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

The Bible and the Qur’ān—they’re conveniently the many read books in the background of humankind, and for that reality they’re the most cribbed from, quoted, and critiqued. The civilization of hip-hop is one likewise preoccupied in plenty of ways with the scriptural and spiritual domain, and many influential stars in the rap video game wear their religiosity on your sleeves—Kendrick speaks openly about his really hopes for salvation, opportunity the Rapper quips that a “mustard particle is all you need,” versus a background of swelling gospel music in “How Great,” Lupe Fiasco opens his fiery “Muhammad Walks,” a tune critiquing the battle on Terror, v the bismillah, dedicating his text in the surname of God. Others openly grapple with belief in their music, or also outright reject it. There’s the Roots’ questioning, poignant “Dear God” (Dear God, I’m trying difficult to reach you…/They stated ‘he’s busy, hold the line, please’/Call me crazy, ns thought possibly he might mind read), when Childish Gambino jokingly calls self an “Airport atheist,” speak he “may pray as soon as there’s turbulence” in “Won’t Stop.”

Rarer, though, space the folks that make an outright parody or appropriation of religious beliefs as component of their an individual brand if also clearly having some pretty deep feeling of religion around them. I’ve previously questioned Kanye West’s ridiculously outsized ego, which leads him come spout together lyrics as “I am a god,” and identify himself through the moniker “Yeezus,” however Kanye also references the Bible fairly regularly in his lyrics, lend imagery native Christian art and iconography right into his music videos, and literally created a tune that has the refrain “Jesus walks through me” (to be fair, he overrides the blog post in this song when, in his track “Otis” feat. Jay-Z, he cases that the tune is a type of indulgence that has bought him the end of going to hell…. So, oops?). In one interview, Kanye states that, “Religion is favor clothing. People want comfort. World don’t desire to have to take that off. Human being don’t desire to expropriate the concept of there no being a heaven possibly, or the concept of shedding someone and also not seeing them again.” that is probably not coincidental the Kanye is also a garments designer…


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

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In numerous ways, Farazdaq’s job embodies the minute of transition that the Islamic people was in throughout its earliest formative decades: as well as the obvious development of a whole brand-new religious movement, brand-new power frameworks were solidifying, dynasties and dynastic models to be in contest, and a transition from an emphasis on tribal politics to a more central form of dominion organized roughly the rule of a unified belief community, the umma, remained in development. Together a result, one can uncover references in Farazdaq’s poems the feel caught in between the prompt past and also present—in several of his poems around death, that evinces a respectful are afraid of dahr, the pre-Islamic, noumenal idea Time or Fate, even as in rather he speaks of an afterlife or of a last judgment. More famously, Farazdaq was considered one that the critical of the tribal poets, in that though he to be ensconced in a court, the poets with whom he sparred many vigorously in diss competitions (naqā’id) to be from other tribes or various other branches of his very own tribe, and so the upholds old tribal rivalries even in a brand-new context. His most influential rival, Jarīr, compliment from a different clan in ~ the Tamīm tribe, and also this suggest was not lost on the author al-Hamadhānī when, number of centuries later, that convened an imagine debate about the 2 poets’ respective merits in his own ornate prose (this is Robert Irwin’s translation),

“Jarīr is a an ext caustic satirist and also he presents himself as an ext noble in the ar of poetry, vice versa, al-Farazdaq is an ext ambitious and belongs come a noble clan.”

Farazdaq self is said to have actually been depressed in ~ the decrease of what he witnessed as really Bedouin poetry, and also he often styled his poems in a similar fashion come his predecessors. Probably this lends come the unbelievable that appears in several of his poems that deal most clearly with new, Islamic ideas and language. In a memento mori poem (wa’iẓ), intended to repeat the listener of his mortality and also call him to righteous, honorable habits in this human being so as to secure favor in the next, Farazdaq remarks in the last lines on the futility of such a poetic genre: if you’re the kind of person who needs to it is in reminded that your inevitable fate, a poem most likely won’t carry you any grand epiphanies.

Yet for numerous a cousin consumed by evil, his quality resides

with some star amid Fate’s celestial sweep

For no is there anything to keep him indigenous evil

no one is there anything to impel him towards 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 that doesn’t advantage its root

therefore if he dies, his family members aren’t also sorry end it.

