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Al-Fatihah A Short Introduction
Published on web at: 2010-05-30 16:16:16 +05:30. Section: Quran Studies section.
By DR. SHIHAB M. GHANEM & WADDAH S. GHANEM
Al-Fatihah (???????)is the opening surah (chapter) of the Noble Qur'an which has 114 surahs of various lengths ranging from 288 ayaat (verses) in Surah Al-Baqarah to 3 ayaat in Surah Al-Kawthar. The Noble Qur'an was revealed over approximately 23 years.
Surahs in the Qur'an are classified as either Makkan or Madinean depending on whether they were revealed in Makkah Al-Mukarramah or in Al-Madinah Al-Munawwarah respectively. Al-Fatihah was one of the early surahs revealed in Makkah, and it was revealed as a complete surah in the present order of its ayaat.
Al-Fatihah gets its name from the Arabic base-word (verb) fataha which means he opened. Al-Fatihah therefore means “The Opening One”, i.e. “The Opening Surah”. It has several other names which reflect its attributes. It is thus called Umm Al-Kitab or “The Mother of the Book”, as umm i.e. mother is here a word that denotes the origin and starting point, and kitab i.e. book refers to the Quran. It is also called Umm-Al Qur'an or The Mother of the Quran, Another name of Al-Fatihah is Al-Saba Al Mathani (????? ???????)or the seven-oft repeated ones reflecting the fact that the seven verses of Al-Fatihah are the only verses of the Qur'an which must be read in every prayer. In Arabic al-saba means the seven and al-Mathani means the oft-repeated. It is as such also called simply Al-Mathani referring to its repetition in prayer. This is also a very unique name as it is distinguished in Allah’s mentioning it in ayah 87 of Surah Al-Hijr: ?????????????????? ??????? ?????????????????????????????????????“And indeed, We have bestowed upon you seven of Al-Mathani (seven repeatedly recited verses) and the Grand Quran”.
According to several well-known authoritative interpreters of the Quran, the seven repeatedly recited verses refer to the verses of Al-Fatihah. This is, therefore, an interesting testimony; for although Al-Fatihah is part of the Quran, the Lord Subhanah Wa-Taala (SWT) (i.e. glory and exaltation to Him) indicates its special significance by saying “….seven of Al-Mathani (seven repeatedly recited verses i.e. Surah Al Fatihah) and the Grand Quran.” Furthermore, the seven verses are in this ayah identified as a great gift from Allah (SWT) in addition to the Glorious Quran.
In fact, one of the names of Al-Fatihah is Suarh Al-Salat i.e. the Surah of Prayer(???? ??????).
There is a very important Hadith-e- Qudsi of the Prophet (may the blessings and peace of Allah be with him)about Al Fatihah: On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleasedwith him) from the Prophet (May the blessings and peace of Allah be with him), who said: “A prayer performed by someone who has not recited the Essence of the Qur'an (i.e Al-Fatihah, the first Surah of the Quran) during it is deficient (and he repeated the word three times), incomplete. Someone said to Abu Hurayrah: [Even though] we are behind the imam? He said: Recite it to yourself, for I have heard the Prophet (May the blessings and peace of Allah be with him) say: Allah (mighty and sublime be He, has said: “I have divided prayer between Myself and My servant into two halves, and My servant shall have what he has asked for. When the servant says: Al-hamdu lillahi rabbi ‘l’-alamin, Allah (mighty and sublime be He) says: My servant has praised Me. And when he says: Ar-rahmani ‘r-rahim, Allah (mighty and sublime be He) says: My servant has extolled Me, and when he says: Maliki yawmi ‘d-din, Allah says: My servant has glorified Me – and on one occasion He said: My servant has submitted to My power. And when he says: Iyyaka na’budu wa iyyaka nasta’in, He says: This is between Me and My servant, and My servant shall have what he has asked for. And when he says: Ihdina ‘s-sirata ‘l-mustaqim, sirata ‘lladhina an’amta ‘alayhim ghayri ‘l-maghdubi ‘alayhim wa la d-dallin, He says: This is for My servant, and My servant shall have what he has asked for. (This was related by Muslim.) Al-Fatihah is also called Al-Wafiah (???????) or “The Complete One” as it cannot be split, or part read in prayer but must be when read completely as a whole. Interestingly, it is also called Al-Kafiah (???????)or “The One that Suffices” because it carries and provides the essence of the words of the Lord (SWT) i.e. the whole of the Quran. In that respect, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be with him) said, “Umm Al Qur'an suffices others but no other will suffice in its place!”
It has also been referred to as Al-Shafiyah (???????) i.e. “The Curing One” and Al-Shifa i.e. “The Cure”, most probably because it was used in conjunction with “Prophetic Medicine” for the purpose of curing the sick. Abdul-Malik bin Umair relates that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) said, “In the Opening of the Book there iscure from all illnesses” (Related in Sunan Ad-Darimi).
Furthermore the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) on the authority of Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “If you put yourself to rest on your bed and read the Opening of the Book and Say there is no God but Allah (i.e. read Surat Al-Ikhlas), then you would have secured yourself against all except death”.
Also in his book The Prophetic Medicine, Ibn Al Qayyim Al Jawziyya states: “In general, the contents of the Fatihah, which are: the sincerity of the adoration, the laudation of Allah, the entrust of one’s soul to him, the imploration of His whole graces that are: the guidance that brings favours and repulses the spite – all these elements constitute one of the most beneficial healing remedies”. Moreover, Al-Fatihah has also been called Al-Ruqiyah (???????)or “The Protecting One”; and Al-Waqiyah(???????) or the “Preventive or Protective One” as it protects its reader from harm.
