Unlike the Madh – poems of praise – Hija is a genre of poetry denigrating tribes or individuals. Poems were highly regarded before the rise of Islam, and remained so after. Mohammed himself used poets like Hassan ibn Thabit, Ka’b ibn Malik and Abdullah ibn Rawaha to defame his rivals.
In the pre-Muslim Arab world, poetry was a powerful political weapon, and poetic rhymes could topple Mohammed’s political endeavor just as effectively as swords. “Sharpen your sword and cut the serpent’s head,” says the Jewish prince Eitam to the Banu Nadir’s great poet Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf, who begins to orchestrate a risky scheme of joint poetic effort to overthrow Mohammed. Joining in the operation are famous poets like Asma bint Marwan and Abu Afek, who work around the clock to compose their lethal rhymes.
The many guests from around the Hejaz are pouring into the lavish Diwans that provide what seems to be endless portions of lamb cooked with almonds and raisins and desserts made from the famous...
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