the idea of scientific iʿjāz.

  • 33. al-Rummānī, al-Nukat fī iʿjāz al-Qurʾān, 107. It is worth noting that al-Rummānī discusses composition under the heading of “bayān,” showing how broadly the term is employed in this early period. For a translation, see Three Treatises on the Iʿjaz of the Qur’an: Qur’anic Studies and Literary Criticism, ed. Muḥammad Khalaf Allāh Aḥmad and Muḥammad Zaghlūl Sallām, trans. Issa J. Boullata (Reading, UK: Garnett, 2014), 54–92. See summary of al-Rummānī’s text in Andrew Rippin and Jan Knappert, eds., Textual Sources for the Study of Islam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 49–59.

  • 34. Al-Bāqillānī, Iʿjāz al-Qurʾān, ed. al-Sayyid Aḥmad Ṣaqr (Cairo: Dār al-Maʿārif, 1954), 161–162 and 416–418. Nevertheless, al-Bāqillānī goes to great lengths to describe the various badīʿ figures found in poetry and the Quran alike and acknowledges their beautifying effect (Al-Bāqillānī, Iʿjāz al-Qurʾān, 106–170). See G. E. von Grunebaum, A Tenth-Century Document of Arabic Literary Theory and Criticism: The Sections on Poetry of Bâqillânî’s Iʿjâz al-Qurʾân (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1950) for a translation of the relevant sections on rhetorical figures. However, he did already treat metaphor differently from other literary figures and acknowledged its role in rendering the Quran inimitable (Al-Bāqillānī, Iʿjāz al-Qurʾān, 430).

  • 35. Al-Bāqillānī, Iʿjāz al-Qurʾān, 75. On consistency of eloquence throughout the Quran, see Al-Bāqillānī, Iʿjāz al-Qurʾān, 54–55. Besides its eloquence, al-Bāqillānī also cites as evidence of the miraculousness of the Quran the following: the true predictions contained in it and the fact that the Prophet was illiterate and could not have known all the information conveyed in it about the past were it not for Divine instruction (Al-Bāqillānī, Iʿjāz al-Qurʾān, 48–51). Al-Bāqillānī also looks at the novelty of the Quran as a genre that does not fit any of the existing poetic or literary forms of the time: it is neither poetry nor prose (Al-Bāqillānī, Iʿjāz al-Qurʾān, 51ff).

  • 36. al-Khaṭṭābī, Bayān iʿjāz al-Qurʾān, in Thalāth rasāʾil fī iʿjāz al-Qurʾān, ed. Muḥammad Khalaf Allāh and Muḥammad Zaghlūl Sallām (Cairo: Dār al-Maʿārif, 1976), 36.

  • 37. The word ṣūra can mean “image, form, [or] shape” (A. J. Wensinck and T. Fahd, Ṣūra, in Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd ed). Abu Deeb translates the term “ṣūrat al-maʿna” as “the image of meaning” (al-Jurjānī’s Theory of Poetic Imagery [Warminster, UK: Aris & Phillips, 1979], 52). Larkin, who takes into account the meaning of the term ṣūra in kalām and philosophy prefers to render it “form” or “shape” (The Theology of Meaning: “Abd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī“s Theory of Discourse [New Haven, CT: American Oriental Society, 1995], 110–111). Thus, ṣūrat al-maʿnā could also be translated as “the form of meaning” or “the shape of meaning.”

  • 38. Al-Jurjānī, Dalāʾil al-iʿjāz, 254–255.

  • 39. Al-Jāḥiẓ, Kitāb al-ḥayawān, ed. ʿAbd al-Salām Hārūn (Beirut, Lebanon: Dār al-Jīl, 1996), III, 131–132.

  • 40. Al-Jurjānī, Dalāʾil al-iʿjāz, 257.

  • 41. Al-Jurjānī, Dalāʾil al-iʿjāz, 425.

