Very deep is the well of the past. Should we not call it bottomless?
Thomas Mann, Joseph and His Brothers.

The ghazal, or love lyric, evolved out of the pre-Islamic Arabian qasida, or ode, and the origins of the qasida go back to a time before Arabic became a written language. The qasida, which was originally orally transmitted and which was conventionally divided into three parts, began with a nasib, a lament for lost love, before proceeding on to the rihla, a journey which often involved hard riding. This second section was likely to include praise of the poet’s horse or camel, as well as vivid evocations of landscape and perhaps also desert storms in which lightning featured prominently. Finally, it was traditional to end with a madih, a panegyric addressed to a patron from whom the poet hoped to receive a reward. It is the nasib which concerns us here, for this was an amatory prelude, in which the poet, contemplating the deserted campsite, reflected on a past sexual encounter and, implicitly at least, on lost youth. The amatory prelude was always in the retrospective mode and dealt with youthful love. Tashbib (a noun form which derives from the verb shabba, to become a young man) means youthfulness, but it is also an alternative word for the love lyric.

The rest of this article is only available to subscribers.

Access our entire archive of 350+ articles from the world's leading writers on Islam.
Only £3.30/month, cancel anytime.

Already subscribed? Log in here.

Not convinced? Read this: why should I subscribe to Critical Muslim?


Elsewhere on Critical Muslim: