…Umar Ibn al-Farid is an ideal subject for such an analysis. Regarded as a saint within a generation of his death, Ibn al-Farid continues to be venerated at his shrine in Cairo. We can follow his path from poet to saint over a 750-year trail of extant sources—including biographies, hagiographies, polemics, legal rulings, histories, and travel accounts—which allow us to see Ibn al-Farid from contrasting perspectives.
Because he was considered by many to be the greatest poet of his day, a few individuals visited his grave shortly after his death. But soon this grave became the goal of pilgrims who sought blessings from sacred sites.
Stories of Ibn al-Farid’s reported miracles began to circulate, and his position as a holy man was elaborated and standardized by his grandson and later admirers, while his tomb evolved from a humble grave of religious importance to an established center of economic and political consequence. In the late fifteenth century Ibn al-Farid’s tomb and poetry became crucial points of contention between opposing factions of Cairo’s religious leadership, and the resolution of the controversy in the poet’s favor firmly established him among Egypt’s saints. His shrine continued to prosper under Ottoman rule as it became a house of worship for Muslims of all social strata. While support slackened beginning in the eighteenth century, Ibn al-Farid’s shrine and saintly reputation have endured to administer to the needs of the poor and desperate.
Often in the genesis of a saint the second generation fashions and recounts miraculous proofs of a person’s saintly status, and it was Ibn al- Farid’s grandson, Ali ( 735/1334), who contributed most to the poet’s sanctification. Ali made a collection of his grandfather’s poetry, prefaced by an account of Ibn al-Farid’s adult life. This introduction, the Dibajah, reports in some detail the poet’s inspirational moments and creative states, which had been assumed by the early writers.
The Saint in Cairo and Mecca (page 45)
Ali related his account of Ibn Bint al-Acazz to uphold Ibn al-Farid’s saintly status, and in the next section of the Dibdjah he went on to cite several examples of his grandfather’s mystical sensitivity and his ability to induce religious states in others. In one of these stories a group of guards passed by Ibn al-Farid while they were beating clappers and singing:
we stayed awake all night
wanting union with you.
you wouldn’t give it,
so we dreamed a phantom.
[the phantom] didn’t come—
you have forgotten us.
Upon hearing these verses, Ibn al-Farid shouted out and danced in the marketplace. This attracted a large crowd of people, many of whom fell to the ground in ecstasy as the guards continued to sing. Ibn al-Farid stripped off his outer garments, as did others with him, and gave them to the guards in gratitude for the state. The crowd then carried Ibn al-Farid in his underwear to the Azhar mosque, where he remained spiritually intoxicated for a number of days, “lying on his back wrapped like a corpse.” When Ibn al-Farid recovered the guards respectfully offered to return his clothes, but he refused to take them. As a result, some of the guards sold their portion of the garments for a large sum to the populace, while other guards kept the clothing and its blessing for themselves, a clear indication that they venerated Ibn al-Farid as a saintly man.
With similar stories Ali offered proof of Ibn al-Farid’s scrupulous dealings with the ruling elite, particularly the Ayyubid sultan Muhammad al-Malik al-Kamil. This sultan patronized the arts and sciences, and his study sessions with scholars were well known. CAH said that, during one such session, al-Malik al-Kamil and a number of litterateurs were reciting and discussing verses ending with the vowelless “ya°,” a most difficult rhyme. No one could recite more than ten lines using the rhyme except the sultan, who had memorized fifty verses. After he recited them, however, his secretary, Sharaf al-Dln, recalled that he knew an ode of one hundred and fifty lines rhyming in “ya” The sultan was amazed and commanded his secretary to recite the poem, which began:
Oh driver of the howdahs rolling up the perilous deserts,
kindly turn aside at the sand dunes of Tai.
Al-Malik al-Kamil was delighted by the poem. Sharaf al-Dln told him that this was a composition by Ibn al-Farid, who resided at the Azhar.
The sultan commanded his secretary:
Take one thousand of our dinars and go to him and say on my behalf, “Your son Muhammad greets you and requests that you accept this from him in the name of the mendicants who come to you.” If he accepts it, ask him to attend us that we may take our share of his spiritual blessings [barakah].
