It is narrated in Ibn Khallikān’s Wafayāt al-A’yān that one day, the Umayyad Caliph Hishām ibn ‘Abd al-Malik was at Ḥajj performing his pilgrimage. The crowd was suffocating and no matter how hard he tried, he was unable to approach the Black Stone to pay his respects. Out of frustration, he erected himself a throne and began observing the worshippers as they passed. At that very moment, al-Imām ‘Alī ibn al-Ḥusayn Zayn al-‘Ābidīn (as) approached the Ka’bah, striking as he was in beauty and elegance. The crowd immediately split for him out of reverence, and he approached the Black Stone without the least bit of difficulty. Upon seeing this, Hishām was furious in jealousy and derisively sneered to his entourage, “Who is this?!” At this, the famed Arab poet al-Farazdaq (may God have mercy on him) delivered an impromptu poetic flourish in response to this ridicule; a response that sealed his name forever in the books of history. When Imām Sajjād (as) heard of this poem, he sent al-Farazdaq twelve thousand dirhams upon which the latter refused saying, “I only said this out of anger for God and his Prophet.” The Imām responded, “We are from an Ahlulbayt that does not take back what we give,” upon which al-Farazdaq accepted the gift.
This qaṣīdah is considered an absolute masterpiece of Arabic poetry. The great scholar and literary critic Alī Khān al-Madanī (may God have mercy on him) has stated, “When one reads this poem and compares it to al-Farazdaq’s other poetry, he is struck with absolute bewilderment—its caliber far exceeds all his other work, even though he composed it impromptu. There is therefore no doubt that God aided and guided him in its composition.” It is stunning that this poem was written in the throes of the Umayyad regime, wherein propaganda was rampant to suppress the role and status of the family of the Prophet (saw); indeed, this truly bespeaks of al-Farazdaq’s daring bravery. We have endeavored to translate the famous eulogy into rhyming English verse, although the original Arabic is truly inimitable. We have also added footnotes to explain concepts that escape translation.
هَذا الّذي تَعرِفُ البَطْحاءُ وَطْأتَهُ
وَالبَيْتُ يعْرِفُهُ وَالحِلُّ وَالحَرَمُ
هذا ابنُ خَيرِ عِبادِ الله كُلّهِمُ،
هذا التّقيّ النّقيّ الطّاهِرُ العَلَمُ
هذا ابنُ فاطمَةٍ، إنْ كُنْتَ جاهِلَهُ
بِجَدّهِ أنْبِيَاءُ الله قَدْ خُتِمُوا
وَلَيْسَ قَوْلُكَ: مَن هذا بضَائرِه
العُرْبُ تَعرِفُ من أنكَرْتَ وَالعَجمُ
كِلْتا يَدَيْهِ غِيَاثٌ عَمَّ نَفعُهُمَا
يُسْتَوْكَفانِ، وَلا يَعرُوهُما عَدَمُ
سَهْلُ الخَلِيقَةِ لا تُخشى بَوَادِرُهُ
يَزِينُهُ اثنانِ حُسنُ الخَلقِ وَالشّيمُ
حَمّالُ أثقالِ أقوَامٍ، إذا افتُدِحُوا
حُلوُ الشّمائلِ، تَحلُو عندَهُ نَعَمُ
ما قال: لا قطُّ، إلاّ في تَشَهُّدِهِ
لَوْلا التّشَهّدُ كانَتْ لاءَهُ نَعَمُ
عَمَّ البَرِيّةَ بالإحسانِ فانْقَشَعَتْ
