These were magnificent poems composed by some of the most illustrious poets of Arabia before Muhammad.
Among the ancient Arabian odes, seven hold first place and were called 'Mua'llaqat' meaning 'Suspended'.
In the Arab world they are honoured as masterpieces of poetical composition.
The days before 'Islam' are called in Arabic Al Jahiliyya, meaning the 'time of ignorance' or barbarity. However, it is during this alleged time of 'ignorance' that many of the best and most beautiful Arabic poetry were conceived - a fact recognised even by the 'Muslims' themselves.
In those days, the Arabian Peninsula was divided among many small tribal territories and kingdoms; and in each tribe there was a poet, Sha'ir, who was second in importance only to the Sheikh, the head of the tribe.
The poet was responsible for keeping the history and the genealogy of the tribe, and in his poems he glorified the tribe and mocked its enemies. In reality, these poets were the
News Repoters par excellence of pagan Arabia.
The names of these poets are: Labid; Tarafah ibn al Abd; al Harith ibn Hillizah; Amr ibn Kalthum; Antara ibn Shaddad al Absi;Imru al Qays. (In some other traditions, three other names are also added).
The lives of these poets were spread over a period of more than a hundred years. The earliest of the seven was Imru' al-Qais, regarded by many as the most illustrious of Arabian Mu'allaqa poets. His exact date cannot be determined; but probably the best part of his career fell within the midst of the 6th century.
He was a scion of the royal house of the tribe Kindah, which lost its power at the death of its king Harith ibn 'Amr in the year 529. The poet's royal father, Hojr, by some accounts a son of this Harith, was killed by a Bedouin tribe, the Banu Asad. The son led an adventurous life as a refugee, now with one tribe, then with another, and appears to have died young.
The anecdotes related of him which, however, are very untrustworthy in detail as well as his poems, imply that the glorious memory of his house and the hatred it inspired were still comparatively fresh, and therefore recent.
A contemporary of Imru' al-Qais was 'Abid ibn al-Abras, one poem of whose, is reckoned by some authorities among the collection. He belonged to the Banu Asad, and is fond of vaunting the heroic dead of his tribe the murder of Hojr in opposition to the victim's son, the great poet.
It is a phenomenon which deserves the fullest recognition, that the needy inhabitants of a barren country should thus have produced an artistic poetry distinguished by such a high a degree of uniformity.
Even the extraordinary strict metrical system, was observed by poets, who had no inkling of theory and no knowledge of an alphabet, excites enormous surprise. In the most ancient poems, the metrical form is as scrupulously regarded as in later compositions.
The Muallaqat are seven Pre-Islamic Arabic poems from around the 6th Century AD that are considered the best of their kind. They are called the 'suspended' due to the myth which developed about them during the 'Islamic' period - that, being the best poems of their time, they were written on parchments using golden ink, and hung on the walls of the Ka'ba for all to see.
However, that name first appeared only a long time after the Muallaqat had been written, and is not mentioned at all, in the sources from that period. It therefore seems to be a false myth, which comes from romanticisation of the Pre-Islamic period by the later Muhammadan scholars.
Since the Arabic culture of that time was mainly oral, these poems were at first not written down, but recited and later memorised by individuals, usually the poets' apprentices.
The first Muallaqat compilations were written in the beginning of the Islamic period ,7th - 8th Centuries AD (about 200 to 300 years after they were compsed). The number of poems that were included varied, but seven of these poems are considered a canon to this day, and at the head of those seven is the one written by the poet Imru al Qays.
They belong to a poetic genre called a Qasida. Nowadays, almost every long poem can be called a Qasida, but in the ancient times the definition was more distinct: a Qasida was a long poem with very strict form.
The stanzas of the Qasida are divided into two parts with identical metre; the metres of Arabic poetry, like those of Grecian poetry, are based on short and long syllables, and the ones used for the Qasidas were usually the long metres, which helped create the typical long descriptive segments.
The rhyme is consistent throughout all the stanzas, and the two parts of the first stanza often rhyme as well. The classical Qasidas are constructed of three main themes, written according to certain fixed conventions (though not every poet used all three together) :
1 In the first part of the Qasida, which is called Nasib in Arabic, the poet describes his arrival to the campgrounds of his love's tribe, expecting a romantic rendezvous, and his discovery that the tribe had left the place to look for other pastures. The poet halts the friends that have ridden with him, and sits down to cry, remembering the love that has been and is now gone.
2 After reflecting on his lost romance, the return to reality hurts the poet so much that he cannot stay near the campgrounds anymore, and he mounts his riding animal and goes out to the desert. This part, called Rihla (journey), is usually longer than the Nasib and has a faster pace, and it contains many descriptions of the dangers of the desert and of the poet's riding animal, whose loyalty is portrayed as a contrast to the disloyalty of womankind.
3 In the third part of the Qasida the poet praises the traits of the ideal man by glorifying himself or his tribe, or by tongue-lashing other tribes. In the past it has been suggested that this is the main part of the Qasida, and is actually the purpose (Qasd in Arabic) for which it has been written, and the reason it is called Qasida; yet this seems to be an over-simplistic grasp of the complex form of Pre-Islamic poetry.
It is very hard to translate classical Arabic poetry into English. Arabic in general, and the language of the ancient poets in particular, is an amazingly rich language, where complex notions can be expressed with very few words; there is also a huge cultural difference which makes it hard to translate many concepts.
Moreover, the division into short and long syllables on which the Arabic metre is based, is impossible in English, and the consistent rhyme, though perhaps possible, is very difficult to achieve.
In the case of the Muallaqa of Imru al Qays, most translators chose to keep the 14-syllable metre (which is somewhat similar to the English forteener), but none have managed to keep the consistent rhyme.