The secretary asked to be excused from this task, since Ibn al-Farid never accepted gold or attended court. Were he to make such a request of the poet, Ibn al-Farid would banish the secretary from his presence, even though the latter represented the sultan himself.
But the sultan was resolute, and so the secretary took the gold and went to the poet. Before Sharaf al-Din could speak, however, Ibn al-Farid scolded him, saying:
Oh Sharaf al-Din, what’s with you that you mention my name in the sultan’s court! Return the gold to him and don’t come back to me for a year!
The secretary returned dispirited to the sultan and professed that he would rather die than not see the poet for a year. The sultan exclaimed, “There is a shaykh like this in my day, and I haven’t visited him!” That night the sultan, accompanied by a group of his amirs, secretly went to the Azhar to visit Ibn al-Farid. But he sensed their presence, and, as they entered through the front gate, he left out the back for Alexandria.
Sometime later the sultan was informed that Ibn al-Farid had returned to Cairo, but in poor health. The sultan sent one of his amirs to ask Ibn al-Farid’s permission to build a tomb for him under al-Shafid’s dome and next to the grave of the sultan’s mother. But Ibn al-Farid denied this request and another, which proposed the construction of a shrine especially for him. Ali added that, after rejecting these offers, his grandfather was amazingly restored to health.
In these stories al-Malik al-Kamil is clearly portrayed as an admirer of both Ibn al-Farid’s poetry and holiness, and he hoped to win the poet’s favor and spiritual blessings through patronage.
Further, the sultan’s Sanctification request that Ibn al-Farid accept money on behalf of the mendicants who visited him and the sultan’s suspension of royal prerogative when making this request suggest that Ibn al-Farid was highly esteemed.
Yet the poet rebuffed the sultan’s attentions, no doubt to protect his religious life. For, while some Sufi authorities permitted pious people to associate with sultans and the ruling elite, they cautioned against flattery, pomposity, and, especially, moral compromise, since to accept a gift might be unlawful if its donor had acquired it illegally. The safest route in such matters, then, was to abstain from meeting with rulers or attending court, so as to guard one’s piety and reputation.
Therefore, Ibn al-Farid refused the sultan’s gifts, trusting, instead, in God, who healed him after he rejected offers for constructing his tomb.
These and related tales are intended to demonstrate the saintly Ibn al- Farid’s attitude vis-a-vis wealth and worldly power but also to attest to his conscientious behavior, his morality, and his complete trust in God, the subjects of the following story. Ali claimed that his grandfather would keep consecutive forty-day fasts, neither eating, drinking, nor sleeping.
On the last day of one such fast Ibn al-Farid was consumed by a craving for harisah, a kind of sweet pastry. He bought it and was about to eat it when the wall of a nearby shrine burst open and a handsome young man dressed in white emerged, saying “Shame on you!”
Ibn al-Farid replied, “Yes, if I eat it!” and threw the sweet away before it touched his lips.Then he added an extra ten days to his fast.
This story affirms Ibn al-Farid’s piety by noting that he regularly disciplined his physical constitution with supererogatory acts. Although he rigorously maintained his fasts, he too was susceptible to human nature and would have stumbled in this instance were it not for a vision, which preserved his good intention. Yet the vision itself was an additional proof of Ibn al-Farid’s godliness, since such miracles were considered to be a grace from God for His chosen ones, special favors to help them and their faith.
There is an escalation of Ibn al-Farid’s mystical insights and powers in the preceding stories, as the sensitive poet, enraptured by the hidden meanings of verse, evolves into an experienced shaykh to whom miracles occur. The common people revere his trances, while the rulers admire his poetry and his refusal to accept their patronage. Ibn al-Farid’s position among the spiritual elect rises higher still in Ali’s account of Ibn al- Farid’s meeting with the great Sufi Abu Hafs Umar al-Suhrawardl (d. 632/1234). When the shaykh Shihab al-Dln al-Suhrawardl, the shaykh of the Sufis . . . was on pilgrimage . . . in the year 628 ,…..
