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AccueilNuméros155 (1/2024)PREMIERE PARTIE - La célébration ...Partie 3 : Productions littéraire...The Genre of the Mawlid Narrative...

PREMIERE PARTIE - La célébration de la naissance du Prophète (al-mawlid al-nabawī)
Partie 3 : Productions littéraires et artistiques

The Genre of the Mawlid Narrative in the mid-12th h./18th Century as Exemplified by al-Barzanjī

Le genre du récit du Mawlid au milieu du xiie h./xviiie siècle comme illustré par al-Barzanjī
نوع قصة المولد النبوي في منتصف القرن الثاني عشر الهجري/الثامن عشر الميلادي كما صوره البرزنجي
Antonio Cuciniello
p. 173-188

Résumés

Parmi les œuvres de la littérature arabe relatives à la célébration de la naissance du Prophète, le Mawlid d’al-Barzanjī est un texte qui a acquis une grande popularité et s’est répandu dans de grandes parties du monde islamique. En effet, soulignant les aspects miraculeux et merveilleux de la vie du Prophète jusqu’à sa mort, il est depuis plus de trois siècles un texte de référence de la dévotion religieuse à travers le monde musulman. Par conséquent, le but du présent article est une analyse systématique de son contenu, en particulier les différentes sections du texte en prose (nathr) du Mawlid d’al-Barzanjī, avec une attention particulière aux références coraniques, ainsi qu’à celles liées à la Sunna et al-Sīra al-nabawiyya.

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Texte intégral

1The distinguished polyglot scholar al-Barzanjī (d. 1179 h./1766) was of Kurdish origin and belonged to the Barzanjiyya, a noble, learned and influential family of Medina, where he was born and died. Despite this, it seems that the traces of al-Barzanjī and his family members’ influence in Medina are generally neglected (van Bruinessen, 1998).

2His full name is Ja‘far b. Ḥasan b. ‘Abd al-Karīm b. al-Sayyid Muḥammad b. ‘Abd al-Rasūl al-Barzanjī al-Ḥusaynī al-Madanī al-Shāfi‘ī. Besides, he also bore the nickname (laqab) Zayn al-‘Ābidīn (let. “ornament of worshippers”). He studied under the supervision of his various family members, achieving excellence in different fields of knowledge of the Islamic sciences (e.g., tafsīr, qirā’āt, ḥadīth, kalām). Then, he became a respected Shāfi‘ī jurist and muftī, a position that his family occupied until the middle of the 20th century. He also served as imām of the Prophet’s Mosque (al-Ziriklī, 1400 h./1980: II, 123), dedicating his whole life to the holy city of Muḥammad, and is lauded for his performance of miracles (karāmāt) both before and after his death (al-Ḥaḍrāwī, 1416 h./1996: I, 247–251). He was buried, alongside other prominent Barzanjīs, in the cemetery of Baqī‘ al-Gharqad in Medina, the burial ground where the Prophet’s family, wives and prominent Companions are buried.

  • 1 See Brockelmann, 2016: 490; Brockelmann, 2017: 807; Brockelmann, 2018: 538.

3Al-Barzanjī authored several works, many of which survive in manuscripts and or in printed editions.1 To mention a few: Qiṣṣat al-Mawlid al-Nabawī (The Story of the Prophetic Birth); al-Nūr al-wahhāj fī l-Isrā’ wa l-mi‘rāj (The Blazing Light on the Night Journey and Heavenly Ascent); Qiṣṣat al-mi‘rāj (The Story of the Heavenly Ascent); Jāliyat al-kadar fī faḍl aṣḥāb Badr (The Remover of Distress on the Merits of the Warriors of Badr); al-Rawḍ al-wardī fī akhbār al-Mahdī (The Rose Garden: Traditions regarding al-Mahdī); Manāqib sayyid al-shuhadā’ sayyidna Ḥamza (The Virtues and Accomplishments of the Chief of the Martyrs, Our Master Ḥamza); al-Janī al-dānī fī manāqib al-shaykh ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī (Abundant Harvest: The Virtues and Accomplishments of shaykh ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī). Nevertheless, despite his literary production, his name is mostly related to his Mawlid text, which mentions the miracles and incidents of Muḥammad’s birth, life, night journey and celestial ascension (isrā’ wa mi‘rāj).

  • 2 For a full English translation, with Arabic text included, see al-Barzanjī, 1438 h./2016. For a sli (...)

4Al-Barzanjī’s Mawlid is entitled as ‘Iqd al-jawāhir [jawhar] fī mawlid al-nabī al-azhar or ‘Iqd al-jawāhir [jawhar] fī mawlid ṣāḥib al-ḥawḍ wa l-kawthar (The Jewelled Necklace of the Resplendent Prophet’s Birth or The Jewelled Necklace of the Owner of the Pond [of Abundance] and the River of al-Kawthar), better known simply under the title of Mawlid al-Barzanjī, or Mawlid Sharaf al-Anām (The Birth of the Noblest of Mankind).2 It is one of the most widely revered and recited Arabic Mawlid texts in the Muslim world and beyond, in melodious tunes popular amongst the people, singing the praises of the Prophet of Islam. Accordingly, it has become available in numerous editions. Certainly, as a literary and historical work, with a special emphasis on the beauty and rhetorical aspects of the Arabic language, Mawlid al-Barzanjī is connected to the historical and geographical context in which it was written, namely Medina as an intellectual crossroads of the Muslim world at the time (Chih, 2017: 184).

  • 3 Among the commentaries (shurūḥ), which indicate the degree of seriousness of the work, we mention a (...)

5Besides being recited on the occasion of the birth anniversary of the Prophet, it is also employed to ask for divine blessings on special occasions, for instance, the birth of a child, changing house, opening a new business (Chih, 2019: 100). Indeed, Mawlid al-Barzanjī has been very frequently translated (e.g. into Swahili, Somali and Malay) (Harries, 1958; Knappert, 1988) and commented across the Muslim world.3 It is extremely popular in East Africa (Tarsitani, 2007) and Comore Islands (Ahmed, 1999; Ahmed, von Oppen, 2004); in Sudan, it has been the oldest such text in use among the Qādirī and the Sammānī Ṣūfī orders (Trimingham, 1949), and in Tunisia among the Ismā‘īliyya-Madanīyya order (Chih, 2017: 185). Furthermore, in Indonesia, it is the most popular text (Kaptein, 1993a; Kaptein, 1993b; Gade, 2002: 347–349), second only to the Qur’ān itself, given that it is read on numerous occasions throughout the Islamic calendar as well as life cycle ceremonies (van Bruinessen, 1998: 1), and subjected to a process of reading and interpretation. Finally, in most of the Indonesian religious boarding schools, reading Mawlid al-Barzanjī has become part of the compulsory curriculum (Mansur, 2017).

  • 4 Schimmel (1987: 156) states that the original text of Mawlid al-Barzanjī in Arabic was actually in (...)

6In order to give a brief summary of the main events of the Prophet’s life, ranging from the moments before he was born until the period when he received the prophetic task, Mawlid al-Barzanjī exists in two versions, one in the form of prose (Mawlid Barzanjī Nathran), with 19 chapters (faṣl) containing 355 verses, and another in the form of poetry (Mawlid Barzanjī Naẓman),4 still in circulation, consisting of 16 chapters in 205 verses which rhyme with the letter nūn.

7The following is an analysis of the structure and contents of the prose version, also highlighting Qur’ānic, Sunna and Sīra references. Furthermore, the following subparagraphs of this chapter do not exactly reflect the subdivision of the different chapters of al-Barzanjī’s Mawlid.

8In the text there is a very recurring use of terms derived from nature in reference to the figure of Muḥammad, such as sun, pearl, moon, full moon, light, animals, rocks, and others. All of them also produce a number of magnificent metaphors; therefore, the Prophet is depicted as physically perfect.

9In particular, the internal structure of the Mawlid resembles that of the panegyrical poem (madīḥ), following a standardised sequence: introductory praises to God, an invocation, a description of the primordial light of Muḥammad (al-nūr al-muḥammadī), followed by different digressions, for example the Prophet’s ancestry, the announcement of his birth to his mother Āmina and finally his birth.

  • 5 Throughout this article the translation of Qur’ānic passages is taken from Arberry, 1996.

10Barzanjī’s Mawlid begins and ends with a section consisting of prayers and praises for the Prophet, which name him according to his numerous qualities, his character, his virtues and miracles, in order to remind the reader of his human perfection and his status as an eternally chosen being. These salutations are followed by Qur’ānic verses on the election of the Prophet: “Surely we have given thee a manifest victory, that God may forgive thee thy former and thy latter sins, and complete His blessing upon thee, and guide thee on a straight path, and that God may help thee with mighty help” (Q 48, 1–3)5; “Now there has come to you a Messenger from among yourselves” (Q 9, 128); “God and His angels bless the Prophet. O believers, do you also bless him, and pray him peace” (Q 33, 56).

  • 6 In the ninth/fifteenth century the Moroccan Ṣūfī Muḥammad al-Jazūlī (d. 869 h./1465) wrote Dalā’il (...)
  • 7 This very eulogy also recurs in a ta‘ṭīra song in Asyut (Upper Egypt); see Abdel-Malek, 1995: 210. (...)

11The nineteen chapters of the prose version are interspersed at regular intervals with prayers of blessing on the Prophet (Robson, 1936; Chih, 2017: 185–186). They form a couplet refrain called ta‘ṭīra (“perfuming”), in which the rhymed blessing on the Prophet is compared to the offering of incense or perfume to his grave: “O Lord, perfume his noble grave / With fragrant scents of prayer and greeting” (‘Aṭṭir Allāhumma qabrahu l-karīm / bi-‘arfin shadhiyyin min ṣalātin wa-taslīm).6 As in all Mawlid eulogies, after the recitation of each verse in this Mawlid eulogy, the participants of the celebration raise their voices and reply: “May God’s blessing and peace be upon him” (Allāhumma ṣalli wa sallim wa bārik ‘alayh).7 It is believed that the spiritual benefits of reciting these blessings (ṣalawāt) are clearly endless.

12In the open section, it is declared by the author that he starts the work in the name of the Absolute Essence (al-dhāt al-‘aliyya) [God], seeking abundant blessings, especially upon Muḥammad’s pure family (al-‘itra al-ṭāhira al-nabawiyya) and his Companions (aṣḥāb) and Followers (atbā‘). Furthermore, al-Barzanjī asks God for guidance and help from His strength and power, concluding with the ḥawqala: “There is no power and no strength except with God” (Lā ḥawla wa-lā quwwa illā bi-llāh) (al-Barzanjī, 1429 h./2008: 101–102).

The lineage of the Prophet, events preceding his birth, his nativity, childhood and adulthood

  • 8 The biography of Muḥammad by Ibn Isḥāq (d. ca. 150 h./767) begins with a genealogy that traces Muḥa (...)

