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Islamic Mystical Poetry

Session 1: Introduction
pre-Islamic Arabia and Persia, the
Qur’anic revelation, and the mystical
Poetry in pre-Islamic Arabia
“By the time the Prophet was born, poetry had
long been the key cultural register of the
language” (Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an)

“Poetry was chanted and sung –to conventional

tunes– in public; not read in the
study” (Hodgson, Venture of Islam)
Arabic Poetry
•  the Bedouin background
•  poets and soothsayers

•  poetic types: praise, boast, insult, lament

•  poetic forms: qasida, ghazal, ʿudhri

•  rhyming prose: sajʿ

The Qur’an
a)  “No! they say, tangled nightmares. No! they
say, he has invented it. No! he is a poet. Let
him bring us a sign, just as the ones of old were
sent with signs.” (Q.21.5)

b)  “And there are the poets, those who are astray
follow them. Have you not seen how they
wander in every valley, and how they say what
they do not do? This is not the case with those
who believe and do righteous deeds and
remember God often.” (Q.26.224)
The Qur’an
•  c) “We have not taught him poetry. That is not
proper for him. This is only a reminder and a
recitation that is clear, that he might warn
those who are alive and that the word be
proved true against the disbelievers.”
the earliest records: 6–4th centuries BCE
Middle Persian/Pahlavi
the impact of Islam – New Persian

poetic forms: qasida, ghazal, rubaʿi (quatrain)

and masnavi
Some famous early Arab figures
Imru’ al-Qays
ʿUmar b. Abī Rabīʿa (d. 721)
Abū Nuwās (d. 815)
al-Asmāʿī (d. 828)
Abu Tammām (d. 845)
al-Mutanabbi (d. 965)
al-Maʿarrī (d. 1058)
Islamic mystical poetry:
the early period
Rabiʿa al-ʿAdawiyya of Basra (d. 801)
Dhu’l-Nun of Cairo (d. 861)
al-Hallaj of Baghdad (d. 922)

Abu Saʿid b. Abi’l-Khayr of Mayhana (d. 1049)

Sanaʾi (d. 1131)
ʿUmar Khayyam (d. 1131)
Farid al-din ʿAttar (d. 1220)
Some key terms in the qasida
the ruins (aṭlāl) and the traces (rusūm)
the phantom apparition (khayāl)
the stations (maqāmāt) and way-stops (maḥallāt)
the changing conditions or states (aḥwāl)
remembrance (dhikr) of the beloved (maḥbūb)
the secret (sirr)
the prohibited (ḥarām) and allowed (ḥalāl)
the lightning flash (barq)
the love-mad (majnūn)
bewilderment (ḥayra)
The power of poetry

“Poetry (shiʿr) comes from feeling-

awareness (shuʿūr): its place is not
differentiation but summation,
which is the very opposite of

Ibn ʿArabi (1165-1240)