Call for Pitches: Library of Arabic Literature Blog

Friday, May 3rd, 2024 8:15 am

We’re looking for writers who are enthusiastic about Arabic literature to contribute to the Library of Arabic Literature blog. We welcome ideas for posts on a variety of topics. Previous blog posts have included reflections on how LAL books fit with a broader theme, such as the Global Middle Ages or disability studies, as well as surprising comparisons (e.g. ‘Antarah and Cardi B). Blog posts should be 800-1200 words long, written in English, and must feature at least one LAL book, preferably (but not necessarily) one published within the last two years. We offer an honorarium of $400 for each post.

Please email your pitch and a short bio to, and include the phrase “LAL Blog Pitch” in the subject line of your email. We will stop accepting pitches on June 1.

Off the Beaten Path with al-Shābushtī’s The Book of Monasteries

Friday, April 26th, 2024 11:32 am

In this blog post, Johannes Makar reflects on al-Shābushtī’s The Book of Monasteries. His analysis explores Muslim-Christian interactions in medieval Middle Eastern monasteries, challenging conventional narratives and embracing minoritarian perspectives.

At the core of my PhD research lies the question of how minoritarian voices enrich—or complicate—mainstream studies of history. Did communities like the Copts inhabit isolated “worlds,” as the historian Albert Hourani once posited, or did they actively shape the Egyptian public sphere? In my dissertation, I explore how the histories of communities that are often labeled as “minorities” can enhance our understanding of the development of modern Arabic thought. I’ve found that religious differences, far from hindering social interaction, often generated dynamic exchanges among Muslims, Jews, and Christians, in ways central to the reformist projects of the Nahḍa period as well as to the history of the Middle East at large.

Set in the monasteries of the medieval Middle East, Hilary Kilpatrick’s recent translation and edition of al-Shābushtī’s The Book of Monasteries (Kitāb al-Diyārāt) sheds unique light on the social amalgamation of Muslims and Christians. Though dominant scholarship long viewed non-Muslims as mere social intermediaries (e.g. translators, tax collectors, scribes) or historical bystanders (e.g. converts), this image is at best incomplete. In The Book of Monasteries, the hermit sanctuaries feature as a popular destination for the political elites of the time, and notably one where Muslims and Christians together engaged in revelry and indulgence.


Communicating with Falcons and Collaborating with Poets: Behind the Curtains of Ibn al-Muʿtazz’s Hunting Poetry, Part III

Friday, December 15th, 2023 11:40 am

The third portion of AJ Naddaff’s conversation with James E. Montgomery on In Deadly Embrace delves into Ibn al-Muʿtazz’s poetry itself, as well as his personal insights on and journey with both the work and his collaborators. 

AJN: For readers who are curious to know details about the content, what is being described in the poetry?

JM: There’s a number of hunting animals described: some with two legs and two wings, some with four legs, such as horses and cheetahs. The overall context or situation for each poem would have been the individual hunting expedition, at the end of which these poems would have been composed or sung or declaimed—usually with, say, the falcon in the background, on the perch, listening to the poem. The non-human hunter was the honored member of the gathering. As we discussed, the poetry is also so imbricated with power and political demeanor.


Poet and Statesman: Behind the Curtains of Ibn al-Muʿtazz’s Hunting Poetry, Part II

Friday, December 8th, 2023 12:03 pm

In this second portion of a three-part interview about In Deadly Embrace, AJ Naddaff speaks with editor and translator James E. Montgomery on his approach to translating Ibn al-Muʿtazz, Abbasid-era literature, and poetry as a means for political engagement. 

AJN: What made you want to work on Ibn al-Muʿtazz’s hunting poetry rather than his most well-known treatise on poetics?  

JM: The reason that roughly ten years ago I went back to the hunting poem as a project was to do, as you said earlier, with the early stages of LAL; we were looking for things that were non-canonical but that also were things that people without any background in Arabic literature could read and appreciate very quickly without having to develop or apply a whole tool kit of knowledge. I hope that you can open this book and read any of these poems without knowing anything about Arabic, and you can appreciate them for the vividness of the imagery or the breathless excitement of the situations that they are describing. And although you might not know the difference between a sparrowhawk and a goshawk, you will probably have a fairly decent idea of what a hawk or a falcon is, so you can appreciate them as a form of, well I almost hesitate to describe it as such, but nature poetry. 


