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al-Khansā’’s poem in -ālahā and its Qur’ānic echoes. The long and the short of it


This article studies two questions related to al-Khansā'’s mutaqārib poem, rhyming in -ālahā: how was it changed through anthologisation and what is its relation to the Qur'ān and Surah 99? Whereas the six-verse excerpt in al-Mubarrad's Kāmil is full of Qur'ānic echoes, the Dīwān version of the poem has few such echoes. The analysis, however, opens up a possibility that the Qur'ān's first audience may well have recognised in Surah 99 features familiar to them from marthiyas.

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1 l-ʿAtāhiya, Abū, Dīwān (Beirut, 1400/1980), p. 375. A longer version of the poem is to be found in al-Iṣfahānī, Abū'l-Faraj, Kitāb al-Aghānī, 25 vols (Beirut, n.d.), iv, pp. 3536.

2 al-Iṣfahānī, Aghānī, xv, p. 64.

3 The most comprehensive study of her life is by Gabrieli, G., I Tempi, la vita e il canzoniere della poetessa araba al-Ḫansā' (Firenze, G. Carnesecchi e Figli, 1899), pp. 57159. He unfortunately takes the anecdotes rather uncritically, as facts, as does Krenkow, Fr., ‘al-Khansā'’, in Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden, Brill, 1927), iv, pp. 901902. Rhodokanakis, N., al-Ḫansā' und ihre Trauerlieder. Ein literar-historischer Essay mit textkritischen Exkursen (Sitzungsberichte d. phil.-hist. Klasse 147/4, Vienna, Wiener Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1904) and Gabrieli, F., ‘al-Khansā'’, in Encyclopaedia of Islam, new edition (Leiden, 1978), iv, p. 1027 are more critical, but basically what we know about al-Khansā' boils down to the brief note in Blachère, R., Histoire de la littérature arabe des origines à la fin du XVe siècle de J.-C, 3 vols (Paris, 1952–1966), pp. 290292. Cf. also Sezgin, F., Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums, 9 vols (Leiden, 1967–1984), ii, pp. 311314 and van Gelder, G. J., ‘al-Khansā'’, in Encyclopaedia of Arabic Literature, 2 vols, (eds) Meisami, J. Scott and Starkey, P. (London, New York, 1998), ii, p. 435. For rithā' in general, see Goldziher, I., ‘Bemerkungen zur arabischen Trauerpoesie’, Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes, 16 (1902), pp. 307339; Rhodokanakis, al-Ḫansā'; Wagner, E., Grundzüge der klassischen arabischen Dichtung. I: Die altarabische Dichtung (Darmstadt, 1987), pp. 116134; Bellamy, J. E., ‘Some Observations on the Arabic Rithā'’, Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam, 13 (1990), pp. 4461; Borg, G., Mit Poesie vertreibe ich den Kummer meines Herzens. Eine Studie zur altarabischen Trauerklage der Frau (Istanbul, 1997); and Jacobi, R., ‘Bemerkungen zur frühislamischen Trauerpoesie’, Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes, 87 (1997), pp. 8399.

4 Sezgin, Geschichte, ii, p. 313. Cf. also al-Nadīm, Ibn, Fihrist, (ed.) Tajaddud, R. (Tehran, 1381 ahSh), pp. 179, 187. [4]

5 Sezgin, Geschichte, ii, p. 312.

6 Gabrieli says that “her poetry is wholly pagan in feeling” and one may easily agree with this: see Gabrieli, al-Khansā'. Cf. also Rhodokanakis, al-Ḫansā', pp. 8, 15. Note, however, that in later literature many “Islamic” verses are attributed to her. See below for one example.

7 In numbering the verses, I refer to the first edition by Cheikho, L. (ed.), Anīs al-julasā' fī Dīwān al-Khansā', (Beirut, al-Maṭbaʿa al-kāthūlīkiyya, 1889), abbreviated as H, which is also the basis of al-Ḥūfī, ʿA. (ed.), Sharḥ Dīwān al-Khansā' (Beirut, 1405/1985). Similarities between the poem and the Surah are marked in bold type. For the expression awlā li-… fa-awlā, cf. Q 75: 34–35. Minor variants in the verses are noted only when they are relevant to the argument.

