[P6430] Race and Its Legacies in Arabic Literary Heritage and Production

Created by Clarissa C. Burt
Tuesday, 11/30/21 2:00 pm


This panel explores the development of discourse on race in the Arabic literary heritage and cultural production in materials ranging from pre-Islam through the present day. We examine how such discourse has been deployed in contextualizing, sustaining, and challenging racialized social hierarchies. The premodern studies incorporated into this panel engage the increasingly pertinent question of literary manifestations of premodern race concepts, while the studies of modern productions assess how creators across various media have understood and represented the Arabic-speaking world’s racial pasts while also enagaing with their social present. Crossing regions and periods, the papers’ scope extends across the Arabo-Islamic world and Arabian Sea examining intersections with racial understandings in Persianate culture, contacts between Arabia and East Africa, and the theoretical and social influences of Euro-American race thinking.
The first paper addresses the racially marginalized other in the poetry of `Antara ibn Shaddad (d. 615) and the vagabond poet al-Sulayk b. al-Sulka (d. 605), investigating how their poetry and life stories contend with normative expectations and limitations placed on racial others in pre-Islamic Arabian society. The second paper follows the figure of `Antara ibn Shaddad from early akhbar and recensions of his diwan to his leading role in a sirah sha`biyyah, arguing that his representation between these two textual traditions corresponds with a shift away from hajin (mixed) identities and toward a discourse on Black-Arabness in the ‘Abbasid era. The third contribution investigates problematics in studying race in pre-modern non-western discourse and makes a case study of racializing classifications in Zakariya al-Qazwini’s thirteenth century Arabic encyclopedia, `Aja’ib al-Makhluqat wa-ghara’ib al-Majudat (Wonders and Rarities). It theorizes how racializing language intersects with al-Qazwini’s formulations of wonder, the marvelous, and monstrous. The fourth paper brings our panel into the modern era with an examination of race’s role in six modern screen productions depicting the story of `Antara ibn Shaddad, from 1945 through 2008. It interrogates these recent metamorphoses of the `Antara story for how they represent his story and poetry to modern audiences to build contemporary messages that reinforce or critique racism. The fifth paper examines the psychological, historical, and political aspects of anti-black racism, as articulated in Huda Hamed’s Omani novel, Allati Ta`udd al-Salalim [She Who Counts the Stairs] (2014). It focuses on how the novel’s protagonists both internalize and resist hegemonic notions of gender, race and belonging as they confront dimensions of interpersonal violence and systemic racism.


Lit; Lit; Lit



Clarissa C. Burt

(United States Naval Academy)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Eve Troutt Powell

(University of Pennsylvania)
Panel Participating Role(s): Discussant;

Nadine Sinno

(Virginia Tech)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Nuha Al-Shaar

(Institute of Ismaili Studies)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Rachel Schine

(CU Boulder)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Alexa Herlands

(University of Chicago)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;