13Immediately after the opening section of prayers and praises, following the classic scheme of the biographies of Muḥammad, his lineage is acclaimed. It is a family tree, comprising twenty-one generations, that follows that one as outlined in the Islamic Prophetic Tradition, namely, from his father ‘Abd Allāh b. ‘Abd al-Muṭṭalib (d. ca. 570 CE) to ‘Adnān (d. 122 BCE), the father of a group of Ishmaelite Arabs settled in Western and Northern Arabia.8 Indeed, Muḥammad’s genealogy is likened to a necklace whose unique gems are strung together by the fingertips of the noble Sunna; thus, it is established in the Prophetic Tradition itself (al-Barzanjī, 1429 h./2008: 102–104).

  • 9 The doctrine of the primordial light of Muḥammad as a concept has a Qur’ānic origin in which he is (...)
  • 10 Ibn Isḥāq (1998: 69) reports that when Āmina was pregnant a voice said to her: “You are pregnant wi (...)

14After the exposition of the genealogical line, the story outlines the events preceding the birth of the future Prophet of Islam. Specifically, it mentions the so-called primordial light of Muḥammad (al-nūr al-muḥammadī),9 or the “archetypal Muḥammad” (ḥaqīqa muḥammadiyya), as created out of divine light, from which God also created the world (Rubin, 1975). This light crossed the generations of the Prophet’s noble ancestors and the apogee of its clarity appeared on the brows of his father, ‘Abd Allāh, and his grandfather, ‘Abd al-Muṭṭalib. Then, God laid the future Prophet of Islam down in the mother-of-pearl (ṣadafa) of Āmina bint Wahb (d. 577 CE) of the Banū Zuhra, the mother of the Elect of God (Muṣṭafā): it was proclaimed in the heavens and on earth that Āmina carried his essential lights within her. After reporting extraordinary events of nature, such as fruit ripening and the bending of trees so that people could easily pick them, people came to find Āmina and told her: “You are pregnant with the lord of worlds and the best of creatures: when you give birth to him call him Muḥammad” (Innaki qad ḥamalti bi-sayyidi al-‘ālamīna wa khayri al-bariyya wa sammīhi idhā waḍa‘tihi Muḥammad) (al-Barzanjī, 1429 h./2008: 104–105).10

  • 11 Specifically, the qiyām, although it has been criticised, is an essential part of the ceremony; see (...)

15When the reciter (qāri’) arrives at the passage in which the birth of the Prophet is recounted, the whole assembly rises (qiyām) as a sign of joy and devotion for Muḥammad and sings words of welcome.11 The narrative recalls that after Muḥammad’s conception, his father passed away in “The Enlightened City” (al-madīna al-munawwara), namely Medina.

  • 12 See also Holmes Katz, 2007: 35–36; Harries, 1958: 33.

16Al-Barzanjī’s text, additionally, incorporates elements of the popular tradition that had clearly become a common feature of Mawlid narrative. Indeed, for instance, his Mawlid refers to the attendance of Āsiya, Maryam, and other heavenly handmaidens at the Prophet’s birth.12 In this regard, it is emphasised that Āmina gave birth to a better child than the one born of Mary. The Chosen One (al-Muṣṭafā), the Beloved [of God] (al-Ḥabīb), in fact, is described as: “A face as radiant as the sun; a moon-bright night displayed him. A birth-night and day-that for faith were joy and flowering; a birth that to the fortunes of unbelief were a bane and disaster: the day [Āmina] the daughter of Wahb gained, in bearing him, a source of pride such as no woman before had gained” (al-Barzanjī, 1429 h./2008: 105–106; al-Barzanjī, 1438 h./2016: 25). Then, ‘Abd al-Muṭṭalib, who was performing the circumambulation (ṭawāf), brought him to the Ka‘ba and thanked God for what He had favoured and blessed him with.

  • 13 See also Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 70–73; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: I, 149; Knappert, 1971: 50–51. Muḥammad b. Muḥam (...)
  • 14 Ibn Isḥāq (1998: 69) tells that as Āmina was pregnant, she saw a light come forth from her by which (...)
  • 15 In his Dalā’il al-nubuwwa (The Proofs of the Prophethood) Abu Nu‘aym (1369 h./1950: 110) reports th (...)
  • 16 See, e.g., Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, kitāb al-nikāḥ, ch. 20. It is said both that she died following the pre- (...)
  • 17 Ibn Isḥāq (1998: 72) reports this story indicating two men in white garment, with a gold basin full (...)

17The Prophet, it is said, was born pure, circumcised and his umbilical cord was cut with God’s help (bi-yad al-qudra al-ilahiyya); nevertheless, it is also said that his grandfather circumcised him after seven nights.13 Barzanjī’s Mawlid goes on to point out that at the time of his birth there occurred many miraculous things, as signs of his future prophethood, being God’s chosen favourite (Mukhtār Allāh).14 His birthplace was in Mecca and, even though scholars have differed in their accounts regarding the exact year, month and day, the majority view is that it was on Monday the 12th of Rabī‘ al-Awwal, in the Year of the Elephant.15 Al-Barzanjī reports that Muḥammad was suckled by his mother during the first few days, afterwards a freed slave of Abū Lahab (d. 3 h./624), Thuwayba (d. 7 h./629) of the Aslam clan, the (first) Prophet’s wet-nurse,16 took her place. The story told by al-Barzanjī of the Prophet’s childhood, in full line with what is reported in the Tradition, continues with numerous extraordinary events and personal abilities. Indeed, it is said that he grew in one day as much as other children grew in a month; moreover, he could stand up on his feet at three months, walk at five months and speak with eloquence at nine months. At this point, one of the most enigmatic episodes of the Sīra is recounted, namely the one during which Muḥammad’s breast was open by two mysterious angelic figures, in order to extract from it a bloody clot, the portion of Satan (ḥaẓẓ al-Shayṭān), and perform a ritual of cleansing. Thus, they filled his heart with wisdom (ḥikma) and the inner meaning of the faith (īmān). Finally, they marked him with the seal of prophethood (khātam al-nubuwwa) (al-Barzanjī, 1429 h./2008: 106–111).17

  • 18 See Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 79–82; al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 44–46; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: I, 175–176. See also Schimmel (...)