8 Jones, A., ‘Narrative Technique in the Qur'ān and in Early Poetry’, Journal of Arabic Literature, 25 (1994), pp. 185191, here p. 185.

9 Abbreviations:

H = al-Ḥūfī (ed.), pp. 83–86 (= Cheikho (ed.), pp. 73–77).

S = Suwaylim, A. Abū (ed.), Dīwān al-Khansā' (ʿAmmān, 1409/1988), pp. 78109 (= Cheikho, L., Commentaires sur le Diwan d'al-Ḫansā' (Beirut, Imprimerie Catholique, 1896), pp. 201218; this also contains a commentary attributed to Thaʿlab).

K = al-Mubarrad, al-Kāmil, (ed.) M. Abū'l-Faḍl Ibrāhīm, 4 vols (Dār Nahḍat Miṣr, n.d.).

T = al-Mubarrad, Kitāb al-Taʿāzī wa'l-marāthī, (ed.) M. al-Dībājī (Dimashq, reprint Beirut, 1412/1992).

A = al-Iṣfahānī, Aghānī.

Verses of the poem are also found in, for example, al-Iṣfahānī, Aghānī, xv, p. 64 (vv. H1-2, 18, 7–8); Ṭayfūr, Ibn, Balāghāt al-nisā' (Beirut, 1987), pp. 260261 (vv. H2, 7, 14, 9, 18, 20–22); and al-Ḥamāsa al-maghribiyya, mukhtaṣar Kitāb Ṣafwat al-adab wa-nukhbat dīwān al-ʿArab li-Abī l-ʿAbbās Aḥmad al-Tādilī, 2 vols, (ed.) M. Riḍwān al-Dāya (Beirut-Dimashq, 1411/1991), p. 814 (no. 450 = K).

10 The verses in square brackets are missing from the text, but are referred to in the commentary.

11 Cf. below.

12 This verse is attributed to al-Ṭā'ī, ʿĀmir ibn Juwayn, ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Baghdādī, Khizānat al-adab, (ed.) Hārūn, ʿA. Muḥammad, 9 vols (al-Qāhira, 1979–1983), i, pp. 5153. Ibn Juwayn's poem has not been preserved in toto, but some of its verses are quoted in various sources: see, for example al-Iṣfahānī, Aghānī, iv, pp. 93–94.

13 Some of the additional verses in S derive from the family tradition of al-Khansā' and the Banū Sulaym. Thus, for example, S18–19 are explicitly said to have been transmitted by the little-known Bedouin philologist Shujāʿ al-Sulamī, whose (great?-)grandmother is said to have been al-Khansā' herself (S, p. 94). For Shujāʿ, see Wild, S., Das Kitāb al-ʿAin und die arabische Lexikographie (Wiesbaden, 1965), p. 18, n. 54, and Hämeen-Anttila, J., Lexical ibdāl. Part I: Introduction. Source Studies (Helsinki, 1993), p. 190. He seems to have been among the older generation of Bedouin philologists in the Ṭāhirid court. For the family tradition, see also Bonebakker, Seeger A., ‘Mubarrad's version of two poems by al-Khansā'’, in Festschrift Ewald Wagner zum 65. Geburtstag. II: Studien zur arabischen Dichtung, (ed.) Schoeler, W. Heinrichs-G. (Beirut, 1994), pp. 90119, here p. 118.

14 A study of the manuscripts would probably shed more light on this issue. See also Appendix 2, where the verses are given in the order followed in S, which shows more clearly the similarities and differences between S and A.

15 Bonebakker, ‘Mubarrad's version’.

16 Discussing another of al-Khansā'’s poems quoted by al-Mubarrad, Bonebakker says soberly that “we can only speculate about the text or oral transmission he adopted”: Bonebakker, ‘Mubarrad's version’, p. 111. This holds true for this poem, too.

