A Translation and Commentary on the Epic Ode of Sayyid al-Himyari for Imam Ali (as)

Before you lies our humble endeavor to translate the legendary panegyric by al-Sayyid al-Ḥimyarī (may God have mercy on his soul; 105-173 AH): his famous al-Qaṣīdah al-‘Ayniyyah regarding the Pond of Kawthar and the Wilāyah of Imam ‘Alī (as). We have also addended copious commentary derived from the great scholar al-‘Allāmah al-Fāḍil al-Hindī’s “The Effulgent Pearls: In Commentary on the Himyarite Panegyric” (al-La’ālī al-‘Abqariyyah fī Sharḥ al-‘Ayniyyah al-Ḥimyariyyah). This poem has achieved widespread fame among the Shī’ah and has been beautifully rendered into modern day compositions by many great Arab poets and eulogizers.[1] It is unique in that it is one of the only poems that has been specifically narrated and extolled in our aḥādīth collections.[2]

Al-Ḥimyarī was well-known for his copious poetry, most of which was in the praise of the Ahlulbayt. His Hāshimiyyāt (poems in praise of Banī Hāshim) exceed two thousand in number. It is said that in all of Arab history he is regarded as one of the most prolific poets, along with Bashār ibn Burd and Abū al-‘Atāhiyah. His poetry is highly regarded by critics of Arabic literature to the extent that even his own contemporary Bashār ibn Burd, himself stated, “If it were not for the fact that this man has taken upon himself extolling Banī Hāshim, I would also have done so; he has indeed sufficed for this. However, had he followed me in my style of poetry, he would certainly have overcome me due to his skill.”

Al-Sayyid took pride in composing poetry on the numerous virtues of al-Imām ‘Alī (as) and it was famously regarded that there was not a virtue of the Imām except that he had crystallized it into a poem. Al-Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (as) would insist on giving him monetary gifts for his defense of the Ahlulbayt however al-Ḥimyarī would often refuse, stating that his only intention with his praises was to seek proximity to Allāh. Al-Ḥimyarī reached such a station that al-Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (as) is reported to have said: “Your mother named you Sayyid and you have succeeded in being worthy of this title. You are indeed the Master of Poets.”[3]

We would also briefly like to introduce the commentator on this poem whom we have extensively referenced in the footnotes of our translation. Al-Shaykh Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan ibn Muḥammad al-Iṣfahānī (may God have mercy on his soul), also known as al-Fāḍil al-Hindī, was born in 1062 AH in Iṣfahān. He was recognized as a child prodigy and became a jurist (mujtahid) before he had even attained maturity (bulūgh) at the tender age of twelve. In addition to being a stunning authority in jurisprudence, he was recognized for his proficiency in theology, philosophy, grammar, and rhetoric. While he was still a child, he traveled with his father to India for business; he had reached such a peak of intellectual authority that he was able to debate with the scholars in the court of Aurangzeb and outsmart all of them. He stayed in India for many years before eventually moving back to Iṣfahān, where he spent the rest of his life. His magnum opus entitled “Uncovering the Veils on Religious Edicts” (Kashf al-Lithām ‘An Qawā’id al-Aḥkām) was a commentary on ‘Allāmah Ḥillī’s work in jurisprudence and was responsible for instituting a complete paradigm shift in the field.[4] He wrote his masterpiece commentary on the poem of al-Sayyid al-Ḥimyarī at the young age of twenty-eight. For those who can read his original works in Arabic, the genius of this illustrious scholar is abundantly clear. We are therefore extremely honored to summarize his observations on this poem as footnotes in the following translation.

لام عمرو باللوى مربع

Amid twisting dunes, Umm ‘Amr has a residence

طامسة أعلامه بلقع

Erased are its runes, devoid of all residents[5]

تروح عنه الطير وحشية

The birds take flight at its desolation

والأسد من خيفته تفزع

While lions retreat from its trepidation[6]

برسم دار ما بها مؤنس

At the trace of a lodge, of lodgers dislodged

إلا صلال في الثرى وقع

Excepting snakes in its soil, well-lodged:

رقش يخاف الموت من نفثها

So vibrant that even death fears their kiss

والسم في أنيابها منقع

Their poison rings in the fangs of their hiss[7]

لما وقفن العيس في رسمها

When my camels did tarry upon those remnants

والعين من عرفانه تدمع

My eyes overflowed in their reminiscence

ذكرت من قد كنت ألهو به

I recalled one with whom I often had reveled

فبت والقلب شج موجع

Such that all through the night, my heart was disheveled

كأن بالنار لما شفني

As though my core by a fire was stricken

من حب أروى كبدي تلذع

In love for Arwa, as such I was smitten![8]

عجبت من قوم أتوا أحمدا

I wonder at a folk who to Aḥmad brought

بخطبة ليس لها موضع

Speech that was not of wisdom wrought

قالوا له: لو شئت أعلمتنا

They said: “If you wish, then to us do pray tell

إلى من الغاية والمفزع

To whom is your standard—with whom should we dwell

إذا توفيت وفارقتنا

When us you depart and your soul is raised?”

وفيهم في الملك من يطمع

While stood among them those who power craved![9]

فقال: لو أعلمتكم مفزعا

He said, “Had I named for you whom to hold

كنتم عسيتم فيه أن تصنعوا

Perchance you would follow that selfsame mold

صنيع أهل العجل إذ فارقوا

Of those folk that bowed to a calf that was golden

هارون فالترك له أودع

When they belied Aaron—nay to veil I’m behoven!”

وفي الذي قال بيان لمن

But in what he said there was no opacity

كان إذا يعقل أو يسمع

For he who takes heed or shows sagacity[10]

ثم أتته بعد ذا عزمة

But then came to him that holy decree

من ربه ليس لها مدفع

From his Lord, at which none can ever flee

أبلغ وإلا لم تكن مبلغا

“Deliver! Lest you fall short in His message

والله منهم عاصم يمنع

And God will protect and defend you from wreckage!”[11]

فعندها قام النبي الذي

Right then and there, that Prophet then rose

كان بما يأمره يصدع

For God’s commands he did always disclose

يخطب مأمورا وفي كفه

He spoke by God’s order, clasped in his palm

كف علي ظاهرا تلمع

Was that palm of ‘Alī, manifestly shone

رافعها أكرم بكف الذي

How awesome those palms of the raiser and raised

يرفع والكف الذي يرفع

In nobility paired, transcending all praise

يقول والاملاك من حوله

Then he said—while angels round him surrounded

والله فيهم شاهد يسمع

While God was his witness in what he resounded:

من كنت مولاه فهذا له

“Whoever to whom as his Mawlā I’m meant

مولى فلم يرضوا ولم يقنعوا

Then ‘Alī is his Mawlā”—yet they’re still not content![12]

فاتهموه وحنت منهم

Instead they accused him with utter dismay

على خلاف الصادق الأضلع

Against that most honest, their hearts went astray!

وضل قوم غاظهم فعله

While another folk bore at his action such spite

كأنما آنافهم تجدع

Their noses cut off by their own rancor’s height![13]

حتى إذا واروه في قبره

Till in his grave his body they planted

وانصرفوا عن دفنه ضيعوا

Departing his tomb—then they recanted:[14]

ما قال بالأمس وأوصى به

All he had said before and related

واشتروا الضر بما ينفع

And profit for abject harm they thus traded![15]

وقطعوا أرحامه بعده

And they ravaged his kin upon his demise

فسوف يجزون بما قطعوا

How soon will they earn their ravage’s prize

وأزمعوا غدرا بمولاهم

Their Mawlā they strived by such to betray

تبا لما كان به أزمعوا

So woe be to them and on what they array![16]

لا هم عليه يردوا حوضه

At his Hawḍ they hold not from him a concession

غدا ولا هو فيهم يشفع

And he will not grant them of his intercession[17]

حوض له ما بين صنعا إلى

Yes his is the Ḥawḍ that exceeds in its spread

أيلة والعرض به أوسع

From San’ā to Aylah of this earthly tread[18]

ينصب فيه علم للهدى

Then ‘Alam al-Hudā will rise midst the creation

والحوض من ماء له مترع

While his water that Ḥawḍ fills to saturation[19]

يفيض من رحمته كوثر

Its Kawthar from the mercy of God thus rushes

أبيض كالفضة أو أنصع

Its water like silver, yet even more lustrous[20]

حصاه ياقوت ومرجانة

Its pebbles do glisten, of ruby and pearl:

ولؤلؤ لم تجنه إصبع

Never plucked by a mortal, and blazing coral

بطحاؤه مسك وحافاته

Its bank is pure musk while its river-valleys:

يهتز منها مونق مربع

Fecund in their foliage, swaying in rallies:

أخضر ما دون الورى ناضر

Verdant in color, emerald, brilliant

وفاقع أصفر أو أنصع

And saffron yellow, yet further radiant![21]

فيه أباريق وقدحانه

In its midst lie goblets and various wares

يذب عنها الرجل الأصلع

Defended by a man with scanty hairs[22]

يذب عنها ابن أبي طالب

Yes the son of Abū Tālib guards those vessels

ذبا كجربا إبل شرع

Its drink from mangy camels he wrestles[23]

والعطر والريحان أنواعه

With perfumes and flowers of all variations

زاك وقد هبت به زعزع

Fragrant, diffused by the wind’s emanations:

ريح من الجنة مأمورة

A heavenly breeze Divinely sprouting

ذاهبة ليس لها مرجع

Perpetually flowing, never rerouting[24]

إذا دنوا منه لكي يشربوا

When ill-folk approach its bank to drink:

قيل لهم: تبا لكم فارجعوا

“Betide you be woe! Retreat to the brink!

دونكم فالتمسوا منهلا

Seek for yourselves some other fount

يرويكم أو مطعما يشبع

To quench your thirst and your hunger discount[25]

هذا لمن والى بني أحمد

Nay this is reserved for Banū Aḥmad’s lovers

ولم يكن غيرهم يتبع

Who followed them solely, without any druthers!”[26]

فالفوز للشارب من حوضه

Yes the one who sips from that Pond is the victor

والويل والذل لمن يمنع

And wretched and damned is he who is hindered!

والناس يوم الحشر راياتهم

Mankind on that day will have five divisions

خمس فمنها هالك أربع

Four of which will be doomed to perdition:[27]

فراية العجل وفرعونها

The banner of Pharaoh and the golden calf

وسامري الأمة المشنع

And this nation’s Sāmirī, ugly in craft![28]

وراية يقدمها أدلم

And a banner led by a blackest menace

عبد لئيم لكع أكوع

A hobbling slave, wretched and zealous;[29]

وراية يقدمها حبتر

And another assigned to a dangerous fox

للزور والبهتان قد أبدعوا

Slander and lies being what he concocts;[30]

وراية يقدمها نعثل

And then a hyena who carries the fourth

لا برد الله له مضجع

May his tomb with relief never pour forth;[31]

أربعة في سقر أودعوا

Into Saqar—this quartet—God will admit

ليس لها من قعرها مطلع

Into those throes of its bottomless pit![32]

وراية يقدمها حيدر

And a final banner that Ḥaydar holds high

ووجهه كالشمس إذ تطلع

His face with the Sun in its radiance vies

غدا يلاقي المصطفى حيدر

Both Ḥaydar and Muṣṭafā unite on that day

وراية الحمد له ترفع

While the flag of Ḥamd above all does sway[33]

مولى له الجنة مأمورة

Yes ‘Ali is the Mawlā that Heaven obeys

والنار من إجلاله تفزع

While his might repels the Hell-fire’s blaze[34]

إمام صدق وله شيعة

The Imam of Truth, and his Shī’ah are such:

يرووا من الحوض ولم يمنعوا

They drink from his Ḥawḍ, however much

بذاك جاء الوحي من ربنا

With this did descend our Lord’s revelation

يا شيعة الحق فلا تجزعوا

Oh Shī’ah of truth! So grieve not in your station![35]

الحميري مادحكم لم يزل

In your praises al-Ḥimyarī will never cease

ولو يقطع إصبع إصبع

Though he be pulverized, piece-to-piece[36]

وبعدها صلوا على المصطفى

So on Muṣṭafā send all your salutation

وصنوه حيدرة الأصلع

And on Ḥaydar his brother, the purest creation![37]


[1]  For instance, see the following links: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lRMnamnsy8U and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UWHvf1UPWk

[2] Biḥār al-Anwār, volume 47, page 328

[3] Rijāl al-Kashshī, page 288

[4] Please see the following link: http://wiki.ahlolbait.com/%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%B6%D9%84_%D9%87%D9%86%D8%AF%DB%8C

[5] As was the custom in Arabic poetry of that time, al-Ḥimyarī starts his poem with the literary device of tashbīb (rhapsody), whereby he laments the ruination of the home and departure of his lover, who is named in the opening line as Umm ‘Amr. In Arabic poetry, Umm ‘Amr is a common pseudonym to reflect the object of the poet’s love and passion. In this case, al-Hindī deems it possible that the Umm ‘Amr refers to the source of life or religion and the “residence” (marba’) refers to the terrain of khilāfah which has been abandoned due people’s deviation. The twisted dunes (al-liwā) are a reference to the desert lands of Makkah and Madīnah.

