Part 58

People of rank are above cultivating poetry

December 24, 2021

Poetry was the archive of the Arabs, containing their sciences, their history, and their wisdom. 1604

Leading Arabs competed in it. They used to stop at the fair of ‘Ukaz 1605 to recite poetry. Each would submit his product for criticism 1606 to outstanding and intelligent personalities. Eventually, (Arab poets) came to vie in having their poems hung up at the corners of the Holy Sanctuary to which they made pilgrimage, the house of their ancestor Ibrahim (the Ka’bah).

This was done by Imru’u-l-Qays b. Hujr, an-Nabighah adh-Dhubyani, Zuhayr b. Abi Sulma, ‘Antarah b. Shaddad, Tarafah b. al-‘Abd, ‘Alqamah b. ‘Abadah, al-A’sha, and the other authors of the nine Mu’allaqat= 1607 Only a person who had enough power among his people and his group (‘asabIyah) and who held the proper position among the Mudar, was able to get so far as to have his poem hung up there.

This (fact) is stated in connection with the reason why such poems were called Mu’allaqat.1608 Then, at the beginning of Islam, the Arabs gave up the (custom). They were occupied with the affairs of Islam, with prophecy and revelation. They were awed by the (linguistic) method and form of the Qur’an. They were (thus) silenced. For a time, they no longer discussed poetry and prose. Then, those (great happenings) continued, and right guidance came to be something familiar to the Muslims. 1609

There was no revelation (saying) that poetry was forbidden or prohibited. The Prophet listened to poetry and rewarded (the poet) for it. Under these circumstances, the Arabs returned to their old customs with regard to poetry. ‘Umar b. Abi Rabi’ah, 1610 the leading Qurashite of his time, wrote poetry of a high rank and on a high level. He often submitted his poetry to Ibn ‘Abbas, 1611 who paused to listen to it in admiration.

Then there came great royal authority and a mighty dynasty. The Arabs approached the caliphs with their laudatory poems. The caliphs rewarded them most generously according to the quality of the poems and their position among their people.

They were eager to have poems presented to them. From them they learned remarkable stories, history, lexicography, and noble speech. The Arabs saw to it that their children memorized the poems. This remained the situation during the days of the Umayyads and in the early days of the ‘Abbasid dynasty.

One may compare the report, by the author of the ‘Iqd, about the conversation of ar-Rashid with al-Asma’i, in the chapter on poetry and poets.1612 It shows that ar-Rashid possessed a good knowledge of the subject and was firmly grounded in it.

He was concerned with the cultivation of (poetry). He was able to discern good speech from bad speech, and he possessed a wide memorized knowledge of (poetry) Later on, people came whose language was not Arabic, because they had a non-Arab (background) and a deficient knowledge of the (Arabic) language, which they had learned as a craft.

Poets did write laudatory poems for the non Arab amirs, who did not possess the (Arabic) language, (but) they did so only in order to win their favor, and not for any other reason. This was done, for instance, by Habib (Abu Tammam), al-Buhturi, al-Mutanabbi, Ibn Hani, 1613 and later (poets).

Thus, the predominant purpose of producing poetry came to be mere begging and asking forfavors, because the particular use that, as we have mentioned, the early (Arabs) had made of poetry no longer existed. This is why people of ambition and rank among later (Muslims) disdained poetry. The situation, thus, changed. Concern with poetry came to be (considered) a blemish or fault in leaders and people holding great positions.

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