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Arabic Literature in Iran
 Even though a considerable amount of information can be found in the encyclopedias of literature as well as historical and geographical texts on the status of the Arab literature and literati of the first three centuries of Islam, no independent and comprehensive work was produced on these subjects during this period. However, towards the end of the 4th Century AH, Tha’ālabi produced his valuable book entitled, the “Yatimah al-Dahr”, in which he had classified the Arab poets on a regional basis along with some information on each of them. The third section of this work has been dedicated to the poets of Iraq as well as the poets of the royal courts of the Deylamid kings while the fourth section deals with Khorāsān and Transoxiania. Later on, Tha’ālabi had also ventured into writing the book, “Tatammah al-Yatimah”, as a supplement to his earlier book. In the 5th Century AH/11th Century AD, Bākhazri wrote his book, the “Damiyah al-Qasr” which is in fact in continuation of Tha’ālabi’s works in which he has spoken about the poets and the literati of the east and west and the central provinces of Iran. Similarly, Emād al-Din Kāteb Esfahāni’s (597 AH) book, the “Khazidah al-Qasr”, that was written in the 6th Century AH/12th Century AD – which is linked by one other book (the “Zinah al-Dahr”) to Tha’alabi’s “Damiyah al-Qasr” and which is also complementary to that book - is also available to us today. Three volumes of this great work have been dedicated to the Iranian lands and their Arabic-speaking literati and poets beginning from Esfahān and Khorāsān followed by Fārs, Khuzestān, Kermān, the Jebāl Province, and Āzarbāyjān and then stretching up to the Caspian coastline and reaching parts of Lorestān. An important part of the final volume has been dedicated exclusively to the poems of Abu Bakr Arrajāni. The historical books on different cities as well as general history books too provide us with considerable information in this regard. For instance, the book, “Tārikh-e Neyshābur” (The History of Neyshābur) written by Hākem Neyshāburi, comprising ten or twelve volumes includes the names of a large number of scholars and literati of the Neyshābur city belonging to a comparatively short period leaving its readers astonished. The number of such works is so large that a long list can be compiled on them. One of these works is Māfarukhi’s book, the “Mahāsen-e Esfahān” (The Wonders of Esfahān) which mainly deals with poetry and literature. Moreover, its Persian translation which took shape in the 7th Century AH/13th Century AD has added to the significance of the book from the viewpoint of linguistics and literature. From among the other sources that need to be referred to extensively during the course of any kind of research in this area mention can be made of the divāns of the Arabic-speaking poets who have either been Iranian natives or had lived in Iran, a large number of which are available to us today.
A satisfactory amount of research has not yet taken place on the Arabic language and literature in Iran. However, some information on these subjects can be extracted from the works written on the history of Persian literature. This is owing to the fact that it is almost impossible to make a clear distinction between the Arabic and Persian languages and literature because of which the writers of books on the history of literature have had to resort to Arabic literary sources, that are replete with Iranian influence, for the purpose of studying the history of Persian literature. Mention should also be made of Qāsem Toyserkāni’s book, the “Zabān-e Tāzi Dar Miyān-e Irāniyān” (The Arabic Language Among the Iranians) which is the most comprehensive work in this field which has an expert discussion on the subject and which has been written after conducting an extensive study on a large number of books on the topic. However, this work has received little attention and has been scarcely accessed. Nevertheless, instead of studying the status of Arabic literature in Iran, some scholars have prepared lists of great Iranian writers who wrote in the Arabic language with little interest besides the glorification of Iranians. This trend has invited a reaction on the part of the Arab scholars with vested interests.
