Al-Burdah of al-Buṣīrī (d. 1294-97/694-7) is an iconic poem that established a literal tradition of praising the prophet Muḥammad by following a specific form of poetry influenced by praising Arabic poetry and Sufism (THE GREAT INFLUENCE OF AL-Burdah is reflected in a long list of poems that were composed an imitation or a contrafaction (muʾāraḍah) of al-Burdah’s to praising the prophet; imitating its prosodic meter (al-Basīṭ), the rhyme (mī), and the thematic sections. Although al-Buṣīri directly criticises Christianity in his poem, a few Christian Arabic-speaking poets composed poems to praise Christianity and Christ using the concept of muʾāraḍah to imitate al-Buṣīrī’s Burdah; one of which is Nīqūlawus al-Ṣāyigh (d. 1756/1169). Al-Ṣāyigh not only composed a muʾāraḍah of al-Burdah, but he also structured it as a badīʿiyyah; a structure that follows the rhetorical type of badīʿ (ornaments of style) in each line of the poem. Structuring a muʾāraḍah of al-Burdah in the form of badīʿiyyah was initially formed to praise the prophet Muḥammad by as it is noted in the earliest examples of such works i.e. the poems of Ṣafiyy al-Dīn al-Ḥillī (d. 1349/750), Ibn Jābir al-Andalusī (d. 1378/780) and Ibn ʿIzz al-Mawṣilī (d. 1387/789). In this paper, I investigate how al-Ṣāyigh adopted a Sufi Muslim well-established literal concept to express and praise his Christian faith by modifying the Muslim indications in the poem, some of which fiercely criticize Christianity, and reusing the same Badīʿ style to fulfill his purpose.
The Gospel of John (3:3-5) reports an intriguing conversation between Jesus and the Pharisee, Nicodemus:
Jesus replied, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”
The Fatimid savant Jaʿfar ibn Manṣūr al-Yaman (d. ca. 346/957) alludes directly to this exchange in his Taʾwīl al-zakāt and writes of the second birth as “establishing knowledge of reality and spreading wisdom.” His engagement with pre-Islamic scriptures and efforts to adduce their spiritual meaning remained hallmarks of the Shiʿi Fatimid luminaries who followed him. Kirmānī (d. after 411/1020), for example, quoted directly from the Torah in Hebrew and the Gospels in Syriac, including this very verse. He connected being born again with being elevated from the blind conformism of sacramental worship (al-ʿibādah al-ʿamaliyyah) to the gnostic understanding of sapiential worship (al-ʿibādah al-ʿilmiyyah). Similarly, the Quran (23:12-14) speaks of seven stages of birth, culminating in “another creation.” Fatimid interpretations of the “second creation” echoed their understandings of the “second birth.” Intimately connected with these was the idea of swearing a first covenant (ʿahd), to the exoteric message of Prophet Muḥammad and a second covenant to the esoteric interpretation of his successors, the Imams.
Using methods adapted from literary analysis and comparative religions, this paper will analyze the esoteric interpretation of birth and being born again in the writings of Fatimid authors, including the two aforementioned figures, Qāḍī al-Nuʿmān (d. 363/974) in his Taʾwīl daʿāʾim al-Islām, al-Muʾayyad Shīrāzī (d. 470/1078) in his Majālis, and Nāṣir-i Khusraw (d. after 462/1070) in his Wajh-i Dīn. In so doing, I will bring them into conversation with Christian commentators on being born again, such as Tertullian (d. 220 CE), Cyril of Jerusalem (fl. 350 CE), and St. John Chrysostom (d. 407). I will argue that the Fatimids, not unlike these Christian thinkers, harnessed the possibilities of esoteric interpretation (taʾwīl) to unveil multiple layers of meaning in scripture, touching on human psychology, the great chain of being, sacred history, and the evolution from sacrament to sapience. Such an endeavor opens pathways for conversations between the world’s two largest religious communities.
