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At the same time that Islam was achieving victories in the battlefield as well as in the hearts of the believers, it managed to make its first marks on the literature of the Arab people. This influence first found its way into the Arab literary life through the eulogies of greedy and sycophantic jahili poets who were lured by the promise of gifts from nouveau-riche Arab sayyids (noblemen). It goes without saying that the poems produced by such panegyrists are of varied backgrounds and many of them may well be the products of later periods. However, here, we will discuss them with the hope that they may convey something of the atmosphere of that era. The oldest poet of the Islamic period is A`shi who, according to an account whose spuriousness has been solidly established, came to the Holy Prophet (PBUH) with an ode in his praise. The poem follows the same structure as its jahili counterparts, i.e. the subject of the eulogy is praised for his magnanimity, which betrays the poet’s motive as being material gain. As regards Islamic terms, the ode only contains the two words “Muhammad” and “nabi” (prophet). However, one may also consider such phrases as “provisions of piety” to have been inspired by Islamic feelings. 

The second eulogy in praise of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was composed by Ka`b b. Zuhayr titled “Banat Su`ad” (“Su`ad has disappeared”) or “al-Burda” (the Mantle), which is considered as among the most celebrated odes of Arabic literature. Ka`b’s composition of this ode (qasidah) was prompted by the threat against his life, thus, his poem could not have been inspired by his knowledge of Islamic concepts. Therefore, in spite of the fame of his ode, there is little in it which is reminiscent of Islamic teachings. Its structure, themes and phraseology are jahili through and through, i.e. the eulogized is a man of power and status, who is easily persuaded to forgive the faults of his enemies. The terms “rasul Allah” (the prophet of God) and “nafilat Allah” (the gift of God) are among its most distinct Islamic phrases. However, the occurrence of the term “al-rahman” – which was the Yemeni’s appellation for the Almighty God and whose early use by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) had been a source of consternation for the Quraysh – in Zuhayr’s ode is quite peculiar. 

Though Zuhayr’s ode received no inspiration from the teachings of Islam, it none the less spurred tens of sincere eulogies in praise of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), eulogies that are permeated with Islamic concepts as well as with subtle Qur’anic allusions. These include takhmis’ (the addition of five hemistiches after each pair of hemistiches of the original poem) and tashtirs (the intercalation of two hemistiches between the first two of an existing poem) together with their imitations. 

It is rather safe to assume that with the rise of poets such as `Abd Allah b. Rawahah, Ka`b b. Malik and, especially, Hisan b. Thabit, who devoted their works solely to the praise of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), Qur`anic phrases began to creep into Arabic poetry. 

After long years of lauding Lakhmid and Ghassanid emirs, Hisan embraced Islam in around 622 AD (the first year after the hijrah), from which time he praised the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and his companions for some ten years, however, he never succeeded in breaking free from the ancient styles and notions to which he had become accustomed all his life. Fortunately for him, the endless conflict between Muslims and infidels made his life much easier, for such events lent themselves readily to the epic style of Arabic poetry which laid heavy emphasis on Arab genealogy and the merits and failures of the antagonists. None the less, Hisan’s poetry betrays traces of Islamic influences, with terms such as nabi, kitab (book) and the like occurring constantly in his works. In fact, at times, one encounters lines that could only have been uttered in the world in which the Qur`an was a reality, e.g. “wa yatlu kitab Allah fi kulli mashhad”, in which mashahd is replaced with masjid (mosque). 

The most heartfelt elegies of Hisan are those composed on the death of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), which number three and which are imbued throughout with Qur`anic concepts and terminology. In fact, the mode of description, the sincere pathos, and the mature religious terminology are such that their authorship by Hisan has been questioned. Zaki Mubarak is of the contention that if the poems were to be ascribed to Busiri, who flourished some few centuries later, it would seem as quite tenable. This is especially the case in regard to his Daliyyah Ode, where instead of singing the praises of the beloved he bemoans the death of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Of course, he knows that the signs of this sorrowful event will not be removed from the Prophet’s mosque and pulpit. Indeed, as has been pointed out by Mubarak, such delicate poetic allusions were out of place in the literary world of the first century AH. In fact, as we move forward in the history of Islam the Arab culture becomes increasingly influenced by Islamic rites and traditions. This includes authors and poets whose works were inevitably affected by this process. From that time forward, it is nearly impossible to find a sermon or some other form of writing that does not begin with Qur`anic invocations or salutations upon the Holy Prophet (PBUH). That is the reason behind Ziyad b. Abi Sufyan’s sermon being dubbed as batra’ (truncated), since it did not open with the name of God. 