17 The version in K is only rarely referred to in philological literature, which leaves little doubt that it is a later variant.

18 In the Qur'ān, the root ʿJB is almost always used in a negative sense. As the version in the Kāmil is heavily influenced by Qur'ānic diction, I wonder whether the translation of this verse should actually be “he was an excellent youth while others were delighted by what they imagined they had”, that is, the real merit of Ibn ʿAmr is being contrasted with the imagined merits of others.

19 For Bedouin ideas related, or better, unrelated to this concept, see Bravmann, M. M., The Spiritual Background of Early Islam. Studies in Ancient Arab Concepts (Leiden, 1972), pp. 288295.

20 The identity of this Abū ʿAmr is slightly problematic: see Bonebakker, ‘Mubarrad's version’, pp. 114–115.

21 S, p. 79. Al-Aṣmaʿī understands this as follows: the ever-raiding Ibn ʿAmr and his companions were a burden to the earth as the hooves of their horses constantly disturbed it as they galloped to raids. Durayd, Ibn, Waṣf al-maṭar wa'l-saḥāb, (ed.) al-Tanūkhī, ʿI. (Dimashq, reprinted Beirut, 1412/1992), pp. 55, 57, explains the expression ḥāmilatun li-athqālihā in a Bedouin's speech (about al-arḍ) as (ḥāmilatun) li-man ʿalayhā min al-nās wa-ghayrihim. Al-Ḥuṣayn ibn al-Ḥumām's Islamised poem (cf. note 27 below,) follows Qur'ānic diction (wa-nādā munādin bi-ahli l-qubūri / fa-habbū li-tubriza athqālahā) but the verse is clearly a later addition and reveals little of early 7th-century diction.

22 al-Mubarrad, Kāmil, iv, p. 5.

23 Geyer, R., Gedichte von al-'Aʿshā und von al-Musayyab ibn ʿAlas (London, Luzac & Co., 1928).

24 Bravmann, M. M., Studies in Semitic Philology (Leiden, 1977), p. 302 and note 25.

25 Qutayba, Ibn, Tafsīr gharīb al-Qur'ān, (ed.) Ṣaqr, al-S.A (Beirut, 1398/1978), pp. 2223.

26 The verse resembles Shamardal XII: 2, which was not lost to Arab scholars. See, for example, al-Murtaḍā, al-Sharīf, Ghurar al-fawā'id wa-durar al-qalā'id, 2 vols, (ed.) Ibrāhīm, M. Abū'l-Faḍl (al-Qāhira, 1998), i, p. 97. It should be noted that in the following verse Shamardal has zalāziluh. For an analysis of the meaning of this verse, see Seidensticker, T., Die Gedichte des Šamardal ibn Šarīk. Neuedition, Übersetzung, Kommentar (Wiesbaden, 1983), pp. 118119. Seidensticker translates Shamardal's verse (wa-ḥallat bihī athqālahā l-arḍu …) as “und wenn die Erde mit ihm ihre Lasten (an Toten) geschmückt hat”, which seems improbable in the light of Bravmann, Studies in Semitic Philology, p. 302, and the present discussion. For al-Ḥuṣayn ibn al-Ḥumām's poem, see notes 21 and 34. [6]

27 This also opens up the question of whether the Qur'ān could be using contemporary poetic idioms here, see below.

28 Al-Khansā' has a famous, openly suicidal verse (fa-law-lā kathratu l-bākīna ḥawlī ʿalā ikhwānihim la-qataltu nafsī H, p. 62; S, p. 326) in another poem. See also Jones, A., Early Arabic Poetry. I: Marāthī and Ṣuʿlūk Poems (Reading, 1992), p. 93 (v. 11) and Rhodokanakis, al-Ḫansā', p. 68. Cf. Wagner, Grundzüge, p. 124.

29 The Kāmil version also leaves out H31, which introduces the un-Islamic nawḥ in a very prominent place in the last verse. This, though, is not necessarily significant as the Kāmil only selects a few verses from the original.

