Images from the pages of al-Funun

Abu Nuwas was born in al-Ahwaz between 130 and 145 A.D. His father belonged to the army of Marwan II, the last Umayyad, while his mother was of Persian descent. His education as a youth took place in Basra and Kufa. He is said to have studied for a time among the Bedouins in order to improve his linguistic skill.1

The appearance of Abu Nuwas’ poetry in al-Funun was very appropriate in that he has been regarded by later day critics as the representative of a modern school of poets during his day. His remaining poetry, which contain many panegyrics to the Barmakids of Baghdad and al-Amin the son of Harun al-Rashid, imbued a freshness into the genre of classical Arabic poetry that made it appealing and alive; a fact which is still evident to this day. Though he composed many of his poems in the classical style, he was not limited to it.

Abu Nuwas, al-Funun 2, no. 1 (June 1916)

Abu Nuwas (ca. 756-ca. 810)

He injected into his poetry, which were often of very un-Islamic topics, such as wine and self-indulgence, a remarkable number of new terms, many of which were either Persian or vernacular expressions of the locale in which he resided. 

Abu Nuwas’ use of new words and vernacular expressions was very appealing to the literati gathering together through the auspices of al-Funun in New York City. He presented an example of an Arab poet who on the whole used language correctly though there may have been some errors grammatically in his poetry.2

The appearance of Abu Nuwas within al-Funun was in large part a legitimization, if one was truly needed, by those contributing to al-Funun for their right to experiment with the Arabic language. He represented one of the great poets from the golden age of Arabic literature who wrote creative and appealing poetry, but who did it in a fresh, appealing manner and in his own way.

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1 See Encyclopaedia of Islam, Abu Nuwas, CD-ROM Edition.
2 Ibid.

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