The Legendary Poem Inscribed into the Golden Dome of Imam ‘Ali’s Shrine

The following panegyric for Imām ‘Alī (as) is written by a famous 19th century Arab poet and the Sunnī Ḥanafī governor of Mosul for the Ottoman Empire, ‘Abdul Bāqī al-‘Umarī (1790-1862), who traces his lineage back to ‘Umar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb. It is widely regarded as one of the most astonishing and eloquent tributes to Imām ‘Alī (as) ever penned in the Arabic language. As a testament to its eloquence, it has been inscribed into the Golden Dome of the Shrine of Imām ‘Alī (as) in Najaf, thus cementing its legacy among the most highly appraised poems for Imām ‘Alī (as). What is truly astonishing is that al-‘Umarī composed this masterpiece of a poem in the throes of Ottoman literary decadence, solely out of love for Imām ‘Alī (as). It is speculated that al-‘Umarī converted to Shī’ism; as we will see, several of the lines in this poem express ideological sentiments consistent with Tashayyu’. Furthermore, al-‘Umarī was known to be extremely active in visiting the shrines of all the Imāms of Ahlulbayt and composing poetry for them, especially in the latter portion of his life.

The famous Sunnī scholar and muḥaddith, Maḥmūd Abū al-Thanā’ al-Ālūsī—author of the Qur’ānic tafsīr Rūḥ al-Ma’ānī—has written a commentary on the poem below entitled, “Al-Kharīdah al-Ghaybīyyah” (The Hidden Pearl), excerpts of which we mention in our footnotes. This may come as a surprise to some as al-Ālūsī is a prominent Sunni scholar, but this should remind us that the faḍā’il of Imam ‘Alī (as) are so fantastic that even those who opposed Shī’ism conceded to them.