Following the advent of Islam, the culture atmosphere of Iran had plunged into a gloom for almost three centuries. It appeared that the entire cultural heritage of Iran was rapidly merging into the Arabic language and literature through Mesopotamia thereby depleting Iran of its cultural and historical background, making room for it to be replaced by Arabic and religious literature. The Arabs who came to settle in large numbers in Iran continued to employ their own language and literature, also transmitting them on to their workers and the mawālis. It is for this reason that Estakhri has reported Arabic to be the state language of Iran in the 4th Century AH/10th Century AD and has mentioned the names of the prominent Arab families of Iran. It should therefore be said that literary language used by the Arabs and many of the Iranians who wished to find their way into the centers of power was Arabic. For instance, it has been reported that eulogies composed in praise of Ya’qub Layth who was an Iranian ruler were in the Arabic language and all official correspondence in those times was also only in the Arabic language and it is certain that even the official registers were written in that language. Similarly, the Arabic language was widely used in the courts of the Arab rulers who ruled over Iran during the first two centuries of Islam and all their courts widely patronized Arabic poetry and literature while no boundaries existed between them and the great Arab centers or the courts of the caliphs with extensive interaction between the two. Therefore, it was not very strange for a great poet or literati from Khorāsān – which became one of the important centers of Arabic literature – to shine out in Iraq. For instance, it has been narrated that Khalil bin Ahmad wrote his famous book, the “Ketāb al-Ayn” in Iraq. On the other hand, considering that the Arabs who had settled in Iran initially spoke in various dialects and would then learn eloquent (fasih) Arabic either through practice or in schools and learning centers making their situation quite similar to the Iranian students of the Arabic language, both of which groups had to go through strenuous learning and education in order to gain a respectable command over the Arabic language.
The independence of the local Iranian governments towards the end of the 2nd Century AH/8th Century AD, contributed greatly towards the spread of the Arabic language and literature and the subsequent revival of the Persian language and literature. It should be noted that the Tāherids exhibited a very Arabic disposition. In the Saffārid Era, too, notwithstanding the fact that Ya’qub Layth demanded poetry to be composed in the Persian language, even his official records and registers were maintained in the Arabic language and even his court poet, Ebrāhem bin Mamshād Motavakkeli (who had served the Abbāsid ruler, Motavakkel, for a period of time) composed his works in Arabic even though his poems were nationalistic and of an anti-Arab spirit. The Arabic language continued to be the language of literature and politics even in the courts of the last Saffārid rulers as well as the Sāmānids of Khorāsān and all the correspondence including those with the Army chiefs and commanders were written in Arabic in Khorāsān. The Sāmānid court was crammed with outstanding Arabic-speaking personalities and writers and even the emirs, the ministers, and the officials spoke and wrote in the Arabic language. In fact, even scholars like Abu Es’hāq Fārsi taught the Arabic language and grammar to the children of the aristocratic families and edited the official ledgers written in that language. The poetic atmosphere of Bokhārā and the other cities of Khorāsān was filled with activity and enthusiasm. One of the greatest poets of Khorāsān by the name of Lahhām was also known for his criticism of the aristocrats of his times in the Arabic language. The “nozruziyah” (compositions related to the Iranian New Year festival) of his rival by the name of Matrāni – who had also written works in description of the famine and the geographical conditions of Bokhārā in Arabic - too, was in Arabic.
The elite of Neishābur, too, were so greatly influenced by the Arabic language that the Mikāli emirs mainly spoke in Arabic and the great writers and poets like Matnabi and Ibn Darid had also written eulogies in their praise or had dedicated their works to them. It has been recorded that the Mikāli rulers had appointed Ibn Darid as the chief collector of the Fārs province as a reward for writing the book, the “Jomharah” in their favor. Abu Mohammad Mikāli had himself compiled the poems of some great poets that were later on used as source material by Tha’ālabi. Abu al-Fazl Mikāli, too, had written books and had a divān (collection of poems) in the Arabic language.
