The Legendary Ode Inscribed into the Golden Cage of Imam Ali (as)

The following is a translation of al-Qaṣīdah al-‘Ayniyyah of ‘Abd al-Ḥamīd ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd al-Mu’tazilī  (586-656 A.H.). Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd is widely regarded as the famous commentator of Nahj al-Balāghah. While he was actually a Sunnī Mu’tazilite who followed the Shāfi’ite school of Sunni jurisprudence, he nonetheless believed in the superiority of Imām ‘Alī (as) over all other companions.  A powerful poet, ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd composed a series of seven odes about Imām ‘Alī (as) that have come to be known as the ‘Alawiyyāt.

The below poem, arguably the most famous, has been inscribed into the golden cage (al-ḍarīḥ) of the Imam’s grave in Najaf as a testament to its eloquence. At the end of the poem, ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd affirms his belief in Imām al-Mahdī (as) and describes how ardently he awaits his advent. We have endeavored our best to preserve a poetic scheme of rhyming couplets in translation, although the original Arabic is obviously impossible to surpass in English. As usual, we have also furnished this translation with footnotes to explain nuances that may escape translation, derived from a contemporary commentary (al-Rawḍah al-Mukhtārah) that has been published on the poem.


يا برق إن جئت الغريّ فقل له


أتراك تعلم من بأرضك مودع


فيك ابن عمران الكليم وبعده


عيسى يقفيه وأحمد يتبع


بل فيك جبريلٌ وميكالٌ وإسرافيل


والملأ المقدّس أجمع


بل فيك نور الله جلّ جلاله


لذوي البصائر يستشفّ ويلمع


فيك الإمام المرتضى فيك الوصييّ


المجتبى فيك البطين الأنزع


الضارب الهام المقنع في الوغى


بالخوف للبهم الكماة يقنع


والسمهرية تستقيم وتنحني


فكأنها بين الأضالع أضلع


ومبدّد الأبطال حيث تألبوا


ومفرّق الأحزاب حيث تجمّعوا


والحبر يصدع بالمواعظ خاشعاً


حتّى تكاد لها القلوب تصدّع


حتى إذا استعر الوغى متلظيا


شرب الدماء بغلة لا تنقع


متجلببا ثوبا من الدم قانيا


يعلوه من نقع الملاحم برقع


هذا ضمير العالم الموجود عن


عدم وسر وجوده المستودع


هذا هو النّور الّذي عذباته


كانت بجبهة آدم تتطلّع


وشهاب موسى حيث أظلم ليله


رفعت له لألاؤه تتشعشع


يا من له ردّت ذكاء ولم يفز


بنظيرها من قبل إلاّ يوشع


يا هازم الأحزاب لا يثنيه عن


خوض الحمام مدجّج ومدرّع


يا قالع الباب الّذي عن هزّها


عجزت أكفٌّ أربعون وأربع


لولا حدوثك قلت إنك جاعل


الأرواح في الأشباح والمستنزع


لولا مماتك قلت إنك باسط


 الأرزاق تقدر في العطاء وتوسع


ما العالم العلوي إلا تربة


فيها لجثتك الشريفة مضجع


أنا في مديحك ألكنٌ لا أهتدي


وأنا الخطيب الهبرزيّ المصقع


أأقول فيك سميدعٌ كلاّ ولا


حاشا لمثلك أن يقال سميدع


بل أنت في يوم القيامة حاكمٌ


في العالمين وشافعٌ ومشفع


ولقد جهلت وكنت أحذق عالم


أغرار عزمك أم حسامك أقطع


وفقدت معرفتي فلست بعارف


هل فضل علمك أم جنابك أوسع


لي فيك معتقد سأكشف سره


فليصغ أرباب النهى وليسمعوا


هي نفثة المصدور يطفئ بردها


حر الصبابة فاعذلوني أودعوا


والله لولا حيدر ما كانت


الدنيا ولا جمع البرية مجمع


وإليه في يوم المعاد حسابنا


وهو الملاذ لنا غدا والمفزع


ورأيت دين الاعتزال وإنني


أهوى لأجلك كل من يتشيع


ولقد علمت بأنّه لا بدّ من


مهديّكم وليومه أتوقع


فيها لآل أبي الحديد صوارم


مشهورة ورماح خط شرع


ورجال موت مقدمون كأنهم


أسد العرين الربد لا تتكعكع


تلك المنى إما أغب عنها فلي


نفس تنازعني وشوق ينزع


Should you reach—oh lightning—Najaf then say:


Pray tell do you know in your earth who does lay?[1]


