It was reported today that a group of Islamist lawyers in Egypt is calling for “The Arabian Nights,” also known as “One Thousand and One Nights,” to be banned as obscene. A new 3-volume translation of “Alf laila wa-laila” will coincidentally be published by Penguin Classics on May 25, complete with all of the time-honored spicy tales, many of them involving the lubricious real-life gay poet Abū-Nuwās.
An important 9th century writer, Abū-Nuwās has himself been denounced lately for his indulgence in wine, women, and boys. Beyond morality or Disneyfication, “The Arabian Nights” may be saddled with even more worrisome baggage for Islamic integrists. A 1996 article, “The Jews and ‘The Arabian Nights,’” by librarian Victor Bochman, from The Israel Review of Arts and Letters, details the amount of Yiddishkeit to be found in “The Arabian Nights.”
As Bochman points out, some of its stories are of Jewish origin, such as “The Tale of Bulukiya,” about the son of an Israelite king. King Solomon plays an important role in several other tales, wielding power over genies and the book of Ecclesiastes provides two proverbs quoted in “The Tale of Sindbad the Sailor.”