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“It to be a Weeping, and also a Moaning, and also a welcome of Teeth:” learned Irreverence in “Mercy” and Farazdaq

The Bible and also the Qur’ān—they’re easily the many read books in the history of humankind, and for that reality they’re the many cribbed from, quoted, and critiqued. The civilization of hip-hop is one also preoccupied in many ways with the scriptural and spiritual domain, and many significant stars in the rap video game wear your religiosity on their sleeves—Kendrick speak openly around his wishes for salvation, chance the Rapper quips that a “mustard seeds is every you need,” versus a background of swelling gospel music in “How Great,” Lupe Fiasco opens up his fiery “Muhammad Walks,” a tune critiquing the battle on Terror, with the bismillah, dedicating his text in the surname of God. Rather openly grapple with id in their music, or also outright reject it. There’s the Roots’ questioning, emotional “Dear God” (Dear God, I’m trying hard to with you…/They stated ‘he’s busy, host the line, please’/Call me crazy, ns thought possibly he could mind read), while Childish Gambino jokingly calls himself an “Airport atheist,” saying he “may pray once there’s turbulence” in “Won’t Stop.”

Rarer, though, are the folks that make an outright parody or appropriation of faith as component of their an individual brand when also clearly having some pretty deep feeling of religion about them. I’ve previously discussed Kanye West’s ridiculously outsized ego, which leads him come spout together lyrics as “I to be a god,” and identify himself through the moniker “Yeezus,” but Kanye likewise references the Bible reasonably regularly in his lyrics, borrows imagery from Christian art and iconography right into his music videos, and also literally wrote a song that has the refrain “Jesus walks with me” (to it is in fair, that overrides the blog post in this tune when, in his tune “Otis” feat. Jay-Z, he cases that the tune is a sort of indulgence that has actually bought him the end of going come hell…. So, oops?). In one interview, Kanye claims that, “Religion is prefer clothing. Civilization want comfort. Civilization don’t want to have to take that off. People don’t desire to accept the principle of there not being a heaven possibly, or the principle of losing someone and also not seeing them again.” the is possibly not coincidental that Kanye is also a garments designer…


Ḥammām b. Ghālib, aka al-Farazdaq (which literally way “lump the dough/bread”), to be born in the east Arabian are of Yamāma around 641, much less than a decade after Muḥammad’s death, and spent much of his life in the Iraqi city of Basra. He would live through most of both the power of the first four caliphs and also the Umayyad dynasty, dying in the late 720s/early 730s. That made his name together a poetic figure of note in the courts of various Umayyad provincial governors, and in a tempestuous stint at the court the the caliph Marwān (we’ll watch at one of his odes come Marwān below). Al-Farazdaq captured the imaginations the even many of his near-contemporaries, and he had countless imitators, haters, and also hype-men; basically, think of Cardi B’s lyric “They see pictures they to speak ‘goals’/Bitch I’m who they tryna be,” and also you’ve gained Farazdaq’s heritage pretty well-pegged. The details the his biographies often read as exaggerated to accentuate his idiosyncrasies (or, in Blachère’s words, his “cowardice, bawdiness, drunkenness, and venality”), likely to justify inveighing versus him and also giving background to his eventual expulsion indigenous Marwān’s court, i m sorry supposedly came around because he boasted of breaking right into the caliph’s harem for some extracurricular fun. The is an overwhelming to authenticate some of his poems (especially satires against the caliph Mu’āwiya), because they may have actually been created by poseurs motivated by Farazdaq’s style; due to the fact that of various other such poems, though, he is often claimed by Shī’ī teams as other of a pioneering dissenter who wrote poetry in support of Muḥammad’s descendants through ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib. Among his poems in this vein earned the a stint in prison.

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In countless ways, Farazdaq’s job embodies the moment of shift that the Islamic people was in during its earliest formative decades: aside from the obvious arrival of a whole new religious movement, brand-new power structures were solidifying, dynasties and dynastic models were in contest, and a change from an emphasis on tribal national politics to a more central form of dominion organized about the rule of a unified confidence community, the umma, was in development. Together a result, one can discover references in Farazdaq’s poems that feel caught in between the instant past and present—in several of his poems about death, that evinces a respectful fear of dahr, the pre-Islamic, noumenal idea Time or Fate, even as in others he speak of an immortality or of a final judgment. More famously, Farazdaq was considered one of the critical of the lack poets, in the though he to be ensconced in a court, the poets through whom that sparred most vigorously in diss competitions (naqā’id) to be from other tribes or other branches of his very own tribe, and so the upholds old lack rivalries also in a new context. His most prominent rival, Jarīr, compliment from a different clan in ~ the Tamīm tribe, and also this point was not shed on the writer al-Hamadhānī when, several centuries later, that convened an imagine debate around the two poets’ particular merits in his very own ornate prose (this is Robert Irwin’s translation),

“Jarīr is a much more caustic satirist and also he presents self as more noble in the field of poetry, whereas al-Farazdaq is much more ambitious and also belongs to a nobler clan.”

