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An Islamic Reading of Rudyard Kipling¨s Poetry

  Aiman Sanad Al-Garrallah

  Modern British Poetry, Al-Hussein Bin Talal University

  Modern British Poetry, Al-Hussein Bin Talal University, Ma’an, Jordan

  Email: [email protected]

   Abstract There is a strong affinity between Kipling and Islam. Kipling’s preoccupation with Islam has been the focus of few studies. In building on those studies and in being inspired by Post-structural assumptions concerning the possibility of creating a multi-faceted interpretation of a text by utilizing a variety of perspectives, and the rejection of a single meaning of a text, this paper analyzes Kipling’s (to say open) poetry from an Islamic perspective. This paper argues that Kipling’s treatment of those expressions results in a metonymic gap, polysemy, and undecidability. In so doing, the paper aims at bridging “the metonymic gap” in Kipling’s poetry and exploring his attitudes towards some Islamic precepts such as Asma’ Allah Al-Husna (English: Allah’s Beautiful Names), Al-Shahadah (English: the Testimony), Al-Sirat (English: the Path), and Jinn.

  Key words Allah; Al-Shahadah; Al-Sirat; Eblis; Mount Qaf

   Author Aiman Sanad Al-Garrallah (Associate Professor in English Literature, Al-Hussein Bin Talal University) served as the Founding Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and the Founding Head of the Department of English Language and Translation at Amman Arab University; and as the Head of the Department of English Language and Literature at Al-Hussein Bin Talal University. He has published more than ten papers, all in refereed and international journals. He has translated Lynn Clark’s Sos! Help for Parents, and Talbut Mundy’s The Lion of Petra into Arabic. Some of his forthcoming publications are “Towards a New Model for Implied Metaphor Translation: English Translations of Al-Muallaqat” and The Allure of Jordan: Anthology of English Poems. His recent publications inter alia include “A Textual Anatomy of a Poem: James Elroy Flecker’s “War Song of the Saracens,” and the Poetry of Antara Ibn Shaddad.” Journal of Language, Literature and Culture 60. 2 and ‘The cunning wife/ fruit tree’ syndrome: Chaucer’s The Merchant’s Tale and seven Arabic stories. Neohelicon 42. 2. His research interests include Chaucer, the Renaissance, American Orientalism, Comparative Literature, Literary Translation, Literary Stylistics, among some others.


   There is a strong affinity between Kipling and Islam. In particular, he frequently quotes from The Quran according to Jaffa (90). In a letter sent to Captain Huth, Kipling says, “It is a most priceless gift you have sent me — the finest Koran I have ever laid eyes — much less hands-upon [...] and I thank you most heartily for your Hatim-Tai-like spirit in giving it to me” (Pinney 294). It is possible to suggest that Kipling means Rodwell’s translation because Kipling’s quoted Quranic verses are excerpted from Rodwell’s. Kipling quotes from Surah Al-Baqarah (2: 47), “High above mankind have I raised you;” and from Surah Al-Ma’idah (5: 65), “oft as they kindle a beacon-fire for war, shall God quench it. And their aim will be to abet disorder on the earth: but God loveth not the abettors of disorder” (Pinney 130).

   Kipling’s preoccupation with Islam, though not thoroughly explored by Said and Moore-Gilbert, has been the focus of few studies. For instance, Awan examines mystical concepts and doctrines such as Wahdat-ul-Wajud and Wahdaht- ul-Shahud in Kipling’s Kim and Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. As regards Kipling, Awan explains that the Islamic concern with ’amal (English: action) and khidmat (English: service) for the benefit of humanity is what Kipling has been interested in. Moreover, Awan argues that Kipling has been fascinated by the Islamic social and mystical doctrines based on pragmatism. From an almost similar perspective, Salesses examines Kipling’s representations of God and Allah in “The Enemies to Each Other,” and Kim. Kipling’s stories and poems published in the “Civil and Military Gazette, 1882-1889” show Kipling’s admiration of some Islamic teachings. He argues that “The Enemies to Each Other” offers deep insights into Kipling’s Deism and his representation of God, Who creates and controls the whole universe. Salesses, moreover, argues that “The Enemies to Each Other” appropriates the Islamic narratives of Creation and the Fall of Adam and Eve by using some Islamic images and names. Kipling’s other works, according to Salesses, describe his reverence for Al-Mighty and Compassionate God. Salesses, for instance, mentions that “The Two-Sided Man” displays Kipling’s “co-equal admiration and respect of God and Allah” (7). It seems apparent that Islam’s “Kipling and Islam and Other World Religions” has drawn on Salesses’ article without even acknowledging that. Islam examines the influence of Islam and other religions on Kipling and how Islam contributes to the development of his philosophy of life. He emphasizes that Kipling’s works are replete with references to Allah, Islam, The Quran, Prophet Mohammed, Islamic ethics, and Arabic literature. He argues that Kipling’s admiration of Islam surfaces in his writings, which are influenced by the Islamic doctrine of action.

  In building on those studies and in being inspired by Post-structural assumptions concerning the possibility of creating a multi-faceted interpretation of a text by utilizing a variety of perspectives, and the rejection of a single meaning of a text, this paper analyzes Kipling’s (to say open) poetry from an Islamic perspective. 2 In so doing, this paper aims at bridging “the metonymic gap” in Kipling’s poetry and exploring his attitudes towards some Islamic precepts such as Asma’ Allah Al-Husna (English: Allah’s Beautiful Names), Al-Shahadah (English: the Testimony), Al-Sirat (English: the Path), and Jinn.