The odes and literary works that were composed in Iran were no less in value than the poems composed in Iraq and Syria (Shām). However, poets like Abu Sa’id Rostami, Abu Bakr Khwārazmi, and Sāheb strived to go beyond the ordinary levels which the society and the common man were generally caught up in and they took their inspiration from the great and powerful Arabic odes while even the expressions, the style, and the imagery of their poems had been inspired by traditional Arabic poetry. In fact, the originally-Arab readers could also feel completely at home within the prevalent literary atmosphere in Iran since the pure Arabic traditions or the style followed by the new Iraqi poets were finding their reflections all over the Iranian lands. This trend of lexicology that could be found in the works of the poets of the 5th and 6th Centuries AH/11th and 12th Centuries AD is more dominant in the two more recent works viz., the “Damiyah al-Qasr” and the “Kharidah al-Qasr”, since the book, the “Yatimah” reflects more of the existing cultural environment of Iran than these two works. This phenomenon can best be explained by observing that the Persian language and literature had become more dominant during the period in which the “Damiyah”, and particularly the “Kharidah”, were being composed. More so since those who wrote and composed in Arabic had become so alienated with the Persian language that they categorically claimed to have nothing to do with it. It could perhaps be said that during the period in which the “Yatimah” was being written, the writers of the time had not yet developed faith in the power and potential of the Persian language and could never have imagined that this language would emerge in such a dynamic manner within a short time, and they thus confined their attention to the Arabic language which had already established itself as the language of learning and literature over the past three centuries. However, this fact does not hold true in the case of writers like the author of the “Kharidah” who was already well-acquainted with the great Persian masterpieces, and the abstinence of Emād al-Din Kāteb Esfahāni from working in the Persian language was more due to psychological and sociological influences. To elucidate this point, it can be observed that the names of the great Persian poet, Ferdowsi, and his “Shāhnāmeh” have not appeared even once in the “Kharidah”. Nevertheless, the overpowering effect of the local traditions and language had managed to overtly or covertly find their way into these works. A study of this influence and its motives could undoubtedly prove to be very valuable for conducting literary, linguistic, and social researches on that period of history.
During the 4th Century AH/10th Century AD and the early 5th Century AH/11th Century AD - which came to be known as the “Period of the Yatimiyah” - some of the poets waited in observation to discover something interesting in everything around themselves and depicted their observations in the style of the new Iraqi poets. As a result, the Arabic-speaking poets of Iran were influenced by the local language and terms commonly used by the masses to such an extent that even Ma’muni (383 AH) who was an Arab poet has used a great number of Persian terms in his works. Moreover, poets like Abu al-Fazl Marvzi and Abu Abdullāh Zarir composed Arabic poems based on Persian proverbs and even a poet like Abu al-Hasan bin Mo’mal had translated some poems of Rudaki (a famous Persian poet) into Arabic. Likewise, a large number of poems and odes that had been composed on the occasion of the national Iranian festivities in the Arabic language can be found extensively throughout Arab literature from the year 200 AH onwards, and particularly, in the Iranian Arabic poems.
The second half of the 4th Century AH/10th Century AD could easily be referred to as the “Age of Sāheb bin Ebād” (385 AH), a personality who had completely dominated the field of Arabic literature of Iran for long years. A great portion of the book, the “Yatimah al-Dahr” has been dedicated to the relationship between Sāheb bin Ebād and the great poets of his times as well as to his own sayings and poems, and in this book, Tha’ālabi has included a large list of the great poets and eulogizers affiliated with Sāheb’s court. Sāheb bin Ebād, himself, had written several valuable books like the “Al-Kashf an-Mosāwi al-Matnabi” which speak volumes on his rare command over the Arabic language and literature. One of the famous literary figures of that period who was also a friend of Sāheb – and whose works and biography clearly depict the true picture of Arabic literature prevalent in Iran during those times – was Abu al-Fath Basti (400 AH) who was active in the area of literature in a different part of Iran than Sāheb, viz. the south of Iran. Basti’s prose and poetry which were in no way lesser ornamented and figurative than Sāheb’s works are considered among the most famous Arabic literary works. Another literary figure who had introduced a new school in the Arabic literature of Iran was Badi’ al-Zamān Hamadāni. The style of “Maqāmah Nevisi” (i.e. writing texts for the purpose of reading out in literary gatherings) introduced by him has been considered as a unique school and it is very likely that he had been inspired by the local literary traditions. Similarly, his style of playwriting, which shared features like rhythm and rhyme with the other writings of his times, went beyond the common prose and poetry of the day and related to the general psyche and feelings of the masses. Although this style was magnificently manifested in Badi’ al-Zaman’s play, “Abu al-Qāsem Baghdādi”, his other work, “Maqāmāt” - which is considered to be rather unique - was for quite some time imitated by others and there is no doubt that Hariri’s “Maqāmāt” is an imitation of al-Zaman’s work by the same name and the best of such imitations.