  • 42. For an overview of naẓm according to al-Jurjānī, see Max Weisweiler, “ʿAbdalqāhir al-Curcānī’s Werk über die Unnachahmlichkeit des Korans und seine syntaktisch-stilistischen Lehren,” Oriens 11, no. 1–2 (1958): 77–121.

  • 43. Quran 6:100. The accusative case ending in Arabic makes it clear that the word Jinn is another object, not a subject.

  • 44. Al-Jurjānī, Dalāʾil al-iʿjāz, 286–288.

  • 45. For a description of the commentary tradition, see William Smyth, “Controversy in a Tradition of Commentary: The Academic Legacy of al-Sakkākī’s Miftāḥ al-ʿulūm,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 112, no. 4 (1992): 7–24; Aḥmad Maṭlūb, al-Qazwīnī wa-shurūḥ al-talkhīṣ (Baghdad, Iraq: Maktabat al-Nahḍa, 1967); and R. Sellheim, Materialien zur arabischen Literaturgeschichte, 2 vols. (Wiesbaden, Germany: Franz Steiner, 1976, 1987), Part I, 299–334, and Part II, 260–284.

  • 46. al-Khaṭīb al-Qazwīnī explicitly equates naẓm with the correspondence with the context in al-Īḍāḥ fī ʿulūm al-balāgha (Beirut, Lebanon: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 2003), 12.

  • 47. See especially the work of Pierre Larcher, including “Arabic Linguistic Tradition II: Pragmatics,” in The Oxford Handbook of Arabic Linguistics, ed. Jonathan Owens (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 185–212; and “Une pragmatique avant la pragmatique: ‘médiévale’, ‘arabe’ et ‘islamique.’” Histoire Epistémologie Langage 20, no. 1 (1998): 101–116. See also Muhammad M. Yunis Ali’s work on linguistics in the Islamic context in general, including Medieval Islamic Pragmatics: Sunni Legal Theorists’ Models of Textual Communication (Surrey, UK: Curzon, 2000). For studies of ʿilm al-maʿānī, see Udo Gerald Simon, Mittelalterliche arabische Sprachbetrachtung zwischen Grammatik und Rhetorik: ʿilm al-maʿānī bei as-Sakkākī (Heidelberg, Germany: Heidelberger Orientverlag, 1993); and Herbjørn Jenssen, The Subtleties and Secrets of the Arabic Language: Preliminary Investigations into al-Qazwīnī’s Talkhīṣ al-Miftāḥ (Bergen, Norway: Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, 1998).

  • 48. Abū Yaʿqūb al-Sakkākī, Miftāḥ al-ʿulūm, ed. ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd Hindāwī (Beirut, Lebanon: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 2000), 249. Al-Khaṭīb al-Qazwīnī’s definition is similar. (al-Īḍāḥ, 215.)

  • 49. The lexical signification (al-dalāla al-waḍʿiyya) is a signification by correspondence (dalālat muṭābaqa). (al-Sakkākī, al-Miftāḥ, 437; al-Khaṭīb al-Qazwīnī, al-Īḍāḥ, 215.) This conception of language and signification as well as the terminology are clearly derived from Arabic philosophy. See, for example, Avicenna’s definition of the relationship between a word and its signification in al-Ishārāt wa-l-tanbīhāt, ed. Sulaymān Dunyā (Cairo: Dār al-Maʿārif, 1960), 187.

  • 50. al-Sakkākī, al-Miftāḥ, 437. See also Smyth’s detailed explanation of the various levels of signification in William Smyth, “The Canonical Formulation of ʿIlm al-Balāghah and al-Sakkākī’s Miftāḥ al-ʿUlūm,” Der Islam 72 (1995): 15–21.

  • 51. William Smyth’s translation of ʿaqlī (through the mind) as “intellected” best conveys the reasoning required in the mind to get to such secondary meanings of a word, which leads al-Sakkākī to describe them as such. (“The Canonical Formulation,” 17).

