Categories of Proper Language in Classical Arabic Literature

  • Lale Behzadi


When we discuss Islamic aesthetics, we combine two fields – the study of Islam and the discipline of aesthetics – both of which have received major attention and cover a wide range of associations, involve long historical traditions, and include a variety of phenomena. When I today add a third field – language/literature – I do so to focus on the point at which the concepts central to those three fields meet, and to explore some of the ways in which those concepts influence one another. Three issues are important in this respect:
  1. The role of language and literature in the classical period of Islam
  2. The concept of beauty in Arabic literature
  3. The relation between Islam and aesthetics in Arabic literature
In  his  otherwise  noteworthy  study,  Beauty  and  Holiness.  The  Dialogue  Between Aesthetics and Religion, James Alfred Martin Jr. (1990: 138) admits frankly that, for limitations of time and space, discussion of Islam was omitted from the book. (To be fair, he does state that Islam has celebrated the riches of the Arabic language, both as a medium of conceptual expression and as possessing a physical form of aesthetic excellence.) But he is not the only one to omit Islam. A most important book on the so-called linguistic turn in philosophy starts with Aristotle and ends with Paul de Man and Derrida, without any mention of Arabic theories which deal with roughly the same subjects as the Western theories of rhetoric, semantics and semiotics (Braun 1996). In Western research on the history of thought, we often find that Islamic concepts are, if not neglected, at least not as valued as they could be. This is primarily due to two causes: overviews and basic works being written by scholars who are unfamiliar with either Islam or the Arabic language, and narrowness in specialized fields of research precluding real interdisciplinary experience.
Dec 13, 2013