  Asma’ Allah Al-Husna

   Kipling’s translations of Quranic phrases and his twenty-five allusions to Allah imply an affinity with The Quran. Before turning to Kipling’s references to Asma’ Allah Al-Husna, it is important to examine those names in Islam. Interpreters of The Quran and narrators of Hadiths (English: Sayings by Mohammed, the Prophet) suggest that God has ninety-nine Names. Abu Huraira (Al-Hilali and Muhsin Khan 264) narrated, “Allah has ninety-nine Names, i.e. one-hundred minus one, and whoever believes in their meanings and acts accordingly, will enter Paradise; and Allah is Witr (one), and loves the Witr.” However, Ibn Kathir argues that Allah’s names and attributes are uncountable (1:30). The phrase, Names of Allah, recur four times in four Quranic chapters (Surah Al-A’araf [7:180]; Surah Al-Isra’ [17: 110-111]; Surah Taha [20: 1-8]; Surah Al-Hashr [59: 22-24]). In Surah Al-A’araf (7:180), Allah, for instance, says, “And (all) the Most Beautiful Names belong to Allah, so call on Him by them, and leave the company of those who belie or deny (or utter impious speech against) His Names. They will be requited for what they used to do so.” 3 In Surah Al-Isra’ (17: 110-111), Allah, similarly, says,

  “Invoke Allah or invoke the Most Beneficent (Allah), by whatever name you invoke Him (it is the same), for to Him belong the Best Names [....] And say: “All the praises and thanks be to Allah, Who has not begotten a son (or offspring), and Who has no partner in (His) Dominion, nor He is low to have a Wali (helper, protector or supporter), And magnify Him with all the magnificence.”

  Notable among the leitworts in the verses quoted above is the name, Allah, which encompasses all the attributes of God. In emphasizing the significance of the name, Allah, Al-Ghazali emphasizes that Allah “is the greatest of the ninety-nine names because it indicates the essence that brings together all the divine attributes in such a way that no part of them is lacking” (xxx). Those verses, for instance, emphasize that Allah is the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful, the One free from all defects, the One who has no son, no partner, and no protector, the Great, the All-Knower, the All-Mighty, the All-Wise, the Creator, the Sovereign, the Holy, the Giver of security, the Watcher, the Compeller, the Supreme, the High, the Inventor, and the Bestower. Therefore, He must be praised, thanked and glorified.

  In explaining Kipling’s reference to the Names of Allah, Durand points out that the ninety-nine names recur in the seventh Surah of The Quran (51). This is not true. It is not in that Surah but elsewhere that the names of Allah recur as shown above. Kipling translates Asma’ Allah Al-Husna (a Quranic expression) to “the Wondrous Names of God” in “The Ballad of East and West,” which represents a cross-cultural harmony between Kamal, the Afghani warrior, and the English Colonel’s son. That harmony is cemented by the oath of brotherhood they have inter alia taken on “the Wondrous Names of God.” This Islamic expression, in this poem, acts as the bridge that links the two warring cultures and territories and promotes peace between the West and the East. Consider the following verses excerpted from the same poem:

  They have looked each other between the eyes, and there they found no fault, They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on leavened bread and salt:

  They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on fire and fresh-cut sod,

  On the hilt and the haft of the Khyber knife, and the Wondrous Names of God.

   This peaceful state between Kamal and the English Colonel’s son is, in one way or another, similar to what the following Quranic verse stresses. In Surah Al-Baqarah (2: 224), Allah says, “And make not Allah’s (Name) an excuse in your oaths against your doing good and acting piously, and making peace among mankind. And Allah is All-Hearer, All-Knower” (Italics mine). The oath, which should foster goodness, is what promotes peace between Kamal and the English Colonel’s son.

   In the Quranic verses excerpted above, people are advised to call upon any of Allah’s names, since they are the same. However, Kipling, in deviating from those Quranic verses, argues that every alphabet in every name has a specific value. According to Kipling, in being aware of the values of letters, one can call on the most appropriate name. Kipling, in this sense, explains,

  The Koran discourages magic, but it is lawful to consult the Names of Allah according to a system called the Abjad, in which each letter of the Arabic alphabet carries one of the Nine-and-ninety Names of God beginning with that letter. Each Name has its arbitrary Number, Quality, Element, Zodiacal sign, Planet, and so forth. These tables are often written out and used as amulets (italics mine). (The Collected Works of Rudyard Kipling: Limits and Renewals “They Servant a Dog.” 183)

  This system, in Arabic, is called Hisab Al-Jummal (English: Abjad Numerals). Every Arabic alphabet is assigned a numerical value. According to this system, the name, Allah, consists of four Arabic letters: alif, lam, lam, and ha. These letters have the numeric value of sixty-six. Based on Kipling’s argument, one has to call upon Allah sixty-six times.

