The Poet as Exegete: An Analysis of a Panegyric for the Ahl al-Bayt by al-Sayyid al-Ḥimyarī

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August 4, 2019

Mehreen Zahra Jiwan is a Fellow and Research Assistant at the Berkeley Institute for Islamic Studies. She is currently an MA student at the University of Toronto’s Department for the Study of Religion. She obtained her Honors BA in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations and Peace, Conflict & Justice Studies with the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.

Sayyid al-Himyari’s poetry is some of the most famous in the Arabic language. This article explores some of the theological concepts that could be extracted from one of his pieces.

 

Abstract

This article provides a detailed commentary on a poem attributed to al-Sayyid al-Ḥimyarī (d. between 173/789 and 179/795) in praise of the Ahl al-Bayt of Muḥammad. Through examining philological, aesthetic, and contextual elements of the piece, I argue that the exegetical nature of the poem acts as a site for theological and political arguments central to proto-Shīʿism. It may be useful to study the works of literary artists such as al-Ḥimyarī as poetic models for early Shīʿi hermeneutics. 

INTRODUCTION

Abū Hāshim Ismāʿīl b. Muḥammad b. Yazīd b. Rabīʿa b. Mufarrigh, known as al-Sayyid al-Ḥimyarī, grew up in Basra and died in Baghdad towards the end of the eighth century A.D. While it seems his parents belonged to the Ibāiyya[1], al-Sayyid al-Ḥimyarī adhered to the early doctrine of the Kaysāniyya, believing in the imamate of Muḥammad b. Ḥanafiyyah, his occultation, and his return as the Mahḍī. Many of his poems in praise of Ibn Ḥanafiyya attest to these Kaysānī leanings.[2] Medieval Twelver Shīʿī sources however, consider al-Sayyid al-Ḥimyarī to have later converted to proto-Imāmī Shīʿīsm and cite hagiographic reports of his conversion upon meeting Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq (d. 148/765).  The tajaʿfur (becoming a follower of al-Ṣādiq, and hence Jaʿfarī) poem[3] attributed to al-Ḥimyarī (although deemed to perhaps be anachronistic and old forgeries by modern adīth critics[4]) are considered proof of this widely held medieval and modern Twelver Shīʿī belief regarding al-Ḥimyarī’s religious identity.

Al-Ḥimyarī was a mudath[5] poet compared with those at the rank of Abu-l ʿAtāḥiyah and Bashshār b. Burd.[6] However, only 221 fragments or entire poems of his purported 2300 poems survived and were narrated through a number of individuals including four of his daughters.[7] The majority of al-Ḥimyarī’s later poems are in praise of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib and the Ahl al-Bayt[8] more generally. Many of these poems are replete with reproachful expressions and vilifications of the first three caliphs, certain wives of Muḥammad, and the Umayyads –all of whom are remembered as hostile to the Ahl al-Bayt in early and later Shīʿī works. According to Abū al-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī (d. shortly after 360/971), much of al-Ḥimyarī’s work was shunned at quite an early stage precisely due to these hostile elements as well as the overt praises of the Ahl al-Bayt and the Banū Hāshim.[9] 

COMMENTARY

The current study examines a poem in praise of the Ahl al-Bayt in Diwān al-Sayyid al-imyarī edited by Shākir Hadī Shakar.[10]  Shakar extracts this poly-thematic poem from various sections of Ibn Shahr Āshūb’s (d.588/1192) Manāqib Āl Abī-ālib[11] as well as more contemporary works such as Sayyid Muḥsin al-Amīn’s (d.1952) Aʿyān al-Shīʿa[12].

In the commentary that follows, I have divided each section of the poem thematically while making special note of aesthetic, philological, and contextual elements of this highly inter-textual piece. The poem has been composed in the standard Bar al-Kāmil (meter).

Lines 1-3: Manqaba account: Muammad’s miraculous prayer against ʿAlī b. Abī ālib’s enemy from Banī asās

1 And ask the tribe of Ḥasḥās: inform us about one whose arrow aimed at the successor, was in its bow ready to shoot.

2 Muṣṭafā prayed against him and his people with a praiseworthy prayer; the prayer of one who is supported (by God).

3 So his right hand became impaired as a punishment and he returned to his tribe with a blackened face.

I have been unable to locate a historical reference for this manqaba[13]. Ibn Shahrāshūb simply states that al-Ḥimyarī composed these lines to describe one of the many assassination attempts on ʿAlī’s life whilst Muḥammad was alive.[14] The editor has collected the fragments of this poem from various disconnected sections and therefore it is unclear as to whether there are lines missing between line 3 and line 4.