18After the death of Āmina, Barzanjī’s Mawlid tells that the Prophet was placed under the protection of his grandfather who declared: “This son of mine is destined for greatness” (Inna li-bnī hadha la-shā’nan ‘aẓīman) (al-Barzanjī, 1429 h./2008: 111). When ‘Abd al-Muṭṭalib died, however, about two years after Muhammad’s mother, the young orphan was entrusted to his uncle Abū Ṭālib (d. 619 CE). When he reached the age of twelve his uncle took him on a journey to the lands of the Levant (al-bilād al-shāmiyya) where a monk, Bahira (Baḥīrā),18 recognised him by the sign of prophethood between his shoulders, as described in the ancient heavenly Scripture (al-kutub al-qadīma al-samāwiyya). Then, after he had said: “I see him to be the master of the worlds, God’s messenger and prophet (Innī arāh sayyid al-‘ālamīn wa rasūl Allāh wa nabiyyah) (al-Barzanjī, 1429 h./2008: 112), the monk told Abū Ṭālib to take him back to Mecca for fear of the Jews (ahl al-dīn al-yahūdiyya).

  • 19 See also al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 48.
  • 20 Ibn Sa‘d (1904–1940: I, 82–83) presents the narrative twice.

19Al-Barzanjī’s Mawlid recounts that at the age of twenty-five, Muḥammad travelled to Bosra (Buṣrā) to trade on behalf of Khadīja (d. 619 CE), his future first wife, “a merchant woman of dignity and wealth” (Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 82),19 and with her servant Maysara. On this occasion, another episode is reported which underlines the future prophetic role of Muḥammad. In fact, it is narrated that when he rested under a tree a Christian monk, Nestor (Nasṭūrā), recognised him as a foretold Prophet since the tree leaned towards him for shade. He subsequently said: “No one has ever rested under this tree except a Prophet possessing pure qualities or a messenger of God” (Mā nazala taḥta hadhih al-shajara qaṭṭu illā nabī dhū ṣifāt naqiyya wa rasūl) (al-Barzanjī, 1429 h./2008: 112–113).20 Furthermore, the monk told Maysara not to move away from him and to treat him sincerely, as Muḥammad was a man chosen by God and ennobled with prophecy. Returning to Mecca, Khadīja saw him approaching with two angels above his head shading him from the sun. Afterward, Maysara told her everything that had happened on their journey. Therefore, it became clear, from what she saw and heard, that Muḥammad would be the messenger of God to mankind. Later, in compliance with all Traditions, they married and Muḥammad fathered all his sons with her except the one named al-Khalīl.

  • 21 See Ibn Isḥāq (1998: 84–87); al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 58–59; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: I, 202–204.

20This phase of the life of the future Prophet of Islam, as reported in al-Barzanjī’s Mawlid, ends with another important event. Indeed, at the age of thirty-five, after the Quraysh had rebuilt the Ka‘ba, they quarrelled over the placement of the black stone (al-ḥajar al-aswad), since each one of them wanted to do it. Then, following an arbitration, Muḥammad positioned the stone on a cloth and ordered the clans to raise it. In the end, Muḥammad himself placed it in its present position.21

The First Revelation, the First Believers and the Ritual Prayer

  • 22 Indeed, Ibn Isḥāq (1998: 105) reports that Muḥammad prayed in seclusion on Ḥirā’ every year for a m (...)
  • 23 See Q 2, 185; 44, 1–4; 97, 1–5.

21At the age of forty, God sent Muḥammad as announcer of good tidings (bashīr) and warner (nadhīr). This experience began with a true and manifest vision (al-ru’yā al-ṣādiqa al-jaliyya), when he devoted himself to worship (kāna yata‘abbad) ever more during the nights in the cave of Ḥirā’ until the Manifest Truth (ṣarīḥ al-ḥaqq) came to him.22 It happened, al-Barzanjī refers, on Monday, the 17th day during the month of the Night of Destiny (shahr al-layla al-qadriyya).23 namely the month of Ramaḍān, although other dates are also given: the 27th or 24th of that month, or the 8th of the month of his birthday (i.e. Rabī‘ al-Awwal). The archangel Gabriel ordered him to read (iqra’) three times, but the Prophet refused and for this reason he hugged him and squeezed him tightly three times, in order to be wholly attentive to what was about to be revealed to him. Later, the revelation (waḥy) stopped for three years or thirty months, so that Muḥammad would desire to inhale those beautifully fragranced scents (al-nafaḥāt al-shadhiyya) of revelation. Then, it was sent down upon him: “O thou shrouded in thy mantle” (Q 74, 1) and Gabriel came to him with it and called him. The prophecy, however, was preceded by: “Recite: In the Name of thy Lord” (Q 96, 1); that was the first revelation (al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 69–70).

  • 24 See Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 111–115; al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 76–77; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: I, 296.
  • 25 Although it has been declared that the translation of the Qur’ānic passages is taken from Arberry ( (...)
  • 26 See Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 146–155; al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 98–101; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: I, 178, 258.