Other names include Al-Kanz (?????)i.e. the Treasure; Al-Asas i.e. the Foundation; Al-Noor (?????) i.e. the Light; Surat Al-Hamd (???? ?????)i.e. the Surah of Praise; The Surah of Taleem Al-Mas’alah(???? ????? ???????) i.e. the Surah of teaching of the meaning (of existence); Surat Al-Munajat (???? ????????)i.e. The Surah of Soliloquy (between man and the Creator) as well as Surat Al-Tafweed (???? ???????)which means the Surah of Delegacy. Some writers have noted that Al-Fatihah has in excess of 20 names and this is possible as it possesses such a multitude of integrated concepts, aspects and immense depth of meaning.
Interestingly, and most importantly, Al-Fatihah is a dialogue and a protocol of approach of mankind to the Creator, the Sustainer and the True Guide. Al-Fatihah is about the Truth and about how mankind approaches Allah (SWT), first by reading in His Name, then by being grateful to Him whilst recognising His mastery over absolutely everything in All Worlds, recognising His greatest attributes, also realising that He is the Master of the Day of Reckoning, then confessing to Him (and Him alone) that it is to Him one prays and to Him (and Him alone) does one ask for ultimate support and then ask after this that He may show one the way to the straight and right path, the path of the righteous and not the path of the unrighteous and ultimately doomed.
In his book The Opening Chapter of the Quran, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad expresses: “God is here invoked in His attributes, the manifestations of which man beholds day-in day-out, however much he may, through in-difference, neglect to reflect over them. Here you have man’s admission of his absolute dependence on God, his acknowledgement of the divine kindness shown to him, his earnest yearning to be saved from the pitfalls of life and to be led along the straight path.”
Abdul Basit notes in his book The Essence of the Quran: “In fact these seven verses form a complete unit by themselves. This beautiful chapter is so thorough, comprehensive, and universal that in brief it contains basic teachings of the Glorious Quran. Many Western scholars, even Christian missionary workers, have been profoundly impressed by the universal characteristic and sublime style of prayer. The followers of the monotheistic religions, whether Jews or Christians, could all recite Surah Al-Fatihah without any reservation. It is this universal aspect of the Lord’s prayer that has attracted the attention of many non-Muslim scholars”.
He goes on to quote Alfred Guillaume, a noted orientalist remarking: “There is nothing in the official worship of Islam in which a Christian could not join, and one who understands the word of praise and adoration is tempted to do so.”
Finally, this article can be considered an introduction to Al-Fatihah and in future articles we hope to be able to elaborate further the interpretation of the seven wonderful Ayahs.
AL-HAMD LI-ALLAH RAB AL-ALAMEEN
Published on web at: 2010-06-17 10:49:38 +05:30. Section: Faith section.
By: Dr Shihab M. Ghanem Ph.D. & Waddah S. Ghanem M.Sc.,M.B.A.
The verse Al-Hamd li-Allah Rab Al-Alameen is known for short as Al-Hamdala. One of the many names of Al-Fatiha is actually Al-Hamd. This is based on the first word of the first verse following the Basmallah verse. In fact, that verse, which is the title of this chapter, (starting with the word al-hamd) is according to some scholars the actual first verse of the first Surah of the Nobel Qur’an, arguing that the Basmalah is only for blessing. It is interesting to note that the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be to him) started all his written messages with the Basmalah but started all his spoken sermons with the Hamdalah. The first word is al-hamd and its translations can be grouped from the above translations as: praise, all praise, all types of perfect praise, all the praise and thanks, all praise and gratitude (whoever gives them to whomever for whatever reason and in whatever way from the first day of creation until eternity). This last phrase is obviously an attempt by the translator, Ali Unal (2007) to provide a more comprehensive interpretation. Ibn Ajibah (1999) explains that al-hamd is praise with the intention to applaud greatness (Ta-dheem) and salutations (Tabheel) and this directed by the servant of Allah by choice in admiration to the great attributes both known and incomprehensible to the limited human mind.
The word al-hamd (i.e. praise) is different from the word al-hukr (pronounced ash-shukr) (i.e. thanks or gratitude) in that al-shukr is said in return for a deed whereas al-hamd is for the acts of giving by choice, and also for the attributes of the one praised, in this case Allah. In Arabic if the praise is for giving not by choice but by nature the word al-madh is used, which is constituted of the same letters as those of al-hamd but in a different arrangement as happens in many Arabic words with the meanings of the words remaining related. Thus praising the beauty of a woman or of the scenery would be madh and not hamd. In Arabic, al-hamd is most often used in praising Allah, and thus the word praise as offered in translation cannot convey this almost exclusivity. This probably explains Abdul Aziz Kamal’s (1989) stressing on that “Praise is only to Allah”.
The second word in the verse isli-Allah(pronounced lillah). Li in Arabic is a single letter preposition meaning for or to, which is attached to the following noun, in this case Allah. Allah is translated as God, but God is a word which has the plural gods, whereas Allah is an Arabic word that does not take a plural. God could be translated in Arabic as ilah, ???and gods as alihah. Allah is considered the most commonly used name of God who has according to one hadith (or saying) by the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be to him) ninety nine names (3). Moreover, in its essence the name Allah is inherently monotheistic. The concept of Allah conveys the centrality of the Divine Who is the All Provider and within Whose realm and authority every thing exists, to the exclusion of any other authority or power. However, what should be appreciated is that Muslims use al-Hamdu-lillah ( i.e. al-hamd li-Allah) meaning Praise to Allah at all times and circumstances. Thus a Muslim would use it at times of happiness, prosperity, and success, but also at times of sadness, down-luck and at difficult and tough times such as illness or the death of a dear person. In fact, the al-hamd being a compulsory verse in all prayers confirms that very basic expectation to thank and praise God for everything, anything, anywhere, everywhere and at any and all times borne from that strong covenant between the servant and Master, i.e. the believer and Allah (SWT). This fulfils as such the basic tenant of Islam when the Muslim bears witness that there is no God but Allah (SWT) and thus surrenders and accepts fully what the Lord has planned and given to him – and thanks and praises Him under all these conditions.