30 Dā'ūd, Ibn, Kitāb al-Zahra, 2 vols, (ed.) al-Sāmarrā'ī, I. (al-Zarqā', 1406/1985).

31 Ibid., pp. 819–820.

32 Ibid., p. 533.

33 Ibid., p. 540.

34 This poem consists of 15 mutaqārib verses. The poem, or verses from it, are found in various sources, for example, al-Iṣfahānī, Aghānī, xiv, pp. 15–16, and al-Ṣafadī, , Kitāb al-Wāfī bi'l-wafayāt, (ed.) al-Ḥujayrī, M. (Wiesbaden, 1984), xiii, pp. 9091. The last five verses of the poem are clearly Islamic and, besides alluding to Q 99: 2, use a thoroughly Islamic vocabulary (e.g. v. 13: wa-khaffa l-mawāzīnu bi'l-kāfirīna / wa-zulzilat-i l-arḍu zilzālahā). However, these last five verses differ in tenor from the first part of the poem and they are clearly a later Islamic addition. The poem is quoted on the ultimate authority of Abū ʿUbayda to prove and illustrate the poet's conversion to Islam. The first part of the poem is also suspiciously similar to al-Khansā'’s poem in -ālahā. Whatever the relation between the two poems might be, they cannot have been composed independently of each other.

35 The resulting Islamised marthiyas reworked from al-Khansā'’s and the Jāhilī poets’ works differ in tenor from Umayyad elegies, where Qur'ānic allusions seem to be used somewhat differently. Umayyad poets more often refer to the content of the Qur'ān rather than using the highly poetic vocabulary of the early Surahs.

36 For a discussion of the question of authorship in longer anecdotes, see Hämeen-Anttila, J., ‘Multilayered Authorship in Arabic Anecdotal Literature,’ in Concepts of Authorship in Pre-Modern Arabic Texts, (ed.) Behzadi, L. and Hämeen-Anttila, J. (Bamberg, 2015), pp. 167188.

37 Hämeen-Anttila, J., ‘Paradise and Meadow in the Quran and Pre-Islamic Poetry’, in Roads to Paradise. Eschatology and Concepts of the Hereafter in Islam, 2 vols, (eds) Günther, S. and Lawson, T. (Leiden-Boston, 2016), i, pp. 136161.

38 For recent controversy concerning the authenticity of his poems, see Seidensticker, T., ‘The Authenticity of the Poems Ascribed to Umayya ibn Abī al-Ṣalt’, in Tradition and Modernity in Arabic Language and Literature, (ed.) Smart, J. R. (Richmond, Surrey, 1996), pp. 8996; Borg, G., ‘Umayya b. abī al-Ṣalt as a poet’, in Philosophy and Arts in the Islamic World, (eds) Vermeulen, U. and Smet, D. De (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, 87, 1998), pp. 313; and again Borg, G., ‘The Divine in the Works of Umayya b. abī al-Ṣalt’, in Representations of the Divine in Arabic Poetry, (eds) Borg, G. and de Moor, E. (Amsterdam, Atlanta, GA, 2001), pp. 923. In Umayya's case, the stakes were—and are—high: his poems can be used to prove the existence of widespread monotheism on the Peninsula, necessary for the monotheistic movement around the Kaʿba and a major piece in the background of Muḥammad's mission. Diem, W., Studien zur Überlieferung und Intertextualität der altarabischen Dichtung. Das Mantelgedichts Kaʿb ibn Zuhayrs, 2 vols (Wiesbaden, 2010) discusses the possibility of the Qur'ān's influence on Kaʿb ibn Zuhayr's Burda, especially in vv. 36–37, 40, and 48–49. But see my comments in Hämeen-Anttila, J., ‘Review of Diem Studien’, Zeitschrift der arabiscen Linguistik, 57 (2013), pp. 8790, here p. 89. For the influence of the Qur'ān on poetry, see also Montgomery, J. E., The Vagaries of the Qaṣīdah. The Tradition and Practice of Early Arabic Poetry (E. J. W. Gibb Memorial Trust, 1997), p. 220 and note 311.

