Below is a translation of the legendary al-Qaṣīdah al-‘Aynīyyah of the Iraqi poet Muḥammad Mahdī al-Jawāhirī (1899-1997)—may God have mercy on him. Al-Jawāhirī is celebrated as the best Arab poet of the 20th century par excellence. His great grandfather—Muḥammad Ḥasan al-Najafī, wrote the Shī’ah fiqhī masterpiece “Jawāhir al-Kalām” (The Jewels of Discourse), which is still studied in the religious Shī’ite seminaries today and by which his family came to be known as “Jawāhirī.”
Educated in a highly religious family in the city of Najaf, al-Jawāhirī was recognized as a child prodigy. Although his parents dreamed of his becoming a religious scholar, al-Jawāhirī was more interested in becoming a literarian and journalist, taking his poetic talents to the epitome of prowess. This famous qaṣīdah where he eulogizes Imām al-Ḥusayn (as) has been memorialized in golden ink on the gate of entry to the shrine of the Imām in Karbalā. It is also known by its title, drawn from its final stanzas: “Āmantu bi al-Ḥusayn” (I Believe in Ḥusayn). It is often recited in majālis commemorating the Imām and has been famously rendered by the well-known Iraqi eulogizer Bāsim al-Karbalā’ī. It is widely considered by many among the best Arabic poems for the Imām ever composed; what is unique about the poem is that rather than approaching the Imām from the standpoint of a pious believer, al-Jawāhirī approaches him as a skeptical humanist, universalizing his significance beyond the merely religious dimension. As a poet of the classical tradition, al-Jawāhirī brilliantly portrays the Imām’s struggle against oppression and desire to establish social justice, all the while still preserving the tropes and style of medieval Arabic poetry. At the end of the poem, he presents a semi-philosophical Cartesian journey from doubt to conviction through reflection on Imām Ḥusayn’s sacrifice. As usual, we have furnished the poem with copious footnotes to explain imports that are hard to render in mere translation (compiled from the writings of several critics and commentators), although we have also endeavored our best to approximate all meanings as accurately as possible in rhymed English verse.
فـداء لـمـثـواك مـن مـضجع
تنوّر بالأبلج الأروع
بـأعـبـق من نفحات الجنان
رَوحا ومن مسكها أضوع
ورعـيا ليومك يوم الطفوف
وسقيا لأرضك من مصرع
وحـزنـا عليك بحبس النفوس
على نهجك النيّر المهيع
وصـونا لـمـجدك من أن يذال
بما أنت تأباه من مبدع
فـيـا أيـّهـا الـوتر في الخالدين
فذّا الى الآن لم يشفع
ويـا عـظـة الـطّامحين العظام
للاّهين عن غدهم قنّع
تـعـالـيت من مفزع للحتوف
وبورك قبرك من مفزع
تـلـوذ الـدّهـور فـمن سجّد
على جانبيه ومن ركّع
شـمـمـت ثراك فهبّ النّسيم
نسيم الكرامة من بلقع
وعـفـّرت خدّي بحيث استراح
خدّ تفرّى ولم يضرع
وحـيـث سـنابك خيل الطّغاة
جالت عليه ولم يخشع
وخـلـت وقد طارت الذّكريات
بروحي الى عالم أرفع
وطـفـت بـقبرك طوف الخيال
بصومعة الملهم المبدع
كـأنّ يـدا مـن وراء الـضّريح
حمراء مبتورة الاصبع
تـمـدّ إلـى عـالـم بـالخنوع
والضّيم ذي شرق مترع
تـخـبـّط فـي غابة أطبقت
