- Dr. Tahera Qutbuddin won the ‘Nobel Prize’ of the Arab world for her latest book, “Arabic Oration – Art and Function.”
Dr. Tahera Qutbuddin, a professor of Arabic Literature at the University of Chicago, recently became the first person of Indian-origin to win the 15th Sheikh Zyed Book Award. The award is regarded as the Nobel Prize of the Arab world. Qutbuddin, who was born in Mumbai and was educated until 12th grade in India, won the award for her latest book, “Arabic Oration – Art and Function,” published by Brill Academic Publishers of Leiden in 2019. In the book, she puts forth a comprehensive theory of Arabic literature in its foundational oral period dating the seventh and eighth centuries AD, and discusses it’s influence on modern-day sermons and lectures as well.
The Abu Dhabi Department of Cultural announces the award annually to people with exemplary work in the field of Arabic literature. It is aimed at showcasing the most powerful, stimulating and challenging works representing the Arab world.
Qutbuddin’s research focuses on intersections of the literary, the religious, and the political in classical Arabic poetry and prose. Earlier, she published a book on the Fatimid da’i Mu’ayyad Shirazi (Brill, 2005), and two edition-translations of ethical sayings by Prophet Muhammad and Imam Ali (NYU Press, 2013, 2016). She also serves on the editorial board of NYU Abu Dhabi’s Library of Arabic Literature.
Qutbuddin, who has been a professor of Arabic literature and Islamic studies in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago since 2002, is also a member of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, associate faculty of the Divinity School, and ten-year chair of the undergraduate major Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities. She is the recipient of several prestigious fellowships, including support from the Franke Institute of Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.
After completing her early education in Fort Convent, Presentation Convent in Kodaikanal, Villa Theresa High School, and Sophia College in Mumbai, Qutbuddin pursued her BA from Ain Shams University, Cairo and got her PhD and MA from Harvard.
Qutbuddin told India Today that despite having lived in Egypt and the U.S., her roots are vital to who she is. “Indian culture is part of the fabric of my being. It is the place of my childhood memories, of playing in the monsoon rains and eating mangoes in the summer. I come back to Mumbai often. I love my Mother India, and pray for her security and progress, and for harmony and love between the many beautiful communities that call her home.”
Speaking on the relations between India and the Arabic world, she said “Arabic-speaking countries and India have had personal and cultural exchanges that go back almost two millennia, and today’s greatly mobile world, there is ever more increasing contact.” She said “one of the most important things to improve relationships between two groups of people is to understand each other’s culture, which highlights unique characteristics, but also common human goals, and a wonderful way to do this is by reading their literature.” She further added that in Arabic literature, “India is portrayed as a land of rich culture, ancient wisdom, and wondrous beauty.”