  • 52. Whether simile can be considered a form of signification is a matter that was debated. Al-Jurjānī, for example, excludes that possibility and relegates simile to the realm of meanings and ideas, not signifying words (Harb, “Form, Content, and the Inimitability of the Qurʾān”). However, other critics, namely, al-Taftāzānī (d. 1390), gave it a significatory function as well (al-Muṭawwal fī sharḥ Talkhīṣ Miftāḥ al-ʿulūm, ed. ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd Hindāwī [Beirut, Lebanon: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿilmiyya, 1971], 515). For a discussion of simile as indirect signification, Harb, Arabic Poetics, 200–201.

  • 53. On the translation movement in the early Abbasid period, see Dimitri Gutas, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture: The Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement in Baghdada and Early ʿAbbāsid Society (2nd-4th/8th–10th centuries) (London: Routledge, 1998).

  • 54. Ibn Sīnā, al-Shifāʾ, al-Manṭiq, 9. al-Shiʿr., ed. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Badawī (Cairo: al-Dār al-miṣriyya li-l-taʾlīf wa-l-tarjama, 1966); trans. Ismail M. Dahiyat, Avicenna’s Commentary on the Poetics of Aristotle: A Critical Study with an Annotated Translation of the Text (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1974). Ibn Rushd, Talkhīṣ kitāb al-shiʿr (Cairo: Markaz Taḥqīq al-Turāth, 1986); trans. Charles E. Butterworth, Averroes’ Middle Commentary on Aristotle’s Poetics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986). Three short treatises on the Poetics by al-Fārābī (d. 950), Ibn Sīnā’s predecessor, have also survived: (1) Al-Fārābī and Muḥsin Mahdī, “Kitāb al-shiʿr,” Shiʿr 12 (1959); also published as Jawāmiʿ al-shiʿr in al-Fārābī, “Jawāmiʿ al-shiʿr (Kitāb al-shiʿr),” in Talkhīs kitāb arisṭuṭālis fī al-shiʿr, ed. Muḥammad Salīm Sālim (Cairo: Maṭābiʿ al-ahrām al-tijāriyya, 1971), 171–175; trans. Geert Jan van Gelder and Marlé Hammond, eds. Takhyīl: The Imaginary in Classical Arabic Poetics (Cambridge, UK: Gibb Memorial Trust, 2008), 15–18. (2) A. J. al-Fārābī and Arberry, “Fārābī’s Canons of Poetry,” Rivista Degli Studi Orientali 17 (1938): 266–278 (includes edition and translation); Arabic text also published in ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Badawī, Fann al-shiʿr (Cairo: Maktabat al-Nahḍa al-Miṣriyya, 1953), 149–158. (3) al-Fārābī, “Qawl al-Fārābi fī l-tanāsub wa-l-taʾlīf,” in al-Manṭiqiyyāt lil-Fārābī, ed. Muḥammad Taqī Dānish Pazhūh (Qum, Iran: Manshūrāt Maktabat Āyatullah al-ʿUẓmā al-Marʿashī al-Najafī, 1987), I, 504–506.

  • 55. This is the case in the notoriously problematic translation of Abū Bishr Mattā ibn Yūnus, published in D. S. Margoliouth, Analecta orientalia ad poeticam aristoteleam (Hildesheim, Germany: G. Olms, 2000). Other translations existed as well, which, however, have not survived. See O. J. Schrier, “The Syriac and Arabic Versions of Aristotle’s Poetics,” in The Ancient Tradition in Christian and Islamic Hellenism, ed. G. Endress and R. Kruk (Leiden, The Netherlands: Research School CNWS, 1997). It is worth noting that Avicenna does not adopt Abū Bishr’s translations and maintains the Greek terms in transliterated form in his commentary.