[6] To emphasize the degree of desolation of that terrain, al-Ḥimyarī employs hyperbole (al-mubālaghah), stating that even wild birds and lions are forced to migrate away from it. Al-Hindī notes that the reference to birds could allude to angels while the lions could be the Imāms themselves, who have been forcibly driven away from this terrain due to its usurpation.

[7] The multi-colored venomous snakes are a reference to the usurpers of the khilāfah, who disguise themselves with the outer manifestations of the sharī’ah in order to beguile others. They lodge themselves in ambush of the believers, seeking to drive them to annihilation; al-Ḥimyarī further emphasizes their satanic tricks by likening them to poison which is so deadly even death itself fears its evil.

[8] In these lines, the speaker laments that his beloved Arwa has been driven away from her rightful station and he only has her memories to relish. Arwa in Arabic can either be a female proper name or a “mountain goat.” Al-Hindī interprets Arwa in these lines as referring to the Imams of the Ahlulbayt—euphemistically personified here as the true beloved of the speaker. Al-Hindī notes that due to the loftiness of the Imams’ station, the double meaning of mountain goat is apt.

[9] The speaker is astonished at those who approached the Prophet asking him to clarify his successor. This is because the Qur’ānic proofs and Prophetic statements already clearly alluded to Imām ‘Alī being his successor, at least for those who had wisdom. Al-Ḥimyarī notes here that their insistence for a clear appointment stemmed from the fact that they were desirous of power.

[10] The Prophet, as a lisān al-ḥāl (circumstantial speech), is noted to say that if he were to clarify his successor explicitly for them, he is afraid that they will deviate like the Banī Isrā’īl did. This statement is derived from many riwāyāt that we have that equate Imām ‘Alī to Aaron and his detractors as proverbial worshippers of the golden calf. Due to the people’s dislike for Imām ‘Alī, the Prophet then deems it safer to keep silent about his appointment so as to not stir tension and to avoid damning those who would flagrantly disobey his commands; this is especially because his implicit statements were already enough to guide those who were insightful.

[11] This is a reference to the verse of the Qur’ān, Surah Mā’idah verse 67, known as Ayah al-Tablīgh, which reads, “O Messenger! Convey that which has been sent down unto you from your Lord, and if you do not, you will not have conveyed His message. And God will protect you from mankind. Surely God does not guide the disbelieving people.”

[12] This is a summary of the incident of Ghadīr Khumm in which the Prophet was commanded to explicitly declare Imām ‘Alī as his successor per the Qur’ānic injunction (al-Mā’idah: 67). Another Qur’anic reference is in the Prophet’s always rushing to promulgate God’s commands (al-Ḥijr: 97). We have chosen to transliterate the term Mawlā here as it carries many meanings that are hard to render into English, including “master,” “successor,” “friend,” and “guardian.” The fact that the Prophet equated his wilāyah with that of Imām ‘Alī is seen as the biggest contextual clue that the meaning here is successor.

[13] Al-Ḥimyarī notes that people were not content with this appointment, citing perceived favoritism and their hate for Imam ‘Alī in his absolute justice and his slaying of their polytheist relatives. They opposed “that most honest” Prophet (al-Ṣādiq) and their hearts deviated. Their jealousy reached a point whereby they “cut off their own noses,” a metaphor used in Arabic to describe the epitome of latent hatred. It also is used to allude to the loss of all personal integrity and righteousness in those who hated the Imām.

[14] Al-Hindī notes that there are no riwāyāt to substantiate that the companions played any role in the Prophet’s burial (aside from Imām ‘Alī), but perhaps the meaning here is that after the Prophet was buried by those who buried him, it was only then that the fitnah and bay’ah at Saqīfah occurred.

[15] This is a reference to the fact that they sold the guidance (al-hudā) for aberrance (al-ḍalālah), an allusion to al-Baqarah: 16.

[16] Their mawlā being a reference to Imām ‘Ali and the way they backtracked from acknowledging his rightful position to the khilāfah. The reference to them cutting off his kin refers to the manner in which they deprived Lady Fāṭimah of her rightful inheritance of Fadak and violated the sanctity of her home with their assault.

[17] The ḥawḍ (or the “lake-fount”) is a special watering-ground on the Day of Judgement mentioned in both Sunni and Shī’a ḥadīth as belonging to the Prophet. The righteous among the believers are said to drink from its water while some of the Prophet’s own so-called companions will be turned away due to the deviations they concocted after his demise.

