Qutbuddin, Tahera: A Sermon on Piety by Imam ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib: How the Rhythm of the Classical Arabic Oration Tacitly Persuaded, in Dorpmüller, Sabine et al. (Hrsg.): Religion and Aesthetic Experience: Drama—Sermons—Literature, Heidelberg: Heidelberg University Publishing, 2018 (Heidelberg Studies on Transculturality, Band 4), S. 109–123. https://doi.org/10.17885/heiup.416.c5915

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ISBN 978-3-947732-02-9 (Softcover)
ISBN 978-3-947732-01-2 (Hardcover)
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Tahera Qutbuddin

A Sermon on Piety by Imam ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib: How the Rhythm of the Classical Arabic Oration Tacitly Persuaded

Abstract Early Islamic society revered its articulate speakers, and later scholars held up their addresses as exemplars of eloquence. But wherein lay the power of the classical oration (khuba)? Did orators randomly pick and choose stylistic features, or were there certain characteristics they privileged? More importantly, what were the conscious and unconscious impetuses for their choice of aesthetic mode? It is well known that the orator employed logical argumentation based on ideas to convince his audience. I argue that in tandem with this rational argumentation, the early Arabic orator also used a stylistic mode of persuasion to sway his listeners in a subtler way, one which relied primarily on rhythm. Elsewhere, I have divided the fundamental aesthetic features of the oration into five groups: vivid imagery, audience-engagement elements, rhetorical or real questions, testimonial citation of Qurʾānic and poetic verses, dignified yet straightforward language, and most prominently, and the focus of this article, rhythm. Through a granular textual analysis of a sermon on piety by the first Shiʿa imam and fourth Sunni caliph, ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib (d. 40/661), the article demonstrates how the entire piece is formulated rhythmically: rooted in parallelism, augmented by repetition and rhyme, and sharpened by antithesis, the sermon’s pulsing beat contributes to its aesthetic and persuasive success.