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Abu al-Atahiya

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Abū Isḥāq Ismā’īl ibn al-Qāsim Abū al-‘Atāhiyya
Bornc. 748
Diedc. 828
Other namesAbū Isḥāq Ismā’īl b. al-Qāsim b. Suwaid b. Kaisān al-Aini
Academic work
EraAbbāsid period
(al-Mahdī era) and
(Hārūn al-Rashīd era)
Main interestspoetry
Notable worksDiwan

Abū al-ʻAtāhiyya (Arabic: أبو العتاهية; 748–828), full name Abu Ishaq Isma'il ibn al-Qasim ibn Suwayd Al-Anzi (أبو إسحاق إسماعيل بن القاسم بن سويد العنزي),[1][2][3] was among the principal Arab poets of the early Islamic era, a prolific muwallad[n 1] poet of ascetics who ranked with Bashshār and Abū Nuwās, whom he met. He renounced poetry for a time on religious grounds.[4]


Abū l-ʻAtāhiyya was born in Ayn al-Tamr in the Iraqi desert, near al-Anbar.[n 2] There are two sayings in his lineage the first is that he is from the Anazzah tribe,[5][6] and the other is that His family were mawali of the tribe of ʻAnaza.[7] His youth was spent in Kufa, where he was engaged for some time in selling pottery. During the time when he took the occupation of selling pottery, he saw the assembly of poets in a competition and he participated in it. He composed eulogia to the governor of Tabaristan, emir Umar Ibn al-Alā (783-4/ 167AH).[8] and with a growing reputation, he was drawn to Baghdad, the seat of the Abbāsid court where he soon became famous for his verses, especially for those addressed to ‘Utbah[9][10][11][n 3], a concubine of the Abbasid Caliph al-Mahdi. His love was unrequited, although al-Mahdi, and after him Caliph ar-Rashīd, interceded for him. Having offended the caliph, he was imprisoned for a short time. He died in 828 in the reign of Caliph al-Ma'mūn,[12] and Al-Nadīm cites the qāḍī of al-Kūfah Ibn Kāmil (d.961) that he died on the same day as the grammarian ‘Amr ibn Abī ‘Amr al-Shaybānī and the court musician Ibrāhīm al-Mawṣilī in 828-9 / 213 AH.[13] His tomb was on the banks of the Īsā canal.[n 4] opposite the Kantarat al-Zaiyātīn ('Oilmen Bridge')[14]


The poetry of Abū l-ʻAtāhiyya is notable for its avoidance of the artificiality almost universal in his days. The older poetry of the desert had been constantly imitated up to this time, although it was not natural to town life. Abū l-ʻAtāhiyya was one of the first to drop the old qasīda (elegy) form. He was very fluent and used many metres. He is also regarded as one of the earliest philosophical poets of the Arabs. Much of his poetry is concerned with the observation of common life and morality, and at times is pessimistic. Thus he was strongly suspected of heresy.[12] Ibn Abī Ṭāhir Ṭayfūr (819/20 —893/94) published an anthology of Abū al-‘Atāhiyah’s poetry.[15] He was also included in Hārūn ibn ‘Alī al-Munajjim’s unfinished anthology “Traditions of the Poets,” along with contemporary poets Abū Nuwās and Bashshār et al.[16] The vizier Ibn ‘Ammār al-Thaqafī (d. 931/ 319 AH) wrote Traditions about Abū al-‘Atāhiyah.[17]

The Family of Abū al-‘Atāhiyah[18]

Abū al-‘Atāhiyah produced poets among his children and grandchildren who each wrote fifty leaves of poetry:

  • Muḥammad ibn Abī al-‘Atāhiyah, surnamed Abū ‘Abd Allāh, was a hermit nicknamed al-‘Atāhiyah (the Foolish One).
  • ‘Abd Allāh ibn Muḥammad ibn Abī al-‘Atāhiyah.
  • Abū Suwayd ‘Abd al-Qāwī ibn Muḥammad ibn Abī al-‘Atāhiyah.

Of the many anecdotes told of al-‘Atāhiyah, al-Nadīm relates one attributed to the Abbāsid court musician, Isḥāq al-Mawṣilī, that whenever he, al-Mawṣilī, saw three men, three others appeared: “Wherever al-Haytham ibn ‘Adī was seen, Hishām al-Kalbī was there; if ‘Allawīyah was there then Mukhāriq turned up; Abū Nuwās was on hand if Abū al-‘Atāhiyah appeared."[n 5].[19][14]


  1. ^ Note jahilī (جاهلي), pre-Islāmic era; mukhadram (مخضرم) pre-early-Islām; muwallad (مولد) Islāmic Era.
  2. ^ Ibn Khallikān says that some said ‘Abu al-Atāhiyah was born at Ain al-Tamr, in Hejāz near Medina, others said it was along the Euphrates near Anbār.
  3. ^ Khallikān describes ‘Utbah as the slave girl of the caliph al-Mahdī, while Iṣbahānī calls her slave girl of al-Khayzurān, mother of Hārūn al-Rashīd. Isḥāq al-Nadīm lists Abū al-‘Atāhiyah and ‘Utbah among the ‘passionate lovers’ whose stories became romanticised in book form.
  4. ^ The Īsā river, or canal, ran from the Euphrates into the Tigris. See Ibn Khallikān Wafayāt, (1843) I, p.209, n.14
  5. ^ AI-Haytham and al-Kalbī were scholars of traditions; ‘Allawīyah and Mukhāriq were singers; Abū Nuwās and Abū al-‘Atāhiyah were poets; all lived about the time of Hārūn al-Rashīd or thereafter.


  1. ^ Khallikān 1843, p. 202, Wafayāt, I.
  2. ^ Nadīm (al) 1970, pp. 151, 206, 315, 321, 325, 352, 355, 721, 965.
  3. ^ Iṣbahānī 1888, p. 122, Aghānī, III.
  4. ^ Khallikān 1843, p. 210, n.19, III.
  5. ^ Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani, Kitab al-Aghani
  6. ^ Omar Farouk Al-Tabbaa Diwan Abu al-Atahiya, p.6
  7. ^ Guillaume 1986, p. 107.
  8. ^ Khallikān 1843, p. 204, I.
  9. ^ Nadīm (al) 1970, p. 721.
  10. ^ Iṣbahānī 1888, pp. 151, 183, III.
  11. ^ Kaḥḥālah 1977, p. 245.
  12. ^ a b  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Abu-l-'Atahiya". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 79.
  13. ^ Nadīm (al) 1970, p. 151.
  14. ^ a b Khallikān 1843, p. 205, I.
  15. ^ Nadīm (al) 1970, p. 321.
  16. ^ Nadīm (al) 1970, p. 315.
  17. ^ Nadīm (al) 1970, p. 325.
  18. ^ Nadīm (al) 1970, p. 355.
  19. ^ Nadīm (al) 1970, p. 206, n.42.