Shaykh Ahmad al-Wa’ili’s Famous Qasidah for Imam ‘Ali (as)

Below we have translated into rhymed English verse the famous al-Qaṣīdah al-Nūniyyah of the illustrious Iraqi scholar and poet Shaykh Aḥmad al-Wā’ilī (d. 2003, may Allah have mercy on him) extolling the pristine faḍā’il of Imām ‘Alī (as). In congruence with his elegant and clear style, al-Wā’ilī simply entitled his composition “Ilā Abī Turāb” (To Abū Turāb). On the upcoming auspicious occasion of ‘Eid al-Ghadīr, we devote this humble translation to our blessed first Imām (as). As al-Wā’ilī was an impeccable scholar, his poem contains many allusions to the religious literature, which we have tried to generally underscore via furnishing the translation with relevant footnotes to scholarly references.

غالى يَسارٌ واستخفَّ يمينُ

بكَ يا لِكُنهِكَ لا يكادُ يَبينُ

تُجفى وتُعبَدُ والضغائنُ تغتلي

والدهرُ يقسو تارةً ويلينُ

وتظَلُ أنتَ كما عهِدتُكَ نغمهً

للآنَ لم يرقى لها تلحينُ

فرأيتُ أن أرويكَ محضَ روايةٍ

للناسِ لا صُوَرٌ ولا تلوينُ

فـلا أنـت أروع إذ تـكـون مـجرداً

ولقد يضر برائع تثمين

إنِّي أتيتُكَ أجتليك وأبتغي

وِرداً فعندَك للعُطاشِ معينُ

وأراكَ أكبرَ من حديثِ خِلافةٍ

يستامُها مروانُ أو هارونُ

لكَ بالنِّفوسِ إمامهٌ فيهونُ لو

عَصَفتْ بك الشورى أوالتعيينُ

فدعِ المعاولَ تزْبَئِرٌ قساوةً

وضراوةً إنَّ البِناءَ متينُ

أَ أبا ترابُ وللترابِ تفاخُرٌ

إن ْ كانَ من أمشاجِهِ لكَ طينُ

والناسُ من هذا الترابِ وكُلّـُهمْ

في أصلهِ حمَاٌ به مسنونُ

لكنَّ مِن هذا الترابِ حوافرٌ

ومن الترابِ حواجبٌ وعيونُ

فإذا استطالَ بك الترابُ فعاذِرٌ

فلأَ نتَ من هذا التُرابِ جبينُ

ولئِن رُجِعتَ الى التُرابِ فلم تمُتْ

فالجذرُ ليسَ يموتُ وهو دفينُ

لكِنَّهُ ينمو ويفترعُ الثرى

وترُفٌ منه براعُمٌ وغصونُ

أأبا الحسينِ وتلكَ أروعُ كُنيةٍ

وكـلاكُـما بالرائعاتِ قمينُ

آلاؤُكَ البيضاءُ طوَّقتِ الدٌنا

فلها على ذِمَمِ الزمانِ ديونُ

في الحربِ أنتَ المستحِمٌ من الدِما

والسِّلمِ أنت التينُ والزيتونُ

والصبحِ أنت على المنابرِ نغمهٌ

والليلِ في المحرابِ أنت أنينُ

تكسو وأنت قطيفهٌ مرقوعهٌ

وتموتُ من جوعٍ وأنت بطينُ

وترِقُّ حتى قيلَ فيكَ دُعابهٌ

وتَفـُحُّ حتى يفزعُ التِّننينُ

خُلُقٌ أقلٌ نُعوتهِ وصفاتِهِ

أنَّ الجلالَ بمثلهِ مقرونُ

ما عُدتُ ألحو في هواكَ متيماً

وصفاتُك البيضاءُ حُورٌ عِينُ

ورَجَعتُ أَعذِرُ شانِئيكَ بفعلِهم

فمتى التقى المذبوحُ والسِّكينُ

بدرٌ واُحدٌ والهِراسُ وخيبرٌ

والنَهروانُ ومثلُها صِفـِّينُ

رأسٌ يطيحُ بها ويندُرُ كاهلٌ

ويدٌ تُجَذ ويُجدَعُ العِرنينُ

هذا رصيدُك بالنفوسِ فما ترى

أيُحبُّكَ المذبوحُ والمطعونُ

حقدٌ الى حَسَدٍ وخِسَّهُ معدِنٍ

مطرتْ عليكَ وكلُّهُنَّ هَـتُونُ

راموا بها أن يدفِنوكَ فهالهم

أن عاد سعيُهُمُ هو المدفونُ

وتوهموا أن يُغرقوك بشتمِهم

أتخافُ من غَرَقٍ وأنتَ سَفينُ

ستظَلُّ تحسبُك الكواكبُ كوكباً

ويهُزُّ سمعَ الدهرِ منك رنينُ

The left overstates while the right underrates

A worth of yours that mere words escape[1]