  • 56. In his commentary on the Poetics, Avicenna states that muḥākāt in poetic speech is of three types: “simile (tashbīh), metaphor (istiʿāra), and a combination of the two” (Ibn Sīnā, al-Shiʿr, 36; see trans. Dahiyat, Avicenna’s Commentary, 76). Averroes follows Avicenna’s definition, but more generally includes the idea of “substitution” (ibdāl), which, besides metaphor, also incorporates metonymy (kināya) (Ibn Rushd, Talkhīṣ kitāb Arisṭūṭālis fī l-shiʿr, ed. Muḥammad Salīm Sālim [Cairo: Maṭābiʿ al-ahrām al-tijāriyya, 1971], 54–56; see trans. Butterworth, Averroes’ Middle Commentary, 60–62). The word muḥākāt is often rendered “imitation” in the English translations of the Arabic commentaries. This is a problematic translation not only for the Arabic term, the meaning of which is closer to “comparison” than imitation, but also for the Greek term, as Stephen Halliwell has pointed out in The Aesthetics of Mimesis: Ancient Texts and Modern Problems (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), 13.

  • 57. Ibn Rushd, Kitāb al-shiʿr, 81; see trans. Butterworth, Averroes’ Middle Commentary, 88.

  • 58. Ibn Sīnā, al-Shifāʾ, al-Manṭiq 4: al-Qiyās, ed. Ibrāhīm Madkūr and Saʿīd Zāyid (Cairo: al-Hayʾa al-ʿĀmma li-Shuʾūn al-Maṭābiʿ al-Amīriyya, 1964), 57. On the poetic syllogism, see Gregor Schoeler, “Der poetische Syllogismus: Ein Beitrag zum Verständnis der ‘logischen’ Poetik der Araber,” in Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 133 (1983): 43–91; and “The ‘Poetic Syllogism’ Revisited,” Oriens 41 (2013): 1–26.

  • 59. Deborah Black, Logic and Aristotle’s “Rhetoric” and “Poetics” in Medieval Arabic Philosophy (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1990). Heinrichs provides a useful chart of the various types of syllogisms, their truth values, and their “mental results” in “Takhyīl: Make-Believe and Image Creation in Arabic Literary Theory,” in Takhyīl: The Imaginary in Classical Arabic Poetics, ed. Geert Jan van Gelder and Marlé Hammond (Cambridge, UK: Gibb Memorial Trust, 2008), 5.

  • 60. Ibn Sīnā, al-Qiyās, 57.

  • 61. See Black, Logic and Aristotle’s “Rhetoric” and “Poetics”. The connection between poetry and make-believe seems to even go back to late antiquity, as evidenced by a text by Paul the Persian (6th century), which, however, has only survived in a later Arabic transmission by Miskawayh (d. 1030). (See Dimitri Gutas, “Paul the Persian on the Classification of the Parts of Aristotle’s Philosophy: A Milestone between Alexandria and Bagdâd.” Der Islam 60 (1983): 231–267. Nevertheless, while both Paul the Persian and al-Fārābī discuss the image-evoking and make-believe aspects of poetry, they both also associate poetic speech with absolute falsehood, a classification that is later rejected by Avicenna. (See Ibn Sīnā, al-Qiyās, 4).

  • 62. On al-Qarṭājannī and the legacy of Aristotelian Arabic poetics, see Wolfhart Heinrichs, Arabische Dichtung und Griechische Poetik: Ḥāzim al-Qarṭāǧannīs Grundlegung der Poetik mit Hilfe Aristotelischer Begriffe (Beirut, Lebanon: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1969).

  • 63. See Taha Hussein, “al-Bayān al-ʿArabī min al-Jāḥiẓ ilā ʿAbd al-Qāhir,” in Naqd al-nathr, ed. Taha Hussein and A. H. al-ʿAbbādī (Cairo: al-Maṭbaʿa al-Amīriyya, 1941), 1–32; Larkin, Theology of Meaning, 144ff; Abu Deeb, Poetic Imagery, 303–322; Abu Deeb “Al-Jurjānī’s Classification of Istiʿāra with Special Reference to Aristotle’s Classification of Metaphor,” Journal of Arabic Literature 2 (1971): 48–75; and Alexander Key, Language between God and the Poets: Maʿnā in the Eleventh Century (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2018), chaps. 6 and 7.