على مذئب منه أو مسبع
لـتـبـدل مـنه جديب الضّمير
بآخر معشوشب ممرع
وتـدفـع هـذي النّفوس الصّغار
خوفا الى حرم أمنع
تـعالـيـت من صاعق يلتظي
فان تدج داجية يلمع
تـأرّم حـقـدا على الصّاعقات
لم تنئ ضيرا ولم تنفع
ولـم تـبـذر الـحبّ إثر الهشيم
وقد حرّقته ولم تزرع
ولـم تـخـل أبراجها في السّماء
ولم تأت أرضا ولم تدقع
ولـم تـقـطـع الشرّ من جذمه
وغلّ الضّمائر لم تنزع
ولـم تـصـدم النّاس فيما هم
عليه من الخلق الأوضع
تـعـالـيـت من فلك قطره
يدور على المحور الأوسع
فـيـا ابـن البتول وحسبي بها
بيانا على كل ما أدّعي
ويـا ابـن الـتّـي لم يضع مثلها
كمثلك حملا ولم ترضع
ويـا ابـن الـبـطين بلا بطنة
ويا ابن الفتى الحاسر الأنزع
ويـا غـصـن هـاشـم لم ينفتح
بأزهر منه ولم يفرع
ويـا واصـلا مـن نشيد الخلود
ختام القصيدة بالمطلع
يـسـيـر الورى بركاب الزّمان
من مستقيم ومن أظلع
وأنـت تـسـيـر ركـب الـخلود
ما تستجدّ له يتبع
تـمـثّلت يومك في خاطري
وردّدت صوتك في مسمعي
ومـحّـصـت أمـرك لم أرتهب
بنقل الرّواة ولم أخدع
وقـلـت لـعـلّ دويّ السّنين
بأصداء حادثك المفجع
ومـا رتّل الـمخلصون الدّعاة
من مرسلين ومن سجّع
ومـن نـاثرات عليك المساء
والصّبح بالشّعر والأدمع
لـعـلّ الـسّياسة فيما جنت
على لاصق بك أو مدّعي
لـعـلّ لـذاك وكـون الشّجي
ولوعا بكلّ شج مولع
يـدا فـي اصـطباغ حديث الحسين
بلون أريد له ممتع
ولـما أزحـت طـلاء القرون
وستر الخداع عن المخدع
أريدُ “الحقيقةَ” في ذاتِهَـا
بغيرِ الطبيعـةِ لم تُطْبَـعِ
وجـدتـك فـي صورة لم أرع
بأعظم منها ولا أروع
ومـاذا أأروع مـن أن يكون
لحمك وقفا على المبضع
وأن تـتّقـي دونـمـا ترتأي
ضميرك بالأسّل الشرّع
وأن تـطـعم الموت خير البنين
من الأكهلين الى الرضّع
وخـيـر الصّحاب بخير الصّدور
كانوا وقاءك والأذرع
تـقحّمت صدري وريب الشكوك
يضجّ بجدرانه الأربع
إلى أن أقمت عليه الدليل
من “مبدأ” بدم مشبع
فـأسـلـم طـوعا اليك القياد
وأعطاك إذعانه المهطع
فنوّرت ما اظلمّ من فكرتي
وقوّمت ما اعوجّ من أضلعي
وآمنت إيمان من لا يرى
سوى العقل في الشّكّ من مرجع
بـأنّ الإبـاء ووحـي الـسّماء
وفيض النبوّة من منبع
تـجـمّع فـي “جـوهر” خالص
تنزّه عن “عرض” المطمع
May I be ransomed for your resting place
A grave that blooms with your epic trace:
With a scent more sweet than heavenly gusts
Yet fresher and more diffuse than its musk!
And may I recall your day on those plains
And water your grounds: the place you were slain;
In sorrow for you, with souls that do stay
Firm on your clear and illustrious way!
And may I preserve your grace from indignity
From what you’d rebuke of many a heresy!
Oh one whose uniqueness will last forever
Till today the exclusive—unpaired with another!
And oh lesson for those who covet grandeur
Who live without any care for the Hereafter!
Exalted you are—by you, Death’s in awe
And your grave is blessed as a shelter for all
Epochs themselves resort to your gate
Some bowing down, and others prostrate!
I did smell your soil—its breeze oh so fragrant
A glorious breeze from a land oh so vacant!
And I smudged my cheek in that place where had keeled
A cheek that was shred, but never did yield!
That place where the hooves of those tyrants’ horses
Had trampled that corpse, bereft of remorses!
And I pictured—while these thoughts did fly
My soul to a world abiding On High!