From abandoned to worshipped to hatreds teeming

Times besmirching, and times beseeming[2]

Yet as I recall you, your tune does remain

Till now not surpassed by any air’s strain

Hence, I intend as you are to narrate

Devoid of all relish and aims to inflate

Indeed, unadorned, you engender more wonder

As the wondrous in lavish appraisals may suffer

I approach you in earnest, indeed seeking out

A drink that with you for the thirsty does spout

For I see you as more than just Caliphate’s boon

Wrangled by such as Marwān and Hārūn[3]

For to you over souls is Imamate not cheapened:

By neither “Shūrā” nor selection, weakened

Pray leave those mallets to thump in their thunder

For this is a structure that won’t cleave asunder[4]

Oh Father of Dust—and surely dust boasts

Given that you have been made of its hosts[5]

For while all people from it have been rendered,

In source: mere mud, fermented and weathered,

Amongst them are hoofprints: dusty, forgotten

And brows discerning: lofty and sodden!

Hence rebuke not the dust if of you it talks

For indeed over dust, you’re like its forelock!

And should you return back to dust you die not

Yes indeed!—like a root underground, you don’t rot

Instead, you grow forth through the sod and do spout

Of branches plethora, and many a sprout[6]

Oh Abū al-Ḥusayn—what an honored title

Both father and son, of virtues primal[7]

Your blazing favors have raptured the worlds

And Time lies in debt to your name, with its whirls

In war, while through floods of blood you’d dig

In times of peace, you’re the olive and fig

While by day all the pulpits your voice would fill

At night in retreat to the Lord you would shrill

Clothing others but your own garments: patched

Near dying of hunger, but in faith unmatched[8]

Tender until it is said that you joke

But hissing until even dragons would croak[9]

Virtues whose traits one can only surmise

That surely God’s Awe these traits underlies

I cease to condemn by your love the affected

For your features are like Heaven’s Maidens: perfected!

And I pardon the hate of your adversary

For when would the slain his skewer fancy:[10]

In Uḥud, Hirās, Ṣiffīn and Khaybar

And in Nahrawān, not to mention Badr?

With those flying heads and tumbling necks

Cutting their hands and their noses’ apex?[11]

Your station was such among souls, so do tell:

Would these slain and conquered adore you as well?

Yes, of rancor and envy and odium’s lodes

They did rain upon you in droves and in droves

Seeking to bury your name in their loathing

But their efforts were buried while yours are still glowing[12]

They thought you would drown in torrential aspersion

But why should Your Ark fear mere water’s immersion?[13]

Midst stars you remain, esteemed at their height

And Destiny’s ear at your voice does delight!


[1] This is an allusion to the famous aphorism of Imām ‘Alī (as) wherein he states: “Two types of people have perished on my account: an extremist lover and a rancorous hater” (cf. Nahj al-Balāghah).

[2] In his book Furūgh-e-Wilāyat, the scholar Ja’far Subḥānī beautifully elaborates on this point where he states: “Among the illustrious personalities of the world, there is none whose personality has fallen under such contradictory and opposing estimations as that of Imam ‘Alī (as)…perhaps only Prophet Jesus (as) could be appreciated to be similar to ‘Alī (as) in this aspect. One party by virtue of misguided estimation raise the Master of Monotheism to the status of Divinity. Until today there are remnants of this group who go by the title of ‘Alawīs.’ In opposition to this group is yet another which had taken enmity for the Imām to heart since the early days of the Caliphate—the Khawārij and the Nawāṣib.”

