1001 Nights:


HISTORICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL 9 - 14 C. E. Research done by: Lisa Lazich (ENG. 231:043)

My report is a historical/biographical overview of classical Arabic/Islamic history from 9 - 14 C. E. and THE 1001 NIGHTS: "The Tale of the Porter and the Young Girls."

  • The Arabs were originally the people of the Arabian Desert. After being converted to Islam in the 7th century C. E., they conquered the Middle East from the Sasnid and Byzantine empires and established a succession of Arab-Islamic Middle Eastern empires from Spain to central Asia and from the Caucasus to India.
  • Islam and its laws and doctrines became the accepted religion and culture of the Persians, Turks, and many other peoples. The Arab civilization is a combination of certain classical Arab values, Islamic culture and institutions, the inherited knowledge of the great civilizations of the Old World, and the unity provided by the Arabic language.
  • There is a difference between Islam as a religion and Islam as a culture. Islam as a religion refers to regulations pertaining to piety, ethics, and belief. These spiritual aspects of Islam are considered duties of worship and are the roots or foundation of the faith.
  • In the 6th century C. E., Arabia was a region with some agriculture and commerce in the south by Yemen and on the borders of Syria and Iraq. The harsh interior of Arabia was the domain of camel-raising nomads called Bedouins. Their socio-political unit of organization was the tribe. There were feuds among the tribes. These tribes included pagans and Jews. The Arabian Peninsula was surrounded by Christian nations that were frequently at war with one another.
  • Muhammad was born in Mecca in 540 C. E. He was troubled by the disputes among the clans within his tribe and the changes that had taken place in Meccan society with the development of its economy. According to Muslim belief, while Muhammad was meditating in a cave on Mt. Hira about 610 C. E., he was visited by the archangel Gabriel and received the word of God. Muhammad's belief that there was one God, Allah, monotheism, threatened both the social order and the economy of a city that depended on pagan pilgrim traffic. The wealthier clans mounted death threats against Muhammad. In 622 he moved his community of believers from Mecca to Medina. This event, the Hijrah (hegira) marked the beginning of the Muslim calendar. In Medina Muhammad used his charisma, wisdom, and belief in God to settle the long-standing feuds. He wrote the "Constitution of Mecca" which spelled out the obligations among the city's tribes and his transplanted followers. His Medina revelations included a way of life, issues such as marriage, inheritance, and divorce. They defined his own role as the final prophet in a series that had begun with those of the Old Testament. In the mid-620's the Meccans accepted Islam.
  • By the time of Muhammad's death in 632, almost all of the tribes of the peninsula had joined his confederation. His death was a test of survival for both the religion and the confederation. There was a need for a Caliph, a successor to preserve the integrity of the religion and the political bonds of the confederation who would also perform Muhammad's many other functions. Abu Bakr was chosen. Some of the tribes refused to accept him. Abu Bakr sent loyal troops against them starting the Wars of Apostasy.
  • From this point Arabs initiated a process that resulted in the conquest of neighboring countries. Arabs seized Syria by 641, Egypt in 641 and 642, Upper Mesopotamia in 641, Western Iraq in 644, Fars in 649, and Khurasan in 654. Imperial armies were not adequate to check the Arab invaders, and many people readily accepted the victors. This meant that these peoples were immediately converted to Islam whether they were Christians, pagans, or Jews. They accepted the Islamic principles of the unity of God, the necessity of prophets, and the day of resurrection which advocates the justice of God; the secondary doctrines held by all Muslims known as the "pillars of Islam." These are the belief in an absolute monotheistic God, Muhammad as his prophet; performance of daily prayers; fasting during the month of Ramadan; pilgrimage to Mecca; paying alms; for financial support of the descendants of the prophet Muhammad through a 1/5 donation; and to spread the Islamic religion.
