adab


adab
(etiquette, refinement, culture)
   Initially, the Arabic term adab seems to be a virtual synonym for sunna (custom, tradition), insofar as it has to do with a norm of habitual conduct founded by ancestors or other exemplary persons. This notion was gradually magnified and embellished, particularly during the ‘Abbasid empire, and by the heyday of Islamic humanism in the second half of the fourth/tenth century under the Buyids, the term had taken on a panoply of social, ethical and intellectual connotations. Due to the increasing refinement of bedouin customs by the introduction of Islam, as well as by exposure to Persian, Greek and Indian civilization, adab had come to signify a kind of ethical perfectionism that encompassed good manners, etiquette, elegance, education, urbanity, belles-lettres and culture in general. More specifically, it referred to the sort of knowledge necessary to produce refined, well-cultivated people. In this sense adab can generally be seen as the secular complement to ‘ilm (science, knowledge), which has more to do with religious sciences such as tradition (hadith), jurisprudence (fiqh), Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir), etc. It comprises knowledge of poetry, rhetoric, oratory, grammar and history, as well as familiarity with the literary and philosophical achievements, the practical-ethical wisdom and the exemplary individuals of the pre-Islamic Arabs, Indians, Persians and Greeks. It can be said to encompass the natural sciences as well, although its primary focus is always on the human. The semiotic field of adab would eventually shrink and reify, referring merely to the specific knowledge required for the performance of a particular office, or signifying literature in a narrow sense. But at its apex, the adab tradition – at least as interpreted by Islamic humanists such as Abu Sulayman Muhammad al- Sijistani, al-Tawhidi and Miskawayh – gave rise to the cosmopolitan ideal that wisdom and moral exemplars could be drawn from many cultures, and that their insights were the collective birthright of humankind.
   See ethics; humanism; Miskawayh; al-Sijistani, Abu Sulayman Muhammad; al-Tawhidi
   Further reading: Goodman 2003; Kraemer 1986a/93

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

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