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The Shīah Poets and the Station of Poetry

Ghulam-Husayn Muharrami

During the past periods, poetry occupied a special station, and in addition to its literary and aesthetic dimensions, it had been considered the most important instrument of propaganda, playing the role of todays mass media such as printed matters, radio and television. During the pre-Islamic period of ignorance [yawm al-jāhiliyyah], this fact was conspicuously prevalent among the Arabs because they used to give ample importance to eloquence, fluency and beauty of speech. For this reason, one of the significant forms of the miracle of the Quran is its eloquence and fluency; hence, poetry occupied a special place among the Arabs. As Yaqūbī says in this regard, The Arab people used to regard poetry as equal to knowledge and wisdom. If in a certain tribe a sagacious and ingenious poet emerged, his presence at the annual trade fairs and the Ḥajj ceremony and its assemblies would be provided so as for him to recite his poetry and be heard by other tribes and clans, and thus, his tribe would be proud of his poetry.
The Arab tribes used to refer to poetry in all their works. They would also express enmity through poetry; give example through poetry; give honor to one another through poetry; find fault with one another through poetry; and extol and eulogize one another through it.
After the event of Saqīfah and the overt formation of Shīism, Arabic poetry maintained its station and the Shīah made use of it in propagating their viewpoint regarding Imāmate and guardianship [wilāyah]. Poets who were upholding the wilāyah on the rightfulness of the Shīah school whose foundation was the rightfulness of the Commander of the Faithful Alī (a) over the caliphate recited poems and had pivotal role in the spread and propagation of Shīism. Notwithstanding his anti-Shīah tendency, Zubayr ibn Bakkār has mentioned some of these poems. Among these were the poems of Utbah ibn Abī Lahab which run as follows:

I did not imagine that they would take away the matter of caliphate from the Banū Hāshim and among whom from Abūl-Ḥasan (Alī)!
Is he not the first person to pray toward your qiblah and the most learned of people about the Quran and the Sunnah?
Was he not the last person to see the Prophet? And has he not been assistant of Jibraīl in bathing (for the dead) and enshrouding the Prophet?
Why do you not think about the difference between you and Alī? Among the people, no one possesses his good qualities.
What has been the reason behind their deviation from him? Make him aware of this fact as this loss is the greatest of losses.
The pure Imāms (a), who were also aware of the utility and influence of poetry, used to satisfactorily appreciate and honor Shīah poets. One day, Kumayt Asadī came to Imām al-Bāqir (a) and recited his elegy until he reached this couplet:

And the killed one among them in the land of Ṭaf has been abjectly and miserably abandoned by people.
Imām al-Bāqir (a) wept and said: O Kumayt! If we only had wealth we shall give it to you. Yet, I will tell you whatever the Messenger of Allah (a) said to Ḥassān ibn Thābit: So long as you defend us Ahl al-Bayt, you are confirmed by the Holy Spirit [rūḥ al-qudus].
Similarly, Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (a) used to say: O assembly of the Shīah! Teach the poems of Abdī to your children as he is with the religion of God.
For this reason, the truth-speaking Shīah poets were held in high esteem and regard by the Shīah and devotees of the Prophets

#7779;) descendants. As Ibn al-Mutazil has narrated, The people of Qum used to make it incumbent upon themselves to allocate fifty thousand dirhams for Dabal Khazāī, a Shīah poet.
As such, the Shīah poets were always subjected to persecution and harassment by the Umayyad and Abbāsid rulers. Due to the poems he has recited in praise of Banū Hāshim and the pains experienced by the progeny of the Prophet

#7779;), Kumayt ibn Zayd al-Asadī fell prey to the bigotry of the Umayyads and was imprisoned. Because of poems he had recited in acknowledging Muḥammad Nafs az-Zakiyyah, Sadīf ibn Maymūn earned the tirade of the Abbāsid caliph Manṣūr and by the caliphs order, Abd aṣ-Ṣamad ibn Alī, the then governor of Medina, buried Ṣadīf alive.
Ibrahim ibn Hurmah was also one of the silver-tongued Shīah poets who composed beautiful poems in praise of the Ahl al-Bayt (a). When he entered the court of the Abbāsid caliph Manṣūr, Manṣūr spoke to him harshly and said: After this, if you would recite poems which we do not accept, I will kill you.
Nonetheless, the self-sacrificing poets such as Dubal paid less attention to these threats. Dubal used to say, For fifty years, I have been carrying a gallows but I cannot find anyone who would hang me in it.

The Shīah Poets Till the End of Minor Occultation [ghaybah aṣ-ṣughrā]
As indicated earlier, from the very first few days after the event of Saqīfah, there were those among the truth-speaking poets who defended the school of Shīism through their eloquent tongues. During the rule of the Commander of the Faithful (a) and at the Battle of Jamal and the Battle of Ṣiffīn, apart from the poets of Iraq who were among the followers of Alī (a), many of the companions of the Holy Prophet (S)such as Ammār ibn Yāsir, Khuzaymah ibn Thābit, Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī, Abd Allāh ibn al-Abbās, and others recited poetry in defending the right of the Commander of the Faithful (a). During the Umayyad period, some poets had also kept their attachment to the progeny of the Prophet

