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Al Khansaa: The first woman poet in Arabic literature

Art 19 Jan 2021
Reading Corner
Al khansaa
© Konstantin32 | Dreamstime.com

In the 7th century, amongst the eloquent men of Arabic literature stood a powerful woman, Al Khansaa- whose talent for writing poetry quickly got acknowledged by her contemporaries. The meaning of the nom du plume Al Khansaa is ‘snub-nosed’. She was named as her nose was bent with narrow nostrils.

Al Khansaa’s real name was Tumadir bint Amr ibn Al Harth ibn Al Sharid. She was born in Najid of Arabia. She is considered and regarded as the greatest Arab woman poet ever lived. According to the coryphaeuses of Arabic poetry, there has never been a woman who wrote poetry so full of knowledge, insights and feelings. Her poems are regarded prime to the legendary Al Muaallaqat poems. These are basically a compilation of seven works considered as best from the pre-Islamic era. The Prophet Mohammed used to ask her to recite her poetry at his gatherings.

Al Khansaa’s collection of Poems

Al Khansaa composed a great deal of poetry. Her most famous and eloquent poems were Odes in lamentation of her two brothers, Sakhr and Mu’awiyah. They were killed in a war during the pre-Islamic era. ‘The rising and setting of Sun keep turning my memory of Sakhr’s death,’ is the line she cited as being one of the most comforting. Her Diwan or collection of poems features thousands of lines of her best compositions. From witty retorts and rebuttals to famous Arab poets of her time to poems covering themes like honour, love, family values and tradition. According to professor Hasan Al Naboodah, a famous historian that Al Khansa’s works provide knowledge of rich time in Arab history.

Al Khansaa’s acceptance of Islam

She was even known for her deep faith in Allah and his messenger, our Prophet Mohammed(SAW). She was famous for her zeal for Jihad (struggle for righteous cause) in supporting truth. Accepting the Prophet’s call, she joined the Battle of Qadisiyyah in 16 AH. Her four sons joined with her too. During the first part of the night, she said,

“O my sons! You have embraced Islam willingly and emigrated freely. By Allah, other than Whom there is none worthy of worship. You are the sons of one man and one woman. I have never betrayed your father nor have I disgraced your maternal uncle. Nor have I dishonoured your noble lineage, nor have I tampered with your parentage.

You indeed know the abundant reward prepared by Allah The Almighty for the Muslims. It should be known to you that the everlasting abode is better than the perishable abode. Allah The Almighty Says (what means): {O you who have believed, persevere and endure and remain stationed and fear Allah that you may be successful.} [Quran 3:200].

Should tomorrow morning come upon you while you are safe, Allah willing, go early to fight your enemy with courage and seek the support of Allah The Almighty against His enemies. When the battle becomes fierce, betake yourselves amidst it. Be eager to fight bravely when the army is engaged in combat. Perchance you receive gain and honour in the abode of eternity.”

Al Khansaa regarded as Mother of Martyrs

Hearing this, her sons continued fighting while reciting Rajaz ( a meter employed in Arabic poetry). They gave their best shot but alas! They were martyred. When Al Khansaa got the news, she simply recited, “Praise be to Allah The Almighty who honoured me with their being killed in His cause, and I hope that He will join me with them in the resting place of His mercy.”

The loss of her sons for the sake of spreading Islam gave her another title- Umm Al Shuhada. This title means Mother of Martyrs. Till today, her ‘Marthiyah’ or elegies to the fallen are well known as one of the most impactful writing of this kind in Arabic.

As a token of respect, Arab Shakespeare Kahlil Gibran sketched a famous portrait of Al Khansa with a deep sad expression. In recent days, one of the first girls’ school in Dubai named after her. Across the Arab world, various schools, hospitals and educational institutions are named after her.

Al-Khansaa’ may Allah be pleased with her was a model of eloquence. She was also an example of faithful patience in aspiring for the reward of Allah The Almighty, and was a virtuous woman who continues to inspire generations.