The Poem of Imam al-Shafi’i for Imam Husayn (as)

Below we have translated a famous qaṣīdah attributed to the founder of the Shāfi’ī madhhabMuḥammad bin Idrīs al-Shāfi’ī (d. 204 AH)—in mourning the tragedy of Imām Ḥusayn (as).[1] Al-Shāfi’ī was accused by several of his contemporaries for being a Shī’ite because of his deep love and attachment to the Ahl al-Bayt.[2] He was not only an authority in jurisprudence but also a prolific poet. As usual, we have appended some footnotes on deeper points of Arabic eloquence where appropriate for more advanced readers:

تأوه قلبي والفؤاد كئيب


My heart laments while my mind is distressed

وأرق نومي فالسهاد عجيب


My rest is perturbed, my vigil intense:[3]

ومما نفى نومي وشيب لومتي


What strips me of sleep and boosts my lambaster

تصاريف أيام لهن خطوب


Are the twists of Fate and her many disasters[4]

فمن مبلغ عني الحسين رسالة


Hence who to Ḥusayn will deliver my tiding

وإن كرهتها أنفس وقلوب


Though hearts and souls may be oh-so-chiding?[5]

ذبيح بلا جرم كأن قميصه


Sinlessly slain, as though his vest

صبيغ بماء الإرجوان خضيب


Was soaked in the dye from a Cercis, pressed[6]

فللسيف إعوال وللرمح رنة


Now the sword does wail and the lance thus cries

وللخيل من بعد الصهيل نحيب


And horses—after their neighing—breathe sighs

تزلزلت الدنيا لآل محمد


The Earth does quake for Muḥammad’s brood

وكادت لهم صم الجبال تذوب


And even the cores of mountains are strewed

وغارت نجوم واقشعرت كواكب


Erased are stars and planets do tremble

وهتك أستار وشق جيوب


Curtains are ripped and vessels do crumble[7]

يُصلى على المبعوث من آل هاشم


Is the Prophet of Hāshim sent benediction

ويُغزى بنوه إن ذا لعجيب


While ambushed and slaughtered are his own children?![8]

لئن كان ذنبي حب آل محمد


Should love for Muḥammad’s brood be my crime

فذلك ذنب لست عنه أتوب


Then know that from it I’ll never resign

هم شفعائي يوم حشري وموقفي


They are intercessors on my Resurrection

إذا مابدت للناظرين خطوب


When errors egregious elude not detection![9]


[1] This poem is mentioned as being ascribed to Imām al-Shāfi’ī in Yanābī’ al-Mawaddah of al-Qandūzī al-Ḥanafī. It is also mentioned by al-Ḥāfiẓ Jamāl al-Dīn al-Madanī in his book Mi’rāj al-Wuṣūl fī Ma’rifat Āl al-Rasūl as one of al-Shāfi’ī’s compositions.

[2] For instance, this was an accusation made against al-Shāfi’ī by the scholar Yaḥyā ibn Ma’īn (d. 233 AH).

[3] As is customary in Arabic poetry, al-Shāfi’ī begins his qaṣīdah with a rhapsody (al-tashbīb) that discloses unrequited passions and anguish. There is a beautiful use of murā’āt al-naẓīr (syanthroesmus) here with the grouping of qalb (heart) and fu’ād (mind), ka’īb (distressed) and ta’awwuh (lamentation), and ta’rīq (restlessness) and suhād (insomnia).

[4] In this couplet, the poet gives us more detail that what is causing his sleeplessness is an event of history. This is again in the classic Arabic style of piquing the interest of listeners before ending the rhetorical flourish. We see that al-Shāfi’ī employs many poetic devices here: firstly, there is incomplete alliteration (al-jinās al-nāqiṣ) between the words nawmī and lawmatī. Secondly, there is intertextuality (al-iqtibās) here with the verse of the Qur’ān, “such days (of fate) we give to men in turns” (3:140). Thirdly, the word lawmatī is in fact a case of double entendre (al-tawriyah), as this word has two possible meanings: 1) my censuring and 2) my exigency. The former is meant in this case, as the next line makes clear.

[5] Now al-Shāfi’ī clearly states the source of his anguish: the tragedy of Karbalā. This line indicates that when al-Shāfi’ī composed this poem, there were still individuals who believed that Imām Ḥusayn’s (as) murder was justified. This line also serves as a qarīnah to understand that the meaning of lawmatī in the previous couplet is “my censuring” (or ‘my lambaster’ as we have rendered it).

[6] There is a use of a simile (al-tashbīh al-tamthīlī) in comparing Imām Ḥusayn’s bloodied shirt to a shirt stained with crimson dye derived from the Cercis tree. One will notice that the word “blood” (al-dam) is not even mentioned here; this is because al-Shāfi’ī is alluding to the fact that it is too unbelievable to imagine the grandson of the Holy Prophet is dyed in his own blood.

[7] Here we see a series of personifications (al-isti’ārah al-makniyyah): each one of these non-rational objects manifest their grief for Imām Ḥusayn’s (as) tragedy. While this is usually a form of exaggeration (al-mubālaghah) employed in poetry, it is appropriate here based on the plethora of narrations from both Shī’ah and Sunnī books that affirm the Heavens and Earth wept for Ḥusayn (as). In these lines, we see a form of intertextuality (al-iqtibās) with the first verses of Sūrah al-Takwīr. Al-Shāfi’ī is implying that it is as if the apocalypse has descended upon the universe given the gravity of the crime committed.

[8] The original Arabic is in fact not a question but rather a declarative statement (al-jumlah al-khabariyyah). However, given that the purpose here is wonderment (al-ta’ajjub), we believe rendering the translation as a question best conveys this sense. In other words, the poet is shocked that the Holy Prophet is being sent ṣalawāt, all the while his own progeny is being hunted down.

[9] These are arguably the most famous lines of al-Shāfi’ī’s qaṣīdah and indicate not only his deep love for the Ahl al-Bayt, but also his belief in their capacity of intercession with God on the Day of Resurrection. These lines also indicate that there was still an air of suspicion and dislike (al-naṣb) of the Prophet’s family at the time of this poem’s composition.