Ibn Abi al-Hadid’s Ode for Imam Husayn (as)

Below we have translated a famous eulogy composed by the Mu’tazilite Shāfi’ī commentator of Nahj al-Balāghah, ‘Abd al-Ḥamīd ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd (d. 586-656 AH), regarding Imām Ḥusayn (as) and the tragedy of Karbalā’.[1] As usual, for the advanced readers we have appended some detailed footnotes regarding points in Arabic eloquence that escape translation.


ولقد بكيت لقتل آل محمد


I weep on the murder of Muḥammad’s progeny

بالطف حتى كل عضو مدمع


On Karbala’s plains, with tears of ferocity![2]

عقرت بنات الأعوجية هل درت


May the mares of those steeds be desolated,

ما يستباح بها وماذا يصنع


Did they not know whom they had desecrated?![3]

وحريم آل محمد بين العدا


Muhammad’s house by the foe is faced—

نهب تقاسمه اللئام الوضع


Booty spread midst the abject and debased:[4]

تلك الظعائن كالاماء متى تسق


Women of howdahs as slaves are paraded

يعنف بهن وبالسياط تقنع


Manhandled, by cracks of whips pervaded;[5]

فمصفد في قيده لايفتدى


There’s a shackled one without bail, chained

وكريمة تسبى وقرط ينزع


Then earrings snatched—and a duchess, detained![6]

تالله لا أنسى الحسين وشلوه


By God, I swear I forget not Ḥusayn:

تحت السنابك بالعراء موزع


His flesh under hooves, dispersed on the plain,

متلفعاً حمر الثياب وفي غدٍ


In garments of blood he is donned, what sorrow—

بالخضر من فردوسه يتلفع


But of gleaming green, adorned in the morrow![7]

تطأ السنابك صدره وجبينه


Galloping hooves trample brow and marrow—

والأرض ترجف خيفةً وتضعضع


Casting on earth beneath such a harrow;

والشمس ناشرة الذوائب ثاكل


Bereaved, the Sun its tresses unfurled,

والدهر مشقوق الرداء مقنع


And Destiny‘s head in its ripped dress furled;[8]

لهفي على تلك الدماء تراق في


Such is my grief for blood so spilled:

ايدي طغاة أمية وتضيع


By Umayyad tyrants, still warm and unchilled![9]


[1] This eulogy is in fact an excerpt of one of the famous ‘Alawiyyāt of ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd, an ode which he wrote in praise of Imām ‘Alī (as). This poem has been inscribed into the shrine of Imām ‘Alī (as) and our translation of it can be found here: https://iqraonline.net/the-legendary-ode-inscribed-into-the-golden-cage-of-imam-ali-as/

[2] More literally, “I wept until every organ was soaked with tears.” The word madma’ is termed in Arabic al-maṣdar al-mīmī and may signify either the place where tears originate or the place where they flow. The word ‘uḍw carries the connotation of an external limb, but also may imply an internal organ. By leveraging these semantically expansive words, the poet skillfully hyperbolizes by making every part of his being participate in the lamentation for Imam Husayn (as).

[3] Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd casts an imprecation (al-la’n) on the horses that trampled the holy body of Imam Ḥusayn (as), praying for the infertility of their progeny. These horses belonged to the a’wajiyyāt, a breed of ancient Arabian racehorses that were known for their exceptional fertility and strength. This is a very poignant hyperbolization (al-mubālaghah), as it necessitates by implication that the riders of those trampling horses were a fortiori worthy of damnation (al-awlawiyyah al-qaṭ’iyyah). The question at the end of this couplet is used to emphasize the magnitude of the crime committed (istifhām al-ta’ẓīm).

[4] More literally, “the sanctum (ḥarīm) of Muḥammad’s family.” This word implies one’s dependents who require safeguarding, specifically one’s women and children. There is a powerful antithesis (al-ṭibāq) between the words ḥarīm (sanctum) and nahb (booty). Those acquainted with Arabic will note that the latter part of the couplet employs two broken plurals to describe the perpetrators of these crimes: al-li’ām (“abject,” plural of al-la’īm) and al-wuḍḍa’ (“debased,” plural of al-waḍī’). Variation in the morphology of broken plurals adds further to the strength of the lampoon.

[5] There is another strong antithesis between the words al-ẓa’ā’in (elevated women of howdahs) and al-imā’ (bondswomen). The poet adds to the powerful imagery by utilizing the distal demonstrative “tilka” to allude to the sacrosanct status of the Prophetic women (al-ta’ẓīm). There is then a conditional passive sentence employed to augment the simile being made (al-tashbīh al-tamthīlī); more literally it means “whenever they are driven forward (tusaq), they are treated violently (yu’naf bihinna).” The sophisticated reader will note that both verbs are in the jussive (al-majzūm) in keeping with the syntactical requisites of a conditional sentence (al-jumlah al-sharṭiyyah). Another nuance is the use of pronouns here: the women are paraded together with the feminine singular, while they are manhandled in the feminine plural. The implication is that they are forced forward altogether, while they are each being maltreated one by one separately. Finally, there is an implicit metaphor (al-isti’ārah al-makniyyah) at the end, whereby the flogging being meted out onto the womenfolk is likened to a veil enveloping them. The metaphor is rendered even more tragic when one recalls that the women themselves had been stripped of their veils.

[6] Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd alludes to three prominent personalities in the aftermath of Karbalā within this couplet. First, he alludes to Imām Zayn al-‘Ābidīn (as), held in chains without ransom. Then he employs metonymy (al-kināyah) to allude to the young daughter of Imam Husayn (as), whose earrings were reportedly snatched. Finally, there is a mention of Lady Zaynab as al-karīmah (the noble woman) who is taken captive. We have rendered this word as duchess here as a poetic license, although it conveys a sense of nobility and strength without necessarily carrying the implication of royalty.

[7] Now the poet returns to the tragedy of the corpse of Imam Ḥusayn (as) with which he started his lament, alluding to the horses that trampled his sacred body. He creates an antithesis (al-ṭibāq) between the gory scene of blood on the plains of Karbalā and the verdant silk that will envelop the Imām in Heaven. Within this line, ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd employs a device known in Arabic rhetoric as radd al-‘ajz ‘alā al-ṣadr (epanalepsis), whereby he utilizes the word talaffa’a and its verbal derivative at both the beginning and end of the couplet. This serves to accentuate the antithesis even further.

[8] Now there are a series of personifications in the form of implicit metaphors (al-isti’ārah al-makniyyah). The poet emphasizes that the Earth, the Sun, and even Eternity itself grieved at the magnitude of the tragedy. While this may be understood as hyperbolized metaphor, it can also be appreciated literally, as there are numerous narrations in both Shī’ah and Sunnī sources mentioning the mourning of all creation upon al-Ḥusayn’s martyrdom.

[9] Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd concludes his eulogy by lamenting on the unrequited blood of the martyrs of Karbalā. There is another example of metonymy (al-kināyah) employed here, as blood flowing on the hands is figurative for the murders the Umayyads committed. There is a further allusion here that this blood requires vengeance, which will come with the advent of the Twelfth Imām (as).