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Mark Wagner

Associate Professor
Louisiana State University
The Humoristic Tradition in Zaydi-Yemeni Literature
01 February 2017 -
30 June 2017

Mark Wagner is Associate Professor of Arabic at the Louisiana State University. He is a specialist in Arabic literature with a particular interest in literary and legal texts from Yemen and in the cultural interactions between Muslims and Jews.  He has published books and articles on a wide range of topics, among them Muslim and Jewish poetic traditions in Yemen, blasphemy in Islamic law, and Quranic exegesis.

Research interests

Classical and Vernacular Arabic Literature; Muslim-Jewish relations; Islamic law.

The Humoristic Tradition in Zaydi-Yemeni Literature

The Yemeni humoristic tradition emerged in earnest in the eighteenth century in a literary salon in the capital city of Sanaa run by an aristocratic poet named ‘Ali ibn al-Hasan al-Khafanji (d. 1766). Khafanji and his friends wrote vulgar parodies of the sentimental love songs of the day, lobbed scathing (and scatological) invective against one another, penned elegies for dead pets, and offered rules for beauty, comportment, and the seduction of young men, and rhymed prose narratives. All the while they demonstrated a deep erudition in Islamic thought and literary history, as well as the varieties of common Arabic speech in Yemen at the time. A series of poets in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries continued to write in this style right up until the Revolution of 1962. I argue that this humoristic mode, while shocking and occasionally blasphemous in content, offered a form of entertainment for those immersed in the Zaydi scholastic tradition that prevailed in Yemen. My project is to produce a critical edition and commentary of Khafanji’s poetic collection Lentil Wine and Choice Buckwheat with marginal glosses in Modern Standard Arabic.  I aim as well to place this work in the wider context on the place of obscenity in the Arabic literary tradition and in Islamic thought.

Key publications

Jews and Islamic Law in Early 20th Century Yemen, Indiana University Press, 2014.

Like Joseph in Beauty: Yemeni Vernacular Poetry and Arab-Jewish Symbiosis, Brill Studies in Middle Eastern Literatures, 2009.

« The Problem of Non-Muslims Who Insult the Prophet Muhammad », Journal of the American Oriental Society, 135.3 (2015): 529-540.
« ‘Hukm bi-ma anzala ’llah’: The Forgotten Prehistory of an Islamist Slogan », Journal of Qur’anic Studies, 18.1 (2016): 117-143.

Talk by M. Wagner, Paris IAS fellow
23 Mar 2017 14:00 -
23 Mar 2017 14:40,
Strasbourg :
The Arabic of Mordecai Yitshari’s Diwan

Modern period (1492-1789)
North Africa, Middle East