I circled your grave with my mind’s phantom
Around that inspired sage’s sanctum,
And it seemed a hand from beyond the crypt
Stained in blood, of a finger stripped:
Stretched itself out to a world so disloyal
Oppressive and cruel, filled with turmoil—
A world that strayed into woods encompassed
By wolves and beasts at every impasse—
To change over hearts that had become shriveled
With others verdant, in greenery bristled;
To steer those spirits degraded by fear
To a haven in which they could always adhere!
Exalted you are over lightning refined:
Should night rear its gloom, your blaze does shine!
And all other bolts in your quake do regress
For they cannot aid or relieve distress;
For they do not sow the seeds of love
Nor reap the terrain they scorch from above;
And they do not leave their lofts in the sky
Nor descend to the Earth to be mortified;
And they cannot slice off the root of evil
Nor root out hate from the hearts of people;
Nor can they fight against such of men
In morals depraved, with no acumen!
Nay exalted you are over every world:
On an Axis Divine—completely whirled!
Oh son of Batūl! And she is enough
To prove that all I say is no bluff;
Oh son of the best to ever conceive
An offspring like you or ever breastfeed!
Oh son of the stout—yet never a glutton,
Oh son of the hero, the victor, the titan!
Oh sprout of Hāshim, from whom hasn’t blossomed
Flowers more bright or offspring more awesome!
Oh hinge in the hymn of immortality
Between the first stanza and its finale!
On the backs of time mankind does traverse
Some upright, and yet others perverse;
As for you—you guide eternity’s horse
What you enact, it just follows course!
In my mind I indeed envision your day
And upon my ear your echoes replay;
Without any fear your story I sift
By what they narrate not being gypped:
I thought that perhaps the echoes of time
Recounting the scenes of that painful crime;
And perhaps the reciters of your elegies
Reading sincerely and chanting in melodies;
And women who spread for you day and night
Verses and tears lamenting your plight;
And what was politically wrought—perchance—
By those who adhered or laid claim to your stance;
Perhaps that coupled with those zealous folk
Who craved outpourings of tears to evoke;
Play a hand to construct Ḥusayn’s sad story
In that manner which renders it glory!
But when I peeled off the paint of the centuries,
And lifted away the curtain of perfidies,
Seeking the “truth”—stripped down to its core,
Parsed from all contrived décor,
I beheld in you an image so dazzling
That never had I seen its like, so baffling!
For is there more stunning than such a sight
Of seeing your flesh smeared onto those pikes?
Of seeing you shield your own conviction,
Yielding your soul to the blade’s infliction?
Of seeing you feed your choicest children
The throes of death: from youths to infants?
Of seeing your friends, most loyal and best
Defending you both by their arms and their chests?
You charged my heart while doubts resounded
And off every wall of my bosom pounded—
Until with proof I had set to sate it
On the “premise” of blood, so saturated—
It relented to you, in full submission
And granted to you its humble admission:
That gloom beset in my mind—you enlightened!
And what was astray in my heart—you rightened!
Such I embraced this faith with the force
Of one who quells doubt with a rational source:
That such honor pristine and divine revelation
And splendor prophetic are one emanation
Gathered—so pure—in a single “essence”
From “traits” of greed: in full transcendence!
 Al-Jawāhirī employs a typical rhapsodical trope (al-tashbīb) in traditional Arabic poetry: namely extolling the place of the beloved before transitioning to eulogizing them directly. His sacrificing himself for the Imām’s grave is highly salient, as the Imām had sacrificed himself to uphold the ideals of justice. This principle of self-sacrifice for preserving high principles is a repeated motif in the poem.
 The poet does not designate his beloved by name, but the use of the titles “al-arwa’” and “al-ablaj” are meant to signify the Imām as the de facto bearer of these traits. “Al-arwa’” literally means “one of astonishing splendor,” while “al-ablaj” literally means “one with a broad and blazing forehead,” a sign of beauty among the Arabs.
 The Imām’s fragrance surpassing that of Heaven’s musk is a subtle allusion to the fact that his significance transcends religious boundaries and that his message is not limited to a particular faith community.