I intend to interrogate the nature and scope of the concept of walāyah which is central to the theology of Shiʿism, the second largest branch of Islam. The significance of this notion was stressed by many Shiʿi Imams. For instance, a tradition from Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq (d. 765) states: “Islam has three pillars: prayer, the monetary tribute (zakāt), and walāyah, and none of them will be complete without the others” (Kulaynī (d. 941), II, 18). Similar statements are also reported from his father, Imam al-Bāqir (d. 733), who listed the five pillars of Islam as being prayer, the monetary tribute (zakāt), pilgrimage, fasting and walāyah (Kulaynī, II, 22-24). Such accounts place this concept among the most studied subjects in the Shiʿi school of thought. There is a large spectrum of meanings associated with the concept of walāyah, ranging from “being someone’s friend” all the way to “absolute obedience” and “political superiority” (Dakake 2007, 16).
Maria Massi Dakake in her book, The Charismatic Community, argues that the term walāyah in Shiʿite usage denotes: “an all-encompassing bond of spiritual loyalty that describes, simultaneously, a Shiʿite believer’s allegiance to God, the Prophet, the Imam and the community of Shiʿite believers, collectively” (2007, 7). Amir-Moezzi's emphasis differs in his book The Divine Guide in Early Shiʿism. Walāyah, according to him, refers to both “the ontological-theological status of the Imam as well as faith in this status” (1994, 126).
All these approaches to walāyah still leave the door open to a wide range of interpretations and understandings. I interrogate the concept of walāyah in the traditions came from Imam al-Ṣādiq based on a critical analysis of the early Shiʿite ḥadīth collections up to 10th century. I will argue that walāyah in its Shiʿi usage refers to adopting a particular lifestyle that entails forgoing earthly pleasures and living a pious life by following the footsteps of the Imam. This stands in stark contrast to the lifestyle that the ruling elite promoted for the populace, which could explain why some sources interpret walāyah as a form of opposition to the ruling class and endeavoring to attain political power.
This study argues that the short lyrical poems of the pilgrimage journey between Iraq and the Hijaz by the Buyid period Baghdadi Alid scholar, theologian, political figure, and, above all, poet al-Sharif al-Radi (d. 1015 CE) play a pivotal role in the development of Arab lyricism from the classical to post-classical period. Celebrated in the Arab world, this body of elegiac lyric poems has received virtually no literary critical or historical attention in the West. I first attempt to trace the literary roots of these poems to the short lyric ghazals of the Umayyad period. In this sense, al-Radi’s lyrics, I argue, exhibit a striking double influence: they combine the heightened eroticism of the sexually explicit and consummated Umari ghazal, that is, of Umar ibn Abu Rabi’a (d. 712/719 CE), which feature the eroticization of the Ḥajj, with the erotic frustration of the chaste ‘platonic’ Udhri love lyric, of the Banu Udhra, such as Qays (Majnun) Layla (7th c. CE), Jamil Bouthayna (d. 701 CE). I then explore the metaphorical-political dimension of these two types of Umayyad ghazal and posit that al-Radi’s lyrics of erotic frustration and loss ultimately express, not merely personal and universal human emotions of lost love and departed loved ones, but also frustrated Alid political ambitions. The third section of the paper turns to the extensive and explicit influence of the Hijaziyyat on two dominant forms of post-classical poetry: first, on Sufi ghazal, such as the poetry of Ibn al-Farid (d. 1234 CE) and Ibn Arabi (d. 1240 CE), in which poems of frustrated erotic desire are taken to be expressions of longing for union with the Divine; and second, what is termed ‘nasib nabawi’, that is, the opening prelude of praise poems to the Prophet Muhammad, as in the celebrated Burdah of al-Busiri (d. ca. 1295). A close comparison of examples reveals that, although literary historians have regularly commented on influence of Udhri and Umayyad ghazal on Sufi love lyric, they have failed to observe the intimate similarities in tropes, diction, and even contrafactions (explicit imitation of a poem in the same rhyme, meter, and themes) that reveal the direct influence of al-Radi’s Hijaziyyat. The paper concludes by tracing the transitions in the metaphorical dimension of the poetics of loss, from the erotic to the political to the mystical. It concludes reaffirming the centrality of al-Radi’s Hijaziyyat in this lyrical historical development.