Category Archives: Poetry

It tells it like it is.

al-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

Poetry has always had an important place to play in Arab culture, even from pre-Islamic times, when the status of a tribe would greatly depend on the skills of its tribal poet in composing verse that praised his patrons and satirised all others.

While English poetry may be an artistic form of literature, in Arabic it is that and more. Arab poetry has recorded and preserved much of our heritage, and events were often remembered for years to come only due to poetry that was composed about them.

One such example is the battle of 'Amooriyyah that took place on the 17th Ramadan, 223 Hijri. The Caliph al-Mu'tasim Billah had prepared a collosal army to attack the Byzantines in 'Amooriyyah, the heart of Christianity at the time, for they had been wreaking havoc in the Muslim lands, killing and dismembering their captives. The Byzantines at the time were said to be unconquerable, due to which the soothsayers and fortune-tellers warned al-Mu'tasim that he would be defeated. The poet Abu Tammaam al-Taa'ee believed otherwise, and voiced this to al-Mu'tasim in verse,

More truthful in its tidings is the sword than are books,

With its blade – the edge between seriousness and play

The battle of 'Amooriyyah was an enormous victory for the Muslims, but were it not for these lines that have become like a proverb, so familiar are they on the Arab tongue, it may possibly be now but a memory buried in the annals of history.


The best comebacks

al-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh

One thing that can be noticed about the poets of old is that they would always seem to come out with the best comebacks in the form of clever couplets.

One such example is from Ibn Rashiq al-Qayrawanee when he received a letter from Ibn al-Aghlab, the ruler of Majorca, asking him to come to visit him by sea. Ibn Rashiq, afraid of what the sea may bring did not want to set out on such a voyage, so he replied with two lines of poetry:

You ordered me to take my efforts to the sea,

But I disobeyed you, so select another means:

You are not Nooh that your ship can protect me,

nor am I 'Eesa that I can walk on water.