Actions speak louder than words: reactions to lampoons and abusive poetry in medieval Arabic society

Zoltán Szombathy

in Public Violence in Islamic Societies

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print July 2009 | ISBN: 9780748637317
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748653164 | DOI:
Actions speak louder than words: reactions to lampoons and abusive poetry in medieval Arabic society

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This chapter discusses the genre of hijā or invective poetry, a cultural phenomenon characteristic of the pre-Islamic Arabian society. It had a special significance in the context of rivalry and tribal conflicts, and was by no means considered sinful or reprehensible even though it was recognized as a form of aggressive challenge. However, this popular attitude towards hijā changed with the dominance of Islamic values that centred on the brotherhood of all Muslims and condemned unnecessary conflict, malevolence and slander. This change resulted in disapproval of the invective poetry, however there was no clear-cut norm for proper manner of reacting to the challenge of hijā. There were various possibilities of response available for the offended person, ranging from extremely violent retaliation to deliberate inaction. Both of these responses might be approved or disapproved by the public and depended on the circumstances and the various interpretations of the antagonist's motives. In this chapter, the focus is on the types of reaction to lampoons. These include: naqā'id exchanges or counter-invective poems, imprisonment of the author of hijā and murder of the poet. The two normative codes of informing ideals of conduct among medieval Mislim Arab elite are discussed as well. These are: the traditional ‘code’ of honour and the ‘code’ based on the legal and ethical precepts of Islam.

Keywords: hijā; invective poetry; pre-Islamic Arabian society; naqā'id exchanges; code of honour; lampoons

Chapter.  14403 words. 

Subjects: Society and Culture

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