Lines 4-7: Verse of al-Nūr: Ahl al-Bayt and the blessed olive tree

4 From the offspring/pith of Adam a date palm was planted, standing tall in dignity.

* And he (Adam) became delighted with pride over the ‘pure/blessed of birth’

5 An olive tree rose that was neither cast to the East* nor was it Western in origin.

6 Its light continuously shines from its oil * Over smooth plains and over hard, solid rocks.

7 Its blazing lamp is Aḥmad and the one who* guides to the peak of the ascetic path (ʿAlī).

This section is framed around a parable in the twenty-fourth verse of Sūra al-Nūr (Chapter 35) in the Qurʾān. This verse has been given much attention in the early Shīʿī adīth corpus and has generally been interpreted as a parable for the Ahl al Bayt. This paper is not concerned with evaluating the historicity of this poem (as truly being composed by Al-Sayyid al-Ḥimyarī) or the aādīth attributed to al-Ṣādiq and al-Bāqir (d. 117/733) that explain this Qurʾānic parable. However, this poem’s inclusion in Ibn Shahrāshūb’s al-Manāqib indicates that by the twelfth century at the very latest, these lines of poetry were attributed to al-Ḥimyarī and were understood to be directly related to the well-established Twelver Shīʿī commentaries of the corresponding Qurʾānic verse.

Al-Ḥimyarī has taken a fragment of this parable, specifically employing the blessed olive tree as a mathal for Muḥammad’s family, the Ahl al-Bayt: “…It (the brilliant star) is lit by a blessed olive tree not of the East or the West.  The oil almost radiates with light even though fire has not touched it…” [15]According to various aādīth recorded in tenth-century Shīʿī works, al-Bāqir, al-Ṣādiq, and al-Riḍā (d. 203/818) attribute the blessed olive tree to Prophet Ibrāhim (understood in the tradition as Muḥammad’s forefather) and/or ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (d.40/661).[16] Being neither from the East nor the West has also been explained in a number of ways in the Shīʿī adīth tradition. However, particularly pertinent to this study is the neither East nor West understood as ʿAlī not having an unknown lineage and not having a questionable birth (was not born out of wedlock).[17] In the abyāt above, al-Ḥimyarī seems to be drawing on this image from the Qurʾān and perhaps the aādīth attributing it to ʿAlī and his pure lineage. This example of tamīn or iqtibās[18] uses the Qurʾānic parable of the blessed olive tree (zaytūna) as a figure for a pure, honourable lineage, which confers many benefits and produces much fruit (offspring)[19] to praise the Ahl al-Bayt. This comparison is made clear in the phrase ‘sulālati Ādam’ since sulāla refers both to the pith (of a plant) and offspring. By attributing sulāla to Ādam, it is clear that the tree imagery in the lines that follow describes the Ahl al Bayt as Ādam’s honorable offspring.

In line 5, there is a certain ambiguity in the description of the olive tree such that we might assume al-Ḥimyarī is intentionally producing a tawriya[20] that is not completely solved until line 7. The verb alaʿa denotes both the meaning of a plant growing out or sprouting and the rising of the sun/moon. On the surface, the first hemistich of line 5 describes the growth of the olive tree. However, in what follows, the olive tree is not cast to the East nor is it Western in origin – as the rising (from the West) and setting (towards the East) of the sun. At the same time, the Eastern and Western references could be elaborating on the īb al-mawlid in line 4. In this case, the olive tree image reiterates the tafsīr discussed above, in which ʿAlī or the Ahl al-Bayt more generally (as the olive tree) was ‘born’ without unknown or merely attributive lineage (mutidī).

In line 6, the olive tree and its oil (both of which are referenced in the Qurʾānic verse) are continuously radiating, as does the Sun. The ibāq[21] produced by pairing suūla with umm al-jalmadī communicates the endless and encompassing extent to which the light shines by combining opposites or two extremes; the light of the olive tree shines over everything. It might also be possible that this relates to the fact that olives grow on top of the flat areas of mountains tops this is only a tentative hypothesis as I have not gathered enough evidence for such a reading.

The final line of this section (line 7) begins with an example of iqtibās, wherein al-Ḥimyarī directly quotes a verse in the Qurʾān to describe the sun as sirājan wahhāja[22] (an intensely blazing lamp/fire). This Qurʾānic reference to the sun is juxtaposed with the next section of the original verse that al-Ḥimyarī is drawing on. In the Qurʾānic verse, the oil of the lamp radiates with light even though fire has not touched it[23]; it is, in its very nature, the source of light. Al-Ḥimyarī reproduces this message but uses sirājuha al-wahhāju (the olive tree’s blazing lamp or the sun which is the source of its light) as a substitute for al-nār (fire) in the verse. This lamp however is not the Sun or a flame, but rather Aḥmad (Muḥammad) and ʿAlī (who is often identified as the iconic ascetic in the Islamic tradition).  This is where the tamthīl[24] discussed thus far embeds a tashbīh[25] within it that in fact solves the tawriya produced by the olive tree and sun imagery. The olive tree is the Ahl al-Bayt, which is lit by Muḥammad and ʿAlī (the blazing lamp), who are the ‘fathers’ of the Twelver Shīʿī Imāms (According the Islamic tradition, Muḥammad’s daughter Fāṭima married ʿAlī and the Imams descended from their offspring). Muḥammad and ʿAlī are thus a singular light (the singular blazing lamp) which may plausibly also be a reference to the Nūr Muammadī[26] trope in early Shīʿī sources that describe Muḥammad and ʿAlī being created as one light.

