Essays on The Arabian Nights
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Essays on The Arabian Nights

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Item Code: NAM104
Author: Rizwanur Rahman and Syed Akhtar Husain
Publisher: Primus Books, Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2015
ISBN: 9789384082000
Pages: 153
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.5 inch x 6.5 inch
Weight 380 gm
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About the Book

Essays on The Arabian Nights or The One Thousand and One Nights revisits this classic text in translations as well as reassesses its impact on world literature. Scholars from India and abroad have discussed the Tamil, Russian, Sanskrit, Urdu, Japanese, Malayalam, English, Turkish and Malaysian versions of these stories which have enchanted generations of atorytellers and listeners.

Dealing with human foibles, fallacies, infidelities and desires, the stories truly capture the varied layers of human existence. Refusing to see it merely in stereotypical terms of East v west the contributors of the essays in this volume locate the classic in its socio-cultural context. This book takes into account the discourse on Sufism found in these stories as well as explores its impact on literary studies and Asian Dialogue.

About the Author

Rizwanur Rahman teaches Arabic Language and Literature at the Centre of Arabic and African Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He has authored six books which include two volumes on language learning, an Urdu translation of a novel by Naguib Mahfooz, two collections of Arabic short in Hindi and Urdu and an edited volume on the Holy Koran.

Syed Akhtar Husain is Associate Professor at the Centre of Persian and Central Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Dr Husain has translated Persian short stories into English in a volume entitled Tales from lran.


Arabian Nights is an indispensable part of the literary heritage of the world. The Persians, Indians and Arabs pooled their genius together to create the corpus of The Arabian Nights or Alf Layla Wa Layla or The One Thousand And One Nights, Persia, under Indian influence, developed the nucleus of The Arabian Nights in the fifth century AD. The Hazar Afsane was the Persian version of this classic. It later developed into a beautiful literary corpus at Baghdad during the reign of the Caliph Harun Al Raheed. In these tales tales the vindictive Caliph Shahryar would marry and then kill his new bride on the morning after the wedding night. This was because his first wife had been unfaithful to him. When he married Sheharzad, the daughter of his Vazir, who was not only beautiful but intelligent as well, she amused the vengeful Caliph by telling him stories each night. The stories changed his perspective on women. In India, this text was first published from the Fort Willian College at Calcutta in 1814.

The storyteller of The Arabian Nights is Sheharzed who narrates story after story each night to regale Shahryar and deter him from killing her. She is a perfect blend of beauty and brains who exposes the infidelity of both, man and women, in her tales. The stories of The Arabian Nights are replete with human follies, infidelities and desires. That is why the leading authority on the subject, Dr Daniel Beaumont, believes that it is not children’s literature. But it is a well-structured text in which a child talks to an adult and asks the fundamental questions on morals in the stories.

No doubt, The Nights gained global popularity since it has been rendered into French by Antoine Galland in 1704. It has also been rendered into English by a host of scholars such as Lane, Payne, Burton, Haddawy and Malcolm and Ursula Lyons and most of the poets and writers of English have made English Nights out of the Arabian Nights. Over the centuries the disparate pieces of text have become a single text and through the prism of The Arabian Nights, one can see the whole trajectory of the Asian Dialogue in which the Persians, Arabs, Turks Indians and Chinese are all closely are all closely interlinked with each other.

The story of the Ebony Horse in The Arabian Night and the Geruda of the Panchatantra and the Wooden Horse of Troy all attest to the confluence of human thoughts in the 1001 Nights.

I am happy to see that the Centre of Arabic and African Studies of Jawaharlal Nehru University hosted the International Symposim on ‘Reception of Arabian Nights in World Literature’, in collaboration with IIC Asia Project in 2010 and by the efforts of Drs Rizwanur Rahman and Syed Akhtar Husain it has paid a rich dividend in the form of Essays on The Arabian Nights.


The Essays on the Arabian Nights in the present collection aim to unravel the Nights beyond the practice of mere storytelling. It is true that Arabian Nights is an ocean of stories and told for entertainment of people. However, the essayists in this volume have expanded the scope of the Nights to information. In doing so, they have covered a vast domain of knowledge from Sufi, Tamil, Malay, Turkish, Islamic, Arabic, Urdu, Sanskrit, Russian to English literatures. No doubt over the years the Hazar Afsaneh of Iran, the Panchatantra of India, Greek and Arabic stories have altogether melted in the curry pot of the Arabian Nights. The 1001 Nights, per se, has taken the shape of a text which denotes not only the picture of the Arabs but of many nations.

Jean-Jacques Thibons essay ‘Presence of Sufi Teachings and Practices in Some Tales of The Arabian Nights’ is a novel attempt to unravel the stories of Sufism in the Arabian Nights. He has rightly found The Novel of Baybars as a key to understand the Night. In The Novel of Baybars, Sultan Baybars (1266-77) appeared as a saint king; his like of which could be found in the figures of Harun-al Rashid and Ibrahim Adham in the Arabian Nights. The Sufis and Sufi practise, rituals, and miracles lend a Gnostic to the Nights. The greatest of the Qadriya Ordder, Sheikh Abdul Qadir Gilani and a host of fakirs, qalandars, Sufis appear in their khanqah or zaviyah in the Nights and enrich the narrative with hagiography. There is a tinge of Sufism of the Iraqi branch in the Nights that conveys universal wisdom to the people of the Middle East. Thibon has discovered Sufi dimension in the literature and accounted it as a factor for the popularity of the classic during the medieval period of Islam history.