  One might, furthermore, emphasize that the Only Islamic Name of God that figures prominently in Kipling’s poetry is undoubtedly Allah. There are twenty-five references to Allah in seventeen poems: “The City of Brass,” “The Jester,” “The Legend of Mirth,” “The Rupaiyat of Omar Cal’vin,” “Certain Maxims of Hafiz,” “The Light That Failed,” “Hadramauti,” “Kitchener’s School,” “The Answer,” “The Ballad of Ahmed Shah,” “From the Masjid-al-aqsa of Sayyid Ahmed (Wahabi),” “The Two-Sided Man,” “Akbar’s Bridge,” “The Ballad of the King’s Jest,” “O Hassan, Saving Allah there is no one Stronger than Eblis,” “A Song in the Desert,” and “Verses on Games.” It is surprising that Kipling uses Allah with specific words which highlight His attributes. There are four references to Allah’s omniscience, five references to praising Him, three references to swearing by Him, three references to Him as the Creator, and finally a reference to each of His throne, His will, His wrath, His might, His oneness, His blessing, His forgiveness, and His ability to bring out. 4 In explaining Kipling’s references to Allah, Durand argues that the only real name of God according to Islam has been revealed only to prophets and apostles (51). Durand here seems to intend Ism Allah Al-Aa’dham (English: Allah’s Greatest Name). Durand mentions that whoever knows it is able to “raise the dead and perform some miracles” (51). The camel, though Durand argues that the name remains a secret, has been told that name “as a compensation for the hardships of his life on earth” (51). Durand’s thesis is problematic for he does not identify its source. There is neither Quranic verse nor a saying by the Prophet (pbuh) which mentions that a camel knows Allah’s greatest name.

  At this stage, it is important to examine two important attributes of Allah, which Kipling alludes to. To portray Allah as the Creator and the Omniscient, Kipling uses the verb, “create,” with Allah three times in “The Legend of Mirth,” “Hadramauti,” and “Kitchener’s School” and the verb, “know,” four times in “The City of Brass,” “Akbar’s Bridge,” and “The Legend of Mirth.” These verbs establish a reasonable relationship between the verses quoted above and Kipling’s references to Allah in that they highlight how creation brings out omniscience. Whoever creates is able to be All-Knower of all creatures. Because Allah is Al- Khaliq (English: the Creator), He is Al-Aleem (English: the Omniscient). In Surah Al-Baqarah (2: 29), Allah says, “He it is Who created for you all that is on earth. Then He Istawa (rose over) the heaven and made them seven heavens and He is the All-Knower of everything.” Similarly, in Surah Al-Mulk (67: 13, 14), Allah says, “And whether you keep your talk secret or disclose it, verily, He is the All-Knower of what is in the breasts (of men). Should not He Who has created know? And He is the Most Kind and Courteous (to His slaves-All-Aware (of everything).” Kipling, in “The Legend of Mirth,” says, “Allah, Who created Zeal and Pride,/Knows how the twain are perilous-near allied.” It is noted that Kipling uses the verb “created” in the past, and “Knows” in the present to emphasize that Allah is the Omniscient and Omnipresent because he has created. Allah is the Creator, the All-Knower, and the Omnipresent. Kipling appreciates the attributes and favors of Allah. In “The City of Brass,” Kipling’s “And of these is a story written: but Allah Alone knoweth all” emphasizes that Allah is the only One Who knows all (especially hidden) things. Similarly, in “The Two-Sided Man,” Kipling realizes the great significance of “the Lands” and “the Lives” created by Allah, and the significance of the mind which enables him to think deeply of “the Good and the True” and “the Faiths.”


   Another relationship between the Quranic verses quoted above and Kipling’s explicit allusion to Allah is found in the Heading to Chapter XIV of The Light That Failed. Those verses, attributed to Kizilbashi as Kipling acknowledges in the same novel (267), were republished in Songs from Books under the title “The Light That Failed” (113-118). 5 One might add that this poem does not include the last cinquain of Longfellow’s “A Dutch Picture,” used as the Heading to Chapter III (35). The answer to why Kipling includes Kizilbashi’s verses and excludes Longfellow’s casts doubt on Kipling’s authorship of the verses republished in Songs from Books without any reference to Kizilbashi. Therefore, it is not surprising to suggest that Kipling has translated those verses into English. Those verses deal solely with the captivity and death of a nameless believer. As the poem approaches its enclosure, Kipling describes the last moments of that believer as follows: “He called upon Allah, and died a Believer.” Before interpreting the possible meanings of the phrase, calling upon Allah, it is important to suggest that a believer is a possible translation of a mu’min, who believes in Allah for the following reasons. As mentioned above, those verses are attributed to Kizilbashi. 6 This might be a name, or a nickname of the author of those verses, about whom the researcher cannot find any information. Moreover, Kizilbashi is a Turkish word, meaning red heads covered with red turbans (Frazee 2: 126-9; Williams 42). It refers to Shiite militant groups recruited from the Turcoman tribes in Eastern Anatolia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, and Syria, and who were adherents to the Twelve Imams and safavi dynasty. It is acknowledged that they were the descendents of Persian Turkmen soldiers who settled in Kabul during the time of Nadir Shah, and also the descendents of the Turkmen who later came from Persia to assist the founder of Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Durani (Williams 42). During the reign of Amir Abder Rahman, they were persecuted for their Shiite beliefs (Williams 42). This Islamic background and Kipling’s references to Allah and Kafirs (antonym of mu’minoon) may reveal that these verses are originally Islamic.

