Mohammed Ben Sharafaddain: The Poet of Love and Beauty [Archives:1999/47/Culture]

November 22 1999

Saleh Abdulbaqi 
Cultural Editor 
I will try to highlight some aspects of traditional Yemeni poetry and one of its pioneers. Traditional poetry in Yemen encompasses many styles and nomenclatures. It varies just as Yemeni traditions and lifestyles do. One of the dominant traditional poetries in Yemen is called ‘Humaini.’ This kind of poetry has become very popular in Yemen with singers who have found in its songs a rich field of beauty and imagination. 
The ‘Poet of love and beauty’ is the title that has been attached to the pioneer of Humaini poetry, Mohammed Ben Sharafaddin. During the Imam’s regime Yemen was isolated from the rest of the world. That isolation was not only external but internal as well. People were segregated into small groups; the literature and arts produced during the time were buried with these groups. Only a few manuscripts remain from this period. Such manuscripts were easily obtained by unscrupulous people who sold them in foreign markets without mentioning their origins. 
Despite the tough times they have undergone and all the attempts to block their way, Yemeni songs were able to continue and live long. As far as the Humaini songs are concerned, their history goes back four centuries. Many critics see that it is Mohammed Ben Sharafaddin who laid the foundation stone for the emotional songs which are still popular, not only in Yemen, but in the Gulf countries too. 
Sharafaddin’s life and his works have been analyzed by many Yemeni critics including; Dr. Abdul Aziz al-Maqaleh, the late Dr. Mohammed Abdu Ghanim, the late Abdulla al-Baraddouni, Mr. Ahmad Mohammed al-Shaami and others. This reflects the richness of his works which are full of figures of speech and imagination. Many contemporary poets have followed his footsteps. For example, al-Ansi and al-Aanisi have played crucial roles in continuing this kind of poetry and songs. 
Mohammed Ben Abdulla Sharafaddin was born in an aristocratic family in Kawkaban in 965 Hajirah. In spite of his being brought up in a family which indulged in wars, he created a special atmosphere for himself to be a poet of love and beauty. Such a poet born in a warlike environment could have been affected and influenced by reports of guns and the smell of blood. However, it seems as if he was reminding people of another world full of love and warmth rather than bloodshed. He was a man of peace and tranquility. He was thirsty for love and loved be many people. His songs are still sung today. One of the most distinguished contemporary singers of this kind is Mohammed Hamoud al-Harithi. 
Sharafaddin used to escape from reality to poetry, from poetry to love and from first love to second love. Whenever he fell in love he could not hide his emotions. Although he paid no attention to the social problems of his time he occupied a very respectable position at the time. 
One of the passionate stories that is still remembered is that once he fell in love with a very beautiful young women. He wanted to marry her but he couldn’t because she was still too young. He was very disappointed and heart-broken. His wife noticed his continuous absent-mindedness. She knew the story of her husband. However, when she asked him the truth, he denied it. She made him swear by the holy Quran but to no avail. Following this episode, Sharafaddin composed a very sweet poem which is still remembered and has been sung by many singers in Yemen and the Arabian Gulf. 
Another popular song of his is ‘Sadat Fuadi’ (She’s captured my heart). It goes: 
She’s captured my heart by her beautiful eyes and bright cheeks. 
This poem has a story too. As narrated by the poet himself, “when al-Nassir al-Muttahar married Huriah Bent Ahmad al-Tihamiah, he asked me to compose a poem to praise the features of his bride on that occasion. When I finished it, I recited it in his presence. When I came to the line: 
‘Whose name I can never utter,’ 
he asked, “Why didn’t you mention her name?” So I managed to mention her name (Huriah) in one line and that satisfied him. 
Sharafaddin died in 1016 Hajirah. He has left two anthologies, one in Humaini and the other in standard Arabic. If you want to know more about him I recommend ‘The Other Nature’ by the poet himself or ‘Slang Poetry of Yemen’ by Dr. Abdul Aziz al-Maqaleh.