There are a number of comparisons in this section:

  • sharqiyya/gharbiyya: to point to the pure origins of the tree (Ahl al-Bayt), who are not from a ‘Sun’, but rather Muḥammad
  • suhūl/umm al-jalmadī: the vastness and extent to which the light of the tree (Ahl al-Bayt) is known, is praised, and guides?
  • nakhīl/zaytūna: *I have not found a satisfactory explanation for this comparison as of yet.*
  • Ādam/Amad: This entire section is framed with the pairing of two proper nouns Ādam, who is the first human and prophet and thus appears at the beginning of the section and Aḥmad, (a name of Muḥammad) who is the last prophet and appears at the end.

The use of iqtibās to directly cite the nouns used in the Qurʾānic verse (sharqiyyah, gharbiyyah, nūr, zaytūna, and zayt,) and sentence structure (lā sharqiyyatan wa lā gharbiyya) works inter-textually. The poem constructs a number of metaphors to refer to a single verse, which is itself, a tamthīl in the Qurʾān. These references simultaneously force a specific Qurʾānic interpretation of the poem, and a Shīʿī interpretation (mediated through the poem) of the Qurʾān. Al-Ḥimyarī could be arguing that the Ahl al-Bayt reveal the meaning of the Qurʾān whilst the Qurʾān reveals the merits of the Ahl al-Bayt and considers the poem to be the site of this reciprocity. As such, the poem enters a dialogic space with the Qurʾān and the Shīʿī exegetical tradition (based on aādīth from the Shīʿī Imāms). The figurative exchange between the images in this section is thus supported by bringing these three genres (Qurʾān, adīth, and Poetry) into the same line, or even the same word. In doing so, the poem achieves a certain hermeneutic force that reinforces the proto-Shīʿī loyalty to the Ahl al-Bayt through tafsīr. This style of argumentation continues throughout this poem and many of al-Ḥimyarī’s other poems and forms (even if loosely) a motif within and across early Shīʿī panegyrics entrenched in bringing the Qurʾān and adīth traditions into conversation with one another.

Lines 8-9: Takhallus

8 If you connect with the rope of Muḥammad’s progeny, * then extend from yourself the rope of love and seek (to connect with)

9 the purifier of the purified fathers* who attained exaltedness and noble traits that never deplete.

These two lines seem to serve as a takhallu[27] shifting from the olive tree in the previous section towards the series of extolments of the Ahl al-Bayt in the next section. This is expressly marked by the iltifā[28]; that is, the shift from the third person to the second person using the conditional sentence (idhā…fā + fiʿl al-amr).  However in order to make this transition, the exegetical exercise in the previous section continues, again forming a tamīn of sorts with three verses from the Qurʾān understood in the early Shīʿī tradition to refer specifically to the Ahl al-Bayt of Muḥammad.

  • Regarding abl (rope): The early Shīʿī tradition attributes aādīth to al-Bāqir and al-Ṣādiq wherein the command to hold fast to the rope of Allāh in the Qurʾān[29] is explained as a command to hold fast to ʿAlī and the progeny of Muḥ[30]
  • Regarding mawadda (love): This is likely a reference to the Āyat al-Mawadda[31] commanding the believers to have love exclusively for Muḥammad’s qurba (close relatives) as recompense for him guiding them.
  • Regarding muahhir and mutahharīn (purifier and purified): This is a reference to the verse of Tahīr (Indeed Allāh wills only to keep any impurity away from you, the Ahl al Bayt and to purify you with a thorough purification ‘wa yuahhirhum tahīrā’)[32]

These two lines are crafted in a way that cleverly adopts the exhortative tone of the ablillāh verse (3:103) and the verse of Mawadda. It seems that the ablillāh verse acts as a skeleton that forms the general model of these lines whereby the command to hold fast to the rope of God is reflected in connecting with the rope of Āl Muammad in the first hemistich of line 8 (perhaps here forming an iāfa bayāniyya; explaining that the rope is Āl Muammad).  In the second hemistich of line 8, the command to extend and increase the rope of love continues into the next bayt where the object of the love is the ‘muahhir’ of the muahhirīn. This is likely an explicit reference to the verse of tahīr in which Allāh is the ʿil of ‘yuahhir’[33] and is therefore referred to as al-Muahhir in the poem. In other words, the lines seem to be communicating that if one connects to the Ahl al-Bayt, then s/he will reach and increase in their love for al-Muahhir (Allāh) because the Ahl al-Bayt are the rope of Allāh (i.e. al-Muahhir).” This is yet another instance of the overt exegetical project underpinning this poem. The Qurʾānic verses, which are all understood in relation to the Ahl al-Bayt, are interpreting each other.