In his Nobel Prize speech Bertrand Russel says: “It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the influence of vanity throughout the range of human life, from the child of three to the potentate at whose frown the world trembles. Mankind have even committed the impiety of attributing similar desires to the Deity, whom they imagine avid for continual praise”. But it is the Qur’an itself that starts the Fatihah, after theBasmalah, with “Praise to Allah”. In Surah 51, Al-Dhariat, verse 56 the Qur’an states:
“I have only created Jinns and men, that they may serve (or worship) Me”. Muslims believe that the Qur’an comes to comfort and befriend the believer even after death in his grave and in heaven. In Surah 35 (Saba) verse no 1 the Qur’an says: “All the praises and thanks be to Allah, to Whom belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. His is all the praises and thanks in Hereafter, and He is the All-Wise, the All-Aware;”
The phrase “al-hamd li-Allah” appears in 20 verses other than the Fatiha which almost every practicing Muslim memorises regardless of knowing or remembering by heart any other parts and verses of the Qur’an. This is because he/she needs it in all his/her compulsory and voluntary prayers. In reality there are huge numbers of Muslims who have been blessed with memorising the whole Noble Qur’an. Juma i.e. Friday prayer sermons are usually started with the phrase “al-hamd li-Allah”.
In fact, there are 5 Surahs in the Quran that start with “Al hamad li-Allah” including Al-Fatiha; Al-Anam; Al-Kahf; Saba; Fatir. Thus: (1) First Surah, Al Fathiha: “All the praises and thanks are to Allah, the (Rab) Lord of the Alamin (mankind, jinns and all that exists)”;
(2) Surah 6, Al-Anam: “All praises and thanks be to Allah, Who (Alone) created the heaves and the earth, and originated the darkness and the light; yet those who disbelieve hold others as equal with their Lord.”
(3) Surah 18, Al-Kahf: ”All the praises and thanks be to Allah, Who has sent down to His slave (Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be to him)) the Book (the Qur’an), and has not placed therein any crookedness”;
(4) Surah 34, Saba: “All the praises and thanks be to Allah, to Whom belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. His is all the praises and thanks in Hereafter, and He is the All-Wise, the All-Aware;”
(5) Surah 35, Fatir: “All the praises and thanks be to Allah, the (only) Originator [for the (Only) Creator] of the heavens and the earth, Who made the angels messengers with wings, two or three or four. He increases in creation what He wills. Verily, Allah is Able to do all things”.
The third word in the verse is Rab. In Arabic this word can cover several meanings. According to Mawdudi the word rather bridges a broad-based concept that covers the following range of meanings (Sayyid Abul A’la Mawdudi, Four Key Concepts of the Qur’an, The Islamic Foundation, Great Britain, 2006):
He who nourishes and dispenses needs, brings up morally and physically.
He who takes care, supervises, and is responsible for improving.
He who has the axial position upon whom divergence converges.
He who is the noblest and the source of power and authority: whose writ prevails and who is the wielder of dispensation.
He who is the owner and the master.
In the Qur’an the use of the word Rabinvolves all these meanings in different verses. Some times it involves one or two of the above meaning and in other cases embrace several of these meanings. In the verse under discussion the main meaning of the word is Lord, Owner and Master. What is referred to here is the concept of “Rubbubiyah” which is the Lordship/Ownership of Allah of All the worlds, but also all the other concepts above. The word Rab in Arabic is never used to in its singular form except to mean Allah (SWT). As such the word Lord or Master is only an English translation, and as such if the verse said Alhamd li-Allah Al-Rab, then it would have automatically meant God. However, if the word rab is used as lord or master to mean a person, then we say rab al-manzel to mean master of the house, or rab al-bustan as the Master of the Garden, and so on.
In verses 3 and 4 of Surah 106, “Quraish” the Quran states “(3) So let them worship (Allah) the (Rab) Lord of this House (the Ka’bah in Mekkah” (4) (He) Who has fed them against hunger, and has made them safe from fear”.
The Rab being the ultimate and absolute Master, Lord, Sustainer, He and thus He alone is worthy of having the title. He has created man and all other creatures and all that which in existence including the non-living, and it is with that He is worshiped. Rab can also mean that Allah (SWT) is the Cherisher; Sustainer, Sovereign, Judge and True Owner of all existence. The fourth word in the verse is Al-Alameen. This is a plural of the word alam, the world. The word in Arabic come from the root word ? alima (to know). The wordelm means knowledge. The Lord Allah (SWT) and it is by default in knowledge of all that exists in its absolute entirety. Alameen is a term used only in the Qur’an, and is used to encompass all the different worlds in their diversities, their differing sizes and complexities, including the world of angels, the world of humans, the world of jinn, the world of animals, the world of plants, etc . Many scholars have spoken of the various different infinitely enormous numbers of worlds those from the sub-atomic and nuclear levels to the “at-large” cosmic levels to encompass the heavens and beyond, and in fact, everything other than Allah Himself. The word alam can also be used here to have connotations that relate to the Arabic word alamah which means mark, and as such for the worlds or parts of the universe that mankind has been able to explore their exist the marks and signature of the One and Only Creator.
