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Elegy-Recitation by the Shīah poets

Ghulam-Husayn Muharrami

Another important arena about which the Shīah poets have recited poetry and delivered speeches extensively is the commemoration of the tragedy experienced by the descendants of the Holy Prophet (S)and elegy-recitation for the martyrs among them. This arena came into being after the martyrdom of Imām al-Ḥusayn (a) in 61 AH. In this regard, two parts may be discussed and examined:

a. Elegies for Imām al-Ḥusayn (a) and the Other Martyrs in Karbalā
From the beginning of Islam, no tragedy more serious and painful than the event of Karbalā has happened in the history of Islam, and after the lapse of one thousand and four hundred years, it still has the greatest impact upon the hearts of the devotees of the Prophets (a) descendents. Since then, anyone who has the love of the Prophets

#7779;) Ahl al-Bayt and talent in composing poetry has recited poetry in this regard.
The pioneering poems pertaining to the event of Karbalā have been recited from the end of the first century AH and the commencement of the Umayyad decline. As Abūl-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī says, Many of the latter poets have recited poetry in mourning for Imām al-Ḥusayn (a) about which we do not tend to complain as we are fond of long speech. Yet, on account of the harshness of the Umayyads atmosphere of strangulation, the earlier poets during the Umayyad period have recited fewer elegies about the tribulation of Imām al-Ḥusayn (a).
For example, Ubayd Allāh ibn Ḥurr was chased by Ubayd Allāh ibn Ziyād for reciting elegy for Imām al-Ḥusayn (a) and was forced to flee. Of course, many poems have been composed during the first century AH about the tribulation of the Doyen of the Martyrs (a) though they are lesser in number compared to the quantity of poems that have been recited since the second century AH.
The bereaved women of Banū Hāshim were among the pioneering people who have recited elegies in lamentation of their lost loved ones. When the news of the martyrdom of Imām al-Ḥusayn (a) reached Medina, Zaynab bint Aqīl came out wailing amidst the women of Banū Hāshim while reciting the following poem:

What shall you say in reply to the Prophet when he will ask from you, O the latter ones of the ummah! What have you done?
[What did you do] with my descendants and Household after I passed away? Half of them were taken as captives while the other half was weltered in blood.
It was not my reward for my admonition to you that you would do the worst treatment to my nearest of kin.
Among the most heartrending elegies ever recited for the martyrs of Karbalā are the elegies of Umm al-Banīn, the mother of Ḥaḍrat Abūl-Faḍl. Abūl-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī has narrated that Umm al-Banīn was holding the hand of Ubayd Allāh, son of Ḥaḍrat al-Abbās and going to the Baqī Cemetery while the people of Medina were gathering around her and weeping because of her elegies. Even an enemy such as Marwān ibn al-Ḥakam used to weep with of her elegies. Umm al-Banīn was thus saying:

I wished I saw (with my own eyes) how Abbās was assaulting the groups of vile people!
Behind him were the sons of Ḥaydar (Imām Alī (a)) standing like lions.
I have been informed that his hands have been amputated while his head has received a blow.
Woe to my son whose head has received a strong blow!
If your sword were in your hand, no one could have ever come near you.
When the caravan of the captives of Karbalā was heading toward Medina and arrived near the city, Imām Zayn al-Ābidīn (a) dispatched Bashīr ibn Jadhlam to Medina ahead of them, and Bashīr informed the people of their arrival in the city through this poem:

O people of Yathrib! No more opportunity for you to stay there. Ḥusayn was killed; shed your tears.
His corpse has been weltering in blood in Karbalā and his head is placed on top of spear.
Khālid ibn Madān, Uqbah ibn Amrū, Abūr-Ramīḥ al-Khazāī, Sulaymān ibn Quttah al-Adawī, Awf ibn Abd Allāh Aḥmar al-Azdī, and Ubayd Allāh ibn Ḥurr were among the elegists of the first century AH who have recited poetry about the tribulation of Imām al-Ḥusayn (a). It has been narrated that when Khālid ibn Madān saw in Shām the Imāms head on top of the spear, he recited this poem:

O son of the daughter of Muḥammad! They have made your head weltering in blood.
O son of the daughter of Muḥammad! By overtly killing you, as if they wanted to take revenge from the Prophet!
They have killed you while thirsty and they have not observed the interpretation and injunction of the Quran about killing.
And that they have killed you, they are uttering Allāhu akbar [Allah is the greatest] while uttering Allāhu akbar, they have also killed your companions!
Among the first poets to have recited poetry in lamentation for Imām al-Ḥusayn (a) is Ubayd Allāh in Ḥurr whose ode starts with the following couplet:

The treacherous chief, son of a traitor asks [me]: Did you not fight against the martyr, the son of Fāṭimah?
When Ibn Ziyād heard this poem, he chased Ubayd Allāh who immediately rode on a horse and escaped, thus saving his life.
Sulaymān ibn Quttah al-Adawī has been one of the most prominent elegists for the tribulation of Imām al-Ḥusayn (a). The following poem is attributed to him:

I roamed around the house of Muḥammads progeny and I saw them not fully occupied as before.
They were the House of hope and later became the House of tribulationgrave and serious tribulations.
Can you not see that due to the loss of Ḥusayn the sun turned lackluster and the cities melancholic?!
Can you not see that owing to the loss of Ḥusayn the sky has wept and wailed and its stars lamented and invoked salutations?
But after the end of the first century AH when the repression of the Umayyad rulers diminished because of their confrontation with the Abbāsid movement and other revolts and were finally defeated by the Abbāsids, the pure Imāms (a) revived the recitation of elegies for Imām al-Ḥusayn (a) and great poets such as Kumayt al-Asadī, Sayyid Ḥumayrī, Sufyān ibn Muṣab Abdī, Manṣūr Namrī, and Dabal al-Khazāī used to recite poetry in their presence for the tribulation of Imām al-Ḥusayn (a). As Sufyān ibn Muṣab Abdī narrates, I visited Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (a) and the Imām said to his attendant, Tell Umm Farwah to come and listen to what happened to his (great) grandfather. Umm Farwah came and sat behind a curtain. Then, Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (a) said to me: You recite. I started reciting an elegy which commences with this couplet:

O Umm Farwah! Render tears to your eyes.
At this point, Umm Farwah and other ladies burst into tears.
Abūl-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī also narrates from Ismāīl at-Tamīmī, thus: I was with Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (a) when Sayyid Ḥamayrī asked for permission and entered. The Imām asked the members of his household to sit behind a curtain. He then asked Sayyid Ḥumayri to recite poetry in lamentation for Imām al-Ḥusayn (a). Sayyid recited this poem:

You pass by the grave of Ḥusayn and tell to his pure bones: O bones! Be always sound and glutted.
As you pass by his grave, make a long stopover as the camels do.
Let the pure [muṭahhar] Imām weep for the pure Ḥusayn.
Your cry must be like the cry and lamentation of the mother of a dead son.
The narrator says, I saw the tears of the Imām fall on his cheek and weeping reigned in the house.
Sometimes also others such as Faḍīl Rasān and Abū Hārūn Makfūf would recite the poems of Sayyid Ḥumayrī in lamentation for Imām al-Ḥusayn (a) near Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (a) and make the Imām cry. As reported by Ibn Qawlawiyyah, Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (a) asked one of his companions named Abū Ammār to recite for him the poems of Abdī in lamentation for Imām al-Ḥusayn (a).
Poet such as Dabal al-Khazāī who recited many poems in lamentation for Imām al-Ḥusayn (a) also engaged in reciting elegies near Imām ar-Riḍā (a) for his great grandfather.

b. Elegies for the Other Martyrs among the Descendants of the Holy Prophet (S)
As a deeply touched Shīah poet is witnessing the scene of martyrdom of Muslim ibn Aqīl and Hānī ibn Urwah, he recites this poem and this poem is thereafter recited by many:

If you do not know what is meant by death, look at Ibn Aqīl and Hānī at the market.
His (Ibn Aqīls) face was heroically cut into pieces by swords while the other one (Hānī) was thrown from the top (of palace) and was killed.
By the order of the emir, this happened to them on this day and the news about them was relayed by the travelers.
You can see a corpse whose color has been changed by death and every part of which has been weltering in blood.
Will the names of Mahāyij be in safety? This is while the tribe of Madhḥaj is about to be punished.
While reciting a long elegy in lamentation for the martyrs of the Tawābūn [the Penitents], a certain poet named Ashā Ḥamdān thus says:

From that direction, soldiers rushed toward Ibn Ziyād.
O the best of Iraqi army! You filled every gutter for rainwater.
The Shīah poets also used to recite poetry in mourning for Zayd ibn Alī, his son Yaḥyā, and the descendants of Imām al-Ḥasan (a) who staged uprisings during the Abbāsid period and attained martyrdom.
The poets such Alī ibn Abd Allāh al-Khawāfī, Mashī Madanī, Ashja ibn Amrū Salmī, and Abū Ṭālib al-Qummī have also recited poetry in mourning for Imām ar-Riḍā (a).
But after Imām al-Ḥusayn (a), among the murdered descendants of Abū Ṭālib, the greatest number of elegies has been recited in mourning for Yaḥyā ibn Umar aṭ-Ṭālibī. He staged an uprising in 248 AH and was killed by Muḥammad ibn Abd Allāh ibn Ṭāhir. Masūdī says, People from near and far recited elegies for him while young and old wept for him.
Abūl-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī says, Of all the descendants of Abū Ṭālib killed during the Abbāsid period, I do not find anyone about whom poems and elegies have been recited as much as what has been done to Yaḥyā ibn Umar aṭ-Ṭālibī.

