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The 7th Maqāma of Al-Hariri, illustration by Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti from the 1237 manuscript (BNF ms. arabe 5847).

Maqāmah (مقامة, pl. maqāmāt, مقامات, literally "assemblies") are an (originally) Arabic prosimetric[1] literary genre which alternates the Arabic rhymed prose known as Saj‘ with intervals of poetry in which rhetorical extravagance is conspicuous.


The origins of the usage of the word as a genre-label are debated.[2] But according to Amina Shah,

The meaning of the word Makamat is derived from "a place where one stands upright" and hence the place where one is at any time. Next it is used metonymically to denote "the persons assembled at any place" and finally, by another translation, "the discourses delivered or conversations held in any such assembly". This metaphorical use of the word Makamat has however been restricted to discourse and conversations like those narrated by Hariri and his predecessor Al Hamadani, which are composed in a highly finished style, and solely for the purpose of exhibiting specimens of various kinds of eloquence, and exemplifying rules of grammar, rhetoric and poetry.[3]


According to J. Hämeen-Anttila, the typical maqāmāt can be schematized 'into “isnād” [the citations or "backings" used to verify the legitimacy of a hadith], “general introduction,” “link,” “episode proper,” “recognition scene,” “envoi,” and “finale.”'[4] Ailin Qian has exemplified this schema with reference to that Maqamat Badi' az-Zaman al-Hamadhani: 'after the initial isnād,' the narrator ʿĪsā 'tells the audience that for a certain reason “I was in such-and-such a city” or “I traveled from here to there”; this constitutes the “general introduction.” That is followed by a transitional formula, like “one day, when I...” (fa baynamā anā yawman), “and so on till...” (wa halumma jarran ilā an), leading to the “episode proper.” Then through the eyes of ʿĪsā we are introduced to an anonymous trickster who shows remarkable erudition and eloquence, and always succeeds “in swindling money out of the gullible narrator.”' The trickster al-Iskandarī's identity is then recognised; 'In answering ʿĪsā’s questions, al-Iskandarī then chants an envoi poem, either as an indicator of his identity or also an apologia for his misbehaviors. In many of the Hamadhānian maqāmāt, an envoi marks the end of the story, but occasionally the envoi is followed by a “finale,” where ʿĪsā and al-Iskandarī are described as departing.'[5]


'There is still much scholarly debate concerning the origins of the genre' of the maqāma.[6] However, the tenth-century author Badī' al-Zaman al-Hamadhāni is wisely said to have invented the form with his Maqamat Badi' az-Zaman al-Hamadhani. This was extended by al-Hariri of Basra in the next century. Both authors' maqāmāt center on trickster figures whose wanderings and exploits in speaking to assemblies of the powerful are conveyed by a narrator. The protagonist is a silver-tongued hustler, a rogue drifter who survives by dazzling onlookers with virtuoso displays of rhetorical acrobatics, including mastery of classical Arabic poetry (or of biblical Hebrew poetry and prose in the case of the Hebrew maqāmāt), and classical philosophy. Typically, there are 50 unrelated episodes in which the rogue character, often in disguise, tricks the narrator out of his money and leads him into various straitened, embarrassing, and even violent circumstances. Despite this serial abuse, the narrator-dupe character continues to seek out the trickster, fascinated by his rhetorical flow.

