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Illustration from the Maqamat of al-Hariri: Bagdad, Arabic Ms. 5847 [1237] (Public Domain Image)

The Maqámát
of Badí‘ al-Zamán

translated by W.J. Prendergast


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A Maqama (plural, Maqamat) is an Arabic rhymed prose literary form, with short poetic passages. Maqama is from a root which means 'he stood,' and in this case it means to stand in a literary discussion in order to orate.

The two classical exponents of the Maqama were Hamadhani (967-1007), the composer of this work, and the later and better-known Hariri (1054-1122). Hamadhani was born in Hamadhan, the ancient Ecbatana, in what is now Iran (to the southwest of Tehran) and spent his life as a wandering scholar. The Maqamat of Hamadhani and Hariri have a similar structure. They both consist of a series of unrelated episodes involving a wandering narrator, and a trickster protagonist. In the Maqamat of Hamadhani, the narrator is an alter ego of Hamadhani, a wandering scholar named Isa ibn Hisham. In each tale, he encounters a mysterious rogue named Abul-Fath al-Iskanderi.

Iskanderi wanders the earth, surviving on his wits and a silver tongue, running scams, always one step ahead of an angry mob. Each story is a small capsule description of a sometimes absurd predicament that the characters find themselves in. Nonetheless the stories are often used as framing for discourses on serious topics such as predestination, the vanity of human life, and the inevitability of death and judgement. The work brings to mind Jack Kerouac's On the Road, with its tales of Dharma bums wandering through a rich and morally ambiguous land, and the interaction between the Sal Paradise/Dean Moriarty characters.

The Maqamat presents a vivid street-level view of the medieval Islamic countries at the height of their power and culture. We meet merchants, clerics, peasants, sultans, scholars, and, literally, an entire catalog of swindlers. We get to visit fabled cities of Iraq, Iran, Arabia, Yemen, and other middle eastern locations. Some of these will be familiar from the headlines: Mosul, Basra, Samara, and Baghdad, (which Hamadhani calls 'The City of Peace').

Production notes: This translation is very rare, and to my knowledge has never been reprinted. Because the text is rich with allusions that would be difficult to grasp without the footnotes, I included all of the apparatus. Due to the limits of current scanning technology, I had to omit text in the Arabic alphabet, with a few exceptions. The omitted passages and words in the Arabic alphabet are indicated by the ellipsis character in green (). This text uses Unicode extensively, so if you have trouble viewing it, please refer to the Unicode page.

Title Page


I. Life of the Author
II. Rhymed Prose
III. The Word Maqáma
IV. Origin And Character of the Maqamat
V. Hamadhání and Ḥarírí Compared

The Maqámát

I. The Maqáma of Poesie
II. The Maqáma of the Date
III. The Maqáma of Balkh
IV. The Maqáma of Sijistán
V. The Maqáma of Kúfa
VI. The Maqáma of the Lion
VII. The Maqáma of Ghailan
VIII. The Maqama of Adharbayján
IX. The Maqáma of Jurjan
X. The Maqámá of Isfahan
XI. The Maqáma of Ahwaz
XII. The Maqáma of Baghdad
XIII. The Maqáma of Basra
XIV. The Maqáma of Al-Fazára
XV. The Maqáma of Jáḥiz
XVI. The Maqáma of the Blind
XVII. The Maqáma of Bukhára
XVIII. The Maqama of Qazwín
XIX. The Maqama of Sásán
XX. The Maqama of the Ape
XXI. The Maqama of Moṣul
XXII. The Maqáma of the Maḍirah
XXIII. The Maqama of the Amulet
XXIV. The Maqama of the Asylum
XXV. The Maqáma of the Famine
XXVI. The Maqáma of the Exhortation
XXVII. The Maqáma of Al-Aswad
XXVIII. The Maqama of ‘Iráq
XXIX. The Maqáma of Ḥamdán
XXX. The Maqama of Ruṣáfa
XXXI. The Maqáma of the Spindle
XXXII. The Maqáma of Shiráz
XXXIII. The Maqáma of Ḥulwán
XXXIV. The Maqáma of Fresh Butter
XXXV. The Maqama of Iblís
XXXVI. The Maqáma of Armenia
XXXVII. The Maqama of the Nájim
XXXVIII. The Maqáma of Khalaf
XXXIX. The Maqáma of Nishapur
XL. The Maqáma of Knowledge
XLI. The Maqama of Advice
XLII. The Maqáma of Ṣaimara
XLIII. The Maqáma of the Dinar
XLIV. The Maqáma of Poetry
XLV. The Maqáma of Kings
XLVI. The Maqama of the Yellow
XLVII. The Maqama of Sariah
XLVIII. Maqama of Tamín
XLIX. The Maqáma of Wine
L. The Maqáma of the Quest
LI. The Maqáma of Bishr