Like Allah and Al Rahman, Rab al-alameen is a term unique to the one and only God. Itappears in the Quran 34 times out of which 9 times in Surah 26, Al-Shu-ara In Verses 23 to 28 of that Surah an epic dialogue between Pharaoh and Moses (PBUH) takes place in which Pharaoh questions Moses (BPUH) about Rab al-alameen: “(23) Fir’aun (Pharoh) said “ And what is the Lord of the ‘Alamin (mankind, jinns and all that exists)?; (24) (Moses) said: “The Lord of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between them, if you seek to be convinced with certainty.; (25) (Pharaoh) said to those around: “Do you not hear (what he says)?; (26) (Moses) said: “ Your Lord and the Lord of your ancient fathers!”; (27) (Pharaoh) said “Verily, your Messenger who has been sent to you is a madman!”; (28 (Moses) said: ”Lord of the east and the west, and all that is between them, if you did but understand”.
These verses describe the Rububiyah concept through this dialogue between a Prophet and one of the most arrogant and obtuse disbelievers on earth!
Thus the meaning of the Ayah is Praise to Allah and recognising that He is the Lord and Master of everything. We as mankind must admit our subservience to the Lord (SWT), and it is only most appropriate to start the prayers by thanking him for our very existence which has come about only by His wish. Moreover our continued existence is only possible by His sustaining us. Thus we start our prayer in His name by the Basmallah as explained in the previous chapter, and then by all absolute and complete praise to Him and to Him alone.
Given the discussion above perhaps a proposed approximate translation of the meanings of this Ayah could thus be “All absolute and perfect praise is only ultimately and truly attributed to Allah, the Master and Sustainer of all absolute existence (all worlds)”.
Islam and Time Management
By: Dr. Shihab M. Ghanem
An exam takes a few hours but if you pass that exam, then you hold a qualification for the rest of your life. A serious examinee tries to utilize every minute of the examination time to answer the questions to the best of his knowledge.
In Islam our short stay in this temporary world is just like an examination to qualify for an eternal heaven or an eternal hell. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "Be in the world as though you were a stranger or a wayfarer". You are required to use this short time properly.
In another Hadith (saying) the Prophet (peace be upon him) said that a person is questioned on the Day of Judgement about how he spent his life and how he passed the years of his youth. He also said that you should benefit from five items: Your youth before becoming old, your health before becoming a sick man, your wealth before becoming poor, your leisure before becoming too busy and your life before you die.
The value of time is mentioned in many Ayat (verses) of the Holy Quran. For instance, "He has made subject to you the night and the day, the sun and the moon, and the stars are in subjection by His Command: Verily in this are signs for men who are wiser" (The Bee; 12). The value of time is so important that several Suras start with an oath by Allah swearing by some part of the day. For instance, one Sura starts: "By the forenoon. And the brooding night." (Forenoon; 1-2)
A Muslim is required to pray five times a day. Normally this ought to be in a mosque. The times of the prayers are specified. The first prayer is at dawn and the last is at night with the others spread in between. The Noble Quran states: "Prayers are enjoined on believers at fixed hours" (Women, 103). A person is allowed to combine some of the prayers in a specified way under difficult circumstances such as travelling, sickness or heavy rain.
For a practicing Muslim these have several practical benefits besides their benefit as prayers. For one they train a person to be punctual. Another benefit is that they form a framework around which the whole day is sectioned. A person should find it easier to manage his time around this framework.
It is, therefore, sad to see so many Muslims nowadays who are not punctual. But then how many of these respect their five daily appointments with their Creator and how many of them perform their dawn prayer in a mosque.
Prayer is the second article of faith in Islam, the first and most fundamental being the declaration that there is no deity but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. The three other articles of faith Zakat (or compulsory alms giving), Fasting and Haj (pilgrimage to Makkah) are again time related. For instance, fasting has to be done during the month of Ramadhan and be kept strictly between dawn and sunset.
The importance of the time factor can be seen throughout the teachings of the religion. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said that you should pay a person you employed to do some work for you before his sweat dried, i.e., without delay. In another saying he teaches us that if one was about to plant a small plant and sees the Hour of Judgement approaching, and he could still carry out the planting before the Hour arrived, then he should do so.
One of the great Muslim scholars was on his deathbed, yet was continuing to study. One of his friends told him that there was no point in studying at such a time. The learned man replied that he wished to meet his Creator a little more knowledgeable. For Islam is the religion of learning. The revelation of the Quran started with the following verses "Read (or recite) in the name of your Lord who created you. Created man of a clot. Read and your Lord is the Most Generous. Who taught by the pen." (The Clot: 1-4)
Utilizing time fully should not be confused with hastiness The Noble Quran states: "Man is made of haste" (The Prophets; 37) and again: "… For man was ever hasty" (Al-Isra; 11). But Islam teaches us to do things properly. This, of course, means allocating the necessary time. The Prophet (peace be upon him) says that Allah likes that when one does a job to do it well.
However, Islam is a religion of moderation. The Glorious Quran states "But seek with the wealth which Allah has bestowed on you the Home of the Hereafter and forget not your portion of this world" (Al-Qasas or The Stories, 77). Islam teaches that one should work for the Hereafter as if he was going to die the following day and to work for the present World as if he was going to live forever.
People often speak of "killing time". In fact, it is the other way round: It is time that kills people, of course, with the will of Allah. But Islam is not all work with no play. The Prophet (peace be upon him) teaches us to relax and enjoy from time to time.
