Renowned for his piety and frugality, and the complexity of his phonological analysis of classical Arabic poetry, Al Khalil Ibn Ahmad Al Farahidi was renowned and revered throughout the entire Asian continent, and towards the Orient and Europe, as a linguist, scholar, poet, and philosopher. Today, a young Omani, thirty-two-year-old Rashid Mussallem Masood Al Shaabani follows in those footsteps, yet as very much his own man, a man of today.
Born in Tiwi, he says, “My heritage within the Tiwi/Wadi Shab environment, the calming, soothing nature of it influences all I am, and all I do.” Married, with two young daughters, Al Shaabani reflected recently on his early education at Tiwi School, where he was inspired to work “hard and smart,” by all his teachers, and then later at the Rustaq College of Education, where he discovered a passion for all that he had earlier taken very much for granted.
He began then, to understand that with the majestic mountains behind him, the wadis running to the power and beauty of the sea, he had been blessed beyond any simple appreciation of his home, so that even when he is away from home, it is always in his heart. “I have travelled to many of the beautiful places in the world,” he recalled, “to the panache and wealth of Monaco, the gentle glamour of Nice, and the hustle and bustle of Istanbul. But my home is serenity itself, it is all things to all people, all in one tiny place, and often, I think both this place and those of us who live here, often remain blissfully unaware of its beauty and elegance.”
“In fact,” he explained, “My home, my family, my country, and my love of all the culture, language, and traditions, they are all at the heart of my poetry, in fact, its essence if you like.” He explained that he may have been a reluctant poet at first, but as the genre has offered itself as a means of explaining his philosophies and compassion, and shown itself as contemporary as well as traditional, it has now become a key part of his way of life.
He credits his first success in the Sultan Qaboos University Al Khalil Poetry Competition, and his numerous other successes, “about fifteen awards across Oman and the Gulf,” he says modestly, his frequent presenter on Oman Cultural Television, and a growing artistic and media profile across the artistic/philosophical spectrum, as being, “very personal, very intimate, passionate, and of my faith,” but particularly mentioned the significant influences upon his poetry as Abdullah Al Abri from SQU, Khamis Al Mukhaimi, as a friend and artistic mentor.
Most clearly though, it is his family, who he explained are very well educated. “Particularly my father, an Imam, for his interpretations not only religious, but in life, and my brother, Mubarak Al Shabaani, who provides religious and Quranic guidance. He is the author of, or contributor to around twenty books on religious doctrine, and a sounding board for my many ideas, and I can credit him with much of the wisdom I have, and the support and encouragement that is beyond any measure.”
Al Shaabani applauds not only the vision and achievements of HM Sultan Qaboos, but his ability to see beyond sycophancy, and his embrace of disagreement, debate and discussion, “to come to the policies and decisions that are both righteous and good.” I meet too, in my two guest house business ventures, so many different people, and each contributes to the fabric of our shared lives and experiences.
“I am wiser for every day,” he says, “and my poetry expresses my loyalty and love for the Sultanate, our wonderful, inspirational leader, love of and for, all things, flora and fauna, fish and food, sun, stars and moon, and the things we cannot see, our faith, passion, and beliefs all one massive inspirational poetic base, whether
The origins of Arabic poetry probably lie within the ‘Ghazal,’ or love poetry, while the ‘Naqa’id,’ a unique form of comedic, poetic insult, or ‘Hija’ favoured by the more satirical poets such as Jarir al Tamimi, and the iconic al Farazdaq. However the ‘Qasida,’ often an extended, liberal poetry in the manner of the ancient Grecian odes, the ‘Zajal,’ a form of poetic jousting and that interpreted from the Kitab al Aghani, or ‘Book of Songs,’ by Abu Faraj al Isfahani, all displayed distinct elements of practicality, unlike the Sufism that followed, a mystical, allegorical, transcendent style of literature that polarized readers of a thousand years ago.
The popularity of poetry remained diminished as the stories and storytelling of the ‘hakawati’ both informed and entertained in a lighter vein, and it’s probable that a new form of ‘ghazal’ imitating a love of one’s homeland, traditions and culture, its ‘being,’ championed by Egyptian Ahmed Shawki, foreshadowed a poetic renaissance of ‘shi’hrur,’ or free verse, and a rebirth of poetic prose known today as Al Nahda, as encouraged by modern Arabic poetic icons in Syrian Francis Marash Al Halabi, Iraqi Nazil Al Malaika and Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish.
This young Omani poet hesitates to place himself, or his artistry, in that pantheon of stars, yet, one gets a sense, reinforced by the twinkle in his eye, and an ever-present smile, that here is a young Omani, ready not only to follow in the footsteps of the elite such as Al Farahidi, Shawki and their ilk, but one day, without a shadow of arrogance, to walk with them.