[3] The poet engages in rhetorical flourishes of the highest caliber, utilizing several metaphors to describe the Imām. There is an implicit allusion here to the famous words of Imām ‘Alī (as) in the Khuṭbah of Shiqshiqiyyah, whereby he himself states as narrated by ibn ‘Abbās: “My sandal is more beloved to me than your leadership” (cf. Nahj al-Balāghah).

[4] Indeed, this is a beautiful juxtaposition of the various theories regarding successorship after the Holy Prophet (saw); whereas Abu Bakr assumed the position via shūrā, he appointed (al-ta’yīn) ‘Umar. Al-Wā’ilī places these two ideas of successorship against the belief of Divine successorship (Imāmate), whereby Imām ‘Alī’s status is one that cannot be stripped whether the public recognizes him or not.

[5] One of the usual habits of al-Wā’ilī in his poetry for the Imāms is the use of a variety of epithets for them to acquaint the public with their various faḍā’il. Therefore, we see the poet use the Imām’s famously prescribed nickname (laqab) Abū Turāb (this title was famously given to Imām ‘Alī by the Holy Prophet as affirmed by both Shī’ah and Sunnī ḥadīth collections).

[6] In these lines, al-Wā’ilī employs a poetic device known as al-tashbīh al-tamthīlī (extended metaphor) to elaborate on the Imām’s various merits (superiority over others, insight, illustrious progeny). There is an allusion here to the narration of the Prophet wherein he states about Imām ‘Alī’s son, “Ḥusayn is a nation among nations (sibṭ min al-asbāṭ).

[7] Now al-Wā’ilī refers to the Imām with his kuniyah Abū Ḥusayn, again trying to provoke more public awareness of the Imām’s various epithets.

[8] This antithesis is difficult to render in English, however the poet states that while the Imām would nearly die out of physical hunger, he was satiated (al-baṭīn) with knowledge. This is an allusion to the famous ḥadīth of the Prophet (saw) in which he states about Imām ‘Alī, “you are stripped (al-manzū’) from polytheism, stout (al-baṭīn) in knowledge.”

[9] ‘Umar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb and ‘Amr bin ‘Āṣ famously accused Imām ‘Ali (as) of being a jester, using this as a pretext to claim he was not worthy of the caliphate (cf. Nahj al-Balāghah).

[10] After clarifying these various antithetical faḍā’il, the poet summons again the dichotomy he expounded at the beginning of his qaṣīdah: the exaggerators and the haters of Imām ‘Alī. His providing excuses for them should not be understood as a justification for their stances; rather al-Wā’ilī is simply commenting here that it is not surprising that Imām ‘Alī creates such polarization given his entire personality consists of antithetical perfections. Shahīd Al-Muṭaharrī eloquently states in his book entitled “Polarization Around the Character of ‘Alī” as follows: “‘Ali (as) was himself a harmonized and equilibrated being: he had gathered together the perfections of humanity…in the night, in worship he cut himself off from everything else and during the day he was active among the people. In the daytime, people saw his kindness and altruism, listening to his advice and counsel; at night, the stars looked down on the tears of his worship and the heavens heard his prayers of love. He was both a learned man and a wise man, both a gnostic and a leader of society, both an ascetic and a warrior, both a judge and a worker, both a speaker and a writer. In sum, in all senses of the word he was a perfect man.”

[11] Many of us will recognize these battles wherein Imām ‘Alī (as) fought bravely. The battle of Hirās or Mihrās is an alternative name for the battle of Uḥud; the word refers to a watering ground near the mountains of Uḥud from whence Imām ‘Alī (as) fetched water for the army.

[12] As ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd has famously stated in his Sharḥ Nahj al-Balāghah about Imām ‘Alī (as): “What should I say about a man regarding whom even his enemies admit his favor and could not deny or hide his merits? You should know that Banū Umayyah governed the East and West and endeavored with their every stratagem to douse out his brilliance, instigate others against him, and fabricate scandals about him. They cursed him on their pulpits while they threatened, imprisoned, and slaughtered his acclaimers. They prevented anyone from narrating ḥadīth that spoke of his praise or mentioned him in a positive light. This reached the point that some were afraid to even name their children after him. Nonetheless, this did not increase him except in exaltation and elevation; for he is like musk: whenever it is covered, its fragrance spreads even further!”

[13] The allusion here is to the famous Ḥadīth al-Safīnah, whereby the Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt are likened to the Ark of Nūḥ that saves others from drowning.