In the seventh and eighth centuries CE, the Middle East experienced the birth of Islam, the appearance of the Qur’an [the sacred book of Islam], the efflorescence of Arabic as one of the world’s major literary vehicles, and the rise of an Arab and Islamic empire extending from Morocco and Spain in the West to Afghanistan in the East.
The story began in western Arabia where Muhammad (d. 632 CE), a townsman from Mecca, began reciting the Arabic verses that he said had been communicated to him as divine revelation. Threats and persecution drove Muhammad and his followers to relocate to the oasis-town of Medina. That emigration, known as the Hijra, marks the official beginning of Islam.
While the Hijra occurred in 622 of the Gregorian Christian calendar, it inaugurates the year 1 of the Islamic calendar. The Islamic calendar is lunar, and because a lunar year is shorter than a solar year, a special formula must be used to align the CE dates with the AH (after Hijra) dates of major events after the year 1 AH/ 622 CE (common [Gregorian] era).
The year 1/622 can serve as well to mark the beginning of the first of five major periods of Middle Eastern literature.
John Henry Barrows Professor of Islamic History and Literature, Divinity School, The University of Chicago
1. When was the Age of Voice, and what two major areas of concern dominated the Age of Voice?
2. How did literary traditions reflect tension between different empires in the Middle East from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries CE?
3. What kind of impact has conflict between Middle Eastern and other cultures had Middle Eastern literary movements, both in the early part and final centuries of the second millennium CE?