The Poem of Shaykh Ahmad al-Wa’ili for Imam al-Jawad

One of the most illustrious of Shī’ah poets, orators, and scholars of the past century was the Iraqi Shaykh Aḥmad al-Wā’ilī (1928-2003). Widely regarded as the “pillar of the Ḥusaynī pulpit,” he delivered highly appraised lectures for over sixty years in the Arabic language, many of which are still widely available online. In addition to his powerful oratory, al-Wā’ilī was also a literarian of the highest caliber, and his poems are well-known and recited throughout the Shī’ah world. His poems are especially well-known for their stunning openers, historical allusions, and poignant imagery. Below, we have translated his famous al-Qaṣīdah al-Hamziyyah regarding Imām al-Jawād (as). As usual, we have furnished our translation with footnotes to describe some of the delicate rhetorical/linguistic points that may escape translation; we have also added some historical allusions when deemed necessary.

هيّا بنا لربى الزوراء نسألها To the hills of Zawrā: let’s from her inquire
عن ثلتين هما موتى وأحياء About two flocks: one alive, one expired[1]
فقد مشت وبني العباس سامرةً For with the ‘Abbāsids she once pranced in vigil
في ألف ليلة حيث العيش سراء Through a thousand nights, in life full of vigor
دار الرقيق وقصر الخلد حافلةٌ A land of slaves and castles of majesty
بما يلذُّ فأنغام وصهباء Teeming with wine, songs, and all vanity
تجبك أنّ ديار الظلم خاويةٌ She exclaims: “Now vacant are dwellings immoral,
وأنَّ للمتقين الخلد ما شاؤوا But the pious yet still do tarry immortal!”[2]
ومل إلى الكرخ وانظر قبةً سمقت At Karkh take a glance: on a dome—cast an eye
تجاذبتها الثريا فهي شماء That rivals bright stars, yet even more high[3]
وحيِّ فيها جواداً من أنامله And salute that Jawād in his every fiber
سحابة الفضل والإنعام وكفاء That cloud of grace whose bounties shower[4]
يا ابن البتول وحسبي من مفاخرها Oh son of Batūl—and this virtue is ample
بأنها في مجال المجد زهراء Since she is Zahrā’—of glory the mantle[5]
كم رام منك بنو العباس ما عجزوا How hard the ‘Abbāsids sought to obtain
عنه وفي فشل من خزيهم باوؤا From you what they shamefully failed to attain
جاؤوا بيحيى وحشد من مسائله When they came with Yaḥyā’s list of queries
فرحت توسعهم شرحاً لما جاؤوا And you drew out edicts for them in series
حتى إذا وهنوا ألقيت مسألة Until they were left completely shattered
كل المفوه عنها فهو فأفاء You cast a query that made them all stammer[6]
يا نفحة الروض في ريا شمائله O you heavenly breeze, of morals pristine
وطلعة البدر حيث البدر وضاء And fullest moon, in your light supreme
وعبقة من أريج المجد أنجبها And O musk derived from that mighty effusion:
محمد وعلي فهي أشذاء From Muḥammad and ‘Alī’s most sacred fusion
وخفقة النور من إشعاع فاطمة O flash of light from Fāṭimah’s splendor
تحدرت فهي إشعاع ولألاء Descended like pearl, glowing in grandeur[7]
يا ليت كفا سقتك السمَّ واهتصرت Oh if only that hand—which fed you a poison
نامي شبيبتك الفينان شلاّء That pricked your blazing youth—had been frozen![8]
تحشُّ منك نياط القلب ناقعةً Your vessels dried up, by venom affected
من السموم ويبرى جسمك الداء And soon your whole body to illness relented
ملقى على السطح لم يحضرك من أحد You fell to the ground, without any helper
تصارع الموت لا ظلُّ ولا ماء Wrestling Fate with no water or shelter
حتى قضيت برغم المجد منفرداً Till you had passed, so alone despite grace
لم يكتنفك أحباء وأبناء Without sons or friends nearby to embrace![9]


[1] Al-Zawrā’ is an old name for the city of Baghdad and means “she who slants.” It is said that the city was given this name because the river Tigris, which passes in its vicinity, is meandering. In any case, in the classical style of rhapsodization (al-tashbīb), al-Wā’ilī personifies the city of Baghdad as a woman who is sought after by the poet; not out of love, however, but rather to answer a particular question.

[2] Baghdad was the capital city of the ‘Abbāsids, and al-Wā’ilī satirically indicates here that despite their having laid claim to Baghdad as their capital city, the ‘Abbasids’ memory has nigh been erased from it. Meanwhile, the righteous Imams of Ahl al-Bayt, who had been tormented and imprisoned in this very city during their lifetimes, have been mausoleumized therein for all posterity.

[3] Al-Karkh is specifically the province of Baghdad in which the mausoleum of al-Kādhimiyyah is located. More literally in Arabic, the mausoleum is likened to the Pleiades constellation, which was widely regarded as one of the furthest star systems in Arabic astronomy.

[4] The word “jawād” is used here as a double entendre (al-tawriyah) here, as the speaker intends both the nickname of the ninth Imam of Ahl al-Bayt (as) as well as the meaning of munificence.

[5] These are of course both titles of Sayyidah Fāṭimah (as); the speaker again uses the literary device of al-tawriyah in the name “zahrā,” as the meaning is both this nickname of Lady Fāṭimah as well as “blazing/brilliant.”

[6] This is of course an allusion to a famous incident reported from the life of Imam al-Jawad (as), in which the chief justice of the ‘Abbasids, Yaḥyā ibn Aktham, attempted to stump the Imam by posing a jurisprudential question regarding hunting while in the state of consecration(al-iḥrām). Despite being a young boy, the Imam is reported to have answered the question with unprecedented jurisprudential insight. The detailed incident is too long to quote here, but may be found at this link:

[7] These are a series of explicit metaphors (al-isti’ārāt al-taṣrīḥiyyah) in Arabic rhetoric. These extolments encapsulate several merits of the Imam simultaneously: from his pure personality to his noble ancestry, and from his corporeal perfections to his spiritual radiance.

[8] This imprecation is an example of synecdoche (al-majāz al-mursal), in which the hand of the one who poisoned the Imām is cursed while the entirety of the person is meant. By employing anonymity regarding the hand that assassinated the Imām, al-Wā’ilī is perhaps alluding to the historical dispute regarding who assassinated him (some reports say it was his wife Umm Faḍl and others indicate it was one of al-Mu’taṣim’s viziers).

[9] Al-Wā’ilī alludes to an important fact in these lines about Imam al-Jawād (as), namely that he was summoned to reside in Baghdad until his martyrdom, away from his relatives and loved ones who lived in Madīnah. This forced migration at the hands of al-Mu’taṣim lasted from the 28th of Muḥarram 220 AH until the Imam’s demise at the hands of al-Mu’taṣim on 30th Dhū al-Qa’dah 220 AH.