Line 9 introduces the lyrical section that follows (lines 10-14) through the introduction of the Ahl al-Bayt as Muahharīn; the first of a number of positive titles which all bear the majrūr case by virtue of the shared preposition ‘li’ with Muahharīn. The end of line 9 speaks of the Ahl al-Bayt’s unending (lam tanfadi) noble and exalted traits, reiterating perhaps in the form of a muābaqa, the ‘azdadī’ ending in line 8. The ‘lam tanfadi’ ending also semantically ushers in the following section which flows like an unending string of extolments both in its sonorous quality and internal rhyme scheme as will be discussed next.

Lines 10-14: Noble Characteristics of the Imāms of the Ahl al-Bayt

10 (the purifier of) The people of piety, the owners of deep understanding, the ones imbued with * exaltedness, and the ones who speak based on the traditions (directly) transmitted (from Muammad).

11 (the purifier of) The ones who fast, the ones who stand firm (in prayer?), the obedient to God, the ones who are above all others, * the children of astute thought and prestige.

12 (the purifier of) The ones who perform rukūʿ, the ones who prostrate, the ones who praise God, * the foremost in (leading) the mosque’s prayers.

13 (the purifier of) The renders and menders (rulers[34]), the devout pilgrims, * the worshipers of their God with intense love.

14 (the purifier of) The granters, the defenders, the powerful, * the victorious over the extremely jealous.

In line 10, ahl, dhawī, and ūlī function synonymously with each other to attribute the adjectives (which also share an internal rhyme) to the Ahl al-Bayt in a way that highlights their exclusive ownership of these qualities. The second hemistich begins the pattern, which governs the rest of the lines in this section. In each bayt, four titles are listed in the same ism al-fāʿil form of the wazn faʿala thereby creating the same internal rhyme. With the exception of line 11, the ending of the last hemistich in each bayt is the mafʿūl bihi for the closest ʿil mentioned in the line. For example in line 13, the Ahl al-Bayt are al-ʿābidīn (worshipers) of their Lord (Ilāhahum) with intense love. The mumāthala, achieved with the consistent wazn throughout in these lines keeps them stylistically connected and coherent. This repetition, with no other semantic material between each ism al-fāʿil, makes the lines flow quite easily and conveys the sense of continuity and ‘unending’ merit introduced in the takhallu. At the same time, it places emphasis on the ending of each bayt, which maintain the qāfiya or rhyme of the poem, but sharply cut off each line and distinguish the highly resembling abyāt from each other within this set.

It is also worth noting that use of muābaqa is also evident in the types of adjectives used and they way they are paired together. Characteristics of humility (al-rākiʿīn, al-sājidīn in line 12) and worship (al-āʾimīn in line 11, al-āmidīn in line 12, al-sāʾiīn in line 13) are placed in close proximity and also contrasted with those of power, superiority, and dominion, many of which are considered in the Islamic tradition to be names of Allāh (i.e.; al-Qāʾim in line 11, al-Fātiq, al-Rātiq in line 13, al-Wahhāb, al-Māniʿ, al-Qādir, al-Qāhir in line 14).  This juxtaposition and comparison presents an ideal of the Ahl al-Bayt as manifestations of God’s characteristics whilst still being His slaves. This image of the Ahl al-Bayt is ubiquitous in the Shīʿī adīth tradition, including texts attributed to the proto-Shīʿī community. Therefore, these lines might be formulating an implicit theological argument about the Shīʿī understanding of the Ahl al-Bayt and their relationship with God and the rest of creation.

Lines 15-18: Paradisiacal Wedding of Fāima b. Muammad and ʿAlī b. Abī ālib

15 The Sublime (God) erected a pulpit for Jibrāʾīl * under the shade of Ṭūbā which sprung from grounds of peridot.

As per Shakar’s notes, these lines describe the wedding of Fāṭima b. Muḥammad (d.11/632) and ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib in Paradise.[35] God ordered Jibrāʾīl to erect a pulpit from which he recited marriage sermon. Yet another tree is introduced in the poem. In this case, the paradisiacal tree of ūbā seems to occupy a central role in the wedding narrative. Al-Ḥimyarī describes the pure origins/lineage of the Ahl al-Bayt (perhaps the twelve Imāms) by narrating the union of Fāṭima and ʿAlī; the parents of Ḥasan and Ḥusayn, the latter from whom the Twelver Shīʿa consider the nine Imams to have descended.

The intended meaning from mutūni zabarjadi is unclear. Mutūn may refer to the middle of a road or the surface of the ground.[36]

16 The noble angels and their Lord were all present (as witnesses) * and they and their Lord are sufficient as witnesses.