  • 64. al-Sakkākī, al-Miftāḥ, 544–616. Shukrī al-Mabkhūt makes an interesting attempt to apply syllogistic deduction to ʿilm al-maʿānī, but he does not engage with al-Sakkākī’s chapter on istidlāl (al-Istidlāl al-balāghī [Tunis, Tunisia: Dār al-maʿrifa, 2006]). Manuela E. B. Giolfo and Wilfrid Hodges have looked at al-Sakkākī’s chapter on istidlāl but from the perspective of logic and not with respect to how it would apply, practically speaking, to eloquence (“The System of the Sciences of the Arabic Language by al-Sakkākī: Logic as a Complement of Rhetoric,” in Approaches to the History and Dialectology of Arabic in Honor of Pierre Larcher, ed. Manuel Sartori, Manuela E. B. Giolfo, and Philippe Cassuto [Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2017]). On the influence of philosophy on Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, a predecessor of al-Sakkākī’s, see Balqis Al-Karaki, “The Poetic Syllogism in Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī’s Nihāyat al-ījāz fī dirāyat al-iʿjāz,” Mélanges de l’Université Saint-Joseph, 67 (2017–2018): 127–155.

  • 65. The classical aesthetics bleed into bayān and iʿjāz works. Abū Hilāl al-ʿAskarī, for example, emphasizes the importance of closeness between the two things compared in a simile, a classical preference (Kitāb al-ṣināʿatayn, 198.) This attitude changes to its opposite with al-Jurjānī. Al-Bāqillānī’s criticism of Imru’ al-Qays’ and al-Buḥturī’s celebrated poems also reflects a classical aesthetic that is based on truthfulness and naturalness (Iʿjāz al-Qurʾān, 158–182 and 219–241, respectively; trans. Von Grunebaum, A Tenth-Century Document, 57–111).

  • 66. For a presentation of this shift in aesthetics, see Lara Harb, Arabic Poetics: Aesthetic Experience in Classical Arabic Literature (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2020).

  • 67. ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī, Asrār al-balāgha, ed. Hellmut Ritter (Istanbul: Government Press, 1954), 108.

  • 68. al-Jurjānī, Asrār al-balāgha, 126.

  • 69. al-Jurjānī, Asrār al-balāgha, 144.

  • 70. al-Jurjānī, Asrār al-balāgha, 147.

  • 71. This is a technique al-Jurjānī discusses under a rubric of make-believe imagery he calls takhyīl (al-Jurjānī, Asrār al-balāgha, 279–281). Later authors describe it as a form of fostering or development (tarshīḥ) of the metaphor that reinforces it (al-Sakkākī, al-Miftāḥ, 494; al-Khaṭīb al-Qazwīnī, al-Īḍāḥ, 308).

  • 72. See al-Sakkākī, al-Miftāḥ, 515; al-Khaṭīb al-Qazwīnī, al-Īḍāḥ, 333; and Harb, Arabic Poetics, chap. 4.

  • 73. See Harb, Arabic Poetics, chap. 5.

  • 74. Al-Jurjānī, Asrār al-balāgha, 17.

  • 75. See Harb, Arabic Poetics, chap. 1.

  • 76. Ibn Sīnā, al-Shiʿr, 24; see trans. Dahiyat, Avicenna’s Commentary, 63.

  • 77. Ibn Sīnā, al-Shifāʾ, al-Manṭiq 8: al-Khaṭāba, ed. Muḥammad Salīm Sālim (Cairo: al-Maṭbaʿa al-Amīriyya, 1954), 103; Ibn Rushd, Talkhīṣ al-khaṭāba, ed. Muḥammad Salīm Sālim (Cairo: Al-Majlis al-Aʿlā li-l-Shuʾūn al-Islāmiyya, 1967), 187.

