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Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych

Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych

Abstract

According to popular and literary tradition, when the Mamlūk period poet al-Būsīrī (d. 694-6/1294-7) was stricken with semi-paralysis that confounded his physicians, he turned in despair to compose a poem of praise to the Prophet Muhammad (madīh nabawī). He then saw the Prophet in a dream and recited the poem to him, upon which the Prophet bestowed his mantle (burdah) upon him, and the poet awoke miraculously cured. The present study argues that the story of the miraculous cure, the talismanic uses of various verses of the Burdah, and the extraordinary power of the poem to generate a vast body of imitations, expansions, translations and commentaries, cannot be understood except through a literary analysis of the text of the poem itself. After analyzing the structural and generic differences between the Burdah and the Sufi ghazal of Ibn al-Fārid of which it is technically a contrafaction (mu'āradah), this study argues that the overall ritual-poetic structure of the Burdah, as contained in Parts 1-3 and 9-10 of the poem, is that of the supplicatory panegyric ode as practiced by such poets as the pre-Islamic al-Nābighah al-Dhubyānī or the poet of the Prophet, Ka'b ibn Zuhayr. It then proceeds to demonstrate that the Burdah exhibits the same structural elements as the supplicatory qasīdat al-madh: 1) Lyric-Elegiac Prelude (nasīb); 2) Self-Abasement; 3) Praise of the One Supplicated (mamdūh); and 4) Supplication (including benediction). It notes that in post-classical madīh nabawī the mamdūh is no longer of this world, and therefore the ritual exchange between poet and patron is essentially a spiritual one: what the supplicant is asking for is shafā'ah, the intercession of the Prophet on the Day of Judgment. The myth of the miraculous cure then serves, above all, as a symbol, a physical sign of a spiritual transformation or cure, that is, of the poem's ritual and spiritual efficacy. Taking these stories literally, believers engaged the poem, as text and talisman, to procure a wide range of physical and spiritual boons.

Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych

Abstract

This study of the celebrated 7/13th century madīh/nabawī (praise poem to the Prophet Muhammad), al-Būsīrī's Qasīdat al-Burdah (Mantle Ode), takes as its premise the supplicatory structure of the ode expounded in the author's earlier study of the poem, "From Text to Talisman" (2006). It argues that the central portions of the Burdah, Parts IV to VIII, which are derived from prose sources for the Sīrah (biography) of the Prophet, have been poetically recast in the rhetorically ornate badī' style of the High 'Abbāsid period. This accomplishes two goals: first, by expressing the Prophet's Miracles, the Night Journey and Ascension, the Miraculousness of the Qur'aeān and the Prophet's Jihād and Campaigns in the robust metalanguage identified with the period of Arab-Islamic cultural and political hegemony, the poet creates a mythic concordance between the two eras. Second, through the intricate rhetorical workings of badī' devices, the poet elicits from "historical" events in the Prophet's life cosmic and timeless connections and associations. The result is that these sections of the Burdah provide a polemic that promotes an ideology of Islamic Manifiest Destiny. This is intended to establish the eternal veracity of Muhammad's prophethood and message (Islam), and its continued efficacy for both the Community and the individual believer. Above all, these sections, which function as extensions of the madīh (praise) section of the poem, confirm the mamdū;h's ability to grant the request that the poet-supplicant makes: the Prophet's intercession (shafā'ah) on the Day of Judgment.

Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych

Abstract

This study first proposes to interpret the opening passages of Abū al-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī’s (363-449/973-1058) Risālat al-Ghufrān (Epistle of Forgiveness) in terms of the mythic, lexic and ludic elements that make up the substance of what is essentially a non-narrative discourse. The study argues that al-Maʿarrī uses his parodic “heavenly garden” as a “ludic space” in which his self-righteous protagonist and addressee, Ibn al-Qāriḥ, as well as his (presumed) reader, is tested with riddles, both verbal and conceptual. Ibn al-Qāriḥ fails in what I claim to be a parody of a rite of initiation (a literary counterpart to the Prophet Muḥammad’s Night Journey and Ascension): he is constantly surprised and dumbfounded by God’s mercy. This study argues that the opening passages, which play on names, epithets and lexical items relating to the snake, the snake in the tree, the black core of the heart, and related symbols of the soul and immortality are ultimately grounded in the shared Mesopotamian-Mediterranean symbolic matrix. It argues that the bivalent image of the snake as a source of longevity and of death, of deception and of veracity, is found in the interwoven Christian symbolism of Eve, the serpent, the tree of life, the Virgin Mary, Christ and the tree of the Cross. Second, it offers an annotated translation of the opening passages of al-Maʿarrī’s Risālat al-Ghufrān.

Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych

This article contrasts techniques from non-narrative, poetic and Qurʾānic texts with the narratives of Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ (the Stories of the Prophets) in order to interpret passages on Sulaymān/Solomon in pre- and early Arabic-Islamic texts. Beginning with the renowned non-narrative Sulaymān passage in the pre-Islamic poet al-Nābighah al-Dhubyānī’s ode of apology to the Lakhmid king al-Nuʿmān ibn al-Mundhir and several Qurʾānic passages concerning Sulaymān, the article compares these to the eminently narrative prose renditions of Solomonic legend that appear in Qurʾānic commentary and the (related) popular Stories of the Prophets (Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ). I argue that verbal structures and rhetorical techniques characteristic of non-narrative forms such as poetry and the Qurʾān have the effect of preserving and stabilizing the essential panegyric (poetic) or salvific (Qurʾānic) message in a manner that the constantly mutating popular narrative forms neither strive for nor achieve.

Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych

Studies in Arabic Literature

As from Volume 25 this series continues as Brill Studies in Middle Eastern Literatures

Edited by Roger Allen, James Montgomery and Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych

Arabic literature is noted for its tradition-conscious consistency and sophistication. In the classical period, poetry and prose reached a high level of refinement and attained standards which are still being applied in the modern Arab world today. The literature of the modern, post-classical, period is no less sophisticated, being a vibrant and flourishing expression of the continued Arabic tradition.
The series Studies in Arabic Literature, Supplements to the Journal of Arabic Litrature, founded in 1971, is concerned with all kinds of literary expression in Arabic, including the oral and vernacular traditions, of both the modern and the classical periods.Studies in the series can be literary-historical, analytical or comparative in nature, and can treat of individual works, authors and genres as well as literary traditions in a wider context. Studies dealing with the social, political and philosophical backgrounds of Arabic literature are particularly welcome in the series.
The series comprises monographs, thematic collections of articles, handbooks, textual editions and annotated translations.
Text editions are as a rule accompanied by a translation on facing pages; both text editions and translations should include comprehensive, critical introductions which give a full and proper appreciation of the text or texts in question.