عَنْها الغَياهِبُ والإمْلاقُ والعَدَمُ
إذ رَأتْهُ قُرَيْشٌ قال قائِلُها
إلى مَكَارِمِ هذا يَنْتَهِي الكَرَمُ
يُغْضِي حَياءً، وَيُغضَى من مَهابَتِه
فَمَا يُكَلَّمُ إلاّ حِينَ يَبْتَسِمُ
بِكَفّهِ خَيْزُرَانٌ رِيحُهُ عَبِقٌ
من كَفّ أرْوَعَ، في عِرْنِينِهِ شمَمُ
يَكادُ يُمْسِكُهُ عِرْفانَ رَاحَتِهِ
رُكْنُ الحَطِيمِ إذا ما جَاءَ يَستَلِمُ
الله شَرّفَهُ قِدْماً، وَعَظّمَهُ
جَرَى بِذاكَ لَهُ في لَوْحِهِ القَلَمُ
أيُّ الخَلائِقِ لَيْسَتْ في رِقَابِهِمُ
لأوّلِيّةِ هَذا أوْ لَهُ نِعمُ
مَن يَشكُرِ الله يَشكُرْ أوّلِيّةَ ذا
فالدِّينُ مِن بَيتِ هذا نَالَهُ الأُمَمُ
يُنمى إلى ذُرْوَةِ الدّينِ التي قَصُرَت
عَنها الأكفُّ، وعن إدراكِها القَدَمُ
مَنْ جَدُّهُ دان فَضْلُ الأنْبِياءِ لَهُ
وَفَضْلُ أُمّتِهِ دانَتْ لَهُ الأُمَمُ
مُشْتَقّةٌ مِنْ رَسُولِ الله نَبْعَتُهُ
طَابَتْ مَغارِسُهُ والخِيمُ وَالشّيَمُ
يَنْشَقّ ثَوْبُ الدّجَى عن نورِ غرّتِهِ
كالشمس تَنجابُ عن إشرَاقِها الظُّلَمُ
من مَعشَرٍ حُبُّهُمْ دِينٌ، وَبُغْضُهُمُ كُفْرٌ
وَقُرْبُهُمُ مَنجىً وَمُعتَصَمُ
مُقَدَّمٌ بعد ذِكْرِ الله ذِكْرُهُمُ
في كلّ بَدْءٍ، وَمَختومٌ به الكَلِمُ
إنْ عُدّ أهْلُ التّقَى كانوا أئِمّتَهمْ
أوْ قيل من خيرُ أهل الأرْض قيل: هم
لا يَستَطيعُ جَوَادٌ بَعدَ جُودِهِمُ
وَلا يُدانِيهِمُ قَوْمٌ، وَإنْ كَرُمُوا
هُمُ الغُيُوثُ، إذا ما أزْمَةٌ أزَمَتْ
وَالأُسدُ أُسدُ الشّرَى وَالبأسُ محتدمُ
لا يُنقِصُ العُسرُ بَسطاً من أكُفّهِمُ
سِيّانِ ذلك: إن أثَرَوْا وَإنْ عَدِمُوا
يُستدْفَعُ الشرُّ وَالبَلْوَى بحُبّهِمُ
وَيُسْتَرَبّ بِهِ الإحْسَانُ وَالنِّعَمُ
This is one whose footsteps Makkan soil knows
To God’s House no stranger; in and out its boroughs
This is the son of God’s choicest creation
This is the radiant, of utmost purification
This son of Fāṭimah, if to you unbeknownst
His grandfather midst Prophets holds the final post!
Your chiding « Who is this!? » from him won’t detract
Both Arab and Persian know the one you attack!
His hands are the rain: their providence extensive
Everywhere sought, of no nourishment defective
His disposition gentle, his instincts not feared
In etiquette and temperament, both he’s revered
Peoples’ burden-bearer when they’re in duress
Altogether lovely, with a penchant for « Yes! »
He’s never said no, except in testimony
Otherwise « Yes » is his sole affinity!
Embracing creation with virtues effulgent
Erasing all darkness and dearths, repugnant!
When Quraysh beholds, their chief does proclaim
« Beyond this man’s virtues, no one can attain! »
Forbearing in modesty, forborne by sagacity
And he isn’t addressed but in geniality
In his hand is a staff whose scent does pervade
But its owner’s yet sweeter, more fragrant in grade
The Stone of Ishmael yearns for his breeze
When he pays it homage, his hand it does seize
Eternal with God is his honor and might
In His Sacred Tablet, the Pen this does write
Who in creation’s not bound in subjection
To his antecedence or his intercession?
