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Traders, Innkeepers and Cup-Bearers: Foreigners and People of the Book in Arabic Wine Poetry

Abstract : The Arabic wine song (ḫamriyya) consists of several recurrent themes, motives and images which are usually dealt with within the scope of stories involving the poet and his companions, the trader or the innkeeper, the wine waiter and the singer, in a tavern, a monastery, a garden or a notable’s home. The story of a “pub crawl” is no doubt among the most famous ones. It gives the poet an occasion to describe the innkeeper (ḫammār), a truly vivid figure, usually depicted as a ḏimmī, whether Jew, Christian or Zoroastrian. But the Islamic ban does not suffice to explain why the trades of wine, during the first centuries of Islam, were usually carried on by non Muslims. The religious factor was only stacked upon a cultural one whose importance remained unchanged after the rise of Islam. As a matter of fact, traders, innkeepers and waiters were already non Arabs (ʿağam) before Islam, mainly Jews, and this tradition perpetuated itself during the first centuries of Islam, independently from the precepts of the new religion and the prohibition of alcoholic beverages. Should they be non Arabs or non Muslims, often both, they are always described with the help of the same three main attributes, i.e. a foreign accent (a “nasal” voice, aġannu or ḏū ġunnatin), earrings (tawmatayn ou nuṭaf) and a belt (zunnār, minṭaq ou ḥizām). In other words, the clothing rules imposed upon ḏimmī by Muslim authorities only did ratify preexisting habits, because their main goal was to dissuade non Muslims to dress like Muslims.
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Contributor : Bruno Paoli <>
Submitted on : Sunday, April 7, 2019 - 4:37:21 PM
Last modification on : Tuesday, May 12, 2020 - 3:56:13 PM


  • HAL Id : halshs-02092129, version 1



Bruno Paoli. Traders, Innkeepers and Cup-Bearers: Foreigners and People of the Book in Arabic Wine Poetry. Kirill Dmitriev & Isabel Toral-Niehoff. Religious Culture in Late Antique Arabia, 2017. ⟨halshs-02092129⟩



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