Indo-Arab contacts date back to the pre-Islamic period. The Arabs brought horses via sea route to India and developed their contacts with south India during the pre-and post-Islamic periods. However, the Koran was translated into Tamil in the twelfth century and over a period of several centuries Tamil language began to be written also in Arabic known as Aravi. The authors of the essay Reception of the Arabian Nights in Tamil’ have explored the popularity of the Nights in the form of stories for children, films for youth and adaptation for intellectuals in Tamil society. Syed Muhammad, a Tamil Arabist for the first time adapted the story of Madinatun Nubas from 1001 Nights in a novel form in Tamil known as Tamirapattanam (The Copper City). In this regard, Ahamed Zubair and Krishnaswamy Nachimuthu have accurately detected that Sir Richard F. Burton has erroneously translated Madinatun Nubas as ‘The Brass City’. Besides, the writers have given a detailed analysis of the adaptation of the Night in Tamil, considering it as the first historical novel in the annals of Tamil literature. Tamirapattanam does not have the Nights’ characters in it nor does it have its form and structure. However, the spirit of the Nights certainly is predominant in 23 chapters of the novel. Like The Alchemist of Paulo Coelho, the search for the Bottles of Soloman in which genii are contained. The characters in the Tamirapattanam are not from the Arabian Nights but they are borrowed from the Umayyad Court of Islamic history. On this count Zubair and Nachimuthu have right claimed it as the historical novel in Tamil literature written after the fashion of the Arabian Nights.

Kaseh Abu Bakr and her associates take the readers of the Essays on The Arabian Nights to Malaysia in the Far East of Asia to show the impact of the Nights on the society and culture of the Malays. The Nights were mostly rendered into Malaysian language and literature from the monumental translation of Sir Richard F. Burton by Malaysian scholars such as Zaaba, Onn bin Jaafar, A.K. Zain and others. A.K. Zain offered the first complete translation of 1001 Nights in Malay in twelve volumes known as kessah Saribu Satu Malam. Suhaila Zailani, an exponent of Cultural Studies found the cultural-laden concepts of the Night missing or omitted in the aforesaid in the aforesaid translation.

However, Kaseh Abu Bakr and her colleagues believe that translations of the Nights in Malay have helped in the developments of Malay language, literature and culture. According to Bakr, the Malaysians look upon this Classic text not as a book of magic and witchcraft but as a veritable storehouse of notions on fidelity, wisdom, chivalry, honesty, sincerity, truth and beauty.

Women as storytellers are modern Sheharzads in the essay by Ismat Latif Mehdi. She has studied Arabic literature in Egypt, and certainly she has a good understanding of Egyptian Arabic literature. Mehdi has traced the art of storytelling among women from Eve Sheharzad, and had come down to Vayu Naidu, Suhayr Qalamawy and Fatima Mernissi in the modern times. Despite male domination in the Arab literary world, writers such as Tawfiq al Hakim have acknowledged the contribution of women to the evolution of storytelling in the literary world. The female exponents of the 1001 Nights in Arabia have broken the nut and got kernel from the Nights. They have ‘brought the tales out of the realm of magic and wonderment to the realm of intellectual content’. The essayist believes that the female narrators of the Nights are not simple storytellers but they are the sane voice of society that preaches wisdom and sagacity to the erring mankind.

Sevim Ozdemir puts forth the view of noted Indologists, Theodor Benfey and Enamuel Cosquin that all the tales originated from found their way to various parts of the world by the tenth century AD. The Indological view is that the tales of Arabian Nights were of Indian was a country rich in tales and stories. The stories of the Arabian Nights were given Persian and Arabic garb through translations from Persia and Arabia they reached Asia Minor. The first translation of the Arabian Nights from Arabic into Turkish was by Abdi in 1429 and was titled Camasbname and after the fashion of the Night, The Forty Vaziers’ Stories were written into Turkish by Ahmad i Misri in 1446. In this Turkish version of the Nights, the and genie elements are replaced by verses from the Koran and words of wisdom the traditions of the Prophet. Cities of Asia Minor such as Konya, Kayzeri, and Urfa are also depicted in the Turkish version of the Nights. The Forty Vaziers’ Stories in the Turkish version appear more didactic than fabulous and have enriched the Turkish language with idioms, Proverbs, and literary expressions. They were presented to the Ottoman Sultans, Murad II and Mehmer the Conqueror in the fifteenth century. Sevim has essayed to show the Islamization and nationalization of the Arabian Nights in the Turkish language and literature.


Kapila Vatsyayan vii
Introduction 1
Rizwanur Rahman and Syed Akhtar Husain
1 Presence of Sufi Teachings and Practices in Some Tales of the Arabian Nights 7
2 Reception of The Arabian Nights in Tamil: the Story of Madinatun Nubas in Tamil Adaptation 25
3 Reception of The Arabian Nights in Malay Literary and Cultural Traditions 41
4 Modern Sheharzads: Women as Storytellers 51
5 Reflections on The Arabian Nights and The Forty Vaziers' Stories 61
6 1001 Nights: Its Reception in Russia 71
7 Translations of The Arabian Nights in Turkish Literature 77
8 Kamil Kilani: An Exponent of Alf Layla Wa Layla for Children 81
9 Woman in Islamic Society: A Study of The Arabian Nights 87
10 Reception of The Arabian Nights in Sanskrit Literature 93
11 Literary Heritage as a Source of the Renovation of Modern Arabic Prose 97
12 Reception of Alf Layla in India with Special Reference Urdu 105
13 Magic Carpet Japan 111
14 The Influence of The Arabian Nights on Malayalam Literature 115
15 The Spell of Infinity: Impact of The Arabian Nights 121
Notes on Editors and Contributors 129
Index 133

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