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Arabia Cultural Situation

All historians are agreed that the highest manifestation of the development of Arab culture in the century preceding Islam was poetry which was not known before that time. A well known historian named Ya'qubi has written that poetry among the Arabs had taken the place of science, philosophy, history and everything else. 7 If an Arab had a bright idea he would give it the form of a few verses and thus express it. Thus if someone should question what Arab culture was at that time, the answer would be 'a few stanzas of poetry'.

The Arabs were a people with a poetic bent even though their land was no land of flowers and nightingales, but only thorns and sand, yet it nurtured many a poet. As poetry was esteemed by them to be the highest manifestation of culture, their poets were on the lookout for a suitable spot to present their poems. The finest of their poems were then inscribed on posters and hung on the walls of the Ka'aba in the annual rendezvous of the Arabs. They called these posters 'Mu'allaqat' meaning 'hanging verses'. Such display on the walls of the Ka'aba was the the reward for the poets, who as a result became famous. Amra' al-Qais and other contemporary poets of early Islam were among the poets thus honoured. They were the authors of 'the seven hanging pieces' that had found place of honour on the walls of the Ka'aba and in history Beside poetry there was another cultural source in the Arabia of that time, namely Jewish culture which will be discussed in detail later on.

7. Ya'qubi recorded: The Arabs placed poetry above all knowledge and philosophy and if a poet understanding and discerning poetry was found in the tribe, they invited him to their seasonal markets of the year such as their pilgrimage to recite his poetry in front of various tribes, and considered this a sign of honour and distinction for themselves. They had nothing else to give but poetry. History of Ya'qubi, Vol. I, p. 342.

Adapted from the book: "Background of the Birth of Islam" by: "S. T. H. Khwarazmi"

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