"Al-'Iqd al-Farid" ("The Unique Necklace") is one of the classics of Arabic literature. Compiled in several volumes by an Andalusian scholar and poet named Ibn 'Abd Rabbih (246-328 A.H. / 860-940 C.E.), it remains a mine of information about various elements of Arab culture and letters during the four centuries before his death. Essentially it is a book of adab, a term understood in modern times to specifically mean literature but in earlier times its meaning included all that a well-informed person had to know in order to pass in society as a cultured and refined individual. This meaning later evolved and included belles letters in the form of elegant prose and verse that was as much entertaining as it was morally educational, such as poetry, pleasant anecdotes, proverbs, historical accounts, general knowledge, wise maxims, and even practical philosophy. Ibn 'Abd Rabbih's imagination and organization saved his encyclopedic compendium from becoming a chaotic jumble of materials by conceiving of it as a necklace composed of twenty-five 'books', each of which carried the name of a jewel.
Each of the twenty-five 'books' was organized around a major theme and had an introduction written by Ibn 'Abd Rabbih, followed by his relevant adab selections of verse and prose on the theme of the 'book'. He drew on a vast repertoire of sources including the Bible, the Qur'an and the Hadith, and the works of al-Jahiz, ibn Qutayba, al-Mubarrad, Abu 'Ubayda ibn al-Muthanna and several others, as well as the diwans of many Arab poets, including his own poetry. Volume I of this translation of al-'Iqd al-Farid (Garnet Publishing, 2006) contains 4 of its 25 'books'. Volume II (Garnet Publishing, 2009), contains two more. This is the third volume.
The translator Issa J. Boullata is a literary critic and scholar, who also writes fiction. Formerly Professor of Arabic Literature at McGill University, Montreal, Canada, he has published several books, including Trends and Issues in Contemporary Arab Thought (1990) and a novel in Arabic, Homecoming to Jerusalem (1998), in addition to numerous studies of Arabic literature, book reviews, short stories in English, and translations of Arabic poetry and novels.