Sacred Texts  Islam  Index  Previous  Next 

The Maqámát of Badí‘ al-Zamán al-Hamadhání, tr. W.J. Prendergast [1915] at


MAQAMA, plural Maqámát, from he stood, primarily signifies an occasion of standing, or a place where one stands upright. Standing appear to have been not only the natural, but the conventional position of the speaker, e.g.

    The people stood up to speak. 2

(2) I have heard that ‘Alí ibn al-Ḥusain was standing admonishing the people. 3

(3) Come near and eat, or, if thou wilt, stand and speak. 4

p. 12

The practice of standing to speak goes back to Homeric times:--

O Damaan, friends and heroes, men of Arie's company, seemly it is to listen to him who standeth to speak. 1

According to Ibn Qutaiba (A. H. 276) reports of the literary discussions held in the assemblies of men of learning and culture received, early in the ‘Abbásid period (A. H. 132-656), the name Maqáma. 2

These literary reunions appear to have been a recognized institution. Saif al-Daula used to hold an assembly every night to which men of learning came and conversed in his presence; 3 and Tha‘álibí, in referring to the literary splendour of Bukhára in Hamadhání's time, mentions a remarkable gathering of the chief scholars of the day at the Court of that State. 4

Maqáma probably acquired the more restricted meaning of a discourse, exhortation or oration, between the time of Jáḥiz (ob. A.H. 255) and that of Hamadhání (ob. A.H. 398).

The extracts given below illustrate the various uses of the word from the time of the pre-Islámic poet Zuheir (end of the sixth century A.D.) to that of the author (end of the eleventh century A.D.) It is thus used by early writers:--

(1) By Zuheir and quoted by Hamadhání:--

And among them are maqámát--champions and the like--whose faces are fair,
And councils where words are followed by deeds. 5

(2) By Abú Tammám (ob. A.H. 190):--

Concerning every battlefield and in every maqáma (situation);
Which obtain from poetry covenants and contracts. 6

p. 13

Of many a maqáma--speech--whose weapons have rendered other people's talk weak, wherein there are waves of language which cannot be cleared away,
Hast thou dispelled the: darkness with a decisive speech like unto a determining blow in the time of peril. 1

And if he is present in the maqáma--assembly or council--on the day of final decision,
Thou wilt see the equal of Luqmán the sage. 2

(3) By al-Qattál:--

In the presence of the maqáma--a company of people--I adjured Zíád to desist,
And I reminded him of the ties of relationship of Sa‘r and Haitham that bound us together. 3

(4) By Jáḥiz (ob. A. H. 255):--

And he sat down and the company were Arabs who were discussing tradition and citing proof passages and proverbs, and from history, battles and maqámát--speeches or orations. 4

Solitary ones who have not heard the barking of the dogs of maqáma--a company of Bedawín. 5

(5) By Abú ‘Alí al-Qálí (ob. 356):--

Maqáma = Majlis, a company of people.

p. 14

(6) By Hamadhání:--

There used to reach me of the maqámát--discourses and the like--and sayings of al-Iskanderí. 1

So wait for the end of his maqáma--a discourse. The word here refers to a stirring sermon which ‘Ísá ibn Hishám had been listening to. 2

And him who enters the maqámát--companies or assemblies of respectable people. 3

And of their distinguishing marks is the vileness of their maqámát--assemblies of chief men, or speeches. 4

Verily he who has dictated four hundred maqámát on mendicity. 5

Although the maqámát were composed chiefly for assemblies of the learned and for the entertainment of the great, the word maqáma is applied by Hamadhání himself to the species of composition first associated with his name, and not to the people who assembled to listen to his discourses. It is in this restricted sense that it has come down to us.

As the extracts from different authors do, however, show that the word has the triple signification of an oratorical address or harangue, a collection of champions, or a company of people, I have preferred a transliteration to the rendering by the familiar, but unsatisfactory, term assembly.


11:2 Kitáb al-Amálí, ii, 73.

11:3 Maqámát of al-Hamadhání, p. 130.

11:4 Maqámát of al-Ḥarírí, p. 21.

12:1 Iliad, Book xix, line 79.

12:2 Brockelman, Gesch. der Arab Litteratur, i, 94.

12:3 Ibn Khallikan, i, 105.

12:4 Yatíma, iv, 33.

12:5 Shu‘ará al-Nasrániah, p. 573.

12:6 Abú Tammám (Beyrút edition), p. 82, last line.

13:1 Abú Tammám (Beyrút edition), p. 211, line 4.

13:2 Ibid., p. 256, line 4 from the end.

13:3 Hamasa, p. 95.

13:4 Book of Misers (Lyden edition), p. 218, line 23.

13:5 Haywán, part iv, 154,

13:6 Kitáb al-Amálí, i, 95.

14:1 Text, p. 25.

14:2 Ibid., p. 135.

14:3 Ibid., p. 160.

14:4 Letters, p. 106.

14:5 Ibid., p, 390.

Next: IV. Origin And Character of the Maqamat