أنـت العـلي الذي فـوق العـلا رفـعـا


بــبــطـن مـكـة وسـط البـيـت إذ وضـعـا


وأنــت حـيـدرة الغـاب الذي أسـد


البرج الســمــاوي عــنــه خــاســئا رجـعـا



وأنـــت بـــاب تــعــالى شــأن حــارســه


بــغــيـر راحـة روح القـدس مـا قـرعـا


وأنـت ذاك البـطـيـن المـمـتلي حكما


مــعـاشـرهـا فـلك الافـلاك مـا وسـعـا


وأنـت ذاك الهـزبر الانزع البطل الذي


 بــمــخــلبــه للشــرك قــد نـزعـا


وأنــت نــقــطــة بــاء مــع تــوحــدهــا


بـهـا جـمـيع الذي في الذكر قد جمعا


وأنــت والحـق يـا أقـضـى الانـام بـه


غـدا عـلى الحـوض حـقـا تـحـشـران معا


وأنــت صــنــو نــبــيِّ غــيــر شــرعــتــه


للانــبــيــاء اله العــرش مــا شـرعـا


وأنــت زوج ابــنـة الهـادي إلى سـنـن


مـن حـاد عـنـه عـداه الرشـد فانخزعا


وأنــت بــالطــبــع سـيـف تـارة عـطـبـا


يـسـقـي الثـغـور ويـشـفـي مـرة طـبـعـا


وأنت غوث وغيث في ردى وندى


لخائف ولراج لاذ وانتجعا


وأنــت ركن يــجــيــر المــســتـجـيـر بـه


وأنــت حــصــن لمــن مــن دهــره فـزعـا


وأنــت مــن بــنــداه عــزًّ مــن طــمـعـا


وفــي جــدى مــن ســواه ذل مـن قـنـعـا


وأنــت عــيــن يــقــيــن لم يــزده بــه


كـشـف الغـطـاء يـقـيـنـا أيـة انـقشعا


وأنــت ذو مــنــصــل صــلٍّ يــنـضـنـض فـي


غـمـد كـلغـد لمـكـر الكـفـر قـد بـلعا


وأنـــت ذو حـــســب يــعــزى إلى نــســب


قـد نـيـط فـي سـبـب أوج العـلا قـرعا


وأنــت ضــئضــىء مــجــد فــي مـدى أمـد


قـد فـصـل الدهـر أوصالا وما انقطعا


وأنــت مــن حــمــت الاســلام وفــرتــه


ودرَّعـــت لبـــدتــاه الديــن فــادّرعــا


وأنــت مـن فـجـع الديـن المـبـيـن بـه


ومــن بــأولاده الإســلام قـد فـجـعـا


وأنــت أنـت الذي مـنـه الوجـود نـضـى


عــمــود صــبـح ليـافـوخ الدجـا صـدعـا


وأنــــت أنـــت الذي حـــطـــت له قـــدم


فــي مــوضــع يـده الرحـمـن قـد وضـعـا


وأنـت أنـت الذي للقـبـلتين مع النبيّ


 أول مـــــن صـــــلى ومــــن ركــــعــــا


وأنــت أنــت الذي فــي نـفـس مـضـجـعـه


فـي ليـل هـجـرتـه قـد بـات مـضـطـجـعـا


وأنــت أنــت الذي آثــاره ارتــفــعــت


عـلى الاثـيـر وعـنـهـا قـدره اتـضـعـا


وأنـت أنـت الذي يـلقـى الكـتـائب في


ثــبــات جــأش له ثــهــلان قـد خـضـعـا


وأنـــت أنـــت الذي لله مـــا فـــعــلا


وأنـــت أنـــت الذي لله مــا صــنــعــا


وأنــــــت ان الذي لله مـــــا وصـــــلا


وأنـــت أنـــت الذي لله مــا قــطــعــا



حـكـّمـت فـي الكـفـر سيفا لو هويت به


يـومـا عـلى كـتـد الافـلاك لانخلعا


مـــحـــدَّب يـــتـــراءا فـــي مـــقـــعّـــره


مــوج يــكـاد عـلى الآفـاق أن يـقـعـا


وبــاب خــبــيــر لو كــانــت مــسـامـره


كـل الثـوابـت حـتـى القـطب لانقلعا


بـاريـت شـمـس الضـحـى فـي جـنـة بـزغت


فـي يـوم بـدر بـزوغ البـدر إذ سـطعا


ســمــتــك أمــك بــنـت الليـث حـيـدرة


أكــرم بــلبــوة ليــث أنـجـبـت سـبـعـا


لك الكــســاء مــع الهــادي وبـضـعـتـه


وقـرَّتـي نـاظـريـه ابـنـيـك قـد جـمـعـا


وأنـت يـعـسـوب نـحـل المـؤمـنـيـن إلى


أي الجـهـات انـتـحـى يـلقـاهـمُ تبعا


مــا فــرق الله شــيـئـا فــي خـليـقـتـه


مــن الفــضــائل إلا عـنـدك اجـتـمـعـا


أبــا الحـسـيـن أنـا حـسـان مـدحـك لا


أنــفــك أظــهـر فـي انـشـائه البـدعـا


عـذرا فـقـد ضـقـت ذرعـا عـن احـاطـتـه


وكــلمــا ضــقـت عـن تـحـديـده اتـسـعـا


فـاقـبـل فـدتـك نـفـوس العـالمين ثنا


بــمـثـله العـالم العـلوي مـا سـمـعـا


You are that ‘Alī raised above every worth

For in Makkah’s core—in God’s House—was your birth![1]

And you are that Ḥaydar from which Leo’s constellation

Does rebound in fear and exasperation![2]

And you are the Gate—Exalted its Guard—

Except by the knock of Gabriel, barred![3]

And you are the stout, in wisdom amassed

The Cosmos a tenth of which can’t encompass

And you are that lion, ferocious and flawless

Whose claws skinned idolatry of any promise[4]

And you are that dot under Bā’, which singly

Sums up God’s Book in a manner so simply[5]