In your ground is the son of ‘Imrān, the Kalīm


And after him: Jesus; then Aḥmad, supreme


Nay in you abide all the greatest archangels


Azrael and Gabriel, followed by Michael


Nay in you God’s Light, most full of Might


To intellects glows while shining so bright[2]


In you is that chosen leader and heir


In you is the stout, of idolatry spared[3]


The helmeted striker of heads in battle


Bound by his fear, every knight would rattle[4]


The pike in his grasp did bend and straighten


As though it were lodged in his ribcage, shapen[5]


Splitter of champions when they converged


And parter of legions whenever they surged[6]


The sage that would exhort with humility


Until the hearts nigh dissolved in docility


Till the war mounted the heat of its flames


He quenched with blood its thirst that remained


Donning a robe by blood rubified


By combat’s dusts, his face beautified[7]


This is the core of the Cosmos’ existence


And the secret of this creation’s persistence[8]


This is indeed that light whose rays


On Adam’s forelock surely did blaze


That torch of Moses when his night became dark


Whose effulgence was raised for him as a spark


Oh one for whom the Sun was returned:


Such status that none but Ezekiel earned[9]


Oh defeater of armies, never alarmed,


By facing in combat the armored and armed


Oh ripper of that Gate, never shaken


Even by forty-four men: forsaken![10]


Had it not been for your incipience


I’d call you giver and taker of sentience


And indeed had it not been for your demise


I’d call you bestower of rations likewise[11]


For surely that higher realm is just dust


For your precious corpse: it’s merely a crust![12]


Indeed in your praise, I wander and stutter


And I am most comely in speech: the stunner!


Should I describe you as the magnanimous?


Never! Your like transcends the magnanimous![13]


Nay at Resurrection, you are the assessor


To all of creation: you’re the intercessor!


Confounded am I, despite being a scholar:


Is it your sword or your wit that is sharper?


And losing my reason, I tarry no wiser


Is it your wisdom or bounty that’s wider?


About you I have a belief I’ll reveal


So let those of knowledge listen with zeal


To the sigh of an ailing soul that freshens


Its ardent passions with this profession:[14]


By God, had it surely not been for Ḥaydar


This life couldn’t be, and neither the Later


Our accounts are to him on the Day of Returning


And he is the shelter and place of our turning[15]


But yet I adopt the path of the Mu’tazilah


Although for your sake, I do love your Shī’ah[16]


And I surely know that there is no doubt


In your Mahdī’s day, and await him devout!


Hoisted amidst are Abul Ḥadīd’s swords


May his spears count midst the hordes[17]


Behold those men of death proceeding


Like lions amid their lairs—not retreating![18]


That is the goal: how hard is the patience!


For mine is a soul devoid of complacence![19]


[1] In Arabic, the poet calls Najaf by its alternative ancient name al-Gharīyy, which means “the beautiful or radiant.” The personification here is powerful, as it implies that the city of Imām ‘Alī (as) flashes with brilliance more so than lightning itself.

[2] Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd is implying that Imām ‘Ali, being buried in Najaf, embodies the grace and virtue of the Greatest Arch-Prophets, the Closest Archangels, and even God’s Light itself. As a Mu’tazilite, ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd believed that the angels were better than the Prophets (excepting Prophet Muḥammad); therefore, he ascends in his praise by first equating Imām ‘Alī with the Prophets, then ascending to the archangels, and finally mentioning how Imām ‘Alī (as) is the Light of God itself. The “Light of God” is a powerful metaphor (al-isti’ārah) in the sense that Imām ‘Ali completely wipes out the darkness of ignorance while his intellectual superiority simultaneously blazes bright to those with insight.

[3] Now the poet makes his reference more explicit, describing Imām ‘Alī by a number of his famous epithets (al-murtaḍā, al-waṣī, al-baṭīn, al-anza’). As we have described in commentary of other poems, the latter two epithets were famously given to Imām ‘Alī by the Prophet (saw) when he said, ““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).”

[4] Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd uses alliteration (al-jinās) here in a way that escapes translation. He draws a contrast between a helmeted Imām and his opponents, who were helmeted by the specter of his fear.

[5] The poet continues to describe the finesse of the Imām in combat; he implies that the Imām was so natural in using weaponry that it was as if his spear was an extension of his own body; the ribcage is used as a metaphor because usually, infantrymen would lodge their spears under their armpits.

[6] The import here will be clear to those who have studied the miraculous chivalry of Imām ‘Ali (as) in the battles of Badr, Uḥud, Khandaq, Khaybar, and Ḥunayn.