What is noteworthy is Badi’ al-Zamān Hamadāni’s attitude towards the Persian language despite the fact that he had apparently never stepped out of Iran. Like his role model, Sāheb bin Ebād, Badi’ al-Zamān, too, was hostile towards the Persian language and literature. Nevertheless, he, too, could not always resist the overwhelming influence of the local culture since he was well-versed with Persian and occasionally even translated Persian poems into the Arabic language. There were a number of other such personalities with similar attitudes towards the Persian language and literature who were, of course, less skilled than Sāheb and Badi’ al-Zamān, leaving one wondering over the factors that could have turned Iran into such a fertile environment for the Arabic language and literature to flourish. Keeping in view the spread of the Arabic language, it seems that eloquent (fasih) Arabic – which is no longer used by any Arab community for daily conversation – had become the language of the Iranian people. According to some scholars, the most eloquent Arabic language was spoken by the people of Khorāsan, while in other places, people spoke the common Arabic while the usage of the eloquent or “fasih” Arabic was confined to the scholars and the elite. However, it is quite obvious today that even the so-called “fasih” Arabic language of the people of Khorāsān was no more than a dialect that could not have been very eloquent.
It appears that figures of speech were first introduced into the Arabic language and literature in Iran which then spread throughout the entire world of Arabic literature right up to Andalusia (present-day Spain). Perhaps the cause of this phenomenon was that most of the literary men who contributed to the Arabic literature were Persian-speaking, and even generally-speaking, it is always more difficult to have a strong command on the intricate and delicate expressive aspects of a foreign language than its figures of speech, which can even be acquired through education and learning. The people of Iraq had realized this point and, thus, they refused to grant recognition to the poems of the men of the East - who were non-Arabs - only out of sheer arrogance; and they even went to the extent of exhibiting the same treatment to the poems and other works of Abu al-Fath Basti and Bākhazri.
Beyond all doubt, even though Arabic literature has permeated into its Persian counterpart it has in turn been influenced by the Iranian culture. Nevertheless, it appears that a gigantic barrier had been erected between the two worlds of Arabic and Persian literature. A fine example confirming this phenomenon is the case of “Abd al-Wāse’ Jebeli”. Even though as per the history of Persian literature he has been considered merely as a powerful Persian poet who also composed in Arabic, while writing his biography, Emād al-Din Kāteb Esfahāni has not mentioned anything about his command over the Persian language or his Persian poems. On the other hand, it is worthwhile to mention that although our purpose here is not to discuss the origin of written Persian, it would not be possible to conceive the status of the Arabic language in Iran without discussing the emergence and spread of Persian literature.