22Among the first believers, Barzanjī’s Mawlid recalls, there were Abū Bakr, the “friend of the cave” (ṣāḥib al-ghār) and “the most trustworthy” (al-ṣiddīq), ‘Alī and Khadīja;24 Zayd ibn Ḥāritha was the first believer among the clients, while Bilāl was the first among the slaves. Muḥammad’s worship and that of his Companions remained covert, until it was revealed: “Proclaim what you have been commanded” (Q 15, 94)25; whereupon he began calling people to God. Yet, his people struggled against the first Muslims with hostility and harm; therefore, some emigrated in the 5th year of the hijra to Abyssinia (Najāshiyya, i.e the country of the Negus) (al-Barzanjī, 1429 h./2008: 115–117).26

  • 27 See Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 191–192; al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 115; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: II, 81–91. Although Abū Ṭālib (...)
  • 28 See Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 191–192; al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 115–117; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: II, 99–102.
  • 29 The Prophet wore a special kind of sandals that became likewise an amulet. In fact, popular poetry (...)
  • 30 See Q 46, 29–32; 72, 1.

23The middle of Shawwāl of the tenth year of Muhammad’s mission coincided with the death of Khadīja and Abū Ṭālib; in particular, following his uncle’s passing away, opposition to Muḥammad intensified.27 He subsequently went to Taif (al-Ṭā’if) to seek help from the tribe of Thaqīf but their answer was not favourable.28 In fact, they insulted him and threw stones at him until his sandals (na‘lāhu) became red from his blood.29 Lastly, on the way to Mecca, the Angel of the mountains requested the Prophet for permission to destroy the people of Taif, but he replied: “I hope that Allah may bring forth from their loins people whom He will protect and befriend” (al-Barzanjī, 1438 h./2016: 47).30

  • 31 On the history of canonical prayer, see also Q 11, 114.

24At this point of the Mawlid, al-Barzanjī also evokes that at this time the first ritual obligations were imposed on Muḥammad, i.e., staying up in prayer for some hours of the night; but that was abrogated (by God) through the following Qur’ānic verse: “So recite of it so much as is feasible. And perform the prayer” (Q 73, 20). Finally, he was advised of the incumbency of the five daily prayers on the night of the Celestial Journey.31

The Night Ascension

  • 32 Q 17, 1 is the scriptural basis for Muḥammd’s Night Journey. See Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 181–186; al-Ṭabar (...)
  • 33 See Q 53, 14.
  • 34 See, e.g. Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ, kitāb al-īmān, ḥadīth 179a.
  • 35 See Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 186; al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 79–80; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: II, 61, 67, 74–76, 88.

25Al-Barzanjī’s Mawlid also focuses on the story of when Muḥammad was conveyed, in body and spirit, in a waking state, from Mecca to Jerusalem, specifically from the Sacred Mosque (al-masjid al-ḥarām) to the Furthest Mosque (al-masjid al-aqṣā).32 Subsequently, he was also made to ascend into the heavens where he met several prophets. More precisely, the Prophet met Adam (Ādam) in the first heaven, Jesus (‘Īsā) and John (Yaḥyā) in the second, Joseph (Yūsuf) in the third, Enoch (Idrīs) in the fourth, Aaron (Hārūn) in the fifth, Moses (Mūsā) in the sixth and Abraham (Ibrāhīm) in the seventh. Finally, he proceeded to the Lote Tree of the Limit (sidrat al-muntahā),33 where he could hear the scratching of pens inscribing the decrees of Destiny; and thence to the Station of Direct Meeting, where God caused him to come close and approached him. Thus, He removed for him the Veils of Lights (ḥujub al-anwār)34 of the Majesty and made him see the Divine Presence (ḥaḍrat al-rubūbiyya). At this point, God imposed upon Muḥammad and his community (umma) fifty (daily) prayers, but the clouds of divine favour poured down rain, so they were reduced to five.35 After returning to earth and reporting the story, Abū Bakr believed him, whereas the Quraysh called him a liar and some people, whom Satan (Shayṭān) misguided and tempted, apostatised (al-Barzanjī, 1429 h./2008: 118–119).

Further Conversions to Islam and Emigration to Medina

  • 36 See Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 194–199; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: II, 118–120.

26When Muḥammad presented himself before the tribes as the messenger of God (rasūl), six of the Anṣār believed in him and later twelve more of them went to Mecca for pilgrimage and pledged loyal allegiance to him. Then, they left, thus Islam made its first appearance in Medina, Muḥammad’s future abode and refuge. In the third year of his mission there were more than seventy men and two women of the Aws and Khazraj tribes who swore allegiance to him. Therefore, Muḥammad appointed over them twelve chiefs or masters.36 As a consequence, since members of the Islamic community from Mecca emigrated to join them, leaving their homelands in eagerness for that reward which awaits all who fled unbelief, the Quraysh feared that the Prophet might join his Companions and stir up revolt; therefore, they conspired to kill him, but God protected him and delivered him from their stratagem.

  • 37 Ibn Isḥāq (1998: 222) reports that Muḥammad sprinkled dust on their heads as he recited the first v (...)
  • 38 According to Tradition, the prophet Muḥammad and Abū Bakr took refuge in this cave and a spider bui (...)
  • 39 Surāqa ibn Mālik al-Kinānī (d. 24 h./645), a skilled horseman, belonged to one of the tribes allied (...)

