Life . Al-Hariri was the chief developer and popularizer of a form of Arabic rhymed prose called maqamat (assemblies), speeches for particular occasion, often combat or another sort of contest, which are still written and widely read. He was born into the rural gentry near the southern Iraqi city of Basrah and soon migrated to that city, where he was employed as chief of intelligence, a post that enabled him to meet many people—including con men, scoundrels, and crooks—and to ponder the psychology that moved people to behave in various ways. Al-Hariri’s literary work, al-Maqamat, is based closely on an earlier work of the same name by Ahmad Badi al-Zaman al-Hamadhani (968–1008), who began his work about 990 and continued to add to it over most of the rest of his life. Al-Hariri began to compose his work in 1101, a century after al-Hamadhani, and may have completed it by 1108. Al-Hariri is considered a master of Arabic style, far surpassing al-Hamadhani in excellence of expression, and his work is also highly entertaining, signaling the popularization of a rather highbrow literary form. Al-Hariri is also a skilled satirist, who laughed at his society and the odd characters who inhabited it. The stories of al-Harari’s various maqamat exhibit great variety and include valuable information about the manners of Muslim society in his time. By the time al-Hariri died in 1122, he had produced more than seven hundred copies of his work, which has never lost its popularity.
Thomas Chenery, trans., The Assemblies of al Hariri, 2 volumes (London: Williams & Norgate, 1867, 1898).