[18] As mentioned in many prophetic ḥadīths, the dimensions of the Prophet’s ḥawḍ are square and each side is the distance between Ṣan’ā’ in Yemen to Aylah in Syria (approximately 2000km).

[19] ‘Alam al-Hudā (the emblem of guidance) is one of the well-established titles of the Holy Prophet.

[20] As the ḥadīth on this topic note, the river Kawthar in Heaven flows into the ḥawḍ of the Prophet on the Day of Judgement. The river Kawthar is also the Prophet’s exclusive property as mentioned in Surah Kawthar: 1. Per the ḥadīth regarding its description, its waters are white like milk and sweeter than honey.

[21] The descriptions that al-Ḥimyarī uses here are all accurately derived from the ḥadīth that describe the qualities of the river Kawthar in Heaven.

[22] The “man of scanty hairs” (al-aṣla’)  is a reference to Imām ‘Alī as derived from some ḥadīth. Referring to these traditions, al-Hindī notes that the Imām was slightly balded at his forelock due to his frequently wearing his iron helmet in battle. There are some historians however who have disputed this physical description, however, stating that al-aṣla’ is actually a reference to the Imam being “devoid of the gruesome hairs of idolatry.”

[23] This is a reference to the numerous ḥadīth in which Imām ‘Alī is identified as the one who will ward off the enemies from drinking from the ḥawḍ of the Prophet. The metaphor used in these ḥadīth as well as here in the poem is that of someone trying to ward off and limit the contagion of camels suffering from mange, a parasitic mite disease. In other words, the Imām defends the lake-front of the Prophet from those diseased hearts who are not worthy of drinking from its spring.

[24] As noted in the ḥadīth, the breeze of Heaven perpetually flows. Al-Hindī notes two reasons that al-Ḥimyarī states it does not change direction. Firstly, because it never disobeys God’s command and secondly because Heaven is so expansive that the winds can continue in one direction to eternity.

[25] The waters of the ḥawḍ are identified in the ḥadīth as such that they satisfy both one’s appetite and thirst.

[26] The Banū Aḥmad (children of Ahmad) referred to in this line are the Imāms of Ahlulbayt.

[27] This is a reference to numerous Shi’ī ḥadīth that state that there will be five banners on the Day of Judgement.

[28] Al-Hindī points out the allusion in these lines that the Muslim nation followed the same historical precedent as Banī Isrā’īl, as noted in both Shī’ī and Sunnī hadith. In a detailed analysis of the ḥadīth on this topic, al-Hindī identifies the golden calf and Pharaoh are references to the First Caliph, who became the object of people’s emulation the same way that the people of Mūsā turned to idol worship. Sāmirī is equated to the Second Caliph, who duped the people into accepting the golden calf. He also notes some ḥadīth which state that the Pharaoh is Mu’āwiyah ibn Abī Sufyān.

[29] Al-Hindī identifies the black menace in these lines as a reference to Ziyād ibn Sumayyah, the half-brother of Mu’āwiyah whose son was ‘Ubaydullāh ibn Ziyād, the killer of Imam al-Ḥusayn.

[30] Al-Hindī notes that the sly fox (al-ḥabtar) mentioned in these lines is an allusion to Abū Mūsā al-Ash’arī, who was always reluctant to support Imām ‘Alī and relented the khilāfah to Mu’āwiyah in the arbitration after Siffīn.

[31] The hyena (al-na’thal) mentioned in these lines is a reference to the Third Caliph.

[32] Saqar is a valley in hell which is reserved for the arrogant; it is also mentioned in the Qur’ān in Sūrah Muddaththir: 26-30.

[33] This is a reference to a special flag that the Prophet will carry on the Day of Judgement, known as the banner of praise (liwā al-ḥamd), as mentioned in both Shī’ī and Sunnī ḥadīth.

[34] A reference to the numerous ḥadīth stating that Imām ‘Alī is the divider between heaven and hell and they both obey his will.

[35] The revelation noted in this line refers to the numerous Prophetic ḥadīth that state that the followers of ‘Ali in the hereafter are the victorious ones.

[36] Al-Ḥimyarī identifies himself at the conclusion of his epic poem to eternalize his name as the author of the poem.

[37] He concludes his lines in a traditional fashion of ordering the believers to send ṣalawāt on the Prophet, a loose reference to Sūrah al-Aḥzāb: 56. The term “purest creation” is a rendering of the Arabic al-aṣla’, which as noted previously can refer to either “one with scanty hair” or “the immaculate one.” The latter translation was used in this rendering.