Al-Khansa, by Khalil Gibran

Tumadir bint Amru al-Harith bint al-Sharid (b. 575–d. 646), better known as ‘al-Khansa,’ was one of the major of pre-Islamic Arabia. Born into a powerful family in west Central Arabia, near Mecca and Medina, much of al-Khansa’s work was inspired by her two brothers, who died in tribal battles. Women of the time were responsible for mourning the dead through eulogies performed for the public. Al-Khansa’s stirring laments for her brothers made her famous throughout the Arab world.

What have we done to you death
that you treat us so, with always another catch
one day a warrior
the next a head of state
charmed by the loyal
you choose the best
iniquitous, unequalling death
I would not complain
if you were just
but you take the worthy
leaving fools for us.

Her body of work, along with that of others, was carefully preserved by Islamic scholars who studied it in order to understand seventh century Arabic and, therefore, the Qur’an.

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