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Pure Religious Poetry

In the days of the caliphate of Imam `Ali (PBUH), there started to appear a body of religio-political poetry which was strongly influenced by Islamic sentiments. This genre originated with the followers of the Imam. However, a group of these people, who came to be known as the Kharijites, deviated from their original path. This was a time of extreme feelings as regarded the ideals of justice and religious asceticism, and these men, carried away by the political atmosphere of their day, turned into hardcore zealots who sought salvation in martyrdom. Thus, the poetry produced by those who belonged to the various branches of the Kharijite movement was filled with cries of war and sacrifice for justice. This passion for Islam, although misguided and misconstrued, was couched in a language brimming with Qur`anic notions as well as those identified with the newly established religion. The morbid thought of struggle and death so permeates this genre that it causes tedium in the reader. Even the poetry of the renowned `Imran b. Hattan, who associated with the companions of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and who was versed in fiqh and Hadith, suffered from this defect. 

The last flames of Kharijite poetry was snuffed out towards the end of the Umayyad reign, while Shi`ite poetry, which had risen concomitantly, has continued to flourish to this very day. The eulogies of some poets composed in praise of Imam `Ali (PBUH) during the battle of Siffin, such as those of Hajar b. `Adi, together with certain poems of Abu ’l-Aswad, may be considered as the earliest specimens of Shi`ite religio-political poetry. 

With the martyrdom of Imam `Ali (PBUH), followed by that of Imam Husayn (PBUH), this subdued and even-tempered poetry was suddenly metamorphosed into a fiery torrent of wrath and revenge, which became a platform for the venting of political aspirations. 

Kuthayyir, the companion of Muhammad b. Hanafiyyah, deemed the latter to be the Promised Mahdi (Messiah), and sought proofs in the Qur`an and in the words of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Thus, he considered imamate as the foundation of government. 

Religious poetry, in general, and Shi`ite poetry, in particular, was placed on a more solid footing and endowed with a deeper intellectual and spiritual air through the Hashimiyyat (poems in praise of the Holy Prophet, and Imam `Ali and his descendents (PBUT)) of Kumayt b. Zayd al-Asadi (60 – 126 AH). He was deeply touched by the moral virtues of the Ahl al-Bayt (PBUT). His major works of religious poetry comprise four odes, which are referred to as the Hashimiyyat: two ba’iyyahs in 138 and 67 lines, one lamiyyah in 89 lines, and one mimiyyah in 102 lines. However, his eminence as a poet appears to have mainly rested on his 138-line ba’iyyah. Kumayt’s poetry, however, is still not entirely free from pre-Islamic traditions, for instance, it includes descriptions of camels. He also steers clear of the jahili nasib, an omission which is no doubt intentional, and though at the opening of his ba’iyyah, like certain jahili poets, he waxes rapturous for just a while, he soon indicates his object to be the Bani Hashim and not some beautiful female. His ode contains a poignant elegy on the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (PBUH). The most charming parts of his poem are those in praise of the Holy Prophet’s household (PBUT), as well as the ones that are permeated with Islamic ideas, teachings and terminology. 

The atmosphere of political freedom which resulted from the coming to power of the `Abbasids provided eminent poets who came to embrace Shi`ism with the opportunity to use their works as a means of expressing their religious beliefs while praising the Ahl al-Bayt and lamenting the hardships and oppression inflicted upon them. Sayyid Humayri (d. 173 AH) deeply bemoans the “progeny that has been concealed by Karbala”. A large portion of his poetry comprises eulogies in praise of Imam `Ali (PBUH). The poetry of this period came to assume a more refined and delicate structure – with imagination playing a more pronounced role – and poets gave free rein to their urge for expression of religious feelings. Therefore, in addition to many Qur`anic terms, a large number of themes from prophetic hadiths came to be incorporated in the poems of this period. Religious ideas and sentiments even entered into the poetry of those who were infamous for their licentiousness and profligacy. Da`bal was a satirist of the `Abbasid period who was redeemed through his love of the Infallible Imams (PBUT). His ta’iyyah ode, permeated with Islamic notions, is considered among the best of its kind in Arabic literature. 

The main branch of religious poetry, i.e. Shi`ite, reached its zenith in the works of Sharif Radi (359 – 406 AH), since he never made his poems, even his eulogies, a means of gaining worldly favors. The majority of his poems, which were used as a vehicle for the expression of his wise sentiments, are purely religious. His Hijaziyyat, comprising forty odes, are depictions of hajj rituals. His Shi`iyyat lament the sufferings inflicted upon the `Alawites and recount the trampling of their rights. All his other poems are also imbued with a spirit of piety and religious sentimentality. 