   As regards the phrases (calling upon Allah and then dying a believer), one might suggest that they are polysemous from an Islamic perspective. A Muslim and a native speaker of Arabic can interpret calling on Allah as follows. First, Kipling might mean that the believer, tormented cruelly, supplicates to Allah before his death. Allah reveals to Mohammed that He responds to any slave, who calls on Him. In Surah Al-Baqarah (2: 186), Allah says, “And when My slaves ask you [...] concerning Me, then (answer them), I am indeed near [...] I respond to the invocations of the supplicant when he calls on Me [...]. So let them obey Me and believe in Me, so that they may be led aright.” Such a Quranic verse is similar to Kipling’s portrayal of the believer who suffers at the hands of kafirs.

  Second, it is more reasonable to suggest that calling on Allah in Islam refers furthermore to, what might be phrased, al-tahlilah or al-shahadah. In being aware of these Islamic phrases, Kipling explicitly refers to them in “A King’s Ashes”: “In the silence a voice thundered far above their heads: “I bear witness that there is no God but God.” “It was the mullah, proclaiming the Oneness of God” (From Sea to Sea 2: 378). In Arabic, al-tahlilah refers to reciting la ilaha illa Allah. In so doing, the muhallil (English: the one who recites al-tahlilah) admits the Oneness of Allah Who must be worshipped. For instance, hallala al-rajulu means that the man said la ilaha illa Allah (Al-zabidi 31: 149). Similarly, al-shahadah (English: testimony), derived from shahida, refers to knowing and making this knowledge of Allah clear (Al-zabidi 8: 252). Similarly, al-shahadah means reciting ashhadu anna la ilaha illa Allah, whereas al-shahadatan (English: the two testimonies) means reciting ashhadu anna la ilaha illa Allah, wa ashhadu anna Mohammadan rasulu Allah: I testify that there is no God but Allah, and I testify that Mohammed is the Messenger of Allah. Abu Bakr Ibn Al-anbari (Al-zabidi 8: 259) explains that ashhadu anna la ilaha illa Allah means that I know that there is no god save Allah, and I make it clear that there is no god but Allah. This is the first pillar of Islam which stipulates that a Muslim must believe and admit that there is only one God, Who must be worshipped, and Mohammed is the Messenger of Allah. Other pillars include prayer, zakat (English: almsgiving), sawm Ramadan (English: fasting Ramadan), and Hajj (English: the Pilgrimage to Mecca).

  One might wonder why this believer hallala or shahhada before death although he is a mu’min. To answer such a question, one must refer to the Islamic significance of reciting al-shahadah before death. Reciting la ilaha illa Allah on such an occasion denotes inevitable death. The Prophet (pbuh) emphasizes the significance of al-tahlilah before death. Abu Thar and Mu’ath Ibn Jabal narrated that the Prophet (pbuh) said that if a believer dies immediately after reciting la ilaha illa Allah, he will be admitted to Paradise (Al-Munjid, “Al-Islam Su’al wa Jawab”). One might furthermore suggest that the mu’min, in reciting la ilaha illa Allah, is looking for another sense of al-shahadah, which is martyrdom. If so, he is considered as a shaheed (English: martyr) because he is killed for the sake of Allah (Al-zabidi 8: 252-253).

  At this stage, one might wonder about the significance of incorporating those Islamic verses into The Light That Failed as a Heading to Chapter XIV. To do so, it is important to draw the reader’s attention to the novel. This fifteen-chapter novel narrates the story of Dick Heldar, who travels in the Orient and Africa, and works as a war correspondent in Sudan in 1885. Dick is portrayed as a successful artist, who unrequitedly falls in love with Maisie. Unfortunately, a wound in Sudan causes his blindness before he is killed by a bullet there. The function of those verses in the Heading is to introduce the reader to that chapter which centers on Dick’s suffering and obsession with suicide. To Kipling, the death of the believer foreshadows the death of Dick. In so doing, Kipling identifies Dick with the mu’min, and if Dick is a self-portrait of Kipling himself, then Kipling becomes that mu’min. Based on the Islamic meanings of calling on Allah and the death of the mu’min explained above, then it is possible to suggest that this relationship between Dick, Kipling, and the mu’min might imply Kipling’s admiration of the most important pillar of Islam which justifies his recontextualizing of that pillar of Islam in that novel.


   Like Kipling’s recontextualization of the Names of God and al-shahadah, his recontextualization of the Islamic concept of Al-Sirat is surprising. Before considering his reference to Al-Sirat, it is important to explore its denotations in Arabic and its types in Islam. Al-Sirat, which means the path, has two types. The first is Sirat Al-Donya (English: the Worldly Path), which is Al-Sirat Al-Mustaqeem (English: the Straight Path). This path, referred to in Surah Al-Fatiha (1: 6) and in Surah Al-Ana’m (6: 153), means faith, Islam, The Quran, the Prophet, and the Truth (Ibn Kathir 1: 40- 41, 3: 234; Al-zabidi 19: 437; and Al-Hanbali 64- 65). Nevertheless, there are other evil paths (Paths of Shaitan), or paths of those who have deserved Allah’s anger (Surah AL-Fatiha 1: 7), which leads to Sirat Al- Jaheem (English: Hell Path) as stated in Surah As-Saffat (37: 24). 7 Ibn Mas’ud reported, “The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, drew a line with his hand and said, ‘This is the straight path of Allah.’” Then the Prophet drew lines to the right and left, and he said, “These are other paths and there is not another path except that a devil is upon it calling to it.” Then the Prophet recited the verse, “Verily, this is the straight path so follow it and do not follow other paths.”