Vulnerability and Heroic Masculinity: Behind the Curtains of Ibn al-Muʿtazz’s Hunting Poetry, Part I

Friday, December 1st, 2023 12:54 pm

In Deadly Embrace is a collection of Abbasid hunting poems by Ibn al-Muʿtazz. In this blog post, editor and translator James E. Montgomery sits down with AJ Naddaff to discuss the significance and history of Arabic hunting poetry, the culture of the hunt, and running themes of masculinity in the genre. 

AJN: To start, can you tell us more about your translations of the hunting poetry genre, the ṭardiyyāt? 

JM: Maybe the best way to explain this is to describe the overall arch of the project. There will be four volumes of Arabic hunting poems and translations in total, and then there will be a fifth volume which will be a scholarly edition with full apparatus, and focused on the manuscript history of some of the diwans.  (more…)

Blurring the Lines between the Human and Non-Human: Pre-Islamic Hunting Poetry with James Montgomery, Part II

Monday, July 31st, 2023 8:15 am

This second portion of AJ Naddaff’s conversation with James Montgomery about Fate the Hunter further delves into the anthology and its portrayal of time and the lines between human and non-human. Montgomery also shares his thoughts on ecocriticism and using contemporary theories in reading poetry of the past.

James Montgomery speaking in an event at the NYUAD Institute.

AJN: Carrying on from our prior discussion of fate, can you talk about the phenomenon of time in this collection?

JM: In Fate the Hunter, when the poet or the human animal does the hunting, they become the machine of fate. They inflict death on non-humans so as to reach a moment in which time stands still. The hunter enjoys a moment of near immortality that takes them out of the normal frame of existence.I think that in the hunting poem, generally when it emerges as a fully fledged genre, you get the sense of the poem trying to recreate the moment of the hunt and also trying to convey some of this notion that time is almost imploded.

AJN: As if trying to conquer time in some way. (more…)

A Cathedral of Sound: Pre-Islamic Hunting Poetry with James Montgomery

Friday, July 7th, 2023 8:00 am

In this latest addition to the LAL blog, AJ Naddaff sits down with James Montgomery to discuss his latest book Fate the Hunter. For the first portion of this two-part interview, Montgomery talks over what intrigues him about the work of Imruʾ al-Qays, al-Shanfarā, and jāhilī poetry in general. He discusses the rich sounds of the poetry as well as the origin of the book’s title.

AJ Naddaff: Thanks so much for joining us today. Oh, hi there.

James Montgomery: This is my Jack Russell terrier—he will be with us for part of the conversation too.

AJN: Beautiful. In anticipation of today’s conversation, are terriers hunting dogs?

JM: They were used on farms for killing rats, so they have very developed paws with sharp nails and quite slender back legs because all their energy is front-loaded.

AJN: Interesting. Moving on to the topic at hand, I want to follow up on a point from the last time we spoke. You said that you were studying Ancient Greek, Latin, and Arabic at the University of Glasgow when you discovered the pre-Islamic poet Imru’ al-Qays, describing it as “unlike any universe that [you had] entered before.” You have a special relationship to Shanfarā, too, and the pre-Islamic jāhilī corpus in general, as evidenced by this new book. Can you talk about what it is about this poetry that speaks to you? (more…)

Muslim-Christian Relations in Medieval Middle East Monasteries: An Interview with Hilary Kilpatrick

Tuesday, June 20th, 2023 11:03 am

In this second portion of a two-part interview about The Book of Monasteries, AJ Naddaff speaks with Hilary Kilpatrick about her approach to translation, the text’s importance, the present day state of some of the monasteries highlighted, and Ghassan Kanafani’s “Men in the Sun”. This is a repost of this interview.

AJN: What was your translation process for this text?