The first hemistich in this bayt continues as an iqtibās referring to the same aīth about the wedding of Fāṭima and ʿAlī being referred in the lines above. According to this tradition, the witnesses of the sacred union were all of the angels of the heavens and earths (wa-l-shuhūdu malāʾikatu al-samāwāti wa-l araīn).[37] The second hemistich is another iqtibās that incorporates a Qurʾānic verse “Wa kafā billāhi shahīdā[38] and employs its same sentence structure.  These two hemstitches are tightly connected through the repetition of sh-h-d at the beginning and end of the bayt (radd al-aʿjāz ʿalā mā taqaddamahā[39]). In the first hemistich the initial verb ‘shahida’ begins the reference to the wedding adīth while in the second hemistich, the ending ‘shuhhadi’ connects the adīth reference to the Qurʾānic verse to the adīth. These rhetorical devices imbue the poem with an exegetical function, connecting the adīth tradition about the merits of the Ahl al-Bayt to the meaning of the Qurʾān.

17 And Ṭūbā shed down upon them pearls * and emeralds one after the other in numbers that cannot be counted on fingers.

As Shakar notes, this line is also forming an iqtibās by directly citing the same wedding adīth, which states that the tree of ūbā was ordered to shed white crystals, red rubies, green emeralds, and fresh pearls upon the inhabitants of Paradise.[40] The jewel imagery to describe the luxuries of paradise is a tope across Islamic traditions.

18 There was no like for the wedding[41] of Fātima * in the Tihāma lowlands of the East nor in the uplands of the Najd.

Line 18 serves as a takhallu by concluding the paradisiac wedding descriptions and summarizing the message of the lines that precede it. Clearly, the wedding is unmatched in every way. This message is conveyed through the contrast of two opposite (ibāq) geographic regions and topographies. Mutham and Munjad (both ism al-mafʿūl) describe the direction in which one travels from these places. Najd quite literally however means elevated land or uplands, which is why the region to the East of the Hijāz is known as the Najd for its mountainous topography. Tihāma is literally hot, arid land that lowers into the sea, and is thus the name of the Western coastlands of the Arabian Peninsula.[42] On this level, the reader gets the general sense that there is nothing on earth, from the East to the West, from the uplands to the lowlands, that match the wedding thus far described.

However on a second level, this takhallu reorients the reader from a paradisiac wedding to the earthly one that took place in Medina. According to al-Ṭurayḥī’s sources, (the city of) Medina is neither in Tihāma nor in the Najd (lā Tihāmiyya wa lā Najdiyya),[43] which echoes (and consequently establishes a sense of continuity with) the lā sharqiyyatan wa lā gharbiyyah reference in line 5.  With this in mind, in the second hemistich of line 18, ‘mut-him sharqan wa lā fī munjadi’ can be substituted with “al-Medina”. In this case, the entire bayt would read, “And the wedding of Fātima which had no like (was) in Medina.” By creating this tawriya, the wedding of Fāṭima and ʿAlī becomes situated in a historical moment, thereby shifting the setting of the poem from a very abstract, out-of-time-and-place event, to a very specific temporal and geographic one. This shift not only concludes the paradisiac wedding, but also introduces the remaining lines of the poem, which concern the event of mubāhala (mutual imprecation).[44] According to the Islamic historical tradition, this event took place in Medina.[45] By linking the city of Fāṭima’s earthly wedding to the city in which the mubāhala took place, al-Ḥimyarī transitions the reader into the next section of the poem in an ever- so- delicate way (by not explicitly mentioning the proper noun Medina).

Lines 19-22: The event of Mubāhila (3:61)

19 In the morning, the group of Christian dignitaries hastened to leave after insisting insolently on their questions. * As did the arrogant one entangle himself in his own dilemma

20 When he said, return with your sons * and your women so that we can pray for God’s curse (against the liars) tomorrow.

21 So the Prophet came with Fāṭima, and her guardian (ʿAlī) * and Ḥusayn and Ḥasan, the one of noble station.

This section describes the event of mubāhala mentioned in the Qurʾān[46] in which a delegation of forty Christians from Najrān came to Medina to debate with Muḥammad. The subject of the debate was about Jesus being the Son of God. During the debate, the leader of the delegation named Asqaf[47] decided to call a mubāhala in which both parties would bring themselves, their women, and their children to pray to God asking Him to destroy the liars. According the Islamic tradition, Muḥammad brought his daughter Fāṭima as his women, his grandsons; Ḥasan and Ḥusayn as his sons, and ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib as himself. Upon witnessing the glory of Muḥammad’s family, the Christian delegation backed out of the imprecation in fear of being destroyed.[48]

The fact that ʿAlī is the only one who is not mentioned by name in line 21, but rather as Fāṭima’s Walī (guardian) is significant here. Perhaps al-Ḥimyarī is trying to reproduce the verse of mubāhala, which is understood in the Islamic tradition to describe ʿAlī as the nafs of Muḥammad. Interestingly, ʿAlī is never mentioned explicitly in this poem. In line 1 he is al-Wai, in line 7 he is the guide to the ascetic path, and here in line 21, he is the Walī of Fāṭima.  These descriptions are again making an argument about ʿAlī’s leadership or imamate that was central to proto-Shīʿī identity. Al-Ḥimyarī effectively rejects any possible doubt about ʿAlī ’s position by naming him with titles that treat his succession of Muḥammad as the first Imam for the Muslims as a given fact.

