The Mu’allaqah of ‘Amr ibn Kulthum

One poem was extremely famous, so famous – that it was of the Mu’allaqaat (Poems which are hung off the Ka’ba), by the Jahili [Pre-Islamic] Arab poet ‘Amr ibn Kulthum where he says [an extract],

ونَشرَبُ إنْ وَرَدْنا المَاءَ صَفْواً***

ويَشرَبُ غيرُنا كَدَراً وطِينا

‘And when we come to the well, we drink the water (in) pure form ***

And those other than us (are left to drink) polluted & [mixed with] clay’


(Present-Future/ Past Tenses: )

شرِبَ-يَشرَب= Verb meaning ‘drank’

ورَدَ-يَرِد= Verb meaning ‘to come to’ or ‘to go to a watering place’ or ‘to draw water’

الماء= Water [I’rab: maf’ul bihi hence it’s maNsub]

صفواً= Pure [I’rab: Hal/condition hence it’s maNsub]

غير= Particle meaning ‘Other than’ [I’rab: Faa’il]

كدر=Polluted, muddy [I’rab: Maf’ul bihi]

طين=Clay [I’rab: Maf’ul bihi (Object)]

Background Story of the poem:

‘Amr ibn Kulthum was a Jahili poet, he penned this poem when ‘Amr ibn Hind (a chief or leader) was invited ibn Kulthum to a meal. However, in the meal – ibn Hind ordered the mother of ‘ibn Kulthum to serve his mother – [indirectly] humiliating and degrading ibn Kulthum’s mother.

She cried out ‘Wa ‘Amraa!’ (O Help ‘Amr!) and her son came in rage at this open humiliation and killed ibn Hind with his sword. He left with his mother and wrote a famous mu’allaqah in defense of his mother, tribe and person and also in fakhr (pride) and threat.

The lines before this one go something like this:

O Abu Hind, do not hasten upon us
Wait a little and we shall inform you with certainty
That surely, we enter the battle with white flags
But we emerge with them reddened, watered by blood
How dare you, Abu Hind, how can you
Listen to the slanderers and mock us?
You threaten us and promise us (with evil)
But since when have we become slaves for your mother?
We are the bestowers when we wish to give
And we are the destroyers when we’re assaulted
We are the preventers when we wish to prevent
And we are the ones that settle wherever we wish
[And then the above bayt comes in…]

Historical Context:

ونشرب إن وردنا الماء صفواً***ويشرب غيرنا كدراً وطينا

The thing to understand about this extract is that traditionally (particularly in villages), there was 1 well to every group of families or people. Now, when morning came, who gets to draw up the fresh water from the well? The well settles overnight and the purest, cleanest water rises to the top and all dirt, clay and mudd settles to the bottom.

The way it was done was that culturally, the sadat (top chiefs, high ranking, people with high status) were always the first to have the water drawn up and those of a lower rank would have to wait, and naturally this left them with the polluted, troubled and muddy water at the bottom.

So ‘Amr in his poem uses this imagery to tell a point to Ibn Hind… that although the latter is commanding service for his mother, he should realise that ‘Amr and his tribe are the real sadat, who drink the pure waters from the wells, and that in reality, Ibn Hind is like the rest of the folk who drink what’s left over. So, he shouldn’t be commanding others around and humiliating them when he is below them!

Use of Clever words:

The use of the terms ‘Safwaan’ and ‘Kadaraan’ are precise word choices intended to characterize not only the water but also the ones drinking the water such that the first water pulled from the well is ‘pure’ but also those who are drinking it are also of ‘pure’ bloodlines, whereas those drinking last would be drinking the ‘muddied’ water and who would also be considered of the ‘muddied/polluted’ bloodlines.

A Big Jazakillah Khayr to sister Fajr.