The Creation of an Islamic Literary Genre: Popular Religious Education in Tha'labi's (d.427/1035) Tales of the Prophets

Siebeking, Robert, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Al-Rahim, Ahmed H, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

Since its “discovery” by Orientalist scholars in the 19th century, the Islamic “Tales of the Prophets” (qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ) literature—comprising narratives on pre-Islamic figures (e.g. Abraham, Moses, Jesus, etc.)—has been the subject of numerous studies. While much of this scholarship has focused on the relationship of such material to biblical antecedents, considerably less attention has been paid to the situating the qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ in its Islamic literary and intellectual milieu. This study contributes to that project by proffering a close examination the long-esteemed Brides of the Sessions in Tales of the Prophets (ʿArāʾis al- majālis fī qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ) of Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Thaʿlabī (d. 427/1035). Employing a genre-focused method of analysis, I assert that this work emerged as the epitome of the qiṣaṣ genre due to its inventive and effective integration of features, methods, and aims from three primary Islamic literary forms: qurʾānic commentary (tafsīr); group biography (ṭāʾifah); homiletic storytelling (qaṣaṣ). The result is a complex, polyvocal composition that is not simply a compendium of prophetical stories but a sweeping vision of popular Muslim education in the medieval period. What is more, Thaʿlabī’s synthesis was so complete that it occasioned a re-formation of the qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ as a fundamentally didactic genre, one given to the exegetical, biographical, theological, and moral edification of its audience.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
prophets, Islam, Thaʿlabī, qiṣaṣ, tales, genre, popular, education
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