22 Jibrīl was the sixth of them and how noble is the sixth! * And the best one chosen to witness the best of sights.

There exist a number of traditions about the Ahl al-Bayt being the Ahl al-Kisāʾ (the people of the cloak).[49] This is largely in relation to the aādīth about Muḥammad wrapping his family in a cloak and praying for them.  Some of these traditions suggest that this took place as Muḥammad brought his family to the Christian delegation for the mubāhala.[50] Others suggest that a similar event took place when Muḥammad’s family gathered under a Yemeni cloak in Umm Salama’s (one of his wives) house. In these traditions, Jibrāʾīl joins this group of five and makes them six.[51] The repetition of sādisa in this line and the related report about the cloak of mubāhala may support reading this line as a reference to these traditions of the Ahl al-Kisāʾ.

CONCLUSION

This commentary has examined the various sections of this poly-thematic poem and has identified a number of methods that al-Ḥimyarī uses to establish a sense of coherence across these sections. The entire poem articulates a certain ‘Shīʿī’ hermeneutics that relies on the Qurʾān and aādīth from the Imams as sources of knowledge and evidence for the ‘orthodoxy’ of Shīʿī loyalties to the Ahl al-Bayt. The poem is itself a site for the organization of this knowledge into theological and political arguments central to proto-Shīʿīsm and became definitive for Imāmī Shīʿīsm’s crystallization by the time of Ibn Shahr Āshūb.  By forcing the reader to engage in an exegetical activity throughout the poem, al-Ḥimyarī assumes that his audience is already familiar with the Qurʾān and the aādīth. It is also possible that the traditions, which he refers to through his extensive use of tamīn and iqtibās, had a ubiquitous presence in the circles that al-Ḥimyarī participated in.

A number of questions remain regarding the first three lines of this poem and its relation to the rest of the text. However as a closing remark, I suggest (although this is still very preliminary) that the entire poem is encased between two historical events that, although very different in content, have a similar proverbial nature. In the first three lines, Muḥammad’s prayer against the man from the Banī Ḥasḥās led to his arm being impaired and disgraced by his tribe. Similarly, the Christian delegation fled from the mubāhala because of the imminent doom they saw from becoming subject of Muḥammad’s curse. In short, the initial and final narratives of this poem explain the consequence of being opposed to Muḥammad, ʿAlī, and the rest of the Ahl al-Bayt. This is in itself praising the Ahl al-Bayt and their Shiʿa as those who are loyal to them would, based on the logic of these two sections, be safe from destruction.

Although we cannot ascertain if al-Ḥimyarī did indeed compose this poem, the fact that he is remembered by later scholars to author such a work is significant. Many early Shīʿī loyalists and students of the Imāms are remembered for the aādīth that they narrate in support of Shīʿī political and theological claims. It seems that this can be extended to personalities famed for their literary and artistic skills, whose productions may in some cases, serve as evidence for their own religious and political loyalties whilst articulating a poetic model for Shīʿī hermeneutics.


[1] The Ibāiyya are one of the main and oldest branches of the Khārijiyya.

  1. Lewicki, “al-Ibāḍiyya,” EI2, 2012.

[2] Wadad Kadi, “al-Sayyid al-Ḥimyarī, ” EI2, 2012.

[3] Segments from this poem are widely cited in early sources including al-Muʿtazz’ abaqāt al-Shuʿarāʾ, al-Nawbakhtī’s Firāq al-Shīʿa, Ibn Bābawayh’s Kamāl al-Dīn, al-Mufīd’s Al-Fuūl al-Mukhtārah, and Ibn Shahr Āshūb’s al-Manāqib.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Mudath, pl. mudathūn:  ‘Modern’ poets of the ‘Abbāsid period compared to the pre-Islamic and Umayyad Arabic poets. The most prominent characteristic of their poetry is the application of badīʿ, or complex metaphors and figures of speech to their poetry.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] People of the House, in the Shīʿī tradition, refers specifically to Muḥammad, ʿAlī  b. Abī Ṭālib, Fāṭima bint Muḥammad, Ḥasan b. ʿAlī , Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī , and the nine Imams who descend from Ḥusayn.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Shākir Hādī Shakar ed., Dīwān al-Sayyid al-imyarī (Qom: al-Maktaba al-Ḥaydariyya, n.d), 185-192.

[11] This is a multi-volume book on the merits of the fourteen infallibles; a category commonly used in the Shīʿī tradition to refer to Muḥammad, Fāṭima, and the twelve Imams.