  The second type is Sirat Al-Akhirah (English: the Afterlife Path). On the Day of Judgment, all people must cross Al-Sirat. It is a Bridge, which crosses over Hell. It is described as being finer than a strand of hair and sharper than the edge of a sword. There are briars and hooked thorns on each side. There are some sayings by the Prophet (pbuh) which describe Al-Sirat. 9 For instance, it is narrated that the Prophet (pbuh) said, There is a bridge over Hell which is finer than a strand of hair and sharper than the edge of a sword. Upon it are hooks and thorns made of iron which catch hold of those people whom Allah wills. The people will pass over the bridge of Siraat in different ways. Some will pass over it (very swiftly) like a blink of an eye, some like lightening, some like the wind, some will be like riders riding fast horses and camels. The Angels will be reciting “Oh my Lord, let him pass safely,” “Oh my Lord, let him pass safely.” Some Muslims will be saved, some will be injured, some will be tripping and falling and some will fall face first into the fire of Hell.

  The light (which stands for humans’ deeds) will direct them. The bright light will direct believers to Paradise, who will cross it easily; darkness will cause unbelievers to fall into Hell (Leeder 132-33). In the same vein, it is argued that the wideness and narrowness of Al-Sirat will be determined by the deeds of the people. For believers, it will be so wide that they can cross it easily, whereas for unbelievers it will be so narrow that they will fall into Hell. In this sense, Sa’eed bin Abi Hilal said, “I have heard that on the Day of Judgement the bridge of Siraat will be like a strand of hair for some people and for others it will be like mansions and wide valleys.”

  It is apparent that Kipling appropriates the Islamic concepts of Al-Sirat in “O Hassan! Saving Allah there is no one Stronger than Eblis.” 12 Kipling portrays Eblis as stronger than humans. Eblis, whose invisibility brings out his invincibility, has many different evil Sirats of misleading “the sons of Adam” from the Straight Path. Eblis, in this poem, appears in the forms of “[f]oul marsh lights,” “errant stars,” “red, devil-ridden meteors,” “ice-bound seas,” “the crow,” “the owl,” and “the hooded snake,” among many others:

  Foul marsh lights he made

  To wander and perplex us, errant stars,

  Red, devil-ridden meteors bringing plague [...]

  in darkness wove the grass

  That kills our cattle, made the flowers that suck

  Man’s life like dew-drops, evil seeds and shrubs

  That turn the sons of Adam into beasts Whom Eblis snatches from the sword -wide Bridge

   It is in the same poem that Kipling alludes implicitly to the Quranic narrative of Eblis, who refuses to prostrate to Adam and swears he “will sit in wait against them (human beings) on [Allah’s] Straight Path (Surah Al-A’raf [7: 16]). 13 The Quran narrates that Allah bid the angels to prostrate to Adam. They did so save Eblis who was one of the disbelievers, justifying his refusal by saying that he was better that Adam because he was created from fire, whereas Adam was created from clay. After Allah accursed him, he asked Him to give him respite till the Day of Judgment. He decided to mislead, from the Straight Path, all human beings except believers (Surah Al-Baqarah [2: 34-36]; Surah Al-Araf [7: 11-18]; Surah Al-Hijr [15:31- 44]; Surah Al-Isra’ [17: 61-65]; Surah Al-Kahf [18:50]; Surah Taha [20: 116-120]; Surah Saba’ [34: 20-21]; Surah Sad [38: 71-85]). Eblis is central in the Quranic references to Al-Sirat Al-Mustaqeem. Eblis, the only name of jinn mentioned in The Quran, is the father of Shayateens (English: Satans), and is considered one of the kafirs (English: Unbelievers) as stated in Surah Al-Hijr (15: 27), Surah Al-Kahf (18: 50), Surah Saba’ (34: 20-21), and Al-zabidi (34: 372). Linguistically, Al-zabidi (15: 464) points out that, the word, Eblis, is derived from the verb root, balasa, which means “despaired of Allah’s mercy.”

  Eblis, as an Arabic name, is symbolic of his despair of Allah’s mercy. 14 Kipling describes Eblis as successful in turning “the sons of Adam into beasts” because of the evil seeds he grows in their hearts. He succeeds in deviating them from Al-Sirat Al-Mustaqeem in this world, which is faith and all its premises, and leads them instead to Sirat Al-Jaheem, which is Hell. This is alluded to in Surah Al-Araf (7: 16-17): (Iblis) said: “Because You have sent me astray, surely I will sit in wait against them (human beings) on Your straight Path. Then I will come to them from before them and behind them, from their right and from their left, and You will not find most of them as thankful ones.” However, Kipling presents Eblis as stronger than even believers. This is a deviation from the Quranic verses, which stress that Eblis can mislead only kafirs. Moreover, there is another reference to the other type of Al-Sirat in the Afterlife as apparent in Kipling’s “the sword- wide Bridge,” from which Eblis snatches “the sons of Adam” who have turned into beasts because of their evil deeds. In defining that Bridge, Durand points out, “[a]ccording to Mohammedan belief, the soul after death has to cross a bridge, as narrow as the edge of a sword, that connects earth and Paradise. Should the soul be overburdened with the weight of sins it will fall into the abyss below” (356). Durand’s explanation is certainly not accurate. The Bridge does not link earth and paradise, but it is stretched over the Hell, and leads to Paradise.