4. The Virtues and Merits of the Descendants of the Holy Prophet (S)
Since the second century AH, the Shīah poets used to recite poetry more about the virtues and merits of the Commander of the Faithful (a), and in this manner, engaging in the information drive and spread of the school of Shīism whose basic foundation is the succession and Imamate of Alī (a). The great poets such as Kumayt al-Asadī, Ḥumayrī, Sufyān ibn Muṣab Abdī, and Dabal al-Khazāī were forerunners in this affair.
Sayyid Ḥumayri spent his time expressing the merits of the Commander of the Faithful, and he was one of the prominent preachers of the school of Ahl al-Bayt (a) during his time. As narrated by Abūl-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī, he recited two thousand three hundred odes in praise of Banū Hāshim, while none of his poems has been devoid of praise for Banū Hāshim and reproach for their enemies. Abūl-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī has also said that in Kūfah, Sayyid Ḥumayrī used to go to the house of Sulaymān ibn Mihrān known as Amash from whom he would learn about and write the virtues of the Commander of the Faithful Alī (a), and thereafter, he would express them in poetry.
Ibn Mutaz says, Sayyid Ḥumayrī has transformed into poetry all the virtues of Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (a) and he would easily become tired sitting at any assembly where the progeny of Muḥammad was not pleasantly mentioned. For example, someone has thus narrated: We were sitting beside Amrū ibn Alā when Sayyid Ḥumayrī came. And we were then busy talking about common affairs such as farming and date palms. Sayyid stood up as he wanted to go. When we asked for the reason why he wanted to leave, he gave this reply to us:

I abhor sitting at an assembly in which none of the virtues of the progeny of Muḥammād is ever mentioned.
Any assembly in which there is no mention of Aḥmad, his successor and his offspring is a worthless assembly.
Anyone who shall not mention them in the assembly shall leave that assembly without gaining any benefit.
Similarly, one day, one of the chiefs of Kūfah gave a horse and a gift to Sayyid Ḥumayrī. He mounted the horse and took the gift, and went to the working place of Kūfah. He then addressed the Shīah, saying: O Kūfans! If anyone could mention any of the virtues of Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib about which I have not expressed in poetry yet, I shall give this horse and gift to him.
People from every direction would mention each of the superiorities of the Commander of the Faithful (a) and in return he would recite the poem he composed about it. Finally, someone said: One day, Alī (a) wanted to wear his shoes and go out. He had already worn one pair of his shoes when an eagle came, picked up the other pair of shoes and brought it up. But it suddenly abandoned as a black snake went out of the shoe and entered into a ground hole. Alī (a) then wore the other pair of his shoes.
At this point, Sayyid Ḥumayrī thought for sometime and then said, I have not composed a poem about it so far. As such, he gave the horse and the gift to the man, and recited the following poem:

Be aware O people that there is a miracle in the shoe of Abūl-Ḥasan.
One of the hostile jinns among the imprudent and strayed from the path Hid in the shoe of Alī himself so as to bite him with its fangs So as to bite the one who rides on four-footed animalsthe Commander of the Faithful, Abū Turāb.
At that moment, one of the eagles of the sky or a bird that looks like an eagle descended upon his head.
In this manner, its (the hostile jinns) venom and wickedness were warded off.
Sufyān ibn Muṣab Abdī is among the poets who have spent their time in mentioning the merits of the Commander of the Faithful (a). Allāmah Amīnī says, thus: I never found any poem of his that was in praise of other than the progeny of Muḥammad

He used to learn the ḥadīths about the merits and virtues of the progeny of the Holy Prophet (S)from Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (a) and immediately composed pertinent poems. For this reason, Ibn Shahr Āshūb narrates that Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (a) says, O assembly of the Shīah! Teach the poetry of Abdī to your children as he is with the religion of God.

5. The Demerits of the Enemies of the Prophets

#7779;) Descendants
One of the ways of fighting the enemies is propaganda war, which is tremendously rampant today through the mass media. In the past, the demerits of the enemies in the context of poetry also had a very significant propaganda impact.
In defending the school of Shīism, the Shīah poets used to also deal with the demerits of the enemies of Ahl al-Bayt (a). At any opportune time, they could destroy an enemy and break his back through some couplets. Persons such as Muāwiyah, Walīd ibn Uqbah and Amr ibn al-Āṣ who were enemies of God and the Messenger

#7779;) have been dispraised many times by the poets of Banū Hāshim, and the supporters and poets of the Commander of the Faithful (a). Without revealing his name and thus be pursued by the Umayyads, a certain poet has soothed the hearts of the Shīah by dispraising Yazīd after his death by saying, thus:

O grave which is in ḥawārīn! The worst of all people is in your bosom.
One of the best satires about the Umayyads is a poem which has been recited by Kumayt ibn Zayd al-Asadī concerning them:

Tell the Umayyads wherever they are, if you are afraid of sword and scourge.
May God make him hungry he who has satiated you and satiate him he who has remained hungry because of your tyranny.
With the pleasant Hāshimī policy, there shall be the spring of life for the ummah.
Dr. Shawqī Ḍayf says: The Shīah in Iraq, Khurāsān and Ḥijāz used to transmit to one another the poems of Kumayt. For this reason, the Umayyads and their governor in Iraq, Yūsuf ibn Umar ath-Thaqafi, felt seriously threatened by Kumayt.
Abūl-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī has thus said about Kumayt: Kumayt al-Asadī, the great Shīah poet during the Umayyad period of repression would not hesitate to reply in whatever form to the poets inimical to Alī (a), affiliated to the Umayyads and were reciting poetry against the descendants of the Prophet

#7779;). For example, a certain poet named Ḥakīm ibn al-Abbās al-Kalbī who was considered one of the Qaḥṭānīs had dispraised Alī (a). Kumayt seriously assaulted him and in his poems he placed Ḥakīm vis--vis the notables of Quraysh and Adnānīs. In this way, Kumayt dispraised and defeated him.
Sometimes also, without divulging their names, poets used to reply to the court poets, dispraising and crushing them. For example, Saīd ibn Ḥamīd who was one of the enemies of the Commander of the Faithful (a) and the descendants of the Holy Prophet (S)during the rule of Mustaīn had been humiliated by the Shīah poets on various occasions.
On the same period, a certain poet named Alī ibn Jahm who had been one of the Nāṣibīs and enemies of the Commander of the Faithful (a) has been dispraised by the Shīah poet, Alī ibn Muḥammad ibn Jafar al-Alawī. He had rejected the genealogy of Alī ibn Jahm, regarding him connected to Sāmah ibn Lawī.
In dispraising Ibn Ziyād, Abūl-Aswad Daūlī has said:

Out of agony and anguish I am saying that may God destroy the dominion of the offspring of Ziyād!
And cause them to perish for their deceit and treason just as the people of Thamūd and Ād have been ruined!
Sayyid Ḥumayrī has humiliated one of the Abbāsid judges who had dismissed his testimony on account of his faith in Shīism, and he has said:

Your father steals the sheep of the Prophet while you are maternal grandchild of Abū Jaḥdar!
And notwithstanding your whim, we shall abandon the people of misguidance and deviation.
Abū Nuāmah Daqīqī al-Kūfī, one of the poets during the third century AH, had dispraised the notables of the Abbāsid rule, attributing to them the commission of abominable acts until such time that he had been killed by one of the Abbāsid Turkish commanders named Mufallaḥ.

3. One of the most important areas about which the Shīah poets have recited poetry was the elegy-recitation for the martyrs of the progeny of the Prophet

#7779;). This area can be divided into two parts:

a. Elegies for Imām al-Ḥusayn
The first persons to have recited poetry in mourning for the martyrs of Karbalā were the bereaved women of the Banū Hāshim.
Among them was Lady Umm al-Banīn, the mother of Ḥaḍrat Abūl-Faḍl. He used to recite elegies for her sons at the Baqī Cemetery while the people of Medina gathered around her and wept. Due to the Umayyad policy of repression, the elegists of the martyrs of Karbalā were lesser in number during the Umayyad period compared to that of the Abbāsid period except during the time of Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (a) when the condition was conducive for the Imām to revive the elegy for Imām al-Ḥusayn (a).

b. Elegies for the martyrs among the descendants of the Prophet

The descendants of the Holy Prophet (S)were oppressed and have always been killed by the tyrants. Poets used to recite poems in lamentation for them. Next to the martyrs of Karbalā, among the offspring of Abū Ṭālib, the most number of poems has been recited in mourning for Yaḥyā ibn Umar aṭ-Ṭālibī.

4. The merits and virtues of the descendants of the Prophet

The poets such as Farazdaq, Kumayt, Sayyid Ḥumayrī, and Dabal al-Khazāī used to recite poetry to express the virtues of the descendants of the Prophet


5. Dispraising the enemies of the descendants of the Prophet

Shīah poets used to engage in dispraising the enemies of Ahl al-Bayt (a) in defending the school of Shīism.

1. When did the recitation of elegies start?
2. Who were the poets who recited poetry regarding the event of Karbalā?
3. After the end of the first century AH, how did the elegies for Imām al-Ḥusayn (a) flourish?
4. Next to Imām al-Ḥusayn (a), about whom among the murdered offspring of Abū Ṭālib were so many elegies recited?
5. How did the Shīah poets benefit from the use of dispraising?

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