Manuscripts of al-Harīrī's Maqāmāt, anecdotes of a roguish wanderer Abu Zayd from Saruj, were frequently illustrated with miniatures.[7] A noted illustrator was Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti. al-Harīrī far exceeded the rhetorical stylistics of the genre's innovator, al-Hamadhani, to such a degree that his maqāmāt were used as a textbook for rhetoric and lexicography (the cataloging of rare words from the Bedouin speech from the 7th and 8th centuries) and indeed as schoolbooks for until Early Modern times.[8]

Development in Hebrew[edit]

The maqāma genre was also cultivated in Hebrew in Spain, beginning with Yehūda al-Ḥarīzī's translation of al-Harīrī's maqāmāt into Hebrew (c. 1218), which he titled maḥberōt 'ītī'ēl ("the maqāmāt of Ithiel"). Two years later, he composed his own maḥbārōt, titled Sēfer Taḥkemōnī ("The Book of the Tachmonite"). With this work, al-Ḥarīzī sought to raise the literary prestige of Hebrew to exceed that of Classical Arabic, just as the bulk of Iberian Jewry was finding itself living in a Spanish-speaking, Latin- or Hebrew-literate environment and Arabic was becoming less commonly studied and read.

Later Hebrew maqāmāt made more significant departures, structurally and stylistically, from the classical Arabic maqāmāt of al-Hamadhānī and al-Harīrī. Joseph ibn Zabara (end of the 12th-beginning of 13th century), a resident of Barcelona and Catalan speaker, wrote the Sēfer sha'ashū'īm ("The Book of Delights"), in which the author, the narrator, and the protagonist are all Ibn Zabara himself, and in which the episodes are arranged in linear, not cyclical fashion, in a way that anticipates the structure of Spanish picaresque novels such as the anonymous Lazarillo de Tormes (1554) and Guzmán de Alfarache (1599) by Mateo Alemán.