The beholden to God hold his supremacy
For religion’s not sought except from his pedigree
He belongs to faith’s peak, which isn’t surmounted,
Its heights leaving even skilled limbs astounded
The one whose grandfather’s merits surpass
All other Prophets, whose nation’s first-class
From God’s Prophet cleaved is this noble stream
How pure is its produce, its morals supreme!
His countenance rents droves of darkness asunder
Like the Sun which chases the night with its thunder
He is from a brood whose love is religion
Whose hate is heinous! Affection: redemption
Only God’s name precedes their remembrance
At every conclusion and at every entrance
If the pious are tallied, then they’re the trailblazers
Or if asked « Who’s the best? » they merit all favors!
The noble their majesty can’t emulate
And no people can rival them even if great
They are rains of mercy at times of calamity
And lions ferocious in war’s tenacity
Not tempered by trial is their magnanimity
Selfsame they are whether in wealth or scarcity
Evil and woe retract by their mention
And by them is sought blessings and perfection
 Meaning that the Imām is known both inside the Holy Sanctuary (al-ḥaram) and outside it (al-ḥill). There is a personification here of the holy sites in Makkah, whereby they themselves recognize our fourth Imām given his impeccable piety and reputation. The poem’s structure with repetition of the demonstrative pronoun “this” (hādhā) implies a rhetorical lampoon of Hishām in his daring to question the identity of the Imām.
 Al-Farazdaq uses several words are used to describe the Imām (as) which become difficult to render into English verse. Al-Farazdaq describes him as al-taqī (the pious), al-naqī (the refined), al-ṭāhir (the pure), and al-‘alam (the exemplar). This is somewhat of a thesis for the rest of the poem, whereby all these virtues are expounded.
 This is another veiled critique of the Caliph: al-Farazdaq notes that the very Prophet whose Caliphate the Umayyads lay claim to is the grandfather of the one that Hishām pretends not to know. It is as though he is saying, “It behooves you to recognize the grandson of the one who grants your reign any air of legitimacy in the first place!”
 Persian (‘ajam) be translated as non-Arab here as well, however the implication is towards the Imam’s being of mixed heritage: both Arab and Persian, by virtue of which he is known by both races. Al-Farazdaq is making it clear that the sneering remarks made against the Imām’s origin are unfounded because his identity is known to both races equally, being as he is doubly descended from these two great nations.
 At this point, al-Farazdaq switches from describing the Imām’s impeccable lineage to his moral and ethical attributes. He uses a metaphor (al-tashbīh) to describe his generosity and how his magnanimity is sought by all. It is poignant that the poet likens both of the Imām’s hands to the rain, such that there is no hand left with which he can be accused of being niggardly. The Imām’s generosity was such that many did not even know of it during his lifetime; as ‘Ā’ishah is reported to have said, “I have heard the people of Madīnah say that we never appreciated secret charity until ‘Alī ibn Ḥusayn (as) passed from this world.” (Biḥār al-Anwār, volume 46 page 88)
 The line literally means, “he (the Imām) is adorned by two things: beautiful etiquette and moral principles.” Of course this comes as no surprise, for he is indeed the author of the famed supplication Makārim al-Akhlāq (On Noble Moral Traits).
 Perhaps this is best embodied in Imām Sajjād’s famous words: “Make sure you deliver your trusts; for I swear by God who made Muḥammad a Prophet: if the killer of my father Ḥusayn entrusted the very sword he killed him with to me, I would return it to him.” (Amālī of Ṣadūq page 212)
 The ‘no’ referenced here is the one in the testimony of faith (al-kalimah): there is no god but God. This is a clear hyperbole (al-mubālaghah) here to emphasize how the Imām never turns anyone away when asked for a favor.
