The power of speech is one of the greatest or perhaps the greatest of gifts with which man has been endowed. Through the development of this power, not only in the present period, but also in the ancient times, in Greece, in Rome, and also in other countries, the speakers and orators swayed public opinion and secured the leadership of their peoples. To this the Qur'an refers when it says
(He created the man, endowed him with power of expression).
The Arabs attached great importance to their language. "The Arabians," says Hitti, "created or developed no great art of their own. Their artistic nature found expression through one medium only: speech. By virtue of its peculiar structure Arabic lent itself admirably to a terse, trenchant, epigrammatic manner of speech." In Arabia, particularly before the advent of Islam, oratory was considered to be a great gift, lower only to poetry. An orator was greatly honoured and respected, at first less than the poet, but afterwards when the poet degraded himself by accepting rewards and gifts for his panegyrics and poems, the orator rose higher in rank to him.
The names of many of the pre-Islamic Arab orators have been handed down to us by the early historians and literature. 'Adi b. Zayd al-Abadi, Khuwaylad b. 'Amr al-Ghatfani al-Ushara b Jabir, Ka'b b. Luwayy, Ibn 'Ammar al-Tayi, 'Amar b. al-Ahtamm al-Minqari, al-Zibriqan b. Sadr, Suhayi,, b. 'Amr al- Qarashi are only a few of them who have been mentioned by al-jahiz in his' al-Bayan wal-Tabyin. One of the most celebrated of them was Quss b. Sa idah, some of whose orations were attended by Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, during the early period of his life. Some of his orations have been preserved, at least in parts, by some of the Arabic authors. These orations represent the model of pre-Islamic Arab oratory and give us a full view of the picture of the orations of one of the best pre-Islamic Arab orators, and of his general style and the method of treatment of the main topic, followed by him in his speeches.
"O people: assemble together, hear and remember. He who lives, dies and he who dies, is gone for ever. Everything to come is near." (And he said): "In these things are strong (incontrovertible) signs: rain and vegetation; fathers and mothers; the passer away and the newcomer (newly born one); stars which move and the fathomless oceans; a high roof (sky) and the ready cradle (the earth) the dark night and the heaven with zodiac signs. Why it is that I see that men die and do not return? Are they satisfied and therefore permanently settled or are imprisoned and fell asleep?" (And he said): "O the people of Iyad! Where are the Thamud and the Ad? Where are the fathers and grandfathers? Where are the good deeds for which no gratitude was shown? And where are the cruelties against which no protest was made. Quss swears by God that God has surely a religion which is more pleasant to Him than the present religion of yours."
It may be noted that the great orator's style was simple, free from involved metaphors, and far- fetched similies and ideas, or long introduction. His sentences were short. His method was direct. He drew the attention of his audience to the nature and natural phenomena and the 'historical events, the memory of which was still green in their mind and just suggested to them his own conclusion.
This was the, model which was followed by the Arabs till the early Umayyad period. All the important Arab orations of this period, which have come down to us, are of this very type having the same general features. The speeches of the early Caliphs, the governors of the provinces and other party leaders are all cast in this very mould.
A Speech of Abu Bakr, the First Caliph
"O people I am in charge of your affairs though I am not the best of you. But the Qur'an has been revealed, and the Prophet has created the precedents, and taught us the same and we have learnt them. Know you all that the best wisdom is the piety, and the most foolish thing is to commit sins! To me the strongest of you is the weakest until I regain from him his (the weak man's) right and the weakest of you is the strongest until I regain from him (the strong) the right. 0 people I verily I am a follower (of the Prophet's path) and not an innovator (of new principles). So if I do well, help me and if I go astray put me right."
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