And you and The Truth, oh most just in its render

Tomorrow in truth will be raised up together[6]

And you are the twin to a Prophet whose creed

The Lord none but it to Prophets decreed[7]

And you are the spouse to the Prophet’s daughter

That Hādī to Ways of whose shunners falter[8]

And you are that inborn sword which wrecks

Oft-quenching the holes and oft-curing defects[9]

And you are the rain in drought, and the succor

To those dispossessed and seeking a shelter[10]

And you are the nook sought by each refugee

And you are the fort to whom fugitives flee

And you are the one to whose grace one aspires

And whoever seeks other debased does retire[11]

And you are that core of belief, not decreased:

Though veils should be cast, you’re never increased[12]

And you own that serpentine sword that hisses

In a sheath that devours whole disbelief’s pitches[13]

And you have a line traced through a descent

Stitched back to a strain of the steepest ascent[14]

And you are the source of glory distinguished

That Time keeps extending and cannot extinguish[15]

And yours is a fur by which faith was defended

And your mane with the coats of Islām was augmented[16]

And of you this manifest creed was bereaved

And Islām by your children’s plight was aggrieved[17]

And indeed from you did God unsheathe

Pillars of dawn that cracked the night’s wreath[18]

And indeed you alone have mounted by foot

A place where Allāh His own Hand had put[19]

And indeed with the Prophet in both the directions

You were first in prayer and in genuflection

And indeed you alone on his very bed

On the night of his Hijrah had slept in his stead[20]

And indeed yours are signs that surpass all antiquity

And render its worth in the throes of humility[21]

And indeed you alone approach large battalions—

Such rigor that mountains concede to your valiance!

And indeed you for God alone was your action

And indeed you for God alone was your fashion

And indeed you for God alone you had weaved

And indeed you for God alone you had cleaved[22]

Against disbelief such a sword you erect

With its strike even Atlas at once would be wrecked

Suspended, while in its pummel does loom

A wave on horizons that would well-nigh boom[23]

Yes even those struts of Khaybar’s door—

If tied to Earth’s axis, you’d pluck from the core[24]

You rivaled the Sun with the moon of your shield

At Badr, when shining you rose to the field[25]

And a lion’s daughter was truly your mother

So fitting it is that she named you Ḥaydar[26]

And you have that rank of gathering under

The Cloak with the Prophet, your sons, and his daughter[27]

And you are that King of the Bees for the Faithful

Wherever you turn, they follow—so graceful[28]

No virtues has God diffused midst his creatures

Except that in you altogether they feature

I excel—oh Abū Ḥusayn!—in your praise

And I don’t cease but with gems to amaze[29]

But pardon—for it falls short of my grasp

For when I clamp down, it breaks through my clasp!

So accept from me—may The Worlds be your ransom—

This praise that stuns the Heavens: most handsome!




[1] A beautiful aspect of this poem is the repetitive parallelism embodied in “And you…,” whereby each line highlights yet another aspect of the pristine merits of Imām ‘Alī (as). In a more literal rendering, the poet is addressing Imām ‘Ali here as “you are the exalted one (al-‘alī) raised above every height (al-‘ulā).” He substantiates this statement here by recounting that God exalted the Imām with the exclusive honor of birth inside the Holy Ka’bah. As al-Ālūsī remarks, “The birth of ‘Alī (may God honor his face) inside the House of God is well-known and mentioned in both Shī’ah and Sunnī books…and it is not unanimous that anyone else was born therein; so how befitting it is for the leader of leaders that his birth should be at the qiblah of the believers—glory be to the One who puts things in their proper place, and He is the Wisest of the Wise!”

[2] The name Ḥaydar is another word for lion (‘asad’) in Arabic and it is narrated that Imām ‘Alī’s mother Fāṭimah bint Asad named him this after her own father’s name. Imām ‘Alī famously uses this epithet from his mother in his battle with the warrior-champion of the Jews Marḥab.