  • Islam and the Islamic experience historically have been quite different from Christianity and the West which acknowledges a distinction between church and state and their differing spheres of authority. Islam does not. Islam has never defined religious and political matters as the existence of two separate institutions. Muslim allegiance has traditionally been to the ummah, a community defined by common adherence to faith, not by political or ethnic boundaries.
  • On the religious level, men and women are moral equals in the sight of God. On the cultural level, women have not been treated as men's equals. The practice of women's seclusion is grounded in both religion and social custom. The practice of confining women to the exclusive company of other women in their own homes or separate female living quarters is one mechanism among others---including modest dress, veiling, self-effacing mannerisms, and the separation of women in public places---that are employed to undergird sexual morality in Middle Eastern societies. Numerous verses in the Qur'an enjoin separation and modesty in dress and behavior of women. Surah 33.32-33, for example, states: "Oh ye wives of the Prophet! Ye are not like other women. If ye keep your duty (to Allah) then be not soft of speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease aspire (to you), but utter customary speech, and stay in your houses. Bedizen not yourselves with the bedizenment of the times of ignorance." Qur'anic commentators were later to hold up the modesty and confinement enjoined on the Prophet's wives as a model of decorum for all women.
  • Apart from the Qur'an, THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS or THE ARABIAN NIGHTS is perhaps the most influential, well-known and widely read work of Arabic and Islamic culture. The earliest evidence that a work or compilation of this nature existed goes back to the ninth century, and certainly by the twelfth century there were many manuscripts of THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq.
  • Culturally, the Arabs relied on poetry as a form of news, entertainment, and history. As we read "The Tale of the Porter and the Young Girls" from THE 1001 NIGHTS, the porter's response is often in the form of poetry known in his time. For instance, when the young girls ask for his discretion, he replies that he acts according to the saying of the poet: "I know the duties of high courtesy Your dearest secrets shall be safe with me. I'll shut them in a little inner room And seal the lock and throw away the key."
  • Three centuries have gone by since Antoine Gallard first introduced the NIGHTS to Europe, and a full century since Richard Burton translated the work. In the NIGHTS themselves, tales divert, cure, redeem, and save lives. The known author, Shahrazad, cures the Caliph Shahrayar of his hatred of women, teaches him to love, and by do9ing so saves her own life and wins a good man; the Caliph finds more fulfillment in satisfying his sense of wonder by listening to a story than in his sense of justice or his thirst of vengeance.
  • In THE1001 NIGHTS, the main characters are King Shahrayar and Shahrazad, his Vizier's daughter. King Shahrayar puts his wife to death for committing adultery. The King then hates and distrusts women. He vows to marry a different woman each night and kill her in the morning. Shahrazad, the daughter of his Vizier, asks her father to offer her in marriage to the King. She has a plan to save her countrywomen. On her wedding night, Shahrazad begins telling a story to the King but does not finish the story by sunrise. The King permits her to live so that he can hear the rest of the story. Shahrazad does this for 1001 nights. During this time she bore the King three male children. At the end of her 1001th story, she asks the King for her life and he grants her life as his Queen.