#7779;). During the Umayyad period compared to the Abbāsid period, however, there were fewer poets who were present on the scene because during that period an extreme atmosphere of strangulation was prevalent in the Shīah community. As Abūl-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī says, The preceding poets of the Umayyad period recited fewer poems in lamentation for Imām al-Ḥusayn (a). When Kumayt al-Asadī recited the poetry in praise of Banū Hāshim [hāshimiyyāt], Abd Allāh ibn Muāwiyah who was one of the descendants of Jafar ibn Abī Ṭālib aṭ-Ṭayyār addressed the Banū Hāshim, saying: O Banū Hāshim! At the time when the people refrained from expressing your superiority, this Kumayt recited poetry for you and risked his live vis--vis the Umayyads. The same poetry was the cause of the trouble that Kumayt endured.
Prior to him, Farazdaq was also sent to the Umayyad prison because of his eulogy to Imām as-Sajjād (a).
During the Abbāsid period, sensitivity toward the truth-speaking poets was also strong, but since the Shīah community had expanded then, less control was exerted against them compared to that of the Umayyad period. When the Abbāsids gradually became weak, more poets were present on the scene for defending the school of Shīism. As Dr. Shawkī Ḍayf says, During the second Abbāsid period, more Shīah poems were recited, and the Shīah poets during that period were of two groups: Alawī poets and non-Alawī poets.
Meanwhile, scholars and notables such as Ibn Shahr Āshūb, Alī Khān Shīrāzī and the late Allāmah Amīnī have written about the numbers of Shīah poets. Yet, the most comprehensive work in this regard is by Sayyid Muḥsin Amīn who has counted the number of Shīah poets according to their year of death up to 329 AH, i.e. the end of the minor occultation [ghaybah aṣ-ṣughrā].

The Leading Shīah Poets
In every period, some renowned and famous Shīah poets were the vanguards of Shīah poetry and thawed themselves in the guardianship [wilāyah] of and love for the progeny of the Prophet

#7779;). Among these poets were Kumayt ibn Zayd al-Asadī, Kuthayyir Azzah, Farazdaq and Sayyid Ḥumayrī during the Umayyad period. As Ibn Abd Rabbih says, Kumayt and Kuthayyir were among the staunch and extreme Shīah. The son of Kumayt, Mustahil, says: At the time of death, the last time that he opened his eyes, Kumayt said three times, Allāhumma āl Muḥammad. Ibn Mutaz has said: Sayyid Ḥumayrī expressed in poetry all the famous virtues of Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (a). Abūl-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī also says, The poems of Sayyid Ḥumayri are mostly in praise of Banū Hāshim and reproach to their enemies. Two thousand three hundred odes in praise of Banū Hāshim have been reported from him. For this reason, Sayyid Ḥumayrī occupied a lofty station among the Shīah and there was a special seat for him in Masjid al-Kūfah.
During the first Abbāsid period, the two great silver-tongued and eloquent Shīah poets were Manṣūr Namrī and Dabal al-Khazāī. Hārūn ar-Rashīd issued Namrīs execution order but he was not found when still alive. Dr. Muṣṭafā Shakah says regarding Dabal: Dabal used to praise the Household of the Holy Prophet (S)describing them in his poems in such a manner that as if they were part of his family. He used to harass the Umayyads and the Abbāsids, and if they would intimidate him, he would say, For fifty years, I have been carrying a gallows but I cannot find anyone who would hang me in it.
Concerning this, Dr. Shawqī Ḍayf thus says: During the second Abbāsid period, Shīah poems had been much recited some of which had been recited by Alawī poets while others had been recited by other Shīah poets. Among the most prominent Alawī poets during that period were Muḥammad ibn Ṣāliḥ al-Alawī al-Ḥummānī and Muḥammad ibn Alī from among the descendants of Abbās ibn Alī. During the reign of Mutawakkīl, this Muḥammad ibn Alī used to take pride in his forefathers and reflect the Shīah views in his poems.

Poetry in the past occupied a special place and apart from its literary dimension, it had been considered the most significant means of propaganda.
After the event in Saqīfah, the Shīah made use of poetry in spreading their viewpoint concerning the Imamate, and the poets played a key role in strengthening and spreading Shīism.
The pure Imāms (a) who were completely aware of the use and influence of poetry appreciated and acknowledged the Shīah poets satisfactorily. Meanwhile, on account of the impact of their words, the Shīah poets had always been subjected to persecution and harassment by the hostile Umayyad and Abbāsid rulers.
During the rule of the Commander of the Faithful (a) and in the Battle of Jamal and the Battle of Ṣiffīn, apart from Iraqis, many of the companions of the Holy Prophet (S)had also recited poems in defense of the right of Alī (a). On account of the intense atmosphere of strangulation during the Umayyad period, however, less number of poets had kept on expressing their attachment to the progeny of the Prophet

During the first Abbāsid period, the same condition was prevalent, but during the second period, more Shīah poets were present on the scene due to the weakening of the caliphate. The most comprehensive work on the number of the Shīah poets has been done by the late Sayyid Muḥsin Amīn.

1. What was the station of poetry among the Arabs?
2. After the event of Saqīfah, what service did the Shīah poets offer?
3. How was the pure Imāms (a) treatment of the Shīah poets?
4. How did the hostile Umayyad and Abbāsid rulers deal with the Shīah poets?
5. Which of the scholars has performed the best computation of the number of Shīah poets?
6. Who were the leading Shīah poets during the Umayyad period?
7. Who were the leading Shīah poets during the first and second Abbāsid periods?

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