By Habeeb Salloum
Contemporary Review, Vol.285 (2004)
Introduction: In the desert of Arabia long before the Islamic conquests, Arabic had developed an enormous vocabulary. For any object to be found in their barren and inhospitable land, the Arabs had countless names. Hence, the poets had no trouble in rhyming their verses since they had a large storehouse of synonyms from which to draw. Thus, Arabic became unmatched as language of prose and poetry and bards were to be found everywhere. Unlike other societies where balladry was a luxury for the privileged few, Arabic poetry was the literary expression of a whole people and has remained so until our times. In poetics words of dazzling imagery, the bards extolled the tribal virtues of honour, courage, generosity, fidelity and revenge. In the centuries predating Islam, poetry became an invisible bond between the tribes and formed the basis of an Arab nation. In this poetic era, when a family produced a lyricist, all the surrounding tribes would be invited to a great feast. Dancing and singing would fill the encampment and men would congratulate each other on this joyous event. It was a time of endless joy for a poet satirized the tribe’s enemies, defended the honour of the tribe and perpetuated their glorious deeds, thereby establishing their fame forever.