Islam also encourages some sports. Omar, the second Caliph advised Muslims to teach their children swimming, archery and horsemanship. Chess is allowed provided it does not keep you from your prayers that section your day and help you manage your time.
Sheikh Mohammed's "Poems from the Desert"
Review by : Shihab Ghanem
Dubai hosts this week the Dubai International Poetry Festival, which has brought to Dubai poets from all the corners of the globe under the motto "A Thousand Poets, One Language". Like many other unique cultural and other ventures for which Dubai has become well-known, the festival is the brainchild of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai. It is meant not only to promote poetry, but also to foster better understanding and dialogue between nations. For what is better than poetry, which is the soul of any nation, to bring souls, hearts and minds of nations together, and mend what politics has damaged and spoiled.
As the festival proceeds the poets from different cultures and languages will be pleasantly surprised by the release of Sheikh Mohammed's new book "Poems from the Desert" which contains an English translation of a selection of twenty seven of his Arabic 'nabati' (or vernacular) poems. Sheikh Mohammed is a prolific poet and very well-known for his nabati poetry not only in the UAE but also in the whole Gulf and the Arab World. Moreover, he also occasionally writes poetry in classical standard Arabic. The latest example of this is his outspoken poem addressed to the Arab Summit held recently in Kuwait in the wake of the Zionist state's criminal aggression against Gaza. That poem should be read widely by Arabs and non-Arabs alike, in order to understand what this moderate Arab leader thinks about the prolonged plight of the Palestinians under Zionist occupation. In my opinion, the feelings in this poem reflect the feelings of the Arab masses.
Paulo Coelho in his foreword to the collection "Poems from the Desert" states: "Reading his Highness's poems, I try to imagine the inner conflict between being a poet and a ruler. But when I give a second thought to it, I understand that there is no conflict at all: when a ruler has the soul of a poet, he understands better the needs of his people. When the poet has the soul of a ruler, he exercises the most needed discipline to dig deep into his soul."
In fact Sheikh Mohammed is like a bird that needs two wings to fly, one is the wing of creativity and poetry, and the other is the wing of wisdom and leadership. I am sure Sheikh Mohammed is one of those who use both sides of their brain equally: the right side for creative imagination and the left side for logical thinking. In fact both sides are needed for creative leadership. Moreover, Sheikh Mohammed is an accomplished horseman who loves and understands horses and has won first place in many races especially those that demonstrate endurance and fortitude.
Sheikh Mohammed is a leader with a vision which he elaborated in his well-known book "My Vision" which has been translated into many languages. He has aimed in his leadership to achieve the best elements in Arab traditions and heritage and the best in western modernity. That is why he is one of the right persons to foster dialogue, between the twain: East and West. The Dubai poetry festival is one manifestation of his interest in the dialogue between nations.
The poems of the book are quite varied in subject. The first poem in the book "A Mother's Lament" depicts the humanistic touch in several of Sheikh Mohammed's poems. In this poem a mother complains to the Sheikh against her son whom she had brought up alone as he was orphaned as a child. She had to toil as a servant in order to support him, and when he became a fully grown man he expelled her from her home. The Sheikh's soul flared up with rage but when he wanted to bring the son to justice the mother begged him not to punish him. This act of forgiveness of a prodigal son by a terribly wronged mother inspired the poem. Another poem with a clear humanistic touch is "The Old Man".
There are many love poems in the collection in which Sheikh Mohammed expresses his appreciation of the beauty of the beloved, but also how he is tormented by the fire of unrequited love. In one poem he says:
Place me in your eyes, then seal them shut,
Allow me to rest within their depth.
Please be cautious, and with care do blink,
For the captive within might easily fall.
When sorrowful, I beg you hold back your tears,
For in their rain I may drown and perish.
Paulo Coelho remarks: "What an act of courage – I said to myself while turning the pages of this book – to present his soul bare to the world". But Paulo Coelho must surely know that Sheikh Mohammed is a genuine poet, and that poetry is the art of confession, irrespective of the social standing or political position of the poet. Paulo Coelho, however, rightly observes that the Sheikh's love poems are tinged by the imageries of the hunter such as lions and gazelles. After all the title of the collection is "Poems from the Desert" and the Sheikh has always been attached to the desert.
And like his ancestors such as Imrau Al-Qais, Zuhair Bin Abi Sulma and Al-Mutanabi, there is meditation in the Sheikh's poetry as he roams the desert. In his poem my "My Poetic Inspiration" he says:
When my thoughts soar to heights unknown,
I create verse filled with passion.
Will they end up pleasing me,
Or will I suffocate in the heat of my fervor?
Sheikh Mohammed has dedicated many of his poems to his mentor, our great late leader Sheikh Zayed, may Allah rest his soul in Paradise. In his long poem "Zayed" in this collection, Sheikh Mohammed expresses his great admiration for that outstanding and popular Arab leader, and also his deep loyalty to him. He says addressing Sheikh Zayed:
Great loyalty and goodness you scatter on earth,
An arid land, made fertile with your earth bounty.
All the Arabs, Sheikhs and great Kings,
Would be honored to be just a little like you.
I was perhaps the first person to translate a poem of Sheikh Mohammed and the translation was published in Gulf Weekly in 1995. The poem was addressed by Sheikh Mohammed to H.R.H Khaled Al-Faysal. The first lines say:
Hail, O dispatcher of those written words,
Maxims that have enchanted me with their meanings.
Hail to those words of wisdom, O descendant of the noble,
Who guards his honour against misdeeds.
Since the dawn of time, the nature of life has remained unchanged:
At times it is serene, at others clouded.
