Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 May 2016
Published in 1879 in the Tahzīb ul-Akhlāq as well as in book form, Maulana Altaf Husain Hali's Musaddas on the Ebb and Flow of Islam (better known as Musaddas-e Hālī) is a unique text. The poem, which recalls a glorious Islamic past and mourns its decline in India, both drew on the Urdu shahr āshob tradition that had developed since the eighteenth century as well as innovatively developed a very Arabic “flavour” and style that was uncommon at the time. While C. Shackle and J. Majeed have analysed Hali's use of typical Arabic literary devices in their excellent study and edition of the Musaddas, they conceded that “the overt influence of Arabic poetry is less easy to establish”. However, new evidence from the Aligarh Institute Gazette of 1878 brings another piece to the puzzle and enables us to situate Hali's Musaddas in its broader historical and literary context: indeed, two articles written by Sayyid Ahmad Khan in January of that year show that Hali's masterpiece was in fact conceived as an Urdu re-adaptation of an Arabic classic, al-Rundi's famous Lament for the fall of Seville.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Professor Francis Robinson for his encouragements and for enriching my understanding of the topic. I am also thankful to Professor Tariq Ahmed, the History Department at AMU and the staff of the Maulana Azad library for facilitating my stay in Aligarh in March-April 2014 in every possible way. Research for this article was conducted with the support of the Friendly Hand Trust and the History Department at Royal Holloway University of London.
1 Shackle, C. and Majeed, J., Hali's “Musaddas”: the flow and ebb of Islam (Oxford, 1997), p. 31 Google Scholar.
4 First Introduction to the Musaddas, C. Shackle and J. Majeed, op.cit., p. 95.
6 M. Sadiq, op.cit., p. 267.
7 F. Robinson, ‘Strategies of Authority in Muslim South Asia in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries’, Modern Asian Studies (2013), vol. 47, n°1, p. 17.
8 Letter from Syed Ahmad Khan to Hali, Shimla, Park Hotel, 10 June 1879, edited in M. A. Mannan (ed), Selected Letters of Sir Syed Ahmad (Aligarh, 2007), p. 10.
9 The two articles spread over eight pages of the same issue of the weekly gazette (pp. 105-112).
10 Some scholars date the composition from 1248 while others date it from 1267 (See El Gharbi, J., ‘Thrène de Séville’, Cahiers de la Méditerranée, 79 (2009), pp. 26–30)Google Scholar. Not much is known about al-Rundi's life: he probably lived in Granada; he is thought to have been a qaẓi and would have composed a number of treatises on poetics, metrics and law (See Meisami, J. S. and Starkey, P. (eds), Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature 1(1998))Google Scholar. The attribution of the poem to a certain Yahya al-Qurtubi, would be anachronistic, if it is the same figure as Yahya bin Umar al-Qurtubi (d. 1172) since the events described in the verses have taken place in 1236, long after al-Qurtubi's death. (See ibid., p.194). Wrong ascriptions to other authors were in fact very common due to the fame of the poem to which several verses were often added, thus obscuring the date of composition (ibid., p. 372).
11 Aligarh Institute Gazette (Aligarh, 26 Jan. 1878), p. 105.
12 Elinson, A. E., Looking Back at Al-Andalus: The Poetics of Loss and Nostalgia in Medieval Arabic and Hebrew Literature, Brill Studies in Middle Eastern Literatures 34 (2009), p. 36 Google Scholar. The Urdu translation of the end of the Arabic lament reads: “How long will those good people lament? Will no heart be stirred by those imprisoned and killed? [. . .] If there is a Muslim and faithful in his heart, he will surely pursue jihād! For such a man, the Jannat ul-Mawa whose splendour is great will be arranged, houris and ghulams will look at him from heaven.” (Aligarh Institute Gazette, ibid., pp. 109 and 110)
14 A. E. Elison, op.cit., p.30.
15 Both Sharif al-Din Mahmud al-Khafaji (d. 1657) and the Fihris al-Makhtutat of Dar al-Kutub in Cairo ascribed the poem to al-Qurtubi (See Ebied, R. Y. and Young, M. J. L., ‘Abu'l-Baqa’ al-Rundi and his elegy on Muslim Spain’, The Muslim World 66, 1(1976), pp. 30–31)Google Scholar.
16 Syed Ameer Ali (1849-1928) for instance remembered that he excitedly read the Arabic paper Dar ul-Khilafat published in Constantinople ( Minault, G., The Khilafat movement: religious symbolism and political mobilization in India (New Delhi, 1999), pp. 6–7 Google Scholar quoting Wasti, S. R. (ed), Memoirs and Other Writings of Syed Ameer Ali (Lahore, 1968), p. 107)Google Scholar.