The cradle of ancient Arab literature was in the deserts and steppes of central and northern Arabia, where Arabic poetry reached an extent of excellence which was subsequently never surpassed.
Because of the lack in general, of the written word and/or documents, poetry was the only other medium of reporting, extolling the virtues of a person or a tribe as well as singing the love of men and women for each other.
It was just for those reasons that the language became so highly developed, compelling an inner resource of synonym and variety to compensate for the harshness of the external environment.
The first age was in fact the "Heroic Age", lasting from 500 to 622 AD.
Poetry became the passion, unique among the mainly nomadic Arabs whose life was desperately monotonous, the prevailing famines were broken only occasionally by a year of plenty, the struggle for existence was desperate and the terrain was forbidding.
Poets were the most highly sought in society, and the words of many accomplished poets were regarded as Divinely Inspired.
In an unforgiving desert land, bereft of much entertainment and natural resources or means of relaxation, the ancient Arabs used to find solace, peace, tranquillity and even the raging emotion of war and revenge through the mesmerising words of their poets.
Even in the 21st century, the Arabic spoken word, whether through poetry, songs or oratory, can move and influence the emotions and intellectual faculties of hundreds of millions of people, unlike any others on Earth.
Poets supplied the Arabs with their mental and spiritual food. In fact, poets were the News Paper ReportersofArabia who had enormous influence among their people.
An excellent poet in a small tribe can'make' his tribe more famous than others more powerful than his, or'break' another tribe, just by the virtue of his eloquence.
In Arab traditions there were Seven(Sabaa) such poets who had their verses permanently posted on the walls of the Ka’ba. These ODES were known as Sabaat Muallaqat or SevenSuspended.All the authors of these magnificent poems existed BEFORE Muhammad and his Islam.
TheDictionary of Islam (Hughe’s Dictionary of Islam, p.460) writes that those verses were also known as Muthahhabat or the Golden Poems because they were written in gold. The authors of those poetical verses were:
Zuhair bin abi Sulma Trafah, Imrul Qays, Amru ibn Kulsum, al-Haris, Antarah bin Shaddad and Labid. (Sometimes, three other poets are added to the list).
Arabic poetry was at first preserved in memory alone in an oral tradition. One reciter was said to have been able to recite two thousand, nine hundred poems.
Among those seven immortal poets, the most famous was Imrul Qays, the undisputed ‘king’ or the legend of Arabic poetry. He was one of the most famous of the Jahilyia Arabian poets whose ode was among the Seven Mua'llaqat on the Ka'ba. He was a prince as his father was an Arab tribal king. He was a Christian Arab; so were 'Adi b Zaid and Mutalammis.
Through his passionate devotion to love and poetry he irked his father and was banished from the palace. Thereafter, he lived a solitary life by tending the sheep and keeping alive his undying dedication to poetry. Eventually, he became a wanderer and led a melancholic life when his tribe was almost eliminated in a tribal war.
He travelled around and finally arrived at Constantinople . It is claimed that he was put to death by the Romanruler of Constantinople because he won the heart of a Roman princess through love and poetry. He died around the year 530-540 A.D., before Muhammad’s birth.
His matchless verses were on the lips of many Arabs, and surely Muhammad had memorised many of his superb works.
Muhammad is said to have declaredImrul Qaysthe greatest of Arab poets.No doubt then, that he was keenly motivated to emulate Imrul Qays in the very early verses of the Qur’an.
The chroniclers’ of the Quran usually list Sura al-Alaq (the clot, Sura 96) as the first revelation of Allah to Muhammad.
However, a systematic study of the Quran may reveal that that may not be the case at all. In fact, the Dictionary of Islam (Hughes Dictionary of Islam, p.485),citing Islamic sources, writes that some earliest Suras (before the first revelation, Sura 96) are most likely to be:
99—al Zalzalah (the Earthquake)
103—al Asr (the Declining Day)
100—al Adiyat (the Chargers)
Those Suras were, short, deep in spirituality and enthralling. It may be worthwhile to examine two such short Suras; namely:
Sura 99 -al Zalzalah (the Earthquake)
99.1 When the earth is shaken to her (utmost) convulsion,
99.2 And the earth throws up her burdens (from within),
99.3 And man cries (distressed): 'What is the matter with her?'-
99.4 On that Day will she declare her tidings:
99.5 For that thy Lord will have given her inspiration.
99.6 On that Day will men proceed in companies sorted out, to be shown the deeds that they (had done).
99.7 Then shall anyone who has done an atom's weight of good, see it!
99.8 And anyone who has done an atom's weight of evil, shall see it
Sura 103 -al Asr (the Declining Day)
103.1 By (the Token of) Time (through the ages),
103.2 Verily Man is in loss,
103.3 Except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy.
W. St. Calir-Tisdall, the author of the famous essay The Origin of Islam (The Origins of the Koran, pp.235-236), by comparing two passages from the Sabaa Mu’allaqat, finds close similarity with the verses from the Qur’an. Some of these verses are:
54.1 The Hour (of Judgment) is nigh, and the moon is cleft asunder.
93.1 By the Glorious Morning Light,
Commenting on verse 54.1 W. St. Clair-Tisdall writes:
‘It was the custom of the time for orators to hang up their compositions upon the Ka’aba; and we know the seven Mu’allaqat were exposed. We are told that Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter, was one day repeating as she went along the above verse. Just then she met the daughter of Imrul Qays, who cried out,
“O that’s what your father has taken from one of my father’s poems, and calls it something that has come down to him out of heaven;” and the story is commonly told amongst the Arabs until now.’
Thus, the relationship between Imrul Qays’ poems and some of the early verses of the Qur’an is pretty obvious. In this connection, W. St. Clair-Tisdall elaborates (The Origins of the Koran, p.236) further:
“The connection between the poetry of Imra’ul Qays and the Koran is so obvious that the Muslims cannot but hold that they existed with the latter in the Heavenly table from all eternity! What then will he answer? That the words were taken from the Koran and entered in the poem?—an impossibility. Or that their writer was not really Imra’ul Qays, but some other who, after the appearance of the Koran, had the audacity to quote them there as they now appear?—rather a difficult thing to prove!”
In fact, the wordAllah is found in Muallaqat as well as in the Diwan of poet Labid. So when the Muhammadan Muslims claim the Qur’an to be the words of Allah, do they also mean that Allah copied the Qur’anic verses from Imrul Qays?
Note: Imr'ul Qays tomb was discovered at Namara, Haran, Syria, where it contained some of the oldest written Arabic manuscripts.