The Excellence of the Arabs

The Excellence of the Arabs

224 Pages

September 2019

ISBN: 9781479899265




Ibn Qutaybah (d. 276/889) was a renowned judge and writer known for many influential works on a wide range of subjects, including Qur'anic exegesis, poetry and poetics, and statecraft.

Sarah Bowen Savant is Professor at The Aga Khan University, London, and the author of The New Muslims of Post-Conquest Iran.

Peter Webb is University Lecturer in Arabic Literature and Culture at the University of Leiden. He is the author of Imagining the Arabs: Arab Identity and the Rise of Islam and an editor-translator of The Excellence of the Arabs.

Jack Weatherford is the former DeWitt Wallace Professor of Anthropology at Macalester College. He is best known for his book Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World.

A spirited defense of Arab identity from a time of political unrest

In ninth-century Abbasid Baghdad, the social prestige attached to claims of Arab identity had begun to decline. In The Excellence of the Arabs, the celebrated litterateur Ibn Qutaybah locks horns with those members of his society who belittled Arabness and vaunted the glories of Persian heritage and culture. Instead, he upholds the status of Arabs and their heritage in the face of criticism and uncertainty.

The Excellence of the Arabs is in two parts. In the first, Arab Preeminence, which takes the form of an extended argument for Arab privilege, Ibn Qutaybah accuses his opponents of blasphemous envy. In the second, The Excellence of Arab Learning, he describes the fields of knowledge in which he believed pre-Islamic Arabians excelled, including knowledge of the stars, divination, horse husbandry, and poetry. By incorporating extensive excerpts from the poetic heritage—“the archive of the Arabs”—Ibn Qutaybah aims to demonstrate that poetry is itself sufficient evidence of Arab superiority.

Eloquent and forceful, The Excellence of the Arabs addresses a central question at a time of great social flux, at the dawn of classical Muslim civilization: What does it mean to be Arab?

An English-only edition.


  • "Ibn Qutayba’s extraordinary erudition and literary skill are now on view in the LAL Arabic edition and translation at hand, The Excellence of the Arabs . . . The English translation is a page-turner. The Arabic is difficult, but the translators’ command is apparent in how they avoid the complex syntax, verbosity, and numerous repetitions that are characteristic of Classical Arabic. The judiciousness of the series’ decision to opt for English felicity over a more literal English rendering of the Arabic provides the reader with a genuine grasp of what Ibn Qutayba is really saying. All involved are to be congratulated!"

    Journal of the American Oriental Society

  • "Enriches the Library of Arabic Literature and the growing corpus of translations of books from Arabic into English . . . A true delight to read."

    Reading Religion

  • "[A] clear and lively translation."

    Al-Ahram Weekly

  • "An excellent example of the narrative sources available to historians of West Asian late antiquity and early Islam."