The Excellence of the Arabs is a spirited defense of Arab identity—its merits, values, and origins—at a time of political unrest and fragmentation, written by one of the most important scholars of the early Abbasid era.
In the cosmopolitan milieu of Baghdad, the social prestige attached to claims of being Arab had begun to decline. Although his own family originally hailed from Merv in the east, Ibn Qutaybah locks horns with those members of his society who belittled Arabness and vaunted the glories of Persian heritage and culture. Instead, he upholds the status of Arabs and their heritage in the face of criticism and uncertainty. The Excellence of the Arabs is in two parts. In the first, Arab Preeminence, which takes the form of an extended argument for Arab privilege, Ibn Qutaybah accuses his opponents of blasphemous envy. In the second, The Excellence of Arab Learning, he describes the fields of knowledge in which he believed pre-Islamic Arabians excelled, including knowledge of the stars, divination, horse husbandry, and poetry. And by incorporating extensive excerpts from the poetic heritage—“the archive of the Arabs”—Ibn Qutaybah aims to demonstrate that poetry is itself sufficient corroboration of Arab superiority.
Eloquent and forceful, The Excellence of the Arabs addresses a central question at a time of great social flux at the dawn of classical Muslim civilization: what did it mean to be Arab?
A bilingual Arabic-English edition.
Ibn Qutaybah (d. 276/889) was a renowned judge and writer known for many influential works on a wide range of subjects, including Qur'anic exegesis, poetry and poetics, and statecraft.
Sarah Bowen Savant is Professor at The Aga Khan University, London, and the author of The New Muslims of Post-Conquest Iran.
Peter Webb is Lecturer in Arabic Literature and Culture at the University of Leiden and the author of Imagining the Arabs: Arab Identity and the Rise of Islam.
James E. Montgomery is Sir Thomas Adams’s Professor of Arabic at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Trinity Hall. His latest publications are Fate the Hunter: Early Arabic Hunting Poems, and Kalīlah and Dimnah: Fables of Virtue and Vice, with Michael Fishbein.
Ibn Qutayba’s extraordinary erudition and literary skill are now on view in the LAL Arabic edition and translation at hand, The Excellence of the Arabs . . . The English translation is a page-turner. The Arabic is difficult, but the translators’ command is apparent in how they avoid the complex syntax, verbosity, and numerous repetitions that are characteristic of Classical Arabic. The judiciousness of the series’ decision to opt for English felicity over a more literal English rendering of the Arabic provides the reader with a genuine grasp of what Ibn Qutayba is really saying. All involved are to be congratulated!
~Journal of the American Oriental Society
Enriches the Library of Arabic Literature and the growing corpus of translations of books from Arabic into English . . . A true delight to read.
[A] clear and lively translation.
An excellent example of the narrative sources available to historians of West Asian late antiquity and early Islam.