In the days of Sharif Radi, the Shi`ite tendencies of Daylamite rulers, in particular, had provided the impetus for the rise in Arabic literature of a wide spectrum of Shi`ite ascetic and vengeful poems. This was owing to the fact that the dominant conditions in the Islamic world, especially those in Iraq, had made many of these poets, with the exception of Sharif Radi, to feel themselves free from religious and social considerations, at least as far as poetical expression was concerned. The best case in point may be Ibn Hajjaj who, on the one hand, considered himself as the “prophet of the satirists”, and on the other hand, composed a fa’iyyah in praise of the Shi`ite imams, which contains calumnious statements in condemnation of Sunni personages. 

The protégé of Sharif Radi was Mahyar Daylami (d. 428 AH), who was a Zoroastrian converted to Islam by his master. In spite of the respect in which he held his ancestors, Mayhar looked at the world through the prism of an ascetic and was intent on striking a synthesis between his overt leanings towards his Iranian heritage and his love for the Ahl al-Bayt (PBUT). Thus, in his poetry, he expresses his gratitude to the family of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) who provided him with the opportunity to enter Islam as well as to Imam `Ali (PBUH) for the role he played in transforming the sensibilities of the Persians. He also laments the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (PBUH) and lashes out against his enemies. There is hardly any other literature approaching that of Shi`ism in terms of scope and intensity of emotions. This is clearly evidenced in such works as Rawdat al-janat of Khwansari, A`yan al-shi`ah of Muhsin Amin, al-Ghadir of Amini, and even older works such as Maqatil al-talibin of Abu ’l-Faraj Isfahani. Persian literature, especially in the Safavid period, came into a considerable body of religious poetry composed on the occasion of such `ids as the birth anniversary of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and Ghadir-i Khumm, or the martyrdom anniversaries of the Infallible Imams (PBUT), Imams `Ali and Husayn (PBUT), in particular. 

Apart from its application as a vehicle for the expression of religious sentiments, pure religious poetry has widespread presence in the public sphere. As mentioned above, the period after Ka`b b. Zuhayr witnessed the composition of great odes in praise of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). This type f eulogy reached its apogee in the 7th century AH with Busiri, whose Mimiyyah achieved immediate renown and came to be viewed as scared, so much as so that some of its verses were believed to have supernatural powers. Later, a considerable body of poetry, including takhmis’ and tashtirs, and commentary was created around his ode, in addition to versified and prose translations and commentaries in Persian. The ode is still recited, especially among the Kurds, on the birth anniversaries of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), and is purported to cause a feeling of trance in the audience. The next poet worthy of mention is the Egyptian Ibn Nabatah who has, at least, five major odes in praise of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), which are imbued with Sufi sensibilities. 

Another literary locus worthy of manifesting Islamic teachings is a genre of poems known as zuhdiyyat (ascetic poems). In the 2nd and 3rd centuries AH, Abu ’l-`Atahiyah, who was accused of disbelief and being a Zoroastrian, elevated ascetic poetry to the level of an independent genre which was to live on in Arabic literature. It may be fair to assume that some of his poems are reminiscent of Manichaean concepts, however, the dominant tone of his poetry is purely Islamic, filled with such notions as the Resurrection, the Judgment Day, and terminology from prophetic traditions and, even, the Holy Qur`an. Abu ’l-`Atahiyah’s zuhdiyyat have been collected by Ibn `Abd al-Birr. 

Ascetic poetry came into being shortly before the time of Abu ’l-`Atahiyah, by the likes of Malik b. Dinar, Sufyan b. `Ayniyyah, Sufyan Thawri and, even, Khalil b. Ahmad, who composed edifying religious poems in the same manner as that of Rabi`ah `Adawiyyah, who was herself a well-known Sufi poet. These were followed by poets who completely devoted their works, in spite of their limited scope, to the depiction of religious themes. Here, an interesting point to note is that the most ignoble of the satirists of the `Abbasid era, such as Muhammad b. Yasir and, especially, Abu Nuwas, produced celebrated ascetic poems. 

As was mentioned above, the influence of religion was not confined to the poetry of various schools, or to religious poetry, since Islamic teachings and practices had so permeated the society of the time that hardly any poet could remain untouched by them, especially given that these notions had become part and parcel of the common culture of the day and the poet was compelled to employ them as a means of making himself understood by his audience. 

The overall influence of Islam is quite clear in terms of the religious feelings of the Muslim poet and his terminology. For instance, if the motif of the poem were to be the fate of man, then he would place his work within the atmosphere of Islamic eschatology. A case in point is the elegy of Abu Tammam for the sons of Humayd Tusi, in which the eulogized is the martyr enjoying the rewards bestowed upon a Muslim martyr, and whose bloodstained clothes are turned into “sundus khudr”, (green garments, i.e. the attire of those in paradise) (Dahr, 76: 21). Another example is Ibn Anbari who analogizes a vizier hanging form the gallows to Zayd b. `Ali, the son of Imam Zany al-`Abidin (PBUH).

 source: Azarnoosh , Azartash "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.487- 489


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