27Before the emigration (hijra), the polytheist (mushrikūn) awaited the Prophet to arrest and kill him. But he escaped from them, scattering dust over their heads.37 During the journey to Medina, Muḥammad and Abū Bakr entered Thawr cave (ghār Thawr), where they stayed three days during which the pigeons and spiders protected them.38 At a later time, when they left the cave together, the Prophet rode his best mount. Besides, after Surāqa had arrived,39 the Prophet prayed to God and the legs of Suraqa’s horse sank into the solid ground. Suraqa, finally, begged Muḥammad for clemency which he granted him.

  • 40 Schimmel (1987: 74–75) points out that this is one of the oldest and best attested miracles of Muḥa (...)

28During the journey, moreover, al-Barzanjī’s Mawlid narrates that Muḥammad passed through the lands of Qudayd, where he met Umm Ma‘bad of the tribe of Khuzā‘a. He wanted to buy some meat or milk from her, but there was nothing in her tent. Then, the Prophet looked at a sheep that had strayed from the flock due to fatigue and asked her to milk it; she replied: “Had there been any milk in her, we would surely have had it” (al-Barzanjī, 1438 h./2016: 52). In that moment Muḥammad stroked the udder of the ewe and prayed to God; as a consequence, the milk flowed in abundance and quenched the entire clan. He subsequently milked the ewe once more, filling a container which he left as a manifest miracle (āya jaliyya).40 When Abū Ma‘bad saw the milk, he was filled with extreme amazement. Consequently, his wife said: “A blessed man came our way” (Marra bi-nā rajul mubārak); then he replied that he belonged to the Quraysh, the handsomest of them all (al-Barzanjī, 1429 h./2008: 121).

  • 41 See Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 227–228; al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 150; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: II, 190–191.

29To conclude, al-Barzanjī reports that on Monday the 12th of Rabī‘ al-Awwal the Prophet arrived in Medina and all its pure areas were illuminated by him.41 The Anṣār came to meet him and he dismounted at Qubā’ where he established his mosque upon its piety.

The Perfection of Muḥammad

  • 42 See, e.g. al-Bukhārī, al-Adab al-mufrad, ch. 30, ḥadīth 3.

30Following a pattern that falls within the genre of work aimed at underlining and praising the outward and inward characteristics of the Prophet, in its last lines al-Barzanjī’s Mawlid describes the Prophet as the most perfect of mankind (akmal al-nās) in shape, character, essence and attributes. The physical description reported by al-Barzanjī is, indeed, very detailed. In fact, he speaks of an average height, whitish complexion, large dark eyes, long eyelashes and perfect arched eyebrows, small gapes between the teeth, a wide and beautiful mouth, a wide forehead, smooth cheeks, an aquiline and handsome nose, large and fine hands and fingers, thick beard, large head and hair reached down to the lobes of ears. Also notably, the shoulders of the Prophet were broad and between his shoulder-blades was the Seal of Prophethood (khātam al-nubuwwa), filled and prominent with light. Besides, Muḥammad’s sweat is portrayed as pearls and his scent as the fragrance of musk. When walking he would lean forward, as if descending a steep slope. He used to shake hands leaving an exquisite fragrance that lasted the rest of the day. If he patted a child’s head, this could be identified among the other children as the one he had touched. His noble face shone as does the moon on the nights when it is fullest. He was exceedingly modest and humble. He would repair his own sandals, patch his clothes, milk his sheep and serve his family in a noble manner.42

  • 43 See, e.g. Q 59, 8. Specifically, in Q 93, 8 an individual, usually understood as Muḥammad himself, (...)
  • 44 Knappert (1971, 60) says that this literal translation can be rendered with: “Go in front of me”.
  • 45 See Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 678.

31Al-Barzanjī also recalls Muḥammad’s great concern and respect for the poor.43 Furthermore, he accepted people’s excuses and angered and pleased only for the sake of God. He would walk behind his Companions saying: “Leave my back for the spiritual angels” (khallū ẓahrī li-l-malā’ika al-rūḥāniyya) (al-Barzanjī, 1429 h./2008: 123).44 He would tie a stone upon his stomach due to hunger, even though he had been given the keys of the earth’s treasuries (mafātīḥ al-khazā’in al-arḍiyya).45 He would prolong the prayer and shorten Friday sermons (al-khuṭab al-juma‘iyya).

  • 46 According to Muhammad Isa Waley (al-Barzanjī, 1438 h./2016: 74), al-Barzanjī means that what he set (...)

32Before the last section of the text, i.e. closing supplications, praises and prayers, which is in keeping with the typical literary content of the Mawlids, al-Barzanjī concludes his Mawlid using the steed (jawād) as a figure of speech. He says, in fact, that it is not able to run any further. Like a traveller who has reached a clearing and a resting place, the steed has reached the end of the gallop in the effort of writing to retrace the life and extraordinary events that characterised the life of the Prophet.46

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Bibliographie

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IBN KATHĪR Ismā‘īl, LE GASSICK Trevor (transl.), 1998–2000, Al-Sīra al-nabawiyya (The Life of the Prophet Muḥammad), 4 vols., Reading, UK, Garnet Publishing.

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al-IṢFAHĀNĪ Abu Nu‘aym, 1369 h./1950, Dalā’il al-nubuwwa (The Proofs of the Prophethood), Hyderabad, Dā’irat al-ma‘ārif.

al-JAZŪLĪ Muḥammad, 2003, Dalā’il al-khayrāt (The Guide to Excellence), Beirut, al-Maktaba al-‘Asriya.

al-SUYŪṬĪ Jalāl al-Dīn, 1405 h./1985, Ḥusn al-maqṣad fī ‘amal al-mawlid (The Noble Intention when Celebrating Mawlid), Beirut, Dār al-kutub al-‘ilmiyya.

al-ṬABARĪ Muḥammad ibn Jarīr, MONTGOMERY WATT W., McDONALD ‎Michael V. (transl.), 1988, The History of al-Ṭabarī: Muḥammad at Mecca, vol. 6, Albany, State University of NY Press.