With a glance at the Persian translation of books like the “Tafsir-e Tabari” (The Exegesis of the Glorious Quran by Tabari) that was translated for the Samanid ruler, Amir Mansoor, as well as a number of other translations and compilations in the various fields of medicine, pharmacology, geography, history, and Islamic jurisprudence (feqh), it can clearly be gauged that Dari Persian had advanced gradually and slowly with the support of the Arabic language and had ventured into various literary and scientific fields. Although such works contained very few Arabic terms, the grammatical structure was mainly dominated by Arabic and as time passed by a reverse trend began to emerge as a result of which the grammatical structure of the Persian language began to become more and more Persianized from the 5th Century AH/11th Century AD, even though Arabic terms continued to cast a heavy, and at times disturbing, shadow on the Persian language. Towards the end of the 4th Century AH/10th Century AD and the beginning of the 5th Century AH/11th Century AD there began a covert and yet severe struggle between the Persian and Arabic languages. This was due to the fact that, on the one hand, the Arabic poetry and literature flourished further and many great scientific books came to be written in this language – and outstanding Iranian personalities like Rāzi, Fārābi, Ibn Sinā (Avicenna), Biruni, and Khwarazmi wrote their everlasting books in Arabic – while on the other hand, owing to the demands on the part of the Iranian people as well as the Iranian rulers, some of these scholars like Abu Ali Sinā (Avicenna) were compelled to write some of their works in Persian. The other development was that during this period some of the Arabic works of the Iranian scholars also came to be translated into Persian. An interesting example of this trend can be witnessed in the struggles of Abu Reihān Biruni. Interestingly, even though Biruni preferred to be “condemned in Arabic rather being praised in Persian” and although he considered Persian as the “language of the legends of the Khosrows (pre-Islamic period Iranian kings)” and attacked the Gil and Deylam for their attempts to Persianize the religion and the government, he was nevertheless compelled to write his book, “Al-Tafhim”, in Persian. Another outstanding development in this regard was that the writing of government registers gradually came to be changed from Arabic to Persian while Abu al-Fazl Esfarāyeni was the first person who wrote the government registers completely in Persian. Although some scholars like Atabi believed that Esfarāyeni’s move towards writing the government registers in Persian was due to the fact that he did not have a good command over the Arabic language, the fact of the matter is that even people like Abu Nasr Meshkān and Hasank Vazir, both of whom had an excellent command over the two languages, preferred to write the official letters in Persian, or to at least translate them into this language. However, the Arabic source-books that were written during this period tended to present a completely Arabicized picture of Iran and tried to portray as if the Persian language and literature did not exist in this country at all. Ibn Bābak who eulogized Āl-e Buyeh, Āl-e Ziyār, and the Ghaznavid rulers as well as their ministers and statesmen traveled all over Iran reciting his poems in Arabic and composing odes in praise of Iranian national festivities, which were welcomed by the people everywhere. Even the Iranian Zoroastrian poet, Mahyār (428 AH), had gained credibility in Arabic poetry and literature and was considered as a great Arabic-composing poet.
Bākhazri, too, has referred to a number of other Arabic-speaking Iranians whose names were purely Iranian and who were, in all probability, Zoroastrians. Moreover, Bākhazri’s book, the “Damiyah al-Qasr”, is also considered as the best source on the presence of Arabic literature in Iran during the major portion of the 5th Century AH/10th Century AD. The main theme of this book resembles Tha’ālabi’s book, the “Yatimiyah”. Despite the fact that Bākhazri himself composed poems in Persian and apparently even had a divān in this language, he insisted on dissociating himself from the Persian language. Therefore, it is not very surprising to note that despite the fact that almost all the poets referred to in the “Damiyah al-Qasr” were of an Iranian origin, most of whom were skilled in both in Arabic as well as Persian, he has not included even a single verse in the Persian language. Furthermore, contrary to Tunji’s view Bākhazri’s book does not contain many Persian words and terms.
In order to have a better picture of the status of the Persian language and literature versus the Arabic language and literature in Iran during the one hundred year-old gap between the books, the “Damiyah” and the “Kharidah”, reference can be made to the books of poetry of the poets of this period, who like most of the aforementioned Arabic sources, pictured a completely Arabic atmosphere of Iran. For example, the Iranian poet, Toghrā’i (514 AH) never spoke in Persian and Ibn Habāriyah who was a poet of Arab origin from Iraq who composed eulogies for the rulers of many Iranian cities never felt that he was in a non-Arabic speaking environment. Interestingly, even the later scholars who carried out researches on him did not pay attention to the non-Arabic atmosphere in which he lived and, thus, despite the fact that the main themes of some of his works were based on Iranian culture, they took it for granted that he was a man of Arabic literature. Nonetheless, it was during this same century that the Persian language grew from strength to strength and many outstanding works like the “Hadā’eq al-Sehr” of Rashid Vatvāt (on literature) and the “Tarjomān al-Balāghah” of Rādaviyāni (in rhetorics) – both of whom intended to import Arabic eloquence into the Persian language and to make it widespread – came to be produced in Persian. Amid al-Molk Kondori, who was one of the poets whose names and biographies have been included in the book, the “Kharidah al-Qasr”, changed the language of the government registers of the Seljuqs from Arabic to Persian. Similarly, Montakhab al-Din Joveyni, who was one of the outstanding secretaries of the Seljuks did not include any Arabic letter in his book, the “Otbah al-Katabah”, which was a collection of his writings. And finally, another outstanding secretary of this period, Mohammad Mihani, wrote a book entitled, the “Dastur-e Dabiri” (The Rules for Writing Government Registers), in Persian in the year 500 AH in order to cater to the requirements of the government secretaries as regards the rules of writing in Persian.
