In societies where illiteracy was high, folk literature was invoked to cater for the needs of the many by bringing the creations of folk artists and elite writers to non-readers.
The folk literary genre found its clearest expression in two forms: religious performances to celebrate the birthday of holy men and story-telling in coffee houses. Sufi groups executed these performances at religious festivals in the form of religious songs. At religious festivals, secular and religious activities took place side by side and were the main outlet for folk artists; but story-tellers recited extracts from the Arabian Nights
and Taghribat Bani Hilal
and many other popular tales, including stories from Antara ibn Shaddad (Antara bin Abs), in coffee houses and occasionally in folk theatres as well. The translator of Arabian Nights
, Edward W. Lane, in his book Manners and Customs of Modern Egyptians
(1833‒5), describes in detail how poetic citations were inserted to reinforce the context during performances and how tales were accompanied by music. The oral tradition was never static and new tales continued to be added up until the 19th century.