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Notes

1 See Brockelmann, 2016: 490; Brockelmann, 2017: 807; Brockelmann, 2018: 538.

2 For a full English translation, with Arabic text included, see al-Barzanjī, 1438 h./2016. For a slightly abridged English translation, see Knappert, 1971: 48–60; see also Rippin, Knappert, 1986: 66–68. For a Swahili version by Abū Bakr (Sayyid Manṣab) b. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān (d. 1340 h./1922), and its English translation, see Harries, 1958.

3 Among the commentaries (shurūḥ), which indicate the degree of seriousness of the work, we mention a few, namely the comment by the Egyptian Mālikī shaykh and muftī Muḥammad ‘Illīsh (d. 1299 h./1881) and the other by Ja‘far b. Ismāīl al-Barzanjī (d. 1317 h./1899), a descendant of al-Barzanjī likewise Shāfi‘ī muftī of Medina; see ‘Illīsh, 1319 h./1901; al-Barzanjī, 1442 h./2021. See also al-Ḥaḍrāwī, 1416 h./1996: I, 248; Holmes Katz, 2007: 250; Chih, 2017: 185.

4 Schimmel (1987: 156) states that the original text of Mawlid al-Barzanjī in Arabic was actually in prose. The process of change from prose into poetry allegedly occurred due to the comments on the text itself. See also Mansur, 2017: 320.

5 Throughout this article the translation of Qur’ānic passages is taken from Arberry, 1996.

6 In the ninth/fifteenth century the Moroccan Ṣūfī Muḥammad al-Jazūlī (d. 869 h./1465) wrote Dalā’il al-khayrāt (The Guide to Excellence) (2003), a collection of daily set of praises and blessings (ṣalawāt) on Muḥammad. For a specific discussion of ta‘ṭīras as performed by modern Egyptian storytellers (maddāḥūn), see Abdel-Malek, 1995: 106–107.

7 This very eulogy also recurs in a ta‘ṭīra song in Asyut (Upper Egypt); see Abdel-Malek, 1995: 210. Ja‘far al-Barzanjī in his commentary on Mawlid al-Barzanjī (1290 h./1872: 32) describes the practice as it exists, indeed, until today. As for its English translation, it has also been proposed “exalt him, preserve him and bless him” (al-Barzanjī, 1438 h./2016).

8 The biography of Muḥammad by Ibn Isḥāq (d. ca. 150 h./767) begins with a genealogy that traces Muḥammad’s ancestry back to Adam (Ādam); see Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 3. See also al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 1–43; Knappert, 1971: 48–49.

9 The doctrine of the primordial light of Muḥammad as a concept has a Qur’ānic origin in which he is referred as a sirāj munīr, “light-giving lamp”; see Q 33, 46. In addition, early Ṣūfīs also interpreted āyat al-nūr (“the Light verse,” Q 25, 35) as referring to Muḥammad himself. See Schimmel, 1987: 123 ff.; Chih, 2017: 186–188; Lory, 2017; Chih, 2019: 101–102. The account of the creation of this primordial light is also told in a famous Egyptian Mawlid by Aḥmad al-Dardīr (d. 1201 h./1786), a Mālikī jurist and a shaykh of Khalwatī Ṣūfī brotherhood, namely Mawlid al-bashīr al-nadhīr (The Birth of the Bringer of Good News and Warner). It reports ancient Traditions on the pre-existence of Muḥammad, first of God’s creation and last of His prophets.

10 Ibn Isḥāq (1998: 69) reports that when Āmina was pregnant a voice said to her: “You are pregnant with the lord of this people and when he is born say, ‘I put him in the care of the One from the evil of every envier; then call him Muhammad’.” See also al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 6; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: I, 147; Knappert, 1971: 49–50; Chih, 2019: 102.

11 Specifically, the qiyām, although it has been criticised, is an essential part of the ceremony; see Harries, 1958: 33. It is, however, the whole question of the effective presence of the Prophet during the ceremony which is at the heart of the debate on the qiyām. See Holmes Katz, 2007: 134–142; Chih, 2017: 188–189.

12 See also Holmes Katz, 2007: 35–36; Harries, 1958: 33.

13 See also Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 70–73; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: I, 149; Knappert, 1971: 50–51. Muḥammad b. Muḥammad al-Jazarī (d. 833 h./1429) debates whether the Prophet was the only divine envoy to be born circumcised and with his umbilical cord cut; see Holmes Katz, 2007: 56.

14 Ibn Isḥāq (1998: 69) tells that as Āmina was pregnant, she saw a light come forth from her by which she could see the castles of Buṣrā in Syria. See Ibn Kathīr, 1998: I, 151; Knappert, 1971: 51–52.

15 In his Dalā’il al-nubuwwa (The Proofs of the Prophethood) Abu Nu‘aym (1369 h./1950: 110) reports that the Prophet’s birth, his entrance into Mecca and his date of death happened all on a Monday, the 12th Rabī‘ al-Awwal. See also Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 69. Furthermore, it is reported that the second chapter of the Qur’ān, “The Cow” (al-Baqara), was revealed on a Monday in Rabī‘ al-Awwal; see Ibn Kathīr, 1998: I, 143.