As a translator of poetry I realize that in translating poetry, especially that written in the classical form, such as the poetry of Al-Mutanabi, Ahmed Shawqi or Sheikh Mohammed, a lot is lost: rhyme, rhythm and some aspects of eloquence such as pun. But imagery and meanings can be conveyed by a good translator, especially if he is a poet himself. However the full appreciation of poetry can only be achieved in the original language.
Many translations of Sheikh Mohammed's poetry into several languages have appeared in bookform or on the internet, including the official site of the Sheikh. And now the lovers of Sheikh Mohammed's poetry, who can not read Arabic, have the opportunity to enjoy an English translation of a good selection of his poems in this new book: "Poems from the Desert".
Poetry in the UAE
Shihab M. Ghanem
Although the Arabs have known other forms of art such as calligraphy, arabesque, architecture and music, poetry has always occupied the first position in Arabic art since pre-Islamic days. Only in post-Second World War times did new art forms such as novels, short stories, songs and above all, the cinema and television, begin to dethrone poetry. It is worth remembering that in pre-Islamic days, the Arabs hung their greatest poems or odes on the walls of their holiest shrine, the Ka'aba in Mecca, perhaps in the same way that we hang painting masterpieces in museums today. Those poems known as the seven (or ten) Muallaqat (i.e. hung ones) are still read and cherished today even by schoolchildren despite their use of archaic words. It is, therefore, ironic that the first Arab to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature was not a poet but a novelist, Neguib Mahfouz. However, the art of story-telling was also known to the Arabs since the Abbasid era in the form of the fables of Ibn Al Muqafa, and later in the Maqamat of Al Hamadani and Al Hariri and in the magical stories of a 'Thousand and One Nights'.
The late nineteenth century and early twentieth century saw the revival of poetry and the appearance of several outstanding poets including the Egyptian Ahmed Shawqi (1868–1932), possibly the greatest Arab poet since Al Mutanabi, who lived a thousand years earlier. The poems of Shawqi were often published on the front pages of newspapers, and newspaper boys would try to attract the attention of buyers by calling out that there was a new poem by Shawqi in the paper. Shawqi was elected by major poets from all over the Arab World as the 'Emir of Poets', but the Nobel Prize eluded him.
The Evolution of Modern Arabic Poetry Arabic poetry since pre-Islamic times until the middle of the twentieth century followed the sixteen meters formulated by the eighth century Gulf Arab scholar, Al Khalil bin Ahmed, (one of these sixteen meters was actually added by his student, Al Akhfash). Slightly modified forms were added in the shape of Al Muwashahat during the period of the Islamic civilization in Andalusia in Spain. The line or bait adhered to the two hemistitches form, each with an equal number of feet, all the second hemistitches ending in the same rhyming letter and sound throughout the poem. The subjects of poems were usually panegyric, satire, self-praise, elegy, ghazal, (i.e. amatory or love poems), description or gnomic verse.
Contact with the West in the earlier part of this century led to the development of the Mahjar(or immigrant) school led by Lebanese writers like Jibran Khalil Jibran, Abu Madhi and Mikhail Nuaima, and the anti-Classical (and anti-Shawqi) Diwan school led by the Egyptian Al Aqqad. The romantic 'Apollo' school was led by poets such as the Egyptians Abu Shadi and Ali Mahmoud Taha, and the Tunisian Al Shabi. However, all these schools adhered to the bait form. In their poetry panegyric, self-praise and gnomic verse became rare and satire was usually political. Meditative, humanistic, nationalistic and love themes were common.
Just after the Second World War the Iraqi poets Al Sayyab and his compatriot poetess Nazek Al Malaikah popularized the modern tafila form, in which the same foot is used throughout the poem, but the number of feet changes from line to line with irregular rhyming. Earlier attempts using this form had been made by Ali Ahmed Bakatheer and a few other poets. The form soon became popular, especially with such socio-realist poets as Abdul Saboor and Higazi after the 1952 Egyptian revolution and among Western-influenced poets in Lebanon such as Hawi and Adonis. In their wake came the tafila Palestinian Resistance poets like Mahmood Darwish and Samih Al Qasim. At the same time, prose poems began to appear, first in Lebanon and Syria and later in other parts of the Arab world; these still face strong opposition from those who cannot accept that it is possible to strip Arabic poetry, after 15 centuries, of its rhythm.
Nabati Poetry in the UAE
It is difficult to find records of verse written in Classical Arabic (i.e. standard Arabic) by poets who lived in the area known now as the United Arab Emirates earlier than this century. One of the exceptions is the argozas of Ibn Majid, the great fifteenth century navigator. However, some good early nabati poetry was written in the vernacular style and the best known of the earlier poets is Ibn Daher who lived in Ra's al-Khaimah in the seventeenthcentury. One could find many maxims and words of wisdom in his poetry such as:
If incomes are obtained by strength and not Allah's will,
Then no lion would ever starve whilst dogs are full.
In another poem he says about old age:
You cannot prevent Allah's will to make us old
But perhaps He will reward us for enduring old age.
Nabati poetry is still very popular in the UAE, especially since it is written by many of the rulers and sheikhs, including President HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and HH General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Crown Prince of Dubai and Minister of Defence. Sheikh Mohammed is versatile, writing about various subjects including love. In one of his poems he expresses some of his philosophy of life:
The dark nights and hard days
We take them as they come and worry not about the future.
We walk along an unbeaten track
And if the path is difficult I enjoy it more.
One of his political poems entitled 'My Hopes', is dedicated to HH Sheikh Zayed:
O! You, our brothers of Kuwait and Euphrates.