Matthew Pierce, “Ibn Shahrāshūb,” EI THREE, 2018.

[12] This is a comprehensive dictionary of important Shīʿī personalities, most of whom are scholars.

[13] Manqaba, pl. manāqib: narratives that speak of an individual’s laudatory qualities. These are often hagiographical in nature.

[14] Shakar ed., Dīwān al-Sayyid al-imyarī, 186.

[15] Qurʾān 35:24.

[16] For a comprehensive survey of the aādīth in ninth and tenth-century sources that explain this verse, see al-Sayyid Hāshim al-Ḥusaynī al-Baḥrānī, Al-Burhān Fī Tafsīr al-Qurʾān, vol. 5, (Beirut: Muʾassasa al-al-ʿIlmī li-l Maṭbūʿāt, 2006), 385-393.

[17] Ibid., 390. Al-Baḥrāni cites from Tafsīr of ʿAlī b. Ibrāhīm al-Qummī (d. early fourth/tenth century).

[18] Tamīn: ‘inclusion’ or ‘enjambment’. This term is used for quoting or incorporating a line or section of another poet into the poem. Iqtibās generally refers to the same phenomena with regards to verses of the Qurʾān and aḥādīth.

[19] Penelope C. Johnstone and D.M. Varisco, “Zaytūn”, EI2, 2012.

[20] Tawriya: loosely understood as ‘double entendre’, often producing a riddle-like quality.

[21] ibāq/Muābaqa: ‘Antithesis’, the pairing of words of opposite or comparative meanings in a verse(s).

[22] Qurʾān 78:13.

[23] Qurʾān 35:24.

[24] Tamthīl: sentence-based similes or metaphors based on analogies.

[25] Tashbīh: simile, ‘explicit comparison’.

[26] U. Rubin “Nūr Muḥammadī”, EI2, 2012.

[27] Takhallu: the transition from one section of the polythematic qaṣidah to another section or theme.

[28] Iltifāt: reference-switching. This can take the form of switches in tense, number, gender, and case. In this context, I refer to switching personal references.

[29] Qurʾān 3:103.

[30] See al-Baḥrānī, al-Burhān, vol. 2, 83-87. He cites Tafsīr of ʿĀyyāshi (d.320/932-3), Tafsīr of al-Qummī (d. early fourth/tenth century), And Kitāb Al-Ghayba of al-Nuʿmānī (d.360/971), among other sources.

[31] Qurʾān 42:23.

[32] Qurʾān 33:33.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Hava notes that fātiq and rātiq are often placed together to describe supreme rule; J.G. Hava, Arabic English Dictionary for Advanced Learners: Al-Farāʾid al-Durayya (Chennai: Goodword Books, 2015), 240. Under r-t-q.

[35] Shakar ed., Dīwān al-Sayyid al-imyarī, 188-190.

[36] Hava, Arabic English Dictionary, 707. Under m-t-n.

[37] Shakar ed., Dīwān al-Sayyid al-imyarī, 188.

[38] Qurʾān 17:96.

[39] Radd al-aʿjāz ʿalā mā taqaddamahā or radd al-kalām ʿalā mā taqaddamahā: Epanalepsis, the repetition of words in different places within/across lines.

[40] Shakar ed., Dīwān al-Sayyid al-imyarī, 188.

[41] Al-Ṭurayḥi identifies milāk as “al-tazwīj wa-l ʿaqd al-nikā.”

Fakhr al-Dīn b. Muḥammad ʿAlī al-Ṭurayḥī (d. 1085/1674), Majmaʿ al-Barayn wa Malaʿ al-Nayyirayn, vol. 4, ed. Maḥmūd ʿĀdil (Cairo: Maktab al-Nashr al-Thiqāfiyya al-Islāmiyya, 1407/1986), 231.

[42] al-Ṭurayḥī (d. 1085/1674), Majmaʿ al-Barayn, vol. 2, 299.

[43] Ibid., vol. 4, 270.

[44] W. Schmucker, “mubāhala”, EI2, 2012.

[45] Irfan Shahîd “Nadjrān”, EI2, 2012

[46] Qurʾān 3:61.

[47] Shakar ed., Dīwān al-Sayyid al-imyarī, 191.

[48] Ibid.

[49] A.S. Tritton, “Ahl al-Kisāʾ”, EI2, 2012.

[50] W. Schmucker “mubāhala” EI2, 2012.

[51] Abu Jaʿfar b. Muḥammad Ibn Bābawayh al-Qummi (al-Ṣadūq), Kitāb al-Khiāl, ed. ʿAlī Akbar al-Ghafārī (Qum: al-Ḥawza al-ʿIlmiyya, 1983), 403.