Farazdaq himself is said to have actually been depressed in ~ the decrease of what he experienced as really Bedouin poetry, and he frequently styled his poems in a comparable fashion come his predecessors. Maybe this lends to the cynicism that appears in few of his poems that deal most explicitly with new, Islamic ideas and language. In a memento mori poem (wa’iẓ), intended to repeat the listener the his mortality and also call him to righteous, honorable actions in this world so regarding secure donate in the next, Farazdaq remarks in the last lines top top the futility of together a poetic genre: if you’re the kind of person who demands to it is in reminded of your unpreventable fate, a poem most likely won’t bring you any grand epiphanies.

Yet for countless a cousin spend by evil, his goodness resides

with some star amid Fate’s celestial sweep

For no is over there anything to store him indigenous evil

no one is there anything to impel him toward good

A man’s not helped by a memento mori

If his own observations don’t warning him of his mortality

And there’s no good in a branch the doesn’t advantage its root

for this reason if the dies, his family members aren’t too sorry end it.

By the final verses, Farazdaq has provided up on the poem itself together a ide in his very own tongue-in-cheek way. His remark on the uselessness of wa’iẓ may be taken as a remark on the uselessness of homiletic language more generally. Farazdaq instead asserts that one’s own subjectivity is the greatest determiner of personal conduct, which is not exactly in maintaining with popular ideals about the transmissibility of reality through proselytization and also pious warning. Farazdaq’s an ext bellicose city below around a fight between Marwān’s troops and also an apostate army in Mecca is much more invigorated through language common to expression of faith, though again in an ambivalent and ironic way,

When confronting Marwān’s men,

They attract for God’s religion–with swords in a rage!

Our blades bar islām from them (tamn‘u-l-islāma minhum),

Their blows fall to doubters (yuwakkalu waq‘uhunna bi-man arābā)

met your apostates in Mecca, in ~ the abode,

Where those people were set aright through bladed beatings

They left no solitary one, praying behind some ruse

All turned back to the faith or met an ugly fate,

A death, a reckoning!

Were a negative lot, they’d have actually made fairly a mess,

But that turned the troops away from grabbing spoils.

The second stich of this city is heavy with semantic irony. As mentioned above, though we deserve to read the beginning of this line as stating that the blades of Marwān’s men protect Islam, it additionally appears the foe is gift literally ban or impede from either Islam the belief or islām, a surrender, which could be check out as winkingly upturning the values of pious war in i m sorry conversion would first typically be available (as that discusses a few lines more down) in donate of a bloodbath. In the second fifty percent of the line, the verb provided to express that the blows of the swords are inflicted upon apostates is yuwakkal, which literally method “entrust,” and the source of which forms such terms as wakīl, an individual who has actually been invested with speakership on behalf of a divine entity. Utilizing such a verb provides the victims an nearly sacred quality, as though they have been provided a divine gift in the type of their knife wounds. In doing this, Farazdaq elevates the foe into gift the metaphorical custodians the Marwān’s arsenal and also semantically muddles the difference between the duties of Marwān’s troops and also the enemy. In a final undermining the the poem’s ostensible central theme of holy war against an exterior foe, Farazdaq transforms at the end from worship of the troops’ efforts on the faith’s behalf to praise of Marwān’s judicious resources of his army, successfully saying the were Marwān’s men not well-compensated, they’d operation roughshod over everything. Happen the troops in line is that is own fight after the fact. Through this closeup of the door verse, the soldiers’ technique is revealed not to be the product of your lofty motivations, but rather a practical outcome of your earthly circumstances. If this possibly pays homage to Marwān as a strategist, it does detract rather from praising the on the strength of his authority together caliph.

In a worship poem for another patron, Farazdaq as soon as again pits earthly wealth against the cosmos, and also once again worldly wide range wins out,

I make an oath on your life, once all the rations (al-arzāq) space measured out,

There’s much less bread in there 보다 on ‘Adhāfir’s serving tray

If the Antichrist (al-Dajjāl) confirmed up as a guest, begging hospitality,

and also his armies descended on that man’s pantries,

All the hungry hordes of Gog and also Magog

might surely ingredient themselves for a month in ‘Adhāfir’s larder

We’re now far, much removed indigenous the pious objects of a wa’iz poem. Instead, Farazdaq explicitly brings in the grotesque, doomsday imagery in service of praising an earthly patron’s material wealth. This profaning of the serious topic of eschatology is perhaps cushioned by the reality that Farazdaq is making use of reviled, devilish images—the Antichrist and the corrupt peoples of Gog and also Magog—however, over there is one moment at an early stage in the poem as soon as Farazdaq take away a sideswipe in ~ God’s generosity. Words arzāq, the many of rizq or succor, have the right to indicate dried goods, but additionally direct bestowals that sustenance from God, who is al-Razzāq, or the can be fried provider. Also with every such provisions piled up in one go, a solitary serving tray at ‘Adhāfir’s table amounts to more.