[7] Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd uses several powerful forms of imagery in these lines; the organization of the couplets here may first appear strange, as humility is mentioned amidst extolling the virtues of the Imām in combat. However, the poet seeks to emphasize that while it is usual for a valiant knight to be hard-hearted, Imām ‘Alī (as) was different in that he was the most humble and fearful of God such that others’ hearts would melt at his exhortation. Therefore, what is implied is that Imām ‘Alī  combined the seemingly opposite virtues of kindness and bravery in the most superlative manner possible.

[8] It is as though ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd is alluding in these lines to the famous ḥadīth qudsī known as Lawlāka where it is narrated that “Oh Muḥammad, if it were not you I would not have created the Cosmos.” Given that Imām ‘Ali (as) was the twin and brother of the Prophet, it appears that ibn Abī al-Ḥadid makes this equivalence whereby the Imām is also the reason for this creation’s persistence. Of course, in the Shī’ah corpus, a variant of this ḥadīth is narrated that, “Oh Muḥammad if it wasn’t for you I would not have created the cosmos; and if it were not for ‘Alī, I would not have created you; and if it were not for Fāṭimah, I wouldn’t have created either of you!”

[9] In these lines, ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd compares the Imām to several prominent Prophets in emulation of the famous Prophetic ḥadīth narrated in both Shī’ah and Sunnī books: “Whoever wants to see Adam in his knowledge, Noah in his understanding, John in his asceticism, and Moses in his might should look at ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib.”

[10] Of course, these lines mention the famous incident whereby the Imām singlehandedly plucked the heavy door of Khaybar and used it as a shield for himself.

[11] In these lines, ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd continues to ascend in his praise of Imām ‘Alī (as) here in a hyperbolic fashion. He refutes the claim of those who elevate the Imām to the status of delegation over God’s creation (al-tafwīḍ) by referencing the fact that he is a created being.

[12] The poet states in other words that the angels and spirits themselves visit and circumambulate the grave of the Imām, as the angelic world is itself honored to host his holy spirit and subjugates itself to him.

[13] In his commentary of Nahj al-Balāghah, ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd states, “What should I say about a man that even the dhimmīs love despite rejecting the Prophet Muḥammad (saw)? What should I say about a man that the philosophers admire despite their obstinacy against religious people? What should I say about a man that even the Byzantine kings try to draw and place in their temples? What should I say about a man that Turkish kings emblemize into their swords? What should I say about a man for whom even his mortal enemies admitted to his virtues and could not censor his merits?…What should I say about a man that carries every merit and is claimed and wrestled over by every creed? Indeed, he is the chief, spring, and source of all virtues pristine!” (volume 1 page 17)

[14] More literally, the poet states, “…so leave me or blame me (for this belief),” meaning that regardless if someone should accuse him of extremism (ghuluww) or not, it will make no difference to him and he will maintain his selfsame belief.

[15] This is one of the bona fide opinions of ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd; as the poet states in his commentary of Nahj al-Balāghah: “Regarding him (Imām ‘Alī), the famous and well-attested (al-mustafīḍ) ḥadīth has been narrated: “He is the splitter of Heaven and Hell.” Abu ‘Ubayd has narrated in his book ‘Reconciling between Strange Ḥadīth’  (al-Jam’ bayn al-Gharībayn) the following: “Some authorities of Arabic have noted the narration means his lovers are people of Heaven while his haters are people of Hell. However others have said it means he himself is the one who admits people to Heaven and Hell.” As for this latter opinion mentioned by Abū ‘Ubayd, it is what conforms the narrations about this topic. He (Imām ‘Alī) will say to Hell, “This one is mine so leave him and this one is yours so take him!”” (Sharḥ Nahj al-Balāghah volume 9 page 165)

[16] This is the strongest proof that ibn Abī Ḥadīd, despite what he states about the status of Imām ‘Alī, was not a Shī’ah. The Mu’tazilah, although they believe that Imām ‘Ali was the best companion, hold that it is allowed for the inferior (al-mafḍūl) to lead the superior (al-fāḍil) and therefore they accept the Caliphate of Abū Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthmān. As ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd indicates in his commentary on Nahl al-Balāghah, he did not believe there was any specific proof for the Prophetic bequeathing to Imām ‘Alī (as).

[17] In these lines ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd affirms his belief in Imām Mahdī (may Allah hasten his appearance) and makes a supplication that his family be among the helpers of the Twelfth Imām.

[18] In other words, the poet praises the helpers of the Imām as men who are accustomed to bravery and standing up to oppression, such that it has become their natural habitat.

[19] In more literal words: “That is the goal: if I should be absent at that time, then I at least have a soul that is restless and a passion (for him) that can never be stripped!”