Zuhair bin Abi Salma was a poet of the pre-Islamic period. His most well known work is Mu’allaqa. In his poems he preached the principles of noble conduct for individuals and society. He belonged to a family which produced great poets. These included; his father-in-law Aus bin Hajr; his sister Salma; his daughter al-Khansa; and his son Ka’b.
In his Mu’allaqa he praised the magnanimity of the chiefs of Dhubyan who brought about peace among the tribes after so many years of bloodshed.
He warned the tribesmen against vengeance and hatred. He said:
“Then cannot hide their guilt from God,
It will be recorded and punished on the day of retribution
Or avenged in this life,
They know war and its bitterness,
They should not revive that monster
Which brings only woe and destruction.”
Talking about his patrons and his poetry he said:
“Your gifts have vanished, but my poems are still alive;
They are robes of honour which do not become worn out by time.”
Umar had great admiration for the poetry of Zuhair. He used to call him the most poetical of all poets. Once Abdullah bin Abbas asked Umar the reason for his admiration of the poetry of Zuhair. Umar said that he admired Zuhair because he did not use rare words. His poems were free from complexity. He dealt with only such subjects in which he was at home. When he praised any one, he spoke only of those virtues which the person praised really possessed.
Umar quoted the following verses of Zuheir to establish his point:
“Qais bin Ghailan has attained the height of nobility;
Now if anybody tries to exceed him, he will only come to shame.
If praise could have given immortality to a man,
Thou wouldst never have died,
But people’s adulations never make one immortal.”
Umar admired Zuhair because his poetry was chaste, and though he belonged to the pagan period, his language was so refined that he gave the impression of being a poet of the Islamic period. He used simple language and did not indulge in exaggeration.
Zuhair’s patron was an Arab chief Harm b. Sinan. Once a son of Zuhair and a son of Harm met Umar. Umar asked the son of Harm to recite some poems of Zuhair composed in the praise of Harm. Thereupon Harm’s son recited some poems. Umar said that Zuheir wrote well in the praise of Harm and his family. Harm’s son said ‘He was paid well for that’.
Thereupon Umar said, “What your father gave has perished, but what Zuhair gave lives.”
Then turning to Zuhair’s son, Umar asked where were the robes of honour that Harm had bestowed on his father. He said that those had perished. Thereupon Umar said, “Time will never destroy the robes that Zuhair bestowed on Harm”.