favor any good court poet, Farazdaq knew how to write about wine. We could dismiss the entire genre of khamriyyāt, or drink odes, as being just a de facto irreverent, unorthodox type of poetry due to the fact that of the topic matter, but an initial of all, this overlooks a far-ranging amount the wine-as-metaphor poetry that deals rather deeply and reverently through spiritual object in the mystical tradition and second, for those poems that are just straight-up drink shanties, part are more overtly riotous 보다 others. Before, I’ve talked around Abū Nuwas’ erotic, devil-may-care alcohol songs. Here, Farazdaq has his very own take:

The courage is bedewed through drink as though

A star’s plunged deep right into the flask (ka-annahā idhā aghtumisat fī-hā al-zujājatu kawkabu)

Sealed up since the age of Persian kings,

We damaged into it in ~ dawn, before the cocks’ caw

When it’s done, let’s expect the work of referee (yawm al-qiyāmah) hastens,

for what’s the use

When youth’s already passed through Judgment’s gate? (wa-mā li-l-ṣabā ba’du-l-qiyāmati maṭlabu)

Farazdaq’s discussion of the light hitting the moisture on the party looking choose a star is beautiful, to it is in sure, and it additionally is familiar. The 35th city of Sūrat al-Nūr in the Qur’ān, dubbed the “Light Verse,” looks prefer this:

Allah is the light of the heavens and also the earth.

The instance of His irradiate is prefer a niche in ~ which is a lamp,

The desk lamp is in ~ glass, the glass as if it to be a pearly star (al-zujājah ka-annahā kawkab durrī)

Lit from a blessed olive tree,

Neither the the east nor the the west,

Whose oil would almost glow also if untouched through fire.

Light top top light.

Allah guides to His light who He wills.

And Allah presents instances for the people,

and Allah is knowing of every things.

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See any type of similarities? God is likened in the verse above to luminous human body on luminous body, a glass stop a lamp the shows prefer a star. That Farazdaq’s glass bottle is also lit up prefer a star might be a coincidence—this might be a stock image—but the closing referrals to the work of referee make me think that the overlap is intentional. Farazdaq ends the poem by praying the after the bottle—an old, well vintage—has been totally drunk fatality will come quickly, since after the moment of youthful bacchanalia has actually passed there’s small point in living. Both fatality itself and also the fatality of youth (i.e. Old age) are referred to as a form of final, irrevocable judgment, over which God alone is claimed to preside. Farazdaq seems to desire to wrest some control of his fate away from magnificent powers; drinking wine and stealing some moments that rowdy fun is a component of this reclamation. The he phrases such a mundane kind of illicit task (there to be no shortage that wine drinking in Farazdaq’s time) in Qur’ānic language take away what could be a ho-hum poem and also rebrands it together something inflammatory, anti-establishment, and an extremely Farazdaq.



With Fuzzy Jones’ framing verses in mind, the remainder that the track can likewise be interpreted as layering irreverence ~ above irreverence; not only have actually the civilization excluded native the production process been placed in Kanye’s imagined purgatory, however they then need to be tortured accordingly—the opened of the song begins with “your chick,” i.e. The listener’s woman, lusting ~ the rappers in the song, committing acts of infidelity with them, and so on. The title “Mercy,” together a double-entendre for an plot of dispensation and the nickname because that the automobile in which these acts are developing (a Lamborghini Murcielago) could relate to the rappers in the song begging “mercy” from your thirsty fan, or it could evoke the grace the Kanye and also his partners may sell their competitors who have been planarization by your music. In any case, one thing’s for sure: it’s Kanye and his girlfriend who are playing God, who shape our world and its entertainments, and who pass last judgment on the rest of the industry’s fate. The facility pastiche through which this impression is achieved—sampling an currently kind of irreverent however densely religiously referential bit from Fuzzy Jones and also using it as a machine to bookend standard images the rappers’ success prefer sexy cars and also women, bumpin’ dance floors, flossy French vacations, etc.—resembles Farazdaq’s own method of fusing classic poetic genres the are, perhaps, doctrinally heterodox in their essence with Qur’ānic references in together a method as come render them confrontational and also contrarian. It’s this the leads him to compare polishing off a party of alcohol to referee Day or Marwān’s earthly provisions to divine inspiration, and also to re-inject old soothsayers’ principles of fate and the irredeemable nature of (some) human beings into a genre the poetry that had since mostly been reformed to focus on pious Muslim themes; his contrarian streak additionally sometimes leads him right into piety, after all, his rebellious city in defense that Zayn al-‘Abidīn ‘Alī b. Ḥusayn in the court the the caliph Hishām that obtained him in for this reason much hot water is basically a godly praise-poem. When Kanye walk this type of stuff, he constantly does it to trounce other rappers in ~ their very own game, and also often the succeeds. Meanwhile in fairness, as soon as Farazdaq go it, he’s periodically acting top top principle quite than ego, and also at times he faced far-ranging consequences come doing so. Perhaps Kanye’s reckoning with consequence is additionally on the horizon…