O! You, our brothers, north and south in the Arab world.
Zayed has called out to us with dedicated resolve
A call whose commitment rekindles true hearts.
Listen to Zayed! Abandon sleep!
He has called us to denounce division.
He who follows Zayed may hope to survive.
Following Zayed is a duty – a vital duty.
Other well-known nabati poets include Al Khader, bin Yaqoot and Hamad Khalifah Bu Shihab who is also a well-known poet in Classical Arabic. In fact, nabati poets are numerous and almost every newspaper and magazine now has a weekly page for nabati poems. The subjects are usually love, meditation or praise for the leaders. Often the poems end with a prayer to Allah to bless the Prophet (peace be upon him). Occasionally, as with some of Rubaia bin Yaqoot's work, the poem is a criticism of modern social trends. Here,Yaqoot laments the change in traditions and some of the effects of modern schooling on girls and boys:
They have taught her dancing and singing
And made the girl an artist.
They trained her to perform gymnastics like an imp.
And the boy when he walks sways
His hair down to his collar,
Addicted to alcohol,
Sleeping with the bottle in his lap.
Classical Arabic Poetry in the UAE
Among the first Classical Arabic UAE poets to gain importance in this part of the world during the twentieth century were Mubarak Al Oqaili (1880–1954), Salem bin Ali Al Owais (1887–1959) and Ahmed bin Sulayem (1905?–1976).
Al Oqaili immigrated to Dubai from al-Ahsa in Saudi Arabia in his youth. He wrote in the fashion of the old classical poets and his ideas were nationalistic and anti-colonialist. Warnings by the British rulers silenced him only briefly, but he escaped imprisonment because of his blindness.
Salem bin Ali Al Owais was born in al-Hirah, a village between Sharjah and Ajman. He obtained a basic education and loved reading Arabic books and the few magazines and books that reached him or his friends from overseas. He was influenced by old classical poetry and early twentieth century poets like Shawqi and Hafedh of Egypt. His poetry was often nationalistic and he wrote several poems about the Palestinian saga. He was a great admirer of Egypt's President Nasser about whose deeds he wrote many poems, including one on the union between Egypt and Syria that took place one year before the death of the poet. He wrote of the illtreatment of the poor divers by pearl merchants and warned the merchants of Allah's wrath.
Ahmed bin Sulayem had to emigrate to India because of his nationalistic views, but in 1948 was summoned back by Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum who appointed him to a senior government post in Dubai. Bin Sulayem had strong connections with Oman and many of his poems were about Oman or were addressed to Omani poets and friends.
Three other poets of importance in the UAE were Khalfan Musabah (1923–1946), Sheikh Saqr Al Qasimi (1925–1993), an ex-ruler of Sharjah, and Sultan bin Ali Al Owais (1925–2000). The three poets, known as the Hirah group, grew up in the village of al-Hira in Sharjah and were close friends. Khalfan Musabah was influenced by the Apollo and romantic poets. He suffered a serious accident whilst working on a ship and died after prolonged unsuccessful treatment at the age of 23. In one of the poems he writes about his 'medical treatment' with a branding iron:
'I want to cure you
And cure may come with the burn of flesh.
Do not make the slightest move and be forbearing –
For endurance is the hallmark of courageous men'
Allah is the greatest! Oh! When he arose and rolled up his sleeve –
Like the son of Zabibah, walking towards the fire,
And fetched his huge branding iron
Its colour like the tongue of a vulture! –
He forced me down upon my knees,
His rock-like hand clutching the ball of fire.
Alas! For my poor body when it felt that searing iron
As it was stamped, embedded, held there.
I thought of the fearful fires of Hell
As I dropped delirious, like a ball of tar.
Sheikh Saqr Al Qasimi was ruler of Sharjah between 1950 and 1964 but was then deposed and went into exile. He was, however, allowed to spend the last years of his life in Abu Dhabi. During his exile Sheikh Saqr lived in Cairo and his poetry was published in Egyptian and other Arab magazines. He published a few books of verse and many of his poems were nationalistic. His poetry is written in the classical style, but his daughter Sheikha Maisoon writes poetry and also paints in very modernistic styles. In one of his poems he says:
They ask me: 'Wherefore is your poetry so always sad
When you are the son of a ruling prince?
Is this due to failure at love?
Or has the arrow of misery pierced you like well-aimed doom?'
I reply: 'Love? Do I cherish a love other than that for my country
In the face of the darkening catastrophes of tomorrow?
Sultan Al Owais was one of the best known UAE poets and he established the well-known Al Owais cultural prizes which are open to all Arabs. Most of his poetry is about love and tends towards the physical description of the female form and its beauty. He was perhaps influenced by the Andalusian poets and to some extent by the Apollo and modern baiti poets. Abook of his poetry has been published and many of his poems have been published in English translation. An extract from his poem 'Rio de Janeiro' says:
Ah! For a gracefully shaped nymph
As though God ordained: Be beauty itself!
And she became beautiful beyond description.
She asked me: Are you in love?
I replied: Love is my resort,
For it I sing, and in it I seek refuge.
And she approached
With a swinging gait
Another poet of importance is Dr Ahmed Al Madani who was born in Dubai in 1931 and died in 1995. He was highly educated and studied in Baghdad, Cambridge and the Sorbonne. He published a few books of verse as well as a book about the development of nabati poetry in the UAE. He wrote in the romantic baiti style and also the modern tafila style, influenced by poets of Iraq such as Al Sayyab whom he met during his university days in Baghdad. In one of his tafila poems entitled 'A Dubaian Morning' he says:
Do not imagine that I am unmindful of love's meaning.
