ألفاظ الجنون والحمق ومفاهيمها في العربية / The Terminology and Notion of Madness in Arabic



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الدين, كريم حسام; el-Din, Karim Hussam

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Research Article

Publication Title

Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

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[Language does more than denote meanings for communication. Words have associated significances and connotations in a given culture. In the case of the Arabic language, the terminology of madness is rich, partly because the early lexicographers collected the various words signifying madness used by different tribes, and partly because in Arabic-Islamic culture the ideal of the "Perfect Human Being" (al-insān al-Kāmil) characterized by wisdom was so powerful that deviations from that model were singled out and given names. The article, after introducing the cultural and anthropological nature of the issue, confronts its linguistic aspect. It enumerates the various terms used in Arabic to indicate madness and their various shades of meaning. Their occurances in the Quran, poetry, canonical texts and proverbs are noted, and levels of significance in particular usages and contexts are elucidated. The study refers to exemplary anecdotes about mad men and women, and the terms used to characterize them. It examines the typologies of derivation of such terms from a root-verb, in order to establish the semantic field and the specificity of each term as well as the overlapping significances. The study points out the most salient features of the vocabulary of madness in Arabic, namely its association with obscurity, confusion, excess, contradiction and inconsistency. The most widespread term for madness in Arabic, junūn, is related, for example, to jinn and the foetus (janin) because they partake in the quality of invisibility. Thus the term indicates that which defies visibility and clarity and tends to suggest obscurity. A number of prophets, including Noah, Job, Moses and Muhammad have been accused of madness by their people as their message could not be appreciated or grasped. The study collects the Quranic references and allusion to these incidents and the refutation of such false claims in the sacred discourse, while analyzing semantic nuances in the notion of madness of sin as it appears in the Quran. Furthermore, a number of poets have been called "mad" and different epithets indicating madness have been attached to their names. Qays ibn Mulawah is called "Majnūn Layla" (the Madman of Layla) because he was madly in love with a woman called Layla. Another poet, Isma'il ibn Qasim, came to be known as Abu-l-'Atahiya (literally, "the father of mental derangement") because he was in love with a slave girl who rejected his proposals. His epithet was derived from the Caliph's description of the poet as distraught with love. Another poet, Ka'ab ibn Rabi'a from Banu Sa'd, was called "al-mukhabbal al-Sa'di," (literally, "the demented from the tribe of Banu Sa'd"). In his case, as well as in the previous ones, madness befell him because of an unrequited love affair. It is not surprising that eventually this profane longing for the beloved will be translated to the longing of mystics for the Divine, and thus sacred madness came to be attributed to them.]

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