  It is apparent that Kipling is aware of the connection between Eblis and his followers, who deserve Allah’s anger and punishment. According to The Quran, kafirs (Arabic: kuffar/ Kafiroon), misled by and subjugated to Eblis, will be punished in Jehannum. Kipling uses “kafirs/kaffirs” five times in “Certain Maxims of Hafiz,” “The Light That Failed,” “Wilful Missing,” and “The Ballad of the King’s Mercy.” Kipling defines kafir as “an unbeliever in the Moslem faith” (31). In Arabic, kafir (plurals: kuffar, kafarah and kifar), derived from kafara which means covered, is an infidel, who does not believe in Allah, in His Oneness, in His Angels, in His Books, in His Messengers, in the Day of Resurrection, in Al-Qadr, etc. (Al-zabidi 14: 53, Al-Hilali and Muhsin Khan 971). In other words, he is called kafir because kufr (the opposite of faith) covers his heart by hiding Allah’s favors (Al-zabidi 14: 52-54).

  Among Kipling’s significant references to kafirs is that reference in “Certain Maxims of Hafiz,” which is another Quranic influence. Kipling’s “Yea, though a Kafir die, to him is remitted Jehannum” stresses the inevitable punishment of those who do not believe in Islam by torturing them in Jehannum (English: Hell). One may suggest that Kipling might have translated one of the following Quranic references which convey this sense of punishment. In Surah Al-Baqarah (2: 24), Allah warns, “But if you do it not, and you can never do it, then fear the Fire (Hell) whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for the disbelievers.” In Surah Al- Anbiya’ (21: 98), Allah says, “Certainly! You (disbelievers) and that which you are worshipping now besides Allah, are (but) fuel for Hell! (Surely), you will enter it.” In Surah Al-Mulk (67: 6), Allah similarly says,” And for those who disbelieve in their Lord (Allah) is the torment of Hell, and worse indeed is that destination.”


   Along with his gloomy references to Eblis, Kipling’s representations of jinn, shaitan and al-ghoul deserve scrutiny. It is important to turn to the Arabic denotations of jinn, shaitan and al-ghoul before any consideration of Kipling’s references to them. Linguistically, the word, jinn, (Singular jinni or jann) is derived from the verb roots, janna or janana, meaning covered or hid (Al-zabidi 34: 371). From an Islamic perspective, Islam admits the existence of jinn as supernatural creatures. There are many references to them in The Quran, especially in Surah Al- Jinn (72). Although they, like humans, live, breed, and die, they are supernatural creatures, created from the smokeless flame of fire in order to worship Allah (Surah Al-’Araf (7: 2); Surah Al-Hijr (15: 26-27); Surah Az-Zariyat (51: 56)). Some jinn believe in God, some do not (Ibn Kathir 8: 159). Unbelievers are called shayateens (Ibn Kathir 6: 242). Abu Tha’labah Al-Khushni reports that the Prophet (pbuh) said,

  “Jinn are divided into three types: a type that has wings and fly through the air; a type that looks like snakes and dogs; and a type that stops for a rest then resumes its journey” (Al-Munjid, “The World of Jinn and Its Secrets;” Ibn Kathir 6: 242). Al-ghoul, Eblis, and Shaitan are classified as jinn. Kipling’s references to those types of jinn are significant. 16 He, for instance, uses Djinn(s) in “From the Masjid-al-aqsa of Sayyid Ahmed (Wahabi),” in the preface to “In the House of Suddhoo,” and in “The Camel’s Hump.” It is possible to suggest that Kipling’s reference to jinn is an implicit allusion to the Islamic narrative of Solomon (Arabic: Suleiman). 17 In “From the Masjid-al-aqsa of Sayyid Ahmed (Wahabi),” Kipling implicitly alludes to the story of Solomon and his flying carpet: “And the words of his mouth were as slaves spreading carpets of glory/Embroidered with names of the Djinns — a miraculous weaving.” On the surface, the reference to the embroidered carpets echoes oriental decorations to which Kipling might have been exposed through Lane’s translation of The Arabian Nights: “Here also I found an open door, and, entering it, I saw a flight of seven steps, by which I ascended to an apartment paved with marble, furnished with gold-embroidered carpets, and containing a couch of alabaster, ornamented with pearls and jewels,” and to “The mak’ad was furnished with silken carpets embroidered with gold and silver”(Lane 1: 176, 489). At the deep level, what attracts one’s attention is Kipling’s reference to the names of jinn, with which the carpet is embroidered. One might suggest that Kipling implicitly intends Solomon’s subjugation of jinn and his flying carpet carried by the wind and jinn. Kipling might have been exposed to Solomonic narrative through translations of The Quran, or through Lane’s translation of The Arabian Nights. Kipling’s point here might be that Sayyid Ahmed is, like Solomon, protected by Allah, who endows Solomon with dominion over wind, jinn, among other miracles. Furthermore, like Solomon, he is presented as royal, and his words (like Solomon’s jinn) are his slaves who pay him homage and make him tolerate the torture of kafirs.

  One may, in particular, suggest that Kipling, in his poetry, is preoccupied also with evil jinn (devils) such as Eblis, al-ghoul, and shaitan. 18 For instance, in his preface to “In the House of Suddhoo,” Kipling similarly describes the whole world as evil for it is haunted with supernatural, exotic, and dark powers:

  Churel and ghoul and Djinn and sprite

  Shall bear us company to-night,

  For we have reached the Oldest Land

  Wherein the powers of Darkness range.