 In other words, he is clement due to his chastity and engenders the mercy of others due to their awe for him. In Arabic, a single verb أغضى declined in two ways is used to express this subtle meaning; this is known as al-jinās (alliteration) in Arabic rhetoric. Perhaps this is in reference to the well-known incident of when an uncouth individual insulted to the Imām to his face, upon which he kept quiet and stated, “I forgive you.” (Manāqib ibn Shahr Āshūb volume 3 page 296)
 Al-Farazdaq in this couplet turns from describing the beautiful disposition of the Imām to describing his outward beauty. He is more fragrant than the staff of sugar cane (al-khayzarān) which he himself holds. A more literal rendering of this line is “In his palm is a staff whose sweet scent pervades, while being carried in a hand that is more stunning and whose nose is even more lofty.” This is probably one of the most beautifully eloquent lines of the poem, whereby the listener imagines the Imām’s beautiful staff before being directed to behold its bearer.
 The Stone of Ishmael, or Al-Ḥaṭīm, is thought to be the remnant of the original stones laid as the foundation of the Ka’bah by Ishmael; it obviously carries special sanctity. Al-Farazdaq here is referencing the fact that when the Imām goes to touch the Stone, it is in fact the Stone which is honored by this and not vice versa. This is yet another jeer at Hishām, who is jealous at the people’s awe of the Imām as he approaches the Black Stone, while not realizing that the very Ka’bah itself is enraptured by him.
 This is a recognition of the Imām’s pre-existential status: that it is God Himself who has bestowed him with such impeccable traits and decreed his honor as a part of His religion.
 Literally, “which creation is not compelled to accept his [the Imām’s] pre-eminence and which creation is not the recipient of favor through him?” This rhetorical question is an implicit acknowledgement from al-Farazdaq that the Imām holds authority over all creation and is the true khalīfah of God.
 Literally, “nations do not obtain credal knowledge except from his household.”
 This is a beautiful metaphor (al-isti’ārah) whereby the Imām’s faith is likened to an insurmountable peak which none can rival.
 This is derived from the famous verse of the Qur’ān, referring to the Holy Prophet’s people, “You are the best nation brought out to mankind.” (Sūrah Āli ‘Imrān verse 110)
 In this line, al-Farazdaq alludes simultaneously to the verse of mawaddah (Surah Shūrā: verse 42) and to the famous Ḥadīth of the Ark on the authority of the Prophet which states that the like of my Ahlulbayt is as the Ark of Noah; he who boards it is saved and he who abandons it drowns.
 This is of course an allusion to the invocations of ṣalawāt that are mandatorily recited upon the Ahlulbayt after praising God in religious speeches, prayers, rituals, and supplications. As is famously stated by al-Shāfi’ī addressing the Ahlulbayt: يَكفيكُمُ مِن عَظيمِ الفَخرِ أَنَّكُمُ مَن لَم يُصَلِّ عَلَيكُم لا صَلاةَ لَهُ (“Sufficient for you is this commendation: ṣalāt isn’t sound but by your salutation!”)
 Or more literally, “if the pious are tallied, then they are their Imāms.”
 As in even the most noble knights cannot mirror their generosity.
 A-Farazdaq employs a literary device known as antithesis (al-ṭibāq) for the purposes of praise (al-madḥ): in this single line, he makes mention of their mercy at times of need and their ferocity at times of peril, implying that they respond with the highest and most becoming moral virtue for every type of affliction.
 These last three couplets are considered some of the most powerful lines of al-Farazdaq’s poem. He extols the Ahlulbayt’s generosity, bravery, and sagacity all at once while making apparent his belief in seeking wasīlah by his love for them to avert catastrophes and garner favors. As derived from the second couplet of the poem: there is a cohesivity in this poem in that it extols the Imām (and by extension all the Ahlulbayt) in his pristine lineage (khayr ‘ibādillāh), piety (al-taqwa), immaculate virtues (al-naqāwah), impeccable appearance (al-ṭahārah), and exemplary status for the ummah (al-‘alamiyyah).
Muhammad Jaffer is a neurologist by profession, and his field of interest is Islamic literature. He enjoys translating Arabic poetry in particular.