By the final verses, Farazdaq has given up on the poem itself as a principle in his very own tongue-in-cheek way. His comment on the uselessness that wa’iẓ may be understood as a comment on the uselessness of homiletic language more generally. Farazdaq instead asserts the one’s very own subjectivity is the best determiner of personal conduct, which is not specifically in keeping with commonplace ideals about the transmissibility of fact through proselytization and pious warning. Farazdaq’s an ext bellicose city below about a battle between Marwān’s troops and also an apostate military in Mecca is more invigorated with language common to expression of faith, despite again in one ambivalent and ironic way,

When confronting Marwān’s men,

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

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

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

met your apostates in Mecca, in ~ the abode,

Where those persons were set aright by bladed beatings

They left no solitary one, praying behind part ruse

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

A death, a reckoning!

Were a bad lot, they’d have actually made quite a mess,

But that turned the troops far from grabbing spoils.

The 2nd stich the this city is heavy with semantic irony. As discussed above, though we can read the start of this line together stating that the knives of Marwān’s men protect Islam, it additionally appears the adversary is being literally barred or prevented from either Islam the belief or islām, a surrender, which can be read as winkingly upturning the ethics of pious war in i m sorry conversion would first typically be offered (as the discusses a few lines more down) in favor of a bloodbath. In the second fifty percent of the line, the verb provided to express the the blows that the swords room inflicted top top apostates is yuwakkal, i m sorry literally method “entrust,” and also the source of which develops such terms together wakīl, an individual who has been invested through speakership on behalf of a holy entity. Making use of such a verb offers the victim an almost sacred quality, as though they have actually been given a divine gift in the kind of their knife wounds. In act this, Farazdaq elevates the opponent into being the metaphorical custodians of Marwān’s arsenal and also semantically muddles the distinction between the functions of Marwān’s troops and also the enemy. In a last undermining of the poem’s ostensible central theme of divine war against an external foe, Farazdaq transforms at the end from worship of the troops’ initiatives on the faith’s instead of to worship of Marwān’s judicious resources of his army, effectively saying that were Marwān’s guys not well-compensated, they’d run roughshod end everything. Happen the troops in line is its own battle after the fact. Through this closing verse, the soldiers’ self-control is revealed no to be the product of their lofty motivations, however rather a valuable outcome of their earthly circumstances. If this maybe pays homage come Marwān together a strategist, that does detract rather from praising the on the toughness of his authority as caliph.

In a praise poem for an additional patron, Farazdaq when again pits earthly wealth against the cosmos, and once again worldly riches wins out,

I swear on your life, once all the rations (al-arzāq) are measured out,

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

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

and his armies descended on the man’s pantries,

All the hungry hordes of Gog and Magog

can surely stuff themselves because that a month in ‘Adhāfir’s larder

We’re currently far, much removed native the pious objects that a wa’iz poem. Instead, Farazdaq clearly brings in the grotesque, doomsday imagery in service of praising one earthly patron’s material wealth. This profaning the the severe topic the eschatology is perhaps cushioned through the truth that Farazdaq is making usage of reviled, devilish images—the Antichrist and the corrupt peoples of Gog and Magog—however, over there is one moment early on in the poem as soon as Farazdaq bring away a sideswipe in ~ God’s generosity. The word arzāq, the many of rizq or succor, have the right to indicate dried goods, but likewise direct bestowals that sustenance native God, who is al-Razzāq, or the can be fried provider. Also with every such provisions piled increase in one go, a single serving tray at ‘Adhāfir’s table amounts to more.

prefer any great court poet, Farazdaq knew exactly how to write around wine. We might dismiss the whole genre of khamriyyāt, or drinking odes, as being just a de facto irreverent, unorthodox kind of poetry because of the topic matter, but first of all, this overlooks a significant amount of wine-as-metaphor poetry that deals quite deeply and reverently v spiritual topics in the mystical tradition and also second, because that those poems that are simply straight-up drinking shanties, some are more overtly riotous 보다 others. Before, I’ve talked around Abū Nuwas’ erotic, devil-may-care wine songs. Here, Farazdaq has actually his very own take:

The ship is bedewed through drink as though

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

Sealed up since the period of Persian kings,

We broke into it at dawn, before the cocks’ caw

When it’s done, let’s hope the day 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 conversation of the light hitting the moisture on the bottle looking choose a star is beautiful, to be sure, and it also is familiar. The 35th city of Sūrat al-Nūr in the Qur’ān, referred to as the “Light Verse,” looks like this:

Allah is the irradiate of the heavens and the earth.

