Qutayla ukht al-Nadr

Qutayla ukht al-Nadr (or Qutayla bint al-Nadr) was a seventh-century CE Arab woman of the Quraysh tribe, noted as one of the earliest attested Arabic-language poets on account of her famous elegy for Nadr ibn al-Harith.

Life

Qutayla appears in the historical record in connection with her relative Nadr ibn al-Harith, an Arab Pagan doctor from Taif, who used to tell stories of Rustam and Esfandiyār to the Arabs and scoffed the Islamic prophet Muhammad.[1][2] After the battle of Badr in 624 CE, al-Harith was captured and, in retaliation, Muhammad ordered his execution in hands of Ali.[3][4][5] Some sources characterise Qutayla as Nadr's sister (ukht), others as his daughter (bint), though the most popular claim seems to be that she was his sister (hence the title of this article).[6] Her full name appears in some sources, for example, as Qutayla ukht al-Nuḍar b. al-Ḥarīth b. ‘Alqama b. Kalda b. ‘Abd Manāf b. ‘Abd al-Dār b. QuṠayy al-Qurashiyya al-‘Abdariyya.[7] There was also a tradition, attested in one medieval source, al-Jāḥiẓ in his Kitāb al-Bayān wa ’l-tabyīn, that she was actually called Laylā.[8]

Work

To Qutayla is attributed the following elegy for Nadr, in which she upbraids Muhammad for the execution.[9] According to some commentaries, Muhammad's response to this was 'Had I heard her verses before I put him to death, I should not have done so'.[10]

On the fifth night's morning, stranger, with luck
a tamarisk tree should appear by the way:
Leave word that travellers never cease
as they pass to wave a salute from the road;
that you saw me standing, the tears on my face;
on other tears, unseen, I choke.
Will my brother hear my voice when I call?
If the dead can hear they never speak.
Weary and worn he was led to his doom,
a captive dragging his feet in chains,
torn by the swords of his cousins and kin:
To God I mourn the divided house.
Muḥammad, of noble woman born,
son of equally noble sire!
It would not have harmed to be generous then;
a man, incensed, may still forgive.
Had you taken ransom -- Nothing too much,
too grand, but we'd gladly have given it up.
My brother was nearest of those you took,
the first to be spared -- had you pardoned his youth.

'Although doubt has been expressed regarding their authenticity ... these verses, frequently cited and highly appreciated, have perpetuated alNadr's memory'.[11] Whatever its origin, the poem attributed to Qutayla is among the poems most frequently cited in the medieval Arabic anthologies known as ḥamāsāt,[12] being noted for their moving quality.[13] In the assessment of Nadia Maria El Cheikh, 'Qutayla’s poem reflects the new Islamic ethos conveying the dramatic tension of a particular moment in Islamic religious history. She does not call for vengeance but for a modification of behavior, a kind retroactive display of restraint and forbearance'.[14]

References

  1. Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, Volume 2, Part 2, p.179, Irfan Shahîd. Also see footnote
  2. Husayn Haykal, Muhammad (2008). The Life of Muhammad. Selangor: Islamic Book Trust. p. 250. ISBN 978-983-9154-17-7.
  3. The Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition, Vol. VII, 1993, p. 872
  4. "Sirat Rasul Allah" by Ibn Ishaq, p.135-136
  5. Muhammad Saed Abdul-Rahman (2009). The Meaning and Explanation of the Glorious Qur'an. 3 (2 ed.). MSA Publication Limited. p. 412. ISBN 978-1-86179-769-8. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  6. Sarah Bowen Savant, The New Muslims of Post-Conquest Iran: Tradition, Memory and Conversion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 176.
  7. Zaynab Fawwāz, Kitāb al-Durr al-Manthūr fī Ṭabaqāt Rabbāt al-Khuduūr (Būlāq: ʼal-Maṭbaʻah ʼal-Kubrá ʼal-ʼAmīrīyah, 1312 [1894]), as corrected by Marilyn Booth, Classes of Ladies of Cloistered Spaces: Writing Feminist History through Biography in Fin-de-Siècle Egypt (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), Appendix 2. Booth changes Fawwāz's bint 'daughter' to ukht 'sister'.
  8. iv, 44: Ch. Pellat, 'al-Naḍr b. al-Ḥārith', in Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, ed. by P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, and W.P. Heinrichs (Leiden: Brill, 1954-2009), VII 873, https://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1573-3912_islam_SIM_5730.
  9. Classical Arabic Poetry, trans. by Charles Greville Tuety (London: KPI, 1985), p. 121 [no. 20]. For another translation, implying a rather different text, see The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Isḥāq's Sīrat Rasūl Allāh"", trans. by A. Guillaume (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955), p. 360, https://archive.org/details/TheLifeOfMohammedGuillaume.
  10. E.g. Ibn Khallikan's Biographical Dictionary, trans. by Bn Mac Guckin de Slane, Oriental Translation Fund (Series), 57, 4 vols (Paris: Printed for the Oriental translation fund of Great Britain and Ireland, 1842-71), I 372; Muslim Exegesis of the Bible in Medieval Cairo: Najm al-Dīn al-Ṭūfī's (d. 716/1316) Commentary on the Christian Scriptures, ed. and trans. by Lejla Demiri (Leiden: Brill, 2013), p. 479 (§522).
  11. Ch. Pellat, 'al-Naḍr b. al-Ḥārith', in Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, ed. by P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, and W.P. Heinrichs (Leiden: Brill, 1954-2009), VII 873, https://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1573-3912_islam_SIM_5730.
  12. Nadia Maria El Cheikh, 'The Gendering of "Death" in Kitāb al-‘Iqd al-Farīd', Al-Qantara, 31 (July–December 2010), 411-36 (p. 427), http://al-qantara.revistas.csic.es/index.php/al-qantara/article/viewFile/237/230.
  13. Sahair El Calamawy, 'Narrative Elements in the Ḥadīth Literature', Arabic Literature to the End of the Umayyad Period, ed. by A. F. L. Beeston, T. M. Johnstone, R. B. Serjeant and G. R. Smith (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. 308-316 (p. 308).
  14. Nadia Maria El Cheikh, 'The Gendering of "Death" in Kitāb al-‘Iqd al-Farīd', Al-Qantara, 31 (July–December 2010), 411-36 (p. 427), http://al-qantara.revistas.csic.es/index.php/al-qantara/article/viewFile/237/230, citing M. L. Hammond, The Poetics of S/Exclusion: Women, Gender and the Classical Arabic Canon (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Columbia University, 2003), pp. 185-86.
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