- Omar Metioui
present two small pieces, both on verses by the Egyptian writer Ibn al-Farid (1182-1235), and, as the name of the album says, based on music by the famous scholar and writer Ibn Báya (Abú Bakr Ibn Yahya al-Sâyigh), born 1070 in Zaragoza, died 1138 in Fez.
The first of these is “Mawwal on Tab, Al-Hiyáz Al-Kabír”:
“If my soul were in my hands,
I would send it by messenger without delay.
Do not worry about me in love, do not doubt me.
My love is natural, it has no secrets.”
The second piece is “Mawwal on Tab, Raml Al-Máya”:
“Put on airs, be a flirt,
you are made for it.
God disposed of the beauty he gave you,
decide! It is yours, are you not a judge?
Beauty has given you power for my sake.”
- Shaykh Yasin al-Tuhami
In the Delta area, professional Sufi inshad draws heavily on the mawwal (colloquial poetry featuring varied rhyme schemes with clever paronomasias, sung in an unmeasured style), the sharh (a monorhyme mawwal), and the taqtuqa (colloquial strophic metric song), all performed over the regular beat of dhikr. These poems are usually handed down anonymously, and learned orally, although modern poets sometimes write for the munshidin, and poems may be published and learned from books as well. Musical accompaniment is close to secular folk music, adapted to accommodate dhikr, and often evokes a dance-like ethos.
By contrast, in the Sa‘id (Upper Egypt), and especially in the province of Assiut, many professional munshidin perform classical Arabic qasidas, including difficult Sufi poetry by masters such as ‘Umar Ibn al-Farid, Rabi‘a al- ‘Adawiyya, al-Hallaj, Ibn ‘Arabi, ‘Abd al-Karim al-Jili, ‘Abd al-Rahim al-Bur‘ai, al-Busayri, and many others. The vocal style is free, but does not employ melodic patterns typical of the secular mawwal or invoke dance music, as in the case of Delta singing. The Sa‘idi style is generally considered more serious and difficult than Delta inshad. This Sa‘idi tradition of Sufi inshad for public hadra is the principal subject for the analysis which follows, although most remarks would apply equally to the Delta tradition as well.
Shaykh Yasin al-Tuhami, from the village of Hawatka near Assiut, is the premier performer of the Sa‘idi tradition today, a tradition which he has been instrumental in defining over the last twenty-five years. Besides having spawned a wide circle of imitators in the Sa‘id, he has become so famous that he has widely influenced the style of Sufi inshad, even in the Delta. Thus, in studying Shaykh Yasin one is indirectly examining a widespread musical, social, and religious trend extending across Egypt, of which he is the leader and primary exponent.
- Sufi Inshad and Tarab in the Mystic Sufi Chant of Egypt
The aesthetic concept of tarab finds no ready translation from the Arabic. Narrowly defined, it refers to musical emotion and the traditional musical-poetic resources for producing it, especially expressive solo singing of evocative poetry, in an improvisatory style, employing the traditional system of maqam (melodic mode). Traditionally, the singer
is accompanied by a small, flexible, heterogeneous instrumental ensemble (the takht). Affective texts, precise intonation and enunciation, proper elaboration of the maqam, idiomatic improvisation, tasteful modulation, and correct execution of the qafla (melodic cadence) are all factors critical to the development of tarab in performance.2
Tarab also depends on consonant performer-listener interactions, in which experienced listeners (sammica) react to the music by expressing emotion through vocal exclamations and gestures, especially during the pause which follows the qafla; the singer in turn is moved and directed by such “feedback”.3 Through this dynamic relationship, emotion is
shared, exchanged, and amplified among participants. The harmonious relation between the singer and the words he or she sings is also critical to tarab, since the singer must sing with sidq (sincerity), expressing true feeling in order to communicate emotion to listeners. More abstractly, Egyptians describe tarab as a relation of harmony (insijam) or equilibrium (mucadala) between performer and listener, or the exchange of feeling (tabadul al-shucur) between them, to the point of wahdat al-shucur (unity of feeling), or the affective melting (dhawb) of the two into one; or the harmonious coexistence (mucaysha) of performer and listener, or poem and performer; or the connection (irtibat) between a person and anything of beauty, for all beauty has an emotional aspect. read more about Tarab in the Mystic Sufi Chant of Egypt