THE 1001 NIGHTS: CLASSICAL ARABIC/ ISLAMIC
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
- 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
- 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
- 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)
- 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
- 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.
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