Damrosch, David, ed. "The Thousand and One Nights. " The Longman Anthology of World Literature, Vol. B. New York.: Pearson Education, Inc., 2004. P. 524 - 564.

Esposito, John L., ed. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. P. 19 , 21, 214, 323.

The Encyclopedia Americana International Edition, Vol. 2. Connecticut: Scholastic Library Publications, Inc., 2004. P. 144.

Haddawy, Husain. The Arabian Nights. New York.: W. W. Norton and Company, 1990. P. x, xxv.

Research done by Roy Antolin (Eng. 231.043)

1001 Nights

  • Alfa Layla wa-layla (The Thousand and One Nights) is the most well-known and read work in the Arabic and Islamic culture. It is group of stories compiled into one. This epic is different though, the stories aren't one after the other. All the stories are put within each other to tell or explain a lesson. Something like pictures within a picture.
  • The Arabian culture is pretty much their religion. In The Thousand and One Nights the Arabian religion, which is Islam, is generally explained. You would find the explanation in the story of The Tale of Sympathy the Learned of The Thousand and One Nights. It is about a very rich merchant in Baghdad who was not able to have a child until he finally got his youngest wife pregnant, after distributing great alms, visiting saints, fasted and prayer and prayed.
  • The child, whose name was Abu al-Husn, was cared for very well and inherited his father's riches after his father died, but before the rich merchant died he told his son to enjoy his property without excess, thanking the Giver and being mindful of Him all your days. Soon after the grieving of his father's death, the merchant's son was convinced to make the most of his riches and youth. Soon enough he forgot about his father's advice and lost all his riches except for one slave girl.
  • The slave girl, whose name was Sympathy, saw her master's suffering and suggested to sell herself to the Commander of the Faithful, Khalifah Harun al-Rashid for ten thousand dinars. She is worth this much because her knowledge in syntax, poetry, civil and canon law, music, astronomy, geometry, arithmetic, the law concerning inheritance, and the art of elucidating books of spells and reading ancient inscriptions. Abu agreed and offered the Khalifah his slave. The Khalifah asked what she has knowledge of and Sympathy told the Khalifah of her studies. After he heard of all the things that Sympathy had learned he called men that had the best knowledge of each of Sympathy's studies.
  • During this time is when Sympathy explained some of the basics of the Islamic religion. The reader of the Koran asked Sympathy to tell him who is your lord, who is your Prophet, who is your Imam, what is your orientation, what is your rule of life, what is your guide, and who are your brothers?
  • Then Sympathy answered, Allah is my lord, Muhammad (upon whom be prayer and peace) is my Prophet; the Koran is my law and therefore my Imam, the Kaabah, the house of Allah built by Abraham at Mecca, is my orientation; the example of our holy prophet is my rule of life; the Sunnah the collection of traditions, is my guide; and all Believers are my brothers.
  • Then the reader of the Koran asked, "How do you know that there is a God?" The slave girl answered, "By reason". "What is reason", asked the reader. Then she said, "Reason is a double gift: it is innate and acquired. Innate wisdom is that which Allah has placed in the hearts of His chosen servants that they may walk in the way of truth. Acquired wisdom is the fruit of education and labour in an intelligent man.
  • He also asked the girl, "What are the indispensable duties of our religion?" Sympathy replied, "The indispensable duties of our religion are five: The profession of Faith: There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, prayer, alms, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and pilgrimage to Mecca when that is possible." After that he asked her, "What is the aim of prayer?" She said, "To offer the homage of my virtue to the Lord, to celebrate His praises, and to lift my soul towards the calm places.
  • "What is the value of prayer?" he said to the slave and she replied, "It sustains faith, of which it is the foundation." "What is the fruit or utility of prayer?" he asked and Sympathy says, "True prayer has no terrestrial use; it should be regarded only as a spiritual tie between the creature and his Lord. It can produce ten immaterial results: it lights the heart, it brightens the face, it pleases the Compassionate, it infiltrates the devil, it attracts pity, it repels evil, it preserves from ill, it protects against enemies, and it fortifies the wavering spirit, and brings the slave nearer to his master."
  • Next the reader asked, "What is the key of prayer? And what is the key of that key?" She answered, "The key of prayer is ablution and the key to ablution is the preparatory formula: In the name of Allah, the Merciful, and the Compassionate." Then he asked, "What is the linguistic meaning of the word ablution?" She said, "To get rid of all internal of external impurity by washing." "What is the meaning of the word fast?" he said and she said, "To abstain." It said that the reason for fasting is to obey Allah, "O you who believe, fasting has been prescribed for you as it has been prescribed for people before you so that you will (learn how to) attain Taqwa" (Qur'an, al-Baqarah, 2:183) "What is the meaning of the word give?" he asked and she replied, "To enrich oneself." "To go on pilgrimage?" he says and she answered, "To attain the end."
  • Lastly he asked, "To make war?" and she said, "To defend oneself." So as you can see "The Tale of Sympathy the Learned" of The Thousand and One Nights explains a good amount of what the religion of Islam is about. Like Allah is the one and only God that exists, and Muhammad is the prophet. There are a lot more to the religion then these basic things. Each answer Sympathy gave has more detail then what she said.
  • The Islamic religion came to existence because of the Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad was not born with revelations; it was at the age of forty that he started to get his revelations.
  • At first Muhammad was allowed to speak his mind because it didn't threaten the polytheism and the Gods of Mecca. Unlike the original religion of Mecca Islam was the belief in one God who is Allah. Later Muhammad attacked the original religion of Mecca by saying that there religion belonged to Allah. At first Meccans prosecuted the early believers, but found fertile ground after a group of believers in Islam came from a town called Yathrib (Now called Medina). They pledged to protect him and convert their town to Islam. Muhammad agreed to go with them.
  • This migration is known as the hijra. From then on Muhammad fought against the polytheistic believers of Mecca. After years of fighting a treaty was negotiated to allow Muhammad and his followers to make their annual pilgrimage to Mecca. The following year the Meccans broke the treaty and Muhammad decided to invade Mecca. He succeeded almost without bloodshed. After all of that Islamic religion prospered and spread. Islam is considered the true religion of Allah and those who surrender to the will of Allah are said to be Muslim.

Work Cited

Philips, Abu Ameenah. The True Religion. Unknown Date.


"Why Do We Fast." Blessing of Ramadan. 1996. Qur'an and Sunnah Society.


Damrosch, David. The Longman Anthology World Literature. Vol. B. New York: Pearson, 2004

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