Perhaps the oldest passage where it is stated that the poems were hung up, occurs in the 'Iqd al-Farid (The Precious Necklace) by the Spanish Muhammadan, Ibn Abd Rabbih. We read there:
"The Arabs had such an interest in poetry, and valued it so highly, that they took seven long pieces selected from the ancient poetry, wrote them in gold on pieces of Coptic linen folded up, and hung them up (allaqat) on the curtains which covered the Ka'ba.
Hence we speak of 'the golden poem of Imru' al-Qais,' 'the golden poem of Zuhayr.' The number of the golden poems is seven; they are also called 'the suspended' (al-Mu'allaqat)." Similar statements are found in later Arabic works.
Against this, we have the testimony of al-Nahhas, who says in his commentary on the Mu'allaqat:
"As for the assertion that they were hung up in the Ka'ba, it is not known to any of those who have handed down ancient poems." This cautious scholar is unquestionably right in rejecting a story so utterly unauthenticated.
Even more pertinent is the fact, that most of the pagan Arabs were ILLITERATE and hence, hanging these poems to be read, would have been a useless exercise esprcially since the Arabic writing of those days, did not yet have vowels and there were several different dialects of the Arabic language of those days.
The customs of the Arabs before Muhammad are pretty accurately known to us; we have also a mass of information about the affairs of Mecca at the time when Muhammad arose; but there is no trace of this or anything like it to be found in really good and ancient authorities.
There are indeed reports, of a Meccan hanging up a spoil of battle on the Ka'ba by (Ibn Hisham, ed. Wiistenfeld, p. 431).
The story of an important document being deposited in that sanctuary is much less credible (ibid. p. 230), for this looks like an instance of later usages being transferred to pre-Islamic times.
Another legend has it, that each of these odes (Qasidah) was awarded the annual prize at the fair of 'Ukaz' and were thence inscribed in golden letters and suspended on the walls of the Ka'bah.
(Al Suyuti, al-Muzhir, Cairo 1282, vol.II, p240)
To account for the disappearance of the Mu'allaqat from the Ka'ba we are told, in a passage of late origin
(De Sacy, Chrestom. ii. 480), that they were taken down at the capture of Mecca by Muhammad.
But in that case, we should have expected some hint of this event being mentioned in one or more of Muhammad's biographies, and in the works on the history of Mecca; in all the extant records of the period concerned, we find no such thing.
That a series of long poems was written at all at that remote period, is improbable in the extreme.
Up to a time when the art of writing had become far more general than it was before the spread of Islam, poems were never or very rarely written, with the exception, perhaps, of epistles in poetic form.
Based upon all the information available, the diffusion of poetry was exclusively committed to oral tradition (Even the Quran was memorized and transmitted ORALLY).
Moreover, it is quite inconceivable that there should have been either a guild or a private individual of such acknowledged taste, or of such influence, as to bring about a consensus of opinion in favour of certain poems. One should take in consideration the mortal offence which the canonization of one poet must have given to his rivals and their tribes.
It was quite another thing for an individual to give his own private estimate of the respective merits of two poets who had appealed to him as umpire, or for a number of poets to appear at large gatherings, such as the fair of Ukaz as candidates for the place of honour in the estimation of the throng which listened to their recitations.
An even better example of the modifications of the legend, which we find, at a much later period, in the Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldun, who tells us that the poets themselves hung up their poems on the Ka'ba (ed. Paris iii. 357).
In short, this legend, so often retailed by Arabs, and still more frequently by Europeans, must be entirely rejected.
The story is a pure fabrication based on the name 'Suspended'. The word was taken in its literal sense; and as these poems were prized by many above all others in after times, the same opinion was attributed to "the [ancient] Arabs," who were supposed to have given effect to their verdict in the way already described.
A somewhat simpler version also given by Nahhas in the passage already cited is as follows:
"Most of the Arabs were accustomed to meet at Ukaz and recite verses; then, if the king was pleased with any poem, he said, 'Hang it up, and preserve it among my treasures.'
Without mentioning other difficulties, there was no king of all the Arabs; and it is hardly probable that any Arabian king would have attended the fair at Ukaz.
The story that the poems were written in gold has evidently originated in the name
"the golden poems" (literally "the gilded"), a figurative expression for excellence. We may interpret the designation "suspended" on the same principle. It seems to mean those (poems) which have been raised, on account of their value, to a specially honourable position.
Another derivative of the same root is 'ilq, "precious thing." A clearer significance attaches to another name sometimes used for these poems assumut, "the strings of pearls." The comparison of artificially elaborated poems to these strings is extremely apt.
Hence it became so popular that, even in ordinary prose, to speak in rhythmical form is called simply nagm "to string pearls."
The selection of these seven poems can scarcely have been the work of the ancient Arabs at all. It is much more likely that we owe it to some connoisseur of a later date.
Since Muhammad was not born in a vacuum, but was surrounded by both pagan and other religious influences, Muhmmad's Quran too, is also in the format of a Qasida with a similar repetitive theme based upon:
1 A people are in error
2 A prophet declares himself calling them to believe in the One and Only Allah
3 Most of his tribe ridicule and oppress him and continue in unbelief
4 Allah visits them with catastrophies destroying most of them
5 The prophet and a few of his followers are vindicated
6 Muhammad also, praised himself just as the Jahiliyah poets did.
Muhammad's Quran, did not have to originate from a divine being, since the Odes of the seven Muallaqat are even more beautiful, both in meaning and in structure, than the Quranic verses.
The poets who recited these odes were just as illiterate as Muhammad, but no one ever considered them the result of
'divine revelations'; so why the Quran?