39 Jones, Early Arabic Poetry, pp. 97–101.

40 Nöldeke, T., Beiträge zur Kenntnis der Poesie der alten Araber (Hannover, 1864; reprinted Hildesheim, 1967), p. 158, n. 4, suggests an original daʿā l-wayla dāʿiyah “oder Aehnliches” for this Islamic phrase, while not commenting on zabāniyah. Another case where we might have Islamic references is H, p. 96 = S, p. 279, which mentions al-bayt al-muḥarram. See also Bonebakker, ‘Mubarrad's version’, p. 105, as well as his comment, p. 106, on Q 53: 34. All such cases should be carefully studied before taking them as evidence for early Islamic influence on al-Khansā' herself.

41 Rhodokanakis, al-Ḫansā', p. 21 (n. 3) has already suggested that it had been generated by the influence of Q 99: 1.

42 There is a famous, albeit dubious, anecdote about the apostasy of her son Abū Shajara. See, for example, Goeje, M. J. de et al. (eds), Annales quod scripsit (…) al-Ṭabarî, 3 vols (Leiden, 1879–1901), i, pp. 19051906, translated in Donner, F. M., The Conquest of Arabia (Albany, 1993), pp. 8183.

43 It should be emphasised that mutaqārib is not a “Persian metre” (cf. Wagner, Grundzüge, pp. 48, 52), but one of the most frequent metres of pre- and early Islamic poetry, after the four “great” metres: ṭawīl, basīṭ, kāmil, and wāfir. See Jones, Early Arabic Poetry, p. 15, who incidentally takes al-Khansā's Dīwān as one of his examples. See also Frolov, D., Classical Arabic Verse. History and Theory of ʿarūḍ (Leiden, Boston, Cologne, 2000), pp. 259290.

44 u = short syllable; _ = long syllable; x = ambivalent syllable (anceps).

45 V. 6 is again irregular, while vv. 7–8 exhibit three regular mutaqārib feet as opposed to two irregular ones, if we read, as we clearly should, the final word as yarah (rather than yarahū).

46 Borg, Mit Poesie, pp. 92–93.

47 The division in movements is tentative. In this version, the poem has also been translated in le P[ère] de Coppier, Le Diwan d'al-Ḫansā' précédé d'une étude sur les femmes poètes de l'ancienne Arabie (Beruit, Imprimerie catholique, 1889), pp. 162166.

48 H reads ʿalā Mālikin, which in this context does not seem to make sense. Hence, I have favoured the variant ʿalā hālikin.

49 Al-Bakrī, , Muʿjam mā staʿjam min asmā' al-bilād wa'l-mawāḍiʿ, 4 vols, (ed.) al-Saqqā, Muṣṭafā (al-Qāhira, 1417/1996), p. 1194, shows how unreliable our sources may sometimes be. Quoting this verse, al-Bakrī first locates al-Maḥw in the area of Banū Murra; he then continues that the verse has also been attributed to Mayya bint Ḍirār “in which case, al-Maḥw will have been in the area of Banū Ḍabba”. In other words, his comment on the place's location is mere guesswork. The verse of Mayya is quoted in a different form (with Wādī Ashā'ayn, instead of al-Maḥw) in the commentary attributed to Thaʿlab, S, p. 83.

50 I prefer the variant zifnā lahā.

51 This verse is attributed to ʿĀmir ibn Juwayn, ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Baghdādī, Khizānat, i, p. 24, and comes after wa-jāriyatin min banāti l-mulūki qaʿqaʿta bi'l-rumḥi khalkhālahā, thus becoming a description of a princess.

52 In H aḥmālahā probably refers to the infants being carried in their mothers’ arms. S reads al-ḥawāṣin “(chaste) wives”, in which case the verse refers to miscarriage.

53 Cf. Rhodokanakis, al-Ḫansā', p. 27.

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