 Watering the grave here has two meanings: irrigating the grave with the shedding of tears and sprinkling water on the gravesite of the Imām (as). Calling for a place to be irrigated (al-suqyā) is a common benediction in traditional Arabic poetry, perhaps because when a land is watered its surrounding vegetation becomes more luscious and attracts more visitors; in turn, they benefit from the terrain and pray for the one buried there. In the case of the Imām, this can therefore be understood as a supplication to God that He multiply the number of pilgrims to the shrine of the Imām.
 In these lines, al-Jawāhirī begins to allude to the message of social justice that the Imām brought. He states that true grief for the Imām (as) is embodied in disciplining the minds and hearts to stay firm on his principles; he opposes rituals for Imām Ḥusayn that deviate from these values, terming them “heresies” that the Imām would oppose. He deems it among his duties to protect the message from becoming one of blind rituals, without regard for the principles of the Imām’s revolution.
 At this juncture, al-Jawāhirī turns his attention to address the Imām directly in the second person; this is a linguistic device known as al-iltifāt in Arabic and results in personalization, making the addressee relevant and contemporary. His calling the Imām al-witr (the uniquely single) serves to signify how he singly stood for justice par excellence while also simultaneously implying that his martyrdom remains unavenged.
 Al-Jawāhirī employs the literary device of antithesis (al-ṭibāq) here, as those “who covet profusely” and “live without care” are opposites. The implication is that the Imām’s mission and sacrifice has something to teach the full spectrum of humankind: from those who carry lofty aspirations to the existential nihilists.
 The poet skillfully uses a linguistic device called al-jinās (alliteration), juxtaposing the words mufzi’ (the one who causes others to seek refuge) and mafza’ (the place of refuge). In other words, he identifies the Imām as the simultaneous source of fright for those who wish to inflict harm upon others (given even Death itself is frightened by him) and the source of asylum for the disenfranchised. As Al-Jawāhirī often repeats in the poem, he deems the Imām an immortal figure. He therefore personifies and subjugates Time itself to his sanctum.
 Here, we find the poet attempting to re-enact the tragedy of Imām Ḥusayn (as) by contrasting his unyielding honor in the face of absolute abandonment and brutal oppression. Although smelling the soil and placing one’s cheek on the Imām’s burial site are among the traditions of ziyārah, the poet appropriates this imagery for the purposes of nostalgic emulation, linking it directly back to the memory of an unrelenting Imām being massacred on the plains of Karbalā.
 Al-Jawāhirī resorts to his imaginative faculty (al-khayāl) to reconcile between the idealized immortalization of the Imām—from whom Death itself is frightened and epochs seek asylum—with his perceived tragic mortality in Karbalā. It appears by these lines that the poet is well-acquainted with Islāmic philosophy and how the imaginative faculty (al-takhayyul) is employed to reconcile between intellection (al-ta’aqqul) and empiric perception (al-ḥiss).
 This is a tragic reference to the finger (al-khinṣir) of Imām Ḥusayn (as) being cut off by Bajdal bin Sulaym al-Kalbī after his martyrdom to loot his ring. By mentioning this imagery, the poet emphasizes the extent of oppression that the Imām faced.
 Al-Jawāhirī beautifully reconciles the paradox of the immortality of the Imām with his mortification: through his sacrifice, he singlehandedly set an eternal precedent against oppressors that rendered life and courage back into the hearts of the disenfranchised.
 Having clarified how the Imām (as) is immortal, the poet now returns to directly addressing the Imām, searching for a powerful metaphor to render his similitude. He finds it in a bolt of lightning: like Imām Ḥusayn, it is elevated, brilliant, frightening, powerful, and bellowing while razing all that oppose it. He then engages in a process of exalting the Imām over this similitude and establishing his superiority over it: while lightning is transient and flashes just once, the Imām blazes each time the gloom of oppression rears its ugly head.
 More literally, the poet states that the Ḥusaynī bolt seethes with anger (al-ḥiqd) against natural lightning, which does not bear its miraculous properties to enact revolutionary change and instead only destroys. In this is a veiled critique of sociopolitical movements that only call for universal love and peace; al-Jawāhirī alludes to the fact that hatred and anger of those who propagate destruction of society is an important part of pursuing social justice.
 This is an implicit critique of those social activists who merely pontificate from their ivory towers while employing others to directly confront oppression. The poet implies that the true social reformist on the paradigm of Imām Ḥusayn engages with his society directly and prunes its sociological vices back to the path of virtue.
