Dancers & musicians in the Shahnama

This is a folio sheet from the Shahnama, a poem written by Hakīm Abu’l-Qāsim Ferdowsī Tūsī in the 11th century. However, this particular illumination was done in the Safavid period, between the years 1520-1530 C.E. The picture is 30.8 cm by 18.0 cm, in opaque watercolours. The page is in the Freer & Sackler Museum.

The one of the legends of the Shahnama is of Bahram Gur. The picture is the daughters of Barzin dancing for Bahram Gur. The dancer has possibly a belt in her left hand and an instrument slung over her body. The second dancer is possibly clapping. The instruments being played are a large tambour and a chang (or harp) player.

Princeton University has a Shahnama Project, where thumbnails of the Shahnama is able to be viewed.
Recommended reading
The Persian Book of Kings: An Epitome of the Shahnama of Firdawsi translated by Basil William Robinson. Via Google Books.
History of the Chang by the Farabi School.
Traditional Iranian Music by the Toos Foundation.
Dance- Raqs written by A. Shapur Shahbazi & Robyn C. Friend. From Encyclopædia Iranica.
Research and Reconstruction of an Ancient Persian Harp from the International Art & Architecture Research Association.

The Conference of the Birds

The Conference of the Birds (also known as Mantiq al-Tayr) is a 12th century Persian poem written by Farīd ud-Dīn ‘Attār. This picture is from a Safavid book from the early 17th century. It is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the poem, the birds of the world gather to choose a king, believing that it would bring harmony to all the birds. The hoopoe bird, wisest of the birds, persuades the other birds to seek out the Simurgh, which lives on Mount Qaf. The birds travel through the valleys of quest, love, gnosis, contentment, unity, wonder, and poverty. When they reach the Simurgh, only thirty birds remain. They see themselves reflected in the Simurgh, so see themselves. The poem is an allegory on the Sufi path to Allah through self-annihilation.
Recommended reading
Bird Parliament by by Farid ud-Din Attar. Translated by Edward FitzGerald (1889).
The Conference of the Birds. In four parts.

Bashar Ibn Burd

Bashar Ibn Burd was born in the year 714 C.E. in the Umayyad Caliphate, in the city of Basra. During his lifetime, the Abbasids rose to power, overthrowing the Ummayads except in the Andalus.

His Grandfather had been a slave from Persia and his father a convert to Islam or Mawla, a second class citizen. Growing up the city of Basra, Bashar showed his poetic talents early but was born with a disability. He was born blind.

Clouddust of battle over their heads was like the night
And glitter flashes from the motion of our swords
Lighted the darkness like falling stars.

This poem extract talks about a battle his tribe the Uqayl tribe fought and won. However, he is best known for his court poetry, known as hijāʾ, which is also satirical. He served in the court of Caliph Al-Mahdi after the Abbasids built Baghdad to be their capital. He was told to stop writing love poetry, as it was thought to be morally lax, even licentious, as he wrote about drinking, sex and slave girls. He quickly broke the ban but it was a critical hijāʾ of Al-Mahdi which got him arrested. He was charged with heresy and zindiqism, was beaten to death and his body dumped in the Tigris river in the year 784 C.E.
Bibliography
Arabic Poetry on Language is a virus.com.
Looking Back-On Abbasid Poetry by Tam Hussein on Emel.com.
Lawful Magic and a Blind Arab Poet by Rachel Hajar on her blog My Life in Doha.
Arabic poetry: a primer for students by Arthur John Arberry. Via Google Books.
Appunti su Baśśār b. Burd by F. Gabrieli. JStor article in Italian.
La evolución de la poesía árabe by Adel Ghadbán. JStor article in Spanish.

Mihri Hatun

There is very little information about Mihri Hatun but what is know was that she was born 1456C.E. in Amaysa, Turkey. She was the daughter of a judge and had been privately educated. Part of the literary circle of Prince Ahmed, one of the sons of Bayezid II, she never married but had affairs with both men and women. However a later biography called them innocent and she lead a life of virtue. She died in 1506 or 1516 (conflicting dates on sources). She had written over 200 poems and gazels, but I could only find two-

At one glance
I loved you with a thousand hearts.