16 See, e.g., Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, kitāb al-nikāḥ, ch. 20. It is said both that she died following the pre-Islamic religion of her people and that she became a Muslim (al-Barzanjī, 1429 h./2008: 109). Ibn Isḥāq (1998: 70) also tells that later the Prophet’s foster-mother was Ḥalīma al-Sa‘diyya (d. 9 h./629). See also al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 63; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: I, 161.

17 Ibn Isḥāq (1998: 72) reports this story indicating two men in white garment, with a gold basin full of snow, who opened Muḥammad’s belly, took out his heart, split it and extracted a black drop from it, throwing it away. Then, they washed his heart and belly with the snow until they had thoroughly cleaned them. An early Tradition quotes the Prophet’s own words about this experience. See al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 75; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: I, 163; al-Bayhaqī, 1389 h./1969: I, 12. It is believed that two men in white garment were the archangels Gabriel (Jibrāʾīl) and Michael (Mīkāʾīl). This episode, finally, connects the Sīra to the Qur’ān, as it is usually interpreted Q 94, 1–3: Did We not expand thy breast for thee and lift from thee thy burden, the burden that weighed down thy back?.

18 See Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 79–82; al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 44–46; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: I, 175–176. See also Schimmel (1987: 12); Roggema, 2009.

19 See also al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 48.

20 Ibn Sa‘d (1904–1940: I, 82–83) presents the narrative twice.

21 See Ibn Isḥāq (1998: 84–87); al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 58–59; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: I, 202–204.

22 Indeed, Ibn Isḥāq (1998: 105) reports that Muḥammad prayed in seclusion on Ḥirā’ every year for a month to practise “religious devotion” (taḥannuth), as it was the custom of Quraysh in heathen days. See also al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 67, 70; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: I, 283.

23 See Q 2, 185; 44, 1–4; 97, 1–5.

24 See Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 111–115; al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 76–77; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: I, 296.

25 Although it has been declared that the translation of the Qur’ānic passages is taken from Arberry (1996), a different translation is proposed for this passage, as it is considered closest to the Arabic meaning.

26 See Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 146–155; al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 98–101; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: I, 178, 258.

27 See Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 191–192; al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 115; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: II, 81–91. Although Abū Ṭālib did not convert to Islam, he never stopped protecting his nephew; see Schimmel, 1987: 13.

28 See Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 191–192; al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 115–117; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: II, 99–102.

29 The Prophet wore a special kind of sandals that became likewise an amulet. In fact, popular poetry has often included mention of these sandals; see Schimmel, 1987: 40.

30 See Q 46, 29–32; 72, 1.

31 On the history of canonical prayer, see also Q 11, 114.

32 Q 17, 1 is the scriptural basis for Muḥammd’s Night Journey. See Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 181–186; al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 78–80; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: II, 61.75. See also Schimmel, 1987: 159–175.

33 See Q 53, 14.

34 See, e.g. Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ, kitāb al-īmān, ḥadīth 179a.

35 See Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 186; al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 79–80; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: II, 61, 67, 74–76, 88.

36 See Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 194–199; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: II, 118–120.

37 Ibn Isḥāq (1998: 222) reports that Muḥammad sprinkled dust on their heads as he recited the first verses of sūrat Yā-Sin (Q 36); see also Q 8, 30. See al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 143.

38 According to Tradition, the prophet Muḥammad and Abū Bakr took refuge in this cave and a spider built its web over the entrance, protecting them from discovery by the Quraysh who were intent on harming them. See Q 9, 40; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: II, 158 ff.

39 Surāqa ibn Mālik al-Kinānī (d. 24 h./645), a skilled horseman, belonged to one of the tribes allied to the Quraysh: he finally converted to Islam; see Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 226. See also, e.g. Aḥmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad, musnad Abī Bakr al-Ṣiddīq, ḥadīth 3.

40 Schimmel (1987: 74–75) points out that this is one of the oldest and best attested miracles of Muḥammad connected with food. Umm Ma‘bad is also noted for providing a description of the Prophet. Indeed, the special ontological status of Muḥammad found more direct expression in the widespread literature devoted to him as a physical and spiritual model of beauty; see al-Bayhaqī, 1389 h./1969: I, 196. See also Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 225; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: II, 174.

41 See Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 227–228; al-Ṭabarī, 1988: 150; Ibn Kathīr, 1998: II, 190–191.

42 See, e.g. al-Bukhārī, al-Adab al-mufrad, ch. 30, ḥadīth 3.

43 See, e.g. Q 59, 8. Specifically, in Q 93, 8 an individual, usually understood as Muḥammad himself, is addressed as “poor”.

44 Knappert (1971, 60) says that this literal translation can be rendered with: “Go in front of me”.

45 See Ibn Isḥāq, 1998: 678.

46 According to Muhammad Isa Waley (al-Barzanjī, 1438 h./2016: 74), al-Barzanjī means that what he set out to produce in this Mawlid has been accomplished; besides, what may appear to be self-praise is, in fact, a form of “making known the Lord’s favours”, based on God’s Command as follows: and as for thy Lord’s blessing, declare it (Q 93, 11).

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Antonio Cuciniello, « The Genre of the Mawlid Narrative in the mid-12th h./18th Century as Exemplified by al-Barzanjī »Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée, 155 (1/2024) | -1, 173-188.

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Antonio Cuciniello, « The Genre of the Mawlid Narrative in the mid-12th h./18th Century as Exemplified by al-Barzanjī »Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée [En ligne], 155 (1/2024) | 2024, mis en ligne le 07 juillet 2024, consulté le 20 juillet 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/remmm/21238 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/11z1k

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Antonio Cuciniello

Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan, Italy; University of Religions and Denominations, Qom, Iran; antonio.cuciniello[at]unicatt.it

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