The Islamic Context of The Thousand and One Nights

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Columbia University Press, May 13, 2009 - Religion - 352 pages
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In this fascinating study, Muhsin J. al-Musawi shows how deeply Islamic heritage and culture is embedded in the tales of The Thousand and One Nights (known to many as the Arabian Nights) and how this integration invites readers to make an Islamic milieu. Conservative Islam dismisses The Thousand and One Nights as facile popular literature, and liberal views disregard the rich Islamic context of the text. Approaching the text with a fresh and unbiased eye, al-Musawi reads the tales against Islamic schools of thought and theology and recovers persuasive historical evidence to reveal the cultural and religious struggle over Islam that drives the book's narrative tension and binds its seemingly fragmented stories.

Written by a number of authors over a stretch of centuries, The Thousand and One Nights depicts a burgeoning, urban Islamic culture in all its variety and complexity. As al-Musawi demonstrates, the tales document their own places and periods of production, reflecting the Islamic individual's growing exposure to a number of entertainments and temptations and their conflict with the obligations of faith. Aimed at a diverse audience, these stories follow a narrative arc that begins with corruption and ends with redemption, conforming to a paradigm that concurs with the sociological and religious concerns of Islam and the Islamic state. By emphasizing Islam in his analysis of these entertaining and instructional tales, al-Musawi not only illuminates the work's consistent equation between art and life, but he also sheds light on its underlying narrative power. His study offers a brilliant portrait of medieval Islam as well, especially its social, political, and economic institutions and its unique practices of storytelling.


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About the author (2009)

Muhsin J. al-Musawi is professor of Arabic and comparative studies at Columbia University. He has been teaching at the American University of Sharjah and taught at a number of Universities in North Africa and the Middle East. He has published many books in English and Arabic, including Scheherazade in England; Anglo-Orient; The Postcolonial Arabic Novel; Arabic Poetry: Trajectories of Modernity and Tradition; Reading Iraq: Culture and Power in Conflict; and Islam in the Street: The Islamic Dynamic in Literary Production, as well as four novels. He is the editor of the Journal of Arabic Literature and the recipient of many awards, including the prestigious Owais Award in literary criticism.

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