  • al-Hamadhani, Badi` al-Zaman. Maqamat. Ed. Muhammad `Abduh. Beirut: al-Maktaba al-kathulikiyya, s.a.
  • ---. The Maqamat of Badi' al-zaman al-hamadhani: Translated from the Arabic with an Introduction and Notes. Trans. W. J. Prendergast. London: Curzon Press, 1915.
  • al-Hariri, Abu Muhammad al-Qasim ibn `Ali. Maqamat al-Hariri. Ed. `Isa Saba. Beirut: Dar Sadr; Dar Beirut, 1970.
  • ---. Sharh Maqamat al-Hariri. Beirut: Dar al-Turath, 1968.
  • al-Saraqusti, Abu l-Tahir Muhammad ibn Yusuf. Al-Maqamat al-Luzumiya. Trans. James T. Monroe. Leiden: Brill, 2002.
  • ---. Al-Maqamat al-luzumiyah li-l-Saraqusti. Ed. Ibrahim Badr Ahmad Dayf. Alexandria: al-Hay'at al-Misriyat al-'Ammah li-l-Kitab, 2001.
  • ---. al-Maqamat al-Luzumiyya. Ed. Hasan al-Waragli. Tetuan: Manšurat `Ukaz, 1995.
  • ---. al-Maqamat al-Luzumiyya li'l-Saraqusti. Ed. Ibrahim Badr Ahmad Dayf. Alexandria: al-Hay'a al-Misriyya al-`amma li'l-Kitab, 1982.
  • ---. Las sesiones del Zaragocí: Relatos picarescos (maqamat). Trans. Ignacio Ferrando. Saragossa: U Zaragoza P, 1999.
  • Arie, R. "Notes sur la maqama andalouse". Hesperis-Tamuda 9.2 (1968): 204-05.
  • de la Granja, F. "La maqama de la fiesta de Ibn al-Murabi al-Azdi". Etudes d'Orientalisme Dedieés a la mémoire de Lévi-Provençal. Vol. 2. Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 1962. 591-603.
  • Drory, Rina. "The maqama". The Literature of Al-Andalus. Eds. María Rosa Menocal, Michael Sells and Raymond P. Scheindlin. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2000. 190-210.
  • Habermann, Abraham Meir. "Maqama". EJ.
  • Hämeen-Anttila, Jaakko. Maqama: A History of a Genre. Wiesbaden: Harrassovitz, 2002.
  • Hamilton, Michelle M. "Poetry and Desire: Sexual and Cultural Temptation in the Hebrew Maqama Tradition". Wine, Women and Song: Hebrew and Arabic Literature of Medieval Iberia. Eds. Michelle M. Hamilton, Sarah J. Portnoy and David A. Wacks. Estudios de Literature Medieval Number: 2: Juan de la Cuesta, Newark, DE, 2004. 59-73.
  • Ibn Shabbetai, Judah ben Isaac. "Minhat Yehudah", "'Ezrat ha-nashim" ve-"'En mishpat". Ed. Matti Huss. Vol. 1. 2 vols. Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1991.
  • Ibn Zabara, Joseph ben Meir. Libre d'ensenyaments delectables: Sèfer Xaaixuïm. Trans. *Ignasi González-Llubera. Barcelona: Editorial Alpha, 1931.
  • Ignasi González-Llubera. Sepher Shaashuim. Ed. Israel Davidson. New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1914.
  • Katsumata, Naoya. "The Style of the Maqama: Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Syriac". Arabic and Middle Eastern Literatures 5.2 (2002): 117-37.
  • Mirsky, Aharon. "al-Harizi, Judah ben Solomon". Encyclopaedia Judaica CD-ROM Edition Version 1.0. Ed. Geoffrey Wigoder. Jerusalem: Judaica Multimedia, 1997.
  • Wacks, David. "Framing Iberia: Maqamat and Frametale Narratives in Medieval Spain". Leiden: Brill, 2007.
  • ---. "The Performativity of Ibn al-Muqaffas Kalila wa-Dimna and Al-Maqamat al-Luzumiyya of al-Saraqusti". Journal of Arabic Literature 34.1-2 (2003): 178-89.
  • ---. "Reading Jaume Roig's Spill and the Libro de buen amor in the Iberian maqâma tradition". Bulletin of Spanish Studies 83.5 (2006): 597-616.
  • Young, Douglas C. Rogues and Genres: Generic Transformation in the Spanish Picaresque and Arabic Maqama. Newark, DE: Juan de la Cuesta, 2004.
  • Young, Douglas C. "Wine and Genre: Khamriyya in the Andalusi Maqama". Wine, Women and Song: Hebrew and Arabic Poetry of Medieval Iberia. Eds. Michelle M. Hamilton, Sarah J. Portnoy and David A. Wacks. Newark, DE: Juan de la Cuesta Hispanic Monographs, 2004.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Eckhardt, Caroline D. "The Medieval Prosimetrum Genre (from Boethius to Boece)" in Genre 16, 1983 p. 23
  2. ^ Ailin Qian, "The maqāmah as prosimetrum: A comparative investigation of its origin, form and function" (Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 2012),, pp. 19-25.
  3. ^ The Assemblies of Al-Hariri: Fifty Encounters with the Shaykh Abu Zayd of Seruj, trans. by Amina Shah (London: Octagon, 1980), p. viii.
  4. ^ J. Hämeen-Anttila, Maqama: A History of a Genre (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2002), pp. 45-46, cited by Ailin Qian, "The maqāmah as prosimetrum: A comparative investigation of its origin, form and function" (Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 2012),, p. 36.
  5. ^ Ailin Qian, "The maqāmah as prosimetrum: A comparative investigation of its origin, form and function" (Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 2012),, pp. 35, 37.
  6. ^ Roger M.A. Allen, The Arabic Literary Heritage: The Development of Its Genres and Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 268, cited by Ailin Qian, "The maqāmah as prosimetrum: A comparative investigation of its origin, form and function" (Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 2012),, p. 15. Qian also cites Anīs al-Maqdisī, Taṭawwur al-asālīb al-nathrīyah fī al-adab al-ʿarabī (Beirut: Dār al-ʿIlm lil-Malāyīn, 1968), 360-68.
  7. ^ Maqāmāt Al-Harīrī
  8. ^ See: Luisa Arvide, Maqamas de Al-Hariri, GEU, Granada 2009 (in Arabic and Spanish).