 

Translation

1 Ask the tribe of Ḥasḥās: inform us about the one whose arrow, aimed at the Waṣī was in its bow ready to shoot.

2 Muṣtafā prayed against him and his people with a praiseworthy prayer; the prayer of one who is supported (by God).

3 So his right hand became impaired as a punishment and he returned to his tribe with a darkened face.

4 From the offspring of Adam a date palm was planted, standing high in dignity.

* And he (Adam) became delighted with pride over the ‘pure birth’.

5  An olive tree rose that was neither cast to the East* nor was it Western in origin.

6  Its light continuously shines from its oil * Over smooth plains and over hard, solid rocks.

7  Its blazing lamp is Aḥmad and the one who* guides to the peak of the ascetic path (is ʿAlī).

8 If you connect with the rope of the Muḥammad’s progeny, * then extend from yourself the rope of love and seek

9 the purifier of the purified fathers* who attained exaltedness and noble traits that never deplete.

10 (the purifier of) The people of piety, the owners of deep understanding, the ones imbued with * exaltedness, and the ones who speak based on the traditions (directly) transmitted (from Muḥammad).

11 (the purifier of) The ones who fast, the ones who stand firm, the obedient to God, the ones who are above all others, * the children of astute thought and prestige.

12 (the purifier of) The ones who bow, the ones who prostrate, the ones who praise God, * the foremost in (leading) the mosque’s prayers.

13 (the purifier of) The renders and menders, the devout pilgrims, * the worshippers of their God with intense love.

14 (the purifier of) The granters, the defenders, the powerful, * the victorious over the extremely envious.

15 The Sublime (God) erected a pulpit for Jibrāʾīl * under the shade of Ṭūbā which sprung from grounds of peridot.

16 The noble angels and their Lord were all present (as witnesses) * and they and their Lord are sufficient as witnesses.

17 And Ṭūbā shed down upon them pearls * and emeralds one after the other in numbers that cannot be counted on fingers.

18 There was no like for the wedding of Fātima * in the Tihāma lowlands of the East nor in the uplands of the Najd.

19 In the morning, the group of Christian dignitaries hastened to leave after insisting insolently on their questions. * As did the arrogant one entangle himself in his own dilemma

20 When he said, ‘return with your sons * and your women so that we can pray for God’s curse (against the liars) tomorrow.’

21 So the Prophet came with Fāṭima, and her guardian (ʿAlī) * and Ḥusayn and Ḥasan, the one of noble station.

22 Jibrīl was the sixth of them. How honored is the sixth! *(For he is) the best one chosen to witness the best of sights.


 

Arabic text

واسأل بني الحسحاس تخبر أنه

 … كاد الوصي برشق سهم مقصد

 فدعا عليه المصطفى في قومه

 … بدعاء محمود الدعاء مؤيد

 فتعطلت يمنى يديه عقوبة

 … وأتى عشيرته بوجه أسود

 غرست نخيل من سلالة آدم

 … شرفا فطاب بفخر طيب المولد

 زيتونة طلعت فلا شرقية

 … تلقى ولا غربية في المحتد

 ما زال يشرق نورها من زيتها

 … فوق السهول وفوق صم الجلمد

 وسراجها الوهاج أحمدو الذي

 … يهدي إلى نهج الطريق الأزهد

 وإذا وصلت بحبل آل محمد

 … حبل المودة منك فابلغ وازدد

 بمطهر لمطهرين أبوة

 … نالوا العلي ومكارما لم تنفد

 أهل التقى وذوي النهي وأولى العلي

 … والناطقين عن الحديث المسند

 الصائمين القائمين القانتين

 … الفائقين بني الحجى والسؤدد

 الراكعين الساجدين الحامدين

 … والسابقين إلى صلاة المسجد

 الفاتقين الراتقين السائحين

 … العابدين إلاههم بتودد

 الواهبين المانعين القادرين

 … القاهرين لحاسد متحسد

 نصب الجليل لجبرئيل منبرا

 … في ظل طوبى من متون زبرجد

 شهد الملائكة الكرام وربهم

 … وكفى بهم وبربهم من شهد

 وتناثرت طوبى عليهم لؤلؤا

 … وزمردا متتابعا لم يعقد

 وملاك فاطمة الذي ما مثله

 … في متهم شرقا ولا في منجد

 وبكرن علقمة النصارى إذ عتت

 … في عزها والباذخ المتعقد

 إذ قال كرر هاتم أبناءكم

 … ونساءكم حتى نباهل في غد

 فأتى النبي بفاطم ووليها

 … وحسين والحسن الكريم المصع

د جبريل سادسهم فأكرم سادس

 … وأخير منتجب لا فضل مشهد

2019-08-07T03:27:33-08:00
Topics: Imāmah,Poetry
Category: Theology

Mehreen Zahra Jiwan

Mehreen Zahra Jiwan is a Fellow and Research Assistant at the Berkeley Institute for Islamic Studies. She is currently an MA student at the University of Toronto’s Department for the Study of Religion. She obtained her Honors BA in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations and Peace, Conflict & Justice Studies with the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.
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