In addition, a whole raft of ethically-loaded pre-Islamic concepts, such as bravery, generosity, loyalty, honesty and patience started to take on an Islamic color and to merge with the values underlined in the Qur`an. In spite of all these developments, tangible transformation in Arabic poetry was slow to come. This was owing to the firmly established poetic tradition of jahiliyyah (the pre-Islamic period), with several centuries of history, together with the tribal tendencies of the Umayyads. In fact, Arabic poetry was unable to break loose from its external and internal structures and until the 2nd century AH it followed the customary combination of nasib (depicting and praising the characteristics of the beloved), wasf (description) and madh (praise), or hija (condemnation), or ratha (bemoaning). Love poetry was the only genre which underwent any noticeable change, thanks to the influence of `Umar b. Abi Rabi`ah. 

There are few traces of jahili artistic or ethical values in the three of the greatest poets of the Umayyad period, namely, Jarir, Farazdaq and Akhtal. Though, it may be justified to view the poetry of Jarir and Farzdaq as having been couched in an entirely Islamic terminology, with new concepts and ideas, this new terminology still straddles the worlds of Islam and jahiliyyah and is in search of finality. In fact, they are the same terms employed by Akhtal, a Christian poet. 

A brief look at the divan of Jarir, which according to the consensus of ancient authors was the most noble and faithful of the naqa’id poets (those who compose naqidahs, i.e. poems in response to the compositions of rival poets), would indicate the extent to which these poets were still under the spell of jahili mentality. 

In the first 150 pages of Jarir’s divan there occur less than twenty purely Islamic terms, the most important of which include the following: “hawd al-rasul”, or “hawd al-nabi”; in the course of the eulogy of a certain individual mention is made of Joseph and his brothers and a prayer is recited in which “Allah” is asked to bestow success on the individual as He did on Joseph; the praised (mamduh) is characterized as “khalifat al-rahman”; in a challenge to Akhtal, Jarir boasts that “rasul Allah” (the Holy Prophet (PBUH)) has risen from among his people; the phrase “sal Allah” (may Allah bless him) occurs several times; the subject of the eulogy is said to have been heir to prophecy and the scripture; the poet performs istikharah (bibliomancy); the poet analogizes his enemy to the great tyrant, Thamud; he calls for a sincere prayer to God so that He may be satisfied; the members of the Quraysh tribe are portrayed as those who contributed to the advancement of Islam and the guidance of Muslims, i.e. whosoever is guided by God will find the right path and whosoever is led astray by God will remain lost forever; those praised by our poet are blessed with the presence of “mala’ikat al-rahman” (angels of God), whose only task is “tawakkul” (trust in God) and “tasbih” (praising God); the status of his mamduh, which is that of “fi ta`at Allah” (in the service of God), is recorded in “kitab Allah” (the divine book), and his station is in “jannat al-firdaws” (the paradise of heaven). In a poignant elegy for his wife, Jarir employs a predominantly jahili terminology, except after line 15 where he includes a brief prayer in which he invokes the “benefactions of angels and the righteous” upon her. 

It is quite clear that in this class of terms Islamic concepts predominate, and that phrases such as tasbih, tawakkul, and jannat al-firdaws bear no traces of jahiliyyah or Christianity, whatsoever. 

The divan of Farzdaq is no better. However, what is noteworthy about this Christian poet is a beautiful and touching ode of a purely Islamic nature which is attributed to him. This ode is in stark contrast to all the rest of his poems. Thus, it is the belief of the author of these lines that the ode is from another pen belonging to a later period.

 source: Azarnoosh , Azartash "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.485- 487


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