The example of His light is favor a niche within which is a lamp,

The lamp is within glass, the glass together if it to be a pearly star (al-zujājah ka-annahā kawkab durrī)

Lit indigenous a blessed olive tree,

Neither that the east nor of the west,

Whose oil would almost glow even if untouched through fire.

Light ~ above light.

Allah guides to His light who He wills.

And Allah presents instances for the people,

and Allah is discovering of all things.

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See any type of similarities? God is likened in the verse over to luminous body on luminous body, a glass holding a lamp that shows choose a star. The Farazdaq’s glass bottle is likewise lit up prefer a star could be a coincidence—this could be a stock image—but the closing recommendations to the work of judgment make me think the the overlap is intentional. Farazdaq end the poem by praying that after the bottle—an old, good vintage—has been fully drunk death will come quickly, due to the fact that after the moment of youthful bacchanalia has passed there’s tiny point in living. Both fatality itself and the death of youth (i.e. Old age) are described as a kind of final, irrevocable judgment, over which God alone is claimed to preside. Farazdaq appears to desire to wrest some regulate of his fate far from divine powers; drinking wine and also stealing part moments that rowdy funny is a component of this reclamation. The he phrases such a mundane type of illicit task (there to be no shortage that wine drinking in Farazdaq’s time) in Qur’ānic language takes what might be a ho-hum poem and rebrands it together something inflammatory, anti-establishment, and very Farazdaq.



With Fuzzy Jones’ frame verses in mind, the remainder the the tune can additionally be construed as layering irreverence upon irreverence; not only have the people excluded native the production process been inserted in Kanye’s imagine purgatory, yet they then need to be tortured accordingly—the opening of the song starts with “your chick,” i.e. The listener’s woman, lusting after the rappers in the song, committing acts of infidelity through them, and also so on. The title “Mercy,” as a double-entendre because that an action of dispensation and also the nickname because that the vehicle in which these acts are developing (a Lamborghini Murcielago) might relate to the rappers in the tune begging “mercy” from their thirsty fan, or it could evoke the grace that Kanye and his collaborators may sell their competitors who have been flattened by their music. In any kind of case, one thing’s for sure: it’s Kanye and his friends who are playing God, who form our world and also its entertainments, and who pass last judgment on the remainder of the industry’s fate. The complex pastiche with which this impression is achieved—sampling an currently kind that irreverent but densely religiously referential little bit from Fuzzy Jones and also using it as a an equipment to bookend standard images that rappers’ success favor sexy cars and women, bumpin’ dance floors, flossy French vacations, etc.—resembles Farazdaq’s own technique of fusing standard poetic genres the are, perhaps, doctrinally heterodox in their essence with Qur’ānic referrals in such a means as to render castle confrontational and also contrarian. It’s this the leads him come compare polishing off a bottle of wine to judgment Day or Marwān’s earthly provisions to magnificent inspiration, and to re-inject old soothsayers’ concepts of fate and the irredeemable nature the (some) people into a genre that poetry that had because mostly to be reformed to emphasis on pious Muslim themes; his contradictory streak additionally sometimes leader him right into piety, after ~ all, his rebellious city in defense that Zayn al-‘Abidīn ‘Alī b. Ḥusayn in the court of the caliph Hishām that got him in so much hot water is fundamentally a godly praise-poem. Once Kanye does this type of stuff, he always does it come trounce various other rappers at their own game, and also often he succeeds. Meanwhile in fairness, once Farazdaq does it, he’s sometimes acting on principle fairly than ego, and also at time he faced far-reaching consequences come doing so. Possibly Kanye’s reckoning with repercussion is also on the horizon…