 Al-Jawāhirī ascends past the mere lightning bolt, now extolling the Imām (as) over the entire cosmos. A more literal rendering of this line would be: “You are exalted above every celestial sphere, whose orbit rotates around the greatest axis (of creation).” In other words, he is stating that the value of the Imām transcends the material world in its entirety—he is otherworldly and physical metaphors cannot do justice to his worth.
 The poet notes that all the peerless praise he has lauded upon Imām Ḥusayn (as) is justified, for he is the son of the daughter of the Prophet: nurtured and nursed by the best woman to ever walk the face of this Earth.
 These titles of course refer to Imām ‘Alī (as) based on a famous Prophetic ḥadīth addressing him, “Rejoice Oh ‘Alī, for you are the flawless (al-anza’) and stout (al-baṭīn): stripped of the flaw of idolatry (al-manzū’ min al-shirk) and stout in knowledge (al-baṭīn min al-‘ilm).”
 Al-Jawāhirī identifies the Imām by his noble lineage, as though to say that it is no wonder that he is such a paragon of excellence—for his mother is Zahrā’ (as), his father is ‘Alī (as), and he is the branch of Hāshim from which God extracted all the other Imāms.
 The poet again returns to the timelessness of the Imām: that he is the locus and paradigm from which inspiration is drawn and upon which all immortal struggles hinge. Despite the elevated status he enjoyed in society as the grandson of the Messenger of God, he did not irk at the responsibility of standing up for the truth and as such, he has achieved a status in eternity.
 At this point, al-Jawāhirī returns to the account of Karbalā, approaching it from the perspective not of a pious believer, but rather a ruthless critic employing a semi-Cartesian epistemic methodology to the tragedy. He unleashes upon the narrative a slew of doubts to distill out the indubitable truth.
 Al-Jawāhirī reaches the climax in his casting various aspersions on the tragedy of ‘Āshurā’: he states that perhaps it has merely been embellished and crafted into a glorious epic by the vicissitudes of time, with its various eulogizers, believers, narrators, mourners, politicians, and dramatists. Perhaps if all these artifices were cast aside, the story of Imām Ḥusayn (as) would lose its luster and cease to carry its epic significance.
 Confronted by these various doubts and sifting the narrative down from all its accoutrements, the poet rebounds in astonishment at an image of Karbalā stripped down to its most historically established and indubitable fact: that the Imām sacrificed himself, his children, and his comrades while gravely outnumbered by a tyrannical force, all for the sake of his unshakeable ideals and convictions. This flies in the face of critiques that the Imām stood up to consolidate his own political authority, as sacrificing your own children and loved ones cannot be but for a purpose that transcends worldly aspirations.
 This is another allusion to the Cartesian methodology, whereby the premise of the Imām’s sacrifice is the certain knowledge with which the poet quells his doubts about the Imām’s mission.
 This is again what sets apart al-Jawāhirī’s poem from that of other more traditional religious eulogies that approach the Imām from within the purview of religious belief. Instead, al-Jawāhirī approaches the Imām with an intellectual rigor and objectivity that strips down the narrative to its bare and essential truth: the Imām’s unbridled and absolute sacrifice for the sake of enacting social reform. In turn, this has a powerful role in universalizing the significance of the Imām (as).
 Al-Jawāhirī concludes his masterpiece by stating plainly the belief in Imām Ḥusayn (as) which he has come to hold after his journey from doubt to certainty: that the Imām is the simultaneous embodiment of honor, divine revelation, and prophetic truth—completely transcending all worldly aims and greedy motives. The antithesis between “essence” (al-jawhar) and “trait” (al-‘araḍ) serves two purposes: firstly, it is a form of takhalluṣ, whereby al-Jawāhirī alludes to his authorship of the poem. Secondly, it is again a reference to Islamic philosophy and the division between substance and accident, lending a further indication of al-Jawāhirī’s desire to intellectualize and universalize the Imām (as) beyond a purely religious discourse.
Muhammad Jaffer is a neurologist by profession, and his field of interest is Islamic literature. He enjoys translating Arabic poetry in particular.