HK: I was really very nervous about translating the poetry. But going through the editing process of LAL, in the end, I suppose it turned out to be all right. It was really problematic: How do you translate Arabic poetry? I didn’t really think of trying to do anything in English meter, but I would have perhaps liked to be a bit more experimental in the way I translated. There’s been a lot of work on translation theory, and I don’t really find that I use that very much. It’s more trying to visualize what the person is saying or imagine what the person is saying and putting it across in English, which sounds very impressionistic. (more…)

Fine Poetry, Fun Anecdotes, & Life Lessons in Medieval Middle East Monasteries: An Interview with Hilary Kilpatrick

Friday, May 5th, 2023 8:00 am

The Book of Monasteries transports readers to a world of Christian monasteries rarely seen by outsiders. Written in the late tenth century and set across the Arab world—from modern day Iraq through southern Anatolia to Egypt—the book is not of the typical themes of prayer, asceticism, and withdrawal from the world. Instead, you find a rich tapestry of poetry, political intrigue, and even murder. In this two-part series, translator Hilary Kilpatrick sits down with A.J. Naddaff to discuss the content, medieval authors, topography, wine drinking, and pluralism.

AJN: Your expertise and publications range from al-Raghib al-Isfahani in the 10th century to Ghassan Kanafani in the 20th. You have also been one of the first in the Western academy to research Ottoman Arabic literature in the 17th and 18th centuries. What sparked your interest in a book on medieval Arabic monasteries?

HK: I bought a copy years ago. I was a student at Oxford, and there was a wonderful bookshop called Thornton’s, which doesn’t exist anymore. It was on four stories, and they had bookshelves on the top floor  with Arabic books, including The Book of Monasteries, which was a 1962 edition. It sat on my shelf for years. And it was only really when my husband asked me if I could write a paper for a book he was editing on Muslim views of non-Muslims in adab literature [(belles lettres] that I pulled it out. That was around the time when I was working on the Aghani [Book of Songs], and it goes from there.

AJN: I’m curious as well if you can speak to why this text is important to you on an individual level.

HK: One of the key motives for a lot of my work has been to try and correct misconceptions. That’s the reason why I translated Kanafani’s work. And on a more academic level, it was why I got interested in al-Aghani, because when I started working on it, people just thought of it as a useful source for all kinds of information, and they didn’t ask why it was written the way it was. And the same thing, I think, with the monasteries book, because at least since 2000, the situation of minorities in the Middle East has deteriorated so much. (more…)

Between a rock and a high place: Picturing Bedouin geographies in Ibn Sbayyil’s Arabian Romantic

Friday, April 7th, 2023 8:00 am

In this blog, PhD student Maggie Freeman discusses and illustrates through a series of photographs the landscapes and geographies in Ibn Sbayyil’s Arabian Romantic: Poems on Bedouin Life and Love. The Arabian desert provided rich imagery for Najdi poets such as Ibn Sbayyil. 19th and 20th century photographs help bring to life the places described by Ibn Sbayyil and the people who occupied them.   

The poetic corpus of Arabian Romantic: Poems on Bedouin Life and Love, composed by ʿAbdallāh ibn Sbayyil during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Saudi Arabia’s Najd province, represents a classic example of what translator Marcel Kurpershoek calls the “romantic school” of Najdi poetry. These romantic poets exhibited what anthropologist Saad Sowayan in turn has called “desert nostalgia…a yearning for Bedouin life.” Poet Ibn Sbayyil was not a nomadic Bedouin himself, but rather the headman of the town of Nifī in central Arabia, where Bedouin tribes would camp during the summer months. Like many sedentary Arabs during this period, Ibn Sbayyil idealized Bedouin lifestyles, his poems expressing both an awareness of his differences from the Bedouin as well as a longing for the mobility and freedom that nomadism seemed to him to entail.

Although he himself is thought to have traveled little, Ibn Sbayyil’s poetry alludes to a vast and varied world beyond his doorstep in the small town of Nifī; a landscape populated by Bedouin tribes whose lives are organized around access to key ecological features such as water and pastureland. (more…)