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Reviews of Beauty in Arabic Culture

“Although beauty, in the premodern Arab world, was enjoyed and promoted almost everywhere and at all times, Islam does not possess a general theory on aesthetics (i.e., art and beauty) or a systematic theory of the arts. The author therefore had to search for her evidence in written statements from a wide variety of sources, such as the Qur’an, legal, religious, and Sufi texts, chronicles, biographies, belle-lettres, literary criticism, and scientific, geographic and philosophical literature. The result is a compendium of references to beauty in chapters on the Religious Approach, Secular Beauty and Love, Music and Belle-Lettres, and the Visual Arts.

“This approach is informative and provocative. For the generalist, it provides a comparative material for an understanding of the early Arab cultural context. For the specialist, it raises questions of sponsorship and purpose. …┬áIn her look at beauty in Arab culture, Doris Behrens-Abouseif builds on the work and insights of previous scholars of Islamic culture and art. By attempting to develop an explanation or theory from widely scattered sources, however, she broadens and generalizes that inquiry. As such, she has added novel insights to a field of inquiry which is still relatively new, and which is a welcome contribution.”

The Middle East Journal

“An excellent introduction to a rich yet under-researched topic, offering a panoramic view of the theme of beauty in the pre-modern Arab-Islamic tradition. Consulting a wide range of original Arabic sources in philosophy, theology, mysticism, history, poetry, and literature, she traces the articulation of the theme in religious and secular Islamic thought. Her concise and comprehensible style makes the text accessible to the general reader, while being particularly useful to both students and scholars of Islamic art and architecture, Arabic literature, and Islamic aesthetics.”

Religious Studies Review

“Although the arts were appreciated and promoted throughout the Arabic-Muslim world for centuries, there were no theoretical writings on the arts similar to those in classical Europe. However, as is the case in premodern and traditional cultures, the absence of aesthetic theory in Arab culture did not preclude the awareness of the link between beauty and art, beauty for pleasure, and moral beauty. In this analysis of the Arabic discourse on beauty in architecture, decorative arts, music, and literature, Behrens-Abouseif provides a variety of examples of the concepts of beauty in classical Arabic-Muslim culture through the fifteenth century. She draws on primary Arabic texts (such as the use of erotic metaphor in the work of Sufi mystic poets) to show that artistic work was not always associated only with the metaphysical and the divine. Originally written in German, this book offers a thoroughly original and comprehensible explanation of the artistic and aesthetic legacy of a little-understood culture. Highly recommended for all collections.”

Library Journal

“A succinct synthesis of the Arab experience.”

Journal of Palestine Studies