Anyone who thinks about the history of Arabic literature in the Umayyad and Abbasid periods, from the seventh until, say, the eleventh century, must be struck by the enormous number of first-rank writers and thinkers who were either born in Basra or who lived and studied there.

On the evening before his execution in Baghdad for heresy in 922, Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj faced Mecca and, in a state of ecstasy, conversed with God. The following day he was dancing in his chains and laughing as he was taken to the place of execution and that laughter grew to a crescendo when he saw the gibbet.

The fourteenth-century Maghrebi philosopher of history Wali al-Din ‘Abd al-Rahman Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) has been thought by many to be the most profound thinker Islam has ever produced.

The ghazal, or love lyric, evolved out of the pre-Islamic Arabian qasida, or ode, and the origins of the qasida go back to a time before Arabic became a written language.