They can hold against me
No other sin except my love for you
Come to me
Don’t go away

Let the zealots think
Loving is sinful
Never mind
Let me burn in the hellfire
Of that sin.

Another of her poems has been placed in the New York City’s transport system, to entertain travellers-

My heart burns in flames of sorrow
Sparks and smoke rise turning to the sky
Within me the heart has taken fire like a candle
My body, whirling, is a lighthouse illuminated by your image.

Bibliography
The Ottoman Biographies of Poets by J. Stew Art-Robinson. JStor article.
Nightingales & pleasure gardens: Turkish love poems by Talât Sait Halman & Jayne L. Warner. Via Google Books.
Medieval Women, Poetry and Mihri Hatun by Dr Huriye Reis. Via Google Docs.
Medieval Arab Lesbians and Lesbian-like Women by Sahar Amer. Via Google Docs.

Rābiʻa al-ʻAdawiyya al-Qaysiyya

Rābiʻa al-ʻAdawiyya al-Qaysiyya was born in the year 717 CE in Basra, Iraq under the Umayyad Caliphate. Born into a very poor house, she was the fourth daughter. Her name literally means “the fourth”. After a plague went through Basra, killing her family, she was on a caravan when it was attacked. She was captured and sold into slavery.

However hard her master worked her, she stayed awake all night praying and fasting throughout the day. One legend has it that the master woke up in the night, hearing her. He went to look upon her but was blinded by a halo of light around her head. She was freed the next morning.

Much of her life was written about much later, by Farīd ud-Dīn ‘Attār, in the 12th century. Many of her legends originate with his story of her life. After she was freed, she lived the life of an ascetic in a desert cave. She had many disciples, and offers of marriage (which she refused).  She died in her mid-eighties, still an ascetic, in the year 801CE.
Rābiʻa was the first to put forth the idea of Divine Love, believing that you should love God for Himself, not out of fear of Hell or desire for Paradise. It was her idea of Divine Love that influenced Sufi Philosophy for centuries.

If I adore You out of fear of Hell, burn me in Hell!
If I adore you out of desire for Paradise,
Lock me out of Paradise.
But if I adore you for Yourself alone,
Do not deny to me Your eternal beauty.

Her poetry is able to read on Poet Seers and Islamic Foundation.
Bibliography
Sidi Muhammad Press.
Rabia al Basri- Poet Seers.
Fifty Poems of Attar by Farid Al-Din Attar. Via Google Books.
Farid ad-Din ʻAttār’s Memorial of God’s friends: lives and sayings of Sufis by Farīd al-Dīn ʻAṭṭār, Paul Losensky. Via Google Books.
Religiosity and Love Spirituality of Rabi’ah al Adawiyah Literature by DR. Muhbib Abdul Wahhab.

Dancing Sufis


This picture is from an album of poetry and pictures from the Safavid period, 1575 from Qazvin, Iran. Height: 30 cm, width: 19.8 cm. The writing in the upper right hand corner is poetry by Sa’di called Gulistan or the Rose Garden. The Rose Garden can be read and downloaded from MIT.

The page is currently in the Freer & Sackler Gallery.

Sufi dancers and Hafiz


This is a page from an early 16th century Persian copy of the Divan of Hafiz or Hafez. His full name was Khwāja Šamsu d-Dīn Muḥammad Hāfez-e Šhīrāzī but is known under his pen name of Hafez.

His works are still taught today and were an influence of Sufi mysticism since the 14th century. Some of his works can be seen on Poet Seers.com and Black Cat Poems. This picture is currently in the Freer and Sackler Gallery.

Sufi love song and poetry


This is a song based on the Andalusian poetry of Abū ‘Abdillāh Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad ibn `Arabī, known simply as Ibn Arabi. This poem is called “My heart has become able”. The words translate as-

My heart has become able
To take on all forms.
It is a pasture for gazelles,
For monks an abbey.

It is a temple for idols
And for whoever circumnavigates it, the Kaaba.
It is the tablets of the Torah
And also the leaves of the Koran.

I believe in the religion
Of Love
Whatever direction its caravans may take,
For love is my religion and my faith.