  • 78. Ibn Sīnā, al-Khaṭāba, 203; Ibn Rushd, Talkhīṣ al-khaṭāba, 541.

  • 79. Ibn Rushd, Kitāb al-shiʿr, 121. (Emphasis added) See trans. Butterworth, Averroes’ Middle Commentary, 130.

  • 80. Ibn Rushd, Kitāb al-shiʿr, 121–125; trans. Butterworth, Averroes’ Middle Commentary, 130–134.

  • 81. Ibn Rushd, Talkhīṣ al-khaṭāba, 541.

  • 82. For more on Aristotelian Arabic Poetics and the aesthetic of wonder, see Harb, Arabic Poetics, chap. 2.

  • 83. On Naṣir-e Ṭūsī’s treatment of poetics, see Justine Landau, “Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī and Poetic Imagination in the Arabic and Persian Philosophical Tradition,” in Metaphor and Imagery in Persian Poetry, ed. Ali Asghar Seyed-Gohrab (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2012). See also Justine Landau, De rythme et de raison. Lecture croisée de deux traités de poétique persans du XIIIe siècle (Paris: Presses de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2013).

  • 84. For an overview of early Persian literary theory, see Natalia Chalisova, “Persian Rhetoric: Elm-e Badiʿ and Elm-e Bayân,” in General Introduction to Persian Literature, ed. Ehsan Yarshater and J. T. P. de Bruijn, A History of Persian Literature (London: I. B. Tauris, 2009). For later engagements with ʿilm al-balāgha in Persian, see Daniela Meneghini, Bayān in Persian, in Encyclopaedia of Islam, ed. Gudrun Krämer Kate Fleet, Denis Matringe, John Nawas, Everett Rowson, 3rd ed. (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2015).

  • 85. Moses Ibn Ezra, Kitāb al-Muḥāḍara wa-l-mudhākara: Sefer ha-ʻiyunim we-ha-diyyunim, ed. and trans. Avraham Shelomoh Halkin (Jerusalem: Mekitse Nirdamim, 1975); and Mordechai Z. Cohen, “Moses Ibn Ezra vs. Maimonides: Argument for a Poetic Definition of Metaphor (Istiʿāra),” Edebiyat 11 (2000).

  • 86. Maqāla fī ṣināʿat al-manṭiq (Treatise on Logic), ed. I. Efros. Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 34: 155–160. Also, ed. and trans. Israel Efros, Maimonides’ Treatise on Logic: The Original Arabic and Three Hebrew Translations (New York: American Academy for Jewish Research, 1938).

  • 87. For a brief overview of modern Arabic criticism, see Pierre Cachia, “The Critics,” in Modern Arabic Literature, ed. M. M. Badawi, The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 417–442.

  • 88. On truth and falsehood in poetry, see J. Christoph Bürgel, “Die Beste Dichtung ist Die Lügenreichste”; and Ajami, Alchemy. See also Key’s analysis of ḥaqīqa (truthfulness and accurateness) in Language between God and the Poets. On originality and influence, see Gustave E. Von Grunebaum, “The Concept of Plagiarism in Arabic Theory,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 3, no. 4 (1944); Heinrichs, Arabische Dichtung, 82–99. On naturalness and artificiality, see Mansour Ajami, The Neckveins of Winter: The Controversy over Natural and Artificial Poetry in Medieval Arabic Literary Criticism (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1984). On the appropriateness of utterances and ideas, grammatical correctness, and the unity of structure of a poem as a whole, see the following studies which examine a number of these questions: Muḥammad Mandūr, al-Naqd al-manhajī ʿind al-ʿarab (Cairo: Nahḍat Miṣr, 2004); G. E. Von Grunebaum, “The Aesthetic Foundation of Arabic Literature,” Comparative Literature IV, no. 4 (1952); Jābir ʿUṣfūr, al-Ṣūra al-fanniyya fī l-turāth al-naqdī wa-l-balāghī ʿind al-ʿarab, 3rd ed. (Beirut, Lebanon: al-Markiz al-Thaqāfī al-ʿArabī, 1992); Ḥamādī Ṣammūd, al-Tafkīr al-balāghī ʿind al-ʿarab: ususuh wa taṭawwuruh ilā al-qarn al-sādis (Tunis, Tunisia, 1981), especially p. 391ff; and see G. J. H. Van Gelder, Beyond the Line, for an overview of discussions of openings, transitions, and endings of poems in medieval criticism.