   Kipling lists churel, ghoul, jinn, and sprite as inhabitants of this exotic world. 19 Moreover, Kipling’s ghoul is identified with the wilderness and with “the powers of Darkness.” This is in line with Arabic attitudes towards al-ghoul. In Arabic folklore, al-ghoul is a male jinni, or shaitan (Al-zabidi 30: 129). It is thought that al-ghoul appears in desolate places in order to mislead people from the Straight Path (Al-zabidi 30: 129). According to Al-nathr, it is a shaitan (evil jinni) which eats people; others mention that it is any jinni or shaitan that misleads people (Al- zabidi 30: 130). It is viewed as a huge animal, killed by Ta’bbata Sharran; or it is anything which brings out one’s muss, (English: madness) according to Al-zabidi (16: 506, 30: 130).

  With respect to the abodes of jinn, Kipling refers to two different places. For instance, he refers explicitly to Shaitanpore in Kipling’s “The Mare’s Nest”:

  It was a misdirected wire.

  Her husband was at Shaitanpore.

  She spread her anger, hot as fire,

  Through six thin foreign sheets or more.

  Sent off that letter,

  wrote another To her solicitor — and mother.

   Shaitanpore, which Kipling defines as “a fictitious name for a place,” is a bilingual combination of the Arabic word, shaitan, which means Satan, and the English word, pore, which means place (49). In the lines quoted above, the woman is angry with her husband who lives in Shaitanpore. In making the husband live in that place, Kipling intends to highlight his emotional and geographical distance from her and his evil nature. This sense surprisingly goes with the negative denotations of shaitan in Arabic folklore. In Arabic, shaitan is derived from the verb root, shatana, meaning became distant (Al-zabidi 35: 278). Shaitan is also a jinni (i. e. Eblis), revolting against Allah (Al-zabidi 34: 371). Abu Obeid (Al-zabidi 35: 278) mentions that shaitan might be a rebel (be human, a jinni, or an animal).

  More interesting than Kipling’s reference to Shaitanpore is his possible reference to Mount Qaf as another mythical abode of jinn. Consider the following verses from “Kitchener’s School”:

  Not at the mouth of his clean-lipped guns shall ye learn his name again, But letter by letter, from Kaf to Kaf, at the mouths of his chosen men. He has gone back to his own city, not seeking presents or bribes, But openly asking English for money to buy you Hakims and scribes.

  Kipling’s “from Kaf to Kaf” is ambiguous and confusing (even to a native speaker of Arabic), so it is not certain to decide whether he means the letter qaf (قاف), the letter kaf (كاف), or Mount Qaf, which frequently recurs in The Arabian Nights. A back transliteration of Kaf to Arabic is (كاف), which is the 22 nd Arabic Alphabet, which Kipling does not intend. Unaware of this, Durand claims that Kaf corresponds to the English K, which Kipling uses as initials of both Kitchener and Khartoum (234). If this is reasonable, one might similarly suggest that K is the initial of Kipling and the last letter of Dick, the hero of Kipling’s The Light That Failed. What Kitchener, Kipling and Dick share is exile in Sudan. 22 However, it is possible to suggest that Kipling means qaf, the 21 st Arabic Alphabet, which is different from Kaf which he uses. 23 If Kipling uses (as the context implies) from letter kaf to letter kaf to mean from A to Z, he should use the Arabic expression, minil alif lil ya’, which means from the beginning to the end.

  Durand, furthermore, suggests that the expression, from Kaf to Kaf, means “from world’s end to world’s end” (234). If so, there is an allusion to Mount Qaf. Lane explains that Kaf is a chain of mountains that surround the Circumambient Ocean, which engirdles the whole earth (1: 19, 20, 21, 30, 118). He argues that interpreters of The Quran said that mountains of Kaf are composed of green chrysolite, and the Prophet said that the green colour of the sky is a reflection of the green colour of these mountains. Lane points out that beyond those mountains there are countries, one of gold, seventy of silver, and seven of musk, all inhabited by angels and each country is ten thousand years’ journey in length, and the same in breadth. Al-bidairi argues that Persians believe that the earth is surrounded by a mountain from the east and another mountain from the West (4). Accordingly, the expression, from Qaf to Qaf, which means from the east where the sun rises to the west where the sun sets, is found in Richardson’s translation of Hafiz’s poetry which Kipling might have read (80).

  One might point out that the undecidability of Kipling’s “from Kaf to Kaf” is faced even by Arab philologists who controversially interpret qaf. For instance, consider Surah Qaf (50: 1) which begins with Qaf. It is interpreted as an Arabic alphabet according to Al-Hilali and Muhsin Khan (804), Al-zabidi (24: 290- 291) and Al-hamawi (7: 15-16). Al-zabidi (24: 291) furthermore suggests that it might be another name of The Quran. Al-zabidi (24: 291) and Al-hamawi (7: 16) mention that some interpreters of The Quran think that Qaf is a green mountain (made of green emerald, or green ruby) that surrounds the Earth. 25 It is very close to heaven which reflects its green colour. Beyond it, there are creatures, whom only Allah knows. Some claim beyond it there is a part of the afterlife. It is named by ancient people Al-burz. If Allah wants to destroy a people, He orders the angel, named Salsa’il, who lives there, to carry out this task (Al-zabidi 24: 291). Ibn Kathir (4: 258-9) mentions that Al-imam Abu Mohammed Al-razi narrated that Ibn Abbas said that Allah has created a huge sea that surrounds this earth, and beyond that sea Allah has created Mount Qaf, which carries the earthly sky. Then Allah has created beyond that mountain another earth which is larger than this earth seven times, and then Allah has created beyond it another huge sea. Then Allah has created beyond it a mountain, called Qaf, of the second heaven, until he mentioned seventy earths, seven seas, seven mountains, and seven skies. Nevertheless, Ibn Kathir suggests these myths of Mount Qaf are Israelitic (4: 258). There are references to this mountain in the Arabic version of Alif Lailah wa Lailah (1,3) and in Lane’s translation of The Arabian Nights (1) in “The Story of the Young King of the Black Islands” and “The Story of the Second Royal Mendicant.” In elaborating on Mount Qaf, Lane says, “It is believed that the chief abode of the Jinn is in the Mountains of Kaf, which are supposed (as mentioned on a former occasion) to encompass the whole of our earth” (1: 29).