[3] The reference to Imām ‘Alī (as) as a door is derived from the famous Prophetic ḥadīth, “I am the city of knowledge and ‘Alī is its gate.” The reference to Gabriel’s knocking is understood in the sense that a city is approached through its door; hence, when Gabriel would come to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) to deliver revelation, Imām ‘Alī would also be able to hear and see the angelic spirits as alluded to in Nahj al-Balāghah where the Prophet is quoted to say, “Oh ‘Alī! You hear what I hear and see what I see, except that you are not a Prophet.” Al-Ālūsī also considers the possibility here that Imām ‘Alī (as) would in fact receive inspiration (ilhām) from the Angel Gabriel. This is in fact supported by many of our Shī’ah riwāyāt that indicate our Imāms were muḥaddathūn (i.e., spoken to by the angels).

[4] These titles, “flawless” (al-anza’) and “stout” (al-baṭīn) are derived from a famous Prophetic ḥadīth where the Prophet tells Imām ‘Alī, “Rejoice, 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).” Of course, the absolutely unrivalled heroic feats of Imām ‘Alī (as) in the early battles of Islām praised in these lines are already clear to the well-acquainted reader.

[5] This is derived from the famous ḥadīth where the Imam states, “Everything in the Qur’ān is summarized in Sūrah al-Fātiḥah and all of Sūrah al-Fātiḥah is summarized in the basmalah, and everything in the basmalah is summarized in the [Arabic] letter Bā’, and everything in the Bā’ is summarized in its dot (nuqṭah), and I am that dot under the Bā’.”

[6] This line is derived from two famous aḥādīth that praise Imām ‘Alī (as). It is narrated that the Prophet said, “Indeed the most just of my nation (aqḍā ummatī) is ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib.” The second of course is the one where the Prophet states, “The Truth (al-ḥaqq) is with ‘Alī and ‘Alī is with The Truth—It goes about wherever he goes.”

[7] In its root meaning, al-ṣinw refers to two branches of the same tree; from this it is abstracted in the Arabic language to also imply a close brother or son. In this line, the poet alludes to the famous ḥadīth of the Prophet, “Oh ‘Alī, you and I are from a single tree; and the rest of the people are from different trees,” as well as to the Prophetic ḥadīth, “‘Alī and I were created from one light.” In that every Prophet came with the Holy Prophet Muḥammad’s self-same religious prescription is an indication that he is the best of all Prophets. It is astounding that al-Ālūsī spends several pages in his commentary of this couplet to prove the afḍaliyyah (superiority) of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) based on this line, but fails to recognize that this logically necessitates that Imām ‘Alī (as)—as his twin—must also be superior to all other Prophets.

[8] Of course al-Hādī (the Guide) is one of the famous Qur’ānic epithets for the Holy Prophet (pbuh). Al-Ālūsi has a beautiful statement in his commentary on this couplet, “The praise of ‘Alī (may Allah honor his face) as the spouse of al-Zahrā’ indicates the intense and exclusive love of the Prophet for him—for it is usual that one does not marry his beloved daughter except to the one whom he loves; nevertheless this union also bore secret wisdom and thus God himself decreed it.” Again, it is interesting that the wisdom is cast as something secret; is it not but for the purpose of joining the spirit of risālah and imāmah within a single progeny?!

[9] “Oft-quenching the holes” is a reference to how Imām ‘Alī would always bravely stand to support the Prophet when the other companions would falter and “oft-curing defects” is a reference to how he would annihilate stubborn adversaries. As al-Ālūsī states, “This line alludes to the fact that ‘Alī was the locus of God’s Mercy and Wrath and has a flavor of the verse of God describing the companions of the Prophet: “severe on the disbelievers, merciful among themselves.” (Sūrah al-Fatḥ verse 29)”

[10] This line is more literally rendered as “And you are the succor (al-ghawth) and rain (al-ghayