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Ibrahim Ibn Sahl Al-Andalusī Al-Isra


IBRAHIM IBN SAHL AL-ANDALUSĪ AL-ISRA ʾILI (Abū Isḥāq ; 1208–1260?), poet and author of Judeo-Spanish origin. Born in Seville, Spain, Ibrahim ibn Sahl won recognition in his youth for his outstanding poetic talent. He traveled to North Africa, where he was appointed secretary to ibn Khallāṣ, the governor of Sabta. Toward the end of his life he converted to Islam, probably as a result of the pressure of the fanatical Almohads (Mowaḥḥidūn). There are differing opinions as to the sincerity of his conversion. Those who doubt it point to the dubious answers he once gave companions when he was drunk; while those who believe that he was a fervent Muslim base their opinion on two stanzas attributed to him, where he writes that the Law of Moses was canceled by that of Muhammad, as well as on a poem which he wrote in honor of Muhammad. He died at sea together with the governor by whom he was employed when their boat capsized, but there is some uncertainty as to when this occurred: some give the date as 1251 and others as 1260. Ibn Sahl is considered to be one of the greatest Spanish Arabic poets and one of the first who molded the strophic form known as Muwashshaḥ. His verse was imitated in his lifetime and from then until modern times his technique has been copied and his poems anthologized. Ibn Sahl's poetry is outstanding for its lyrical quality, emotional tension, and many colorful similes, allusions, and symbols drawn essentially from the Koran and from Arabic proverbs and poetry. His generally sensual descriptions are drawn from civilized cultured society and not from wild desert life, as was more usual in the older Arabic poetry. Most of his verse is dedicated to a Jewish youth, Mūsā (Moses), whose name is explicitly mentioned in about 20 poems, several of which compare the miracles wrought by Moses in Egypt and the Sinai Desert with the captivating charm of his beloved. These allusions are, however, written in an Islamic style deriving from the Koran, although references to Muslim motifs are very few. The poems of Ibn Sahl were collected by the Egyptian scholar Hasan ibn Muhammad al-ʿAṭṭār, who published three editions (1834/1250H; 1862–63/1279H; 1884–85/1302H), but there are also other editions (1885, 1926, 1953) and many collections containing selected poems from his Diwan published between 1862 and 1953. Arab poets tend to explain Ibn Sahl's delicacy, lyricism, tenderness, and emotional depths – unequaled by his successors – on the basis of the humility inspired by his Jewish origin and his love.


Al-Makkari, Analectes sur l'histoire et la littérature des Arabes d'Espagne, 2 (1858), 351–4; M. Hartmann, Das Arabische Strophengedicht, 1 (1897), 44–47; M. Faraj, Al-Shuaʿʾ al-Yahūd al-ʿArab (19392), 71–237 (to which is appended Dīwān Ibn Sahl with philological comments in Arabic); S. Muhammad, Ibrāhīm ibn Sahl, poète musulman d'Espagne… (Paris, 1910; Alger, 1914–19).

[Shmuel Moreh]

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