His other poetry is available to see on Poetry Chaikhana- Sacred poetry from around the world, Poet Seers, and on the Islamic Foundation pages. He is considered one of the most influential Sufi philosophers.
Bibliography
The Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi Society.

Wallada bint al-Mustakfi


Born in 1011, she was the daughter of Muhammad bin ‘Abd ar-Rahman bin ‘Obayd Allah (known as Muhammad III of Córdoba) and his Ethiopian slave. He was the one of the last Umayyad Caliphs, ruling in Córdoba for only two years before his assassination in 1025. Wallada could not inherit the throne but inherited all his properties, becoming a very wealthy woman. She was considered quite exotic- blonde and blue-eyed in the Berber descendants of the original invaders. She had been very well educated, and was known for her wit, charm, singing and poetry.

When she was thirty, she sold the properties and set up a literary salon, where she competed with men in poetry. It was probably there in poetry competitions she met Abu al-Waleed Ahmad Ibn Zaydún al-Makhzuml, known as Ibn Zaydún. From different sides of the political gap, they had a very public passionate affair. In the poetry competitions, she had said-

I fear for you, my beloved so much, that even my own sight even the ground you tread even the hours that pass threaten to snatch you away from me. Even if I were able to conceal you within the pupils of my eyes and hide you there until the Day of Judgment my fear would still not be allayed.

He then answered back-

Your passion has made me famous among high and low your face devours my feelings and thoughts. When you are absent, I cannot be consoled, but when you appear, my all my cares and troubles fly away. When she offers me jasmine in the palm of her hand I collect bright stars from the hand of the moon.

Ibn Abdús, the vizier, was a jealous rival. He had Ibn Zaydún watched and caught him with Wallada’s black slave girl. Spurned, Wallada wrote this-

If you had been truly sincere in the love, which joined us, you would not have preferred, to me, one of my own slaves. In so doing, you scorned the bough, which blossoms with beauty and chose a branch, which bears only hard and bitter fruit. You know that I am the clear, shining moon of the heavens but, to my sorrow, you chose, instead, a dark and shadowy planet.

Wallada then moved into the house of Ibn Abdús and walked the streets of Córdoba with him, side by side. This made Ibn Zaydún jealous, and he wrote-

You were for me nothing but a sweetmeat that I took a bite of and then tossed away the crust, leaving it to be gnawed on by a rat.

This outraged Wallada, who then outed Ibn Zaydún-

The nickname they give you is Number Six and it will stick to you until you die because you are a pansy, a bugger a fornicator a cuckold, a swine and a thief. If a phallus could become a palm tree, you would turn into a woodpecker.

While homosexuality was illegal, in some places in Andalus it had been accepted. However, since a public scandal happened due to the poetry, he was imprisoned in Seville. He was eventually released, but was a broken man, only returning to Córdoba once. They renewed their relationship while he was in Córdoba, but it was still politically divisive.

Wallada, while living with the vizier Ibn Abdús, never married him and walked the streets of Córdoba without a hijab. When she was called a harlot by the local religious authorities, she had her poems embroidered on her clothes. On the left it said-

I am fit for high positions by God and am going my way with pride.

and on the right-

I will give my cheek to my lover and my kisses to anyone I choose.

Wallada died on March 26, 1091. She lived in a time of great political and religious upheaval. Conservative Islam had been rising during her life and it telling that she died on the day the conservative Berbers the Almoravids invaded Spain.
Bibliography
Wallada Bint al-Mustakfi: The Poetess of Andalus in Al Shindagah.
Hispano-Arabic poetry: a student anthology by James T. Monroe. Via Google Books.
Poems of Arab Andalusis edited by Cola Franzen. Via Google Books.
Ibn Zaydun & the Princess Wallada by Wijdan al Shommari. From Andalucia.com.
Walladah al-Mustakfi (1011-1091 / Spain) on PoemHunter.com.
‘I Am, by God, Fit for High Positions’: On the Political Role of Women in al-Andalus by Nada Mourtada-Sabbah and Adrian Gully. JStor article.
Ubi Sunt: Memory and Nostalgia in Taifa Court Culture by Cynthia Robinson. JStor article.
The “Nūniyya” of Ibn Zaydūn: A Structural and Thematic Analysis by Raymond K. Farrin. JStor article.