Al-Khansa’, Drawing by Kahlil Gibran, al-Funun 2, no. 10 (March 1917)
|Died||645 (aged 69–70)
Tumāḍir bint ʿAmr ibn al-Ḥarth ibn al-Sharīd al-Sulamīyah (Arabic: تماضر بنت عمرو بن الحرث بن الشريد السُلمية ), usually simply referred to as al-Khansā’ (Arabic: الخنساء) (translated from Arabic as either "gazelle" or "short-nosed") was a 7th-century Arabic poet. She was born and raised in the Najd region (the central region of modern-day Saudi Arabia). She was a contemporary of Muhammad, and eventually converted to Islam.
In her time, the role of a female poet was to write elegies for the dead and perform them for the tribe in public oral competitions. Al-Khansa’ won respect and fame in these competitions with her elegies for her brothers, Ṣakhr and Muʿāwiyah, who had died in battle. She is the best known female poet in Arabic literature.
Al-Khansa’ was born into a wealthy family of Najd.
In 612, her brother Muʿawiyah was killed by members of another tribe. Al-Khansa’ insisted that her brother, Sakhr, avenge Muʿawiyah's death, which he did. Sakhr was wounded in the process and died of his wounds a year later. Al-Khansa’ mourned his death in poetry and gained fame for her elegiac compositions.
She had four sons: Yazīd, Muʿāwiyah, ʿAmr, and ʿAmrah, all of whom converted to Islam. She went with her sons who fought in the Battle of Qadisiyah, where all four were killed.
When she received the news, she allegedly did not grieve, but said, "Praise be to Allah who honored me with their martyrdom. And I have hope from my Lord that he will reunite me with them in the abode of his mercy." (Arabic: الحمد لله الذي شرفني بقتلهم، وأرجو من ربي أن يجمعني بهم في مستقر رحمته)
Another anecdote says that al-Nabigha told al-Khansa "If Abu Basir had not already recited to me, I would have said that you are the greatest poet of the Arabs. Go, for you are the greatest poet among those with breasts." Al-Khansa replied, "I'm the greatest poet among those with testicles, too."
- Ibn Qutaybah, al-Shiʿr wa-al-shuʿarā’ (Beirut, 1964)
- Arab women writers: a critical reference guide, 1873-1999, American Univ in Cairo Press, 2008
- "A Great Arab Poetess of Elegy", an essay about Al-Khansa
- Other Women's Voices collection, contains links, secondary sources, and excerpts