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Literature is one of the arts most valued by Muslims. Medieval Muslims fostered the art known as adab, which came to imply the sum of intellectual knowledge that makes a man courteous and urbane. Based on pre-Islamic poetry, the art of oratory, and the historical and tribal tradition of the ancient Arabs, as well as the corresponding sciences of rhetoric, grammar, lexicography, and metrics, adab literature included long compilations of poetry, works for instruction, and manuals for princes meant to entertain sophisticated audiences.

Literature pitched at a more popular level was correspondingly broad, ranging from the legends of pre-Islamic poets to the stories epitomized by the Thousand and One Nights. In addition to works in Arabic, Muslims also fostered a thousand-year tradition of classical Persian poetry, ranging from short quatrains to long epics. With the spread of Islam to other regions, there has been a corresponding growth in literature in other languages, ranging from Swahili to Malay.