   By way of concluding, it is significant to iterate that Kipling’s involvement in Islam and The Quran surfaces in his poetry. There are translations and transliterations of some Islamic expressions such as Asma’ Allah Al-Husna, Al-Shahadah, Al-Sirat and jinn, which reveal his exposure to English translations of The Quran. His treatment of those expressions results in a metonymic gap, polysemy, and undecidability. For instance, his translation of Asma’ Allah Al-Husna as “the Wondrous Names of God” in “The Ballad of East and West” represents a cross-cultural harmony between Kamal, the Afghani warrior, and the English Colonel’s son. This Islamic expression acts as the bridge that links the two warring cultures and territories and promotes peace between the West and the East. Furthermore, Kipling translates al-tahlilah or al-shahadah as calling on Allah — an expression that is open to some interpretations. As argued above, Kipling incorporates those Islamic verses, which include that phrase, into The Light That Failed as a Heading to Chapter XIV. Kipling identifies Dick with the mu’min, and if Dick is a self-portrait of Kipling himself, then Kipling becomes that mu’min. Based on the Islamic meanings of calling on Allah and the death of the mu’min explained above, then it is possible to suggest that this relationship between Dick, Kipling, and the mu’min might imply Kipling’s admiration of the most important pillar of Islam. By the same token, Kipling appropriates the Islamic concepts of Al-Sirat, jinn, shaitan and al-ghoul. He, for instance, portrays Eblis as stronger than humans. Eblis, in Kipling’s eyes, has many different evil Sirats of misleading humans from the Straight Path. It is apparent that all those instances of Kipling’s translations and transliterations of some Arabic expressions, as argued above, enrich and make Kipling’s poetry open inter alia to an Islamic interpretation.


  1. Rodwell (350, 493).

  2. See Umberto Eco’s The Open Work. The sense of openness means that a text is open to a variety of meanings.

  3. All subsequent quotations from The Quran are taken from Al-Hilali, Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din, and Muhammad Muhsin Khan.

  4. There are other two references to building a mosque to Him, and to without crying to Him.

  5. See The Letters of Rudyard Kipling 1872-89. 1: 57.

  6. Among the various transliterations of this word are Kizzilbashi, and Kizil Bashi.

  7. See also Al-Hanbali (65).

  8. See «Hadith on Islam.»

  9. See Al-zabidi (19: 437-8).

  10. <> (Access 26 May 2015).

  11. <>.( Access 27 May 2015).

  12. It is possible that Kipling might have been exposed to Sale (97-8).

  13. Kipling, in Letters of Travel (1892-1913), explicitly mentions this Quranic story (266).

  14. It is narrated that Ibn Abbas said that the names of Eblis are Al-Harith and ‘Azazil (Ibn Kathir 1: 95, 97).

   15. Other derivations are based on this sense of covering. One instance is kafara/kaffara, meaning covering anything. Another example is kafir, which denotes three things. It refers to a zurra’ (English: an agriculturalist) who covers the seeds by the land; to a night because its darkness covers everything; and to the sea for it covers anything beneath its surface (Al-zabidi 14: 54-55). The English word, covered, is semantically and phonetically similar to the Arabic word, kafara, which means hid.

  16. Kipling’s transliteration is similar to Sale’s and Rodwell’s. In this essay, I use jinn as plural, jinni or jann as singular.

  17. Kipling also repeats an almost similar allusion to Solomon’s dominion over the wind and jinn:

  And then you will find that the sun and the wind,

  And the Djinn of the Garden too,

  Have lifted the hump —

  The horrible hump —

  The hump that is black and blue (“The Camel’s Hump”).

  18. I have discussed Kipling’s references to Eblis in Al-Sirat Section.

  19. Kipling uses Djinn as a singular of Djinns. In Arabic, Jinni or Jan is the singular.

  20. Al-Rawi examines the portrayals of mythical ghoul in Arabic culture (45-66).

   21. Shaitan furthermore signifies a snake (Al-zabidi 35: 279). Other derivations include al-shatin which means distant, and Shatanan which is a valley in Nejd (Al-zabidi 35: 280).

  22. I have argued above that Dick is a self-portrait of Kipling.

  23. Lane and Burton transliterate qaf (قاف) as kaf.

   24. An allusion to Mount Qaf, and the expression from kaf to kaf recur in “Khasidat Abu Al- qanis.” Abu Al-qanis is a Jordanian poet. He addresses Nimr Ibn Odwan in this melancholy poem.

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