The most outstanding symbol of Arabic literature in Iran during the 6th Century AH/12th Century AD was the book, the “Kharidah al-Qasr”. Despite the fact that this book included the names and biographies of a large number of poets who lived over a vast geographical territory, in his preface to the book, the author emphasized that he would not include anything in it from the Persian language. Nevertheless, in some places of the book the author has had to concede to the existing and overwhelming presence of the Iranian atmosphere in the Arabic literature. For instance, he has repeatedly referred to the Persian poems and proverbs that had been translated into Arabic. Examples of such works are the “Al-Rozah al-Zāherah” of Abu Bakr Esfahāni and the translation works of Nizām Balkhi, Rāvandi, and his son who had translated Persian proverbs and poems into Arabic. A large number of the personalities introduced in the book, the “Kharidah al-Qasr” were either great Iranian poets or renowned enthusiasts of the Persian language. Another interesting point is that Emād al-Din has also made mention of some Arabic poems that were composed on the basis of Persian rhythm which were, according to him, inconsistent with the poetry styles of the Arabs. Two of the poems he has mentioned were composed with Persian rhythms in the “Bahr-e Hazaj” style and one of them was composed in the “Bahr-e Mozāre’” style while the fourth one was a piece composed in a rhythm that does not fall under any recognized category and which was, in all probability, based upon the non-literary and common Persian rhythms.
Another development that emerged in the Iranian Arabic poetry was the use of the “radif” that had hitherto been unprecedented in the Arabic language, and according to Bākhazri, it was even inconsistent with the poetry rules of the Arabic language, even though he had himself composed two pieces of poetry in this very style. Moreover, one of the outstanding features of the odes and poetry pieces that have been included in the “Kharidah al-Qasr” is that their composers have resorted to emulating and repeating the already existing forms and themes, with very little alterations, lest they got accused of being “aliens” like Nezām Balkhi and even Bākhazri himself. The mention of very few poets can be found in this book that, like Abu Bakr Thaqafi Esfahāni, focused on issues such as society and general life.
From the 7th Century AH/13th Century AD onwards, and particularly after the onslaught of the Mongols, Arabic literature never regained its earlier status in Iran even though it continued to remain the inevitable medium of the scribes, the clerks, and the poets and lingered on as the medium of instruction in theological schools. This discussion calls for a separate and comprehensive research on the methods of teaching Arabic in such schools as well as the mosques, and the primary schools of the first seven centuries since the advent of Islam in Iran. Another important point that calls for deeper attention and further research is the motive that drove the Iranian literati and scholars towards the production of works in Persian and the translation of scholarly works from Arabic to the Persian language. Even as these writers and scholars found it inevitable to turn from the prestigious Arabic language – which had served as a means of honor and pomposity for them – to the Persian language, they were apparently faced with apprehension, the reasons for which they did not resist from voicing out. The most important causes that compelled them to switch over to Persian were such issues as the spread of the Persian language in their area, the demands on the part of the rulers, a lack of knowledge on the part of the masses and even the elite of the country about the intricacies of the Arabic language, the consideration of the general usefulness of a particular work, teaching of the Arabic language, and a lack of interest in the Arabic language on the part of the people.
* source: Arabic Literature section , " Iran Entry " The Great Islamic Encyclopedia . Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 , pp.576- 580
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