Deep inside me, the notes of longing stir my emotions
And the endless artistic nights
Throbbing with the strains of lute and guitar
And poetry fills my dreamy thoughts
Radiating from the heart.
Do not think that my love for you is a youth's infatuation
Springing from desire, with fire bursting in his chest.
Shaken by deprivation, he calls: 'I am in love!'
Hamad Bu Shihab (b.1936) on the other hand is a very staunch believer in the classical baiti form. He is one of the best known poets of the UAE and tends to polish his work. He is a good nabati poet and has compiled an anthology of UAE nabati poetry which includes most of the important UAE nabati poets. However, he has published only a limited amount of his own poetry in book form. One of his Classical Arabic poems is about the great benefits of the federation of the emirates:
Yesterday these Emirates were torn apart
In them destructive men created havoc.
And today we are enjoying security and stability
Forcing envious people to admire us.
Yesterday these were disunited emirates
Suffering ignorance, poverty, illness and chronic disease,
And today the Lord has bestowed upon us his grace
In uncountable abundance.
Yesterday, few people knew of our name
And today our voice reaches all corners of the Earth.
Oh! What a difference between our yesterday and today.
The author of this chapter, Dr Shihab Ghanem (b. 1940), writes both in the baiti and tafila styles. He has published eight volumes of Classical Arabic verse and a volume of English verse. He has also translated poems into English for a large number of twentieth century Arab poets and published them in several volumes including a volume consisting exclusively of UAE poems. In 1984 he won the UAE poetry competition and in 1997 won a Saudi Arabian prize for poetry from Abha. He writes about love, nationalistic topics and meditative poems. In one of his poems 'Will the Twain Ever Meet' he says:
The gap yet widens
Between the developing third world
And the advanced first world:
The third world moves backward
Towards a fourth place –
At least materially;
And the first world moves forward
Towards a zero!
At least spiritually.
Sultan Khalifa (b. 1942), a businessman from Dubai, has published several volumes of classical Arabic and nabati poetry. He writes in both the baiti and tafila styles. Dr Mana Saeed Al Otaiba (b. 1946) who obtained his doctorate in economics from Cairo has published around 30 volumes of classical Arabic and nabati poetry. He was, at one time, the Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources and wrote several well-publicized and amusing poems about the difficulties faced by OPEC ministers in reaching agreement on quotas and prices of OPEC oil. Some of those poems were translated into English. Love and sentimentalism are, however, his main themes although he occasionally writes nationalistic poems. Other themes include his children and mother. His poetry is in the classical baiti style. In a poem about his daughter Arwa, he says:
O rose in our house! How sweet!
Suffusing me with her perfume.
'Arwa', opening up in my life like a fragrant flower
Crowned by the morning dew.
Each time I see her my worries disappear,
And my heart simply smiles.
Habib Al Sayegh (b. 1950), a journalist from Abu Dhabi, writes Classical Arabic poetry. He started in the traditional baiti style but has left it almost entirely and tends to experiment in most of his poems, trying styles which are modern both in form and content. In a sensitive poem about an Indian youth who was run down by a car whilst working as a newspaper boy he says:
Every morning he says to them in a gentle voice 'Good morning'
Then calls loudly
'Ittihad – Ittihad
'Ittihad' . . .
And calls . . .
One morning – fatefully
He was killed by a taxi
– May you all live long –
In the same street
At the unlucky top end of the street
Behind the bank, brimming with the accounts of the gentry.
There are approximately 50 other UAE poets writing in Classical Arabic whose names frequently appear in literary pages. Some write in traditional baiti style, others in tafila and some in both styles. Some try to experiment with modern poetry and even with prose poetry. Amongst the better known names are Mohammad Sharif Al Shaibani, Mohammad bin Hader, Salem Al Zamr, Saif Al Murri, Karim Matooq, Arif Al Sheikh, Arif Al Khajah, Ahmed Mohammed Obaid, Ibrahim Mohammed Ibrahim, Khalid Badr and Jaffer Al Jamri. Several of the younger poets who have been influenced by post-modernists have, over the past two decades, attempted to write prose poetry. The form can be difficult to understand. There are also a number of female poets, most of whom write in the modern tafila or prose styles. These include Salihah Dhaiban (pen-name Rua Salem) and her sister Amina Dhaiban (pen-name Sarah Hareb), Salihah Ghabesh, Dhabia Khamees, Sheikha Maisoon Al Qasimi, Nugoom Al Ghanem, Aisha Busumait, Kaltham Shaibani and Kaltham Abdulla. Rua Salem, in a poem lamenting the death of her father, also laments her childhood:
I did not find Masood
Or the shop.
Nor did I find my uncle.
I only found a mixture
Of Indians and Pathans
Living in that place
Living in every corner
That gave me in childhood a sense of security.
How I long to rest my head on my dad's chest
Like I did when I was a child
Whilst my dad played with my hair
And short locks.
For I was a princess
On the bosom of my dad.
Oh! If only dad could come back
And I could again return a child.
Al Tai'i, Abdulla M. Contemporary Poetry in the Arabian Gulf, The Arab Institute for Research and Studies, ALESCO (1974). Ghanem, S.M. Pearls and Shells: Poems from the United Arab Emirates, Dubai, Deira Printing Press (1996). Ghanem, S.M. Coffee and Dates : 20th Century Poems from the United Arab Emirates (manuscript). Nawful, Yousuf, The Poets of the United Arab Emirates, The Cultural and Scientific Association, Dubai, Bin Dismal Printing Press & Stationery (1994).
Industrialization in the UAE