  • 89. On majāz, see Wolfhart Heinrichs, “On the Genesis of the ḥaqîqa-majâz Dichotomy,” Studia Islamica 59 (1984); and Avigail Noy, “The Emergence of ʿIlm al-Bayān: Classical Arabic Literary Theory in the Arabic East in the 7th/13th Century” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 2016). On metaphor, see Wolfhart Heinrichs, The Hand of the Northwind: Opinions on Metaphor and the Early Meaning of Istiʿāra in Arabic Poetics (Wiesbaden, Germany: Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft, Kommissionsverlag Franz Steiner, 1977), and “Istiʿāra and Badīʿ and their Terminological Relationship in Early Arabic Literary Criticism,” Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Arabisch-Islamischen Wissenschaften 1 (1984). On takhyīl, see Wolfhart Heinrichs, “Die antike Verknüpfung von Phantasia und Dichtung bei den Arabern,” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 128 (1978); and van Gelder and Hammond, Takhyīl: The Imaginary in Classical Arabic Poetics.

  • 90. For studies on specific authors, see, on ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī, for example, Abu Deeb, Poetic Imagery, Larkin, Theology of Meaning. On al-Qarṭājannī, see Heinrichs, Arabische Dichtung, and Saʿd Maṣlūḥ, Ḥāzim al-Qarṭajannī wa naẓariyyat al-muḥākāt wa-l-takhyīl fi al-shiʿr (Cairo: ʿĀlam al-Kutub, 1980). On al-Sakkākī, see Aḥmad Maṭlūb, al-Balāgha ʻind al-Sakkākī (Baghdad, Iraq: Maktabat al-Nahḍa, 1964), to name a few. For surveys, most notable are Iḥsān ʻAbbās, Tārīkh al-naqd al-adabī ʻind al-ʻArab: naqd al-shiʻr min al-qarn al-thānī ḥattā al-qarn al-thāmin al-Hijrī (Amman, Jordan: Dār al-Shurūq li-l-Nashr wa-l-Tawzīʻ, 1993); Shawqī Ḍayf, al-Balāgha: Taṭawwur wa-tārīkh, 9th ed. (Cairo: Dār al-Maʿārif, 1995); and Badawī Ṭabāna, al-Bayān al-ʻArabī: dirāsa fī taṭawwur al-fikra al-balāghiyya ʻind al-ʻArab wa-manāhijihā wa-maṣādirihā al-kubrā (Cairo: Maktabat al-Anjlū al-Miṣriyya, 1958).

  • 91. Adam Talib gives a good overview of the history of the debate surrounding “molecularism” in How Do You Say “Epigram” in Arabic? Literary History at the Limits of Comparison (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2018), chap. 4.

  • 92. Wolfhart Heinrichs, “Literary Theory: The Problem of Its Efficiency,” in Arabic Poetry: Theory and Development, ed. G. E. Von Grunebaum, presented at the Third Giorgio Levi della Vida Biennial Conference, Wiesbaden, Germany, 1973.

  • 93. Julie Scott Meisami, “Arabic Poetics Revisited,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 112, no. 2 (1992); and Michael Sells, “The Qasida and the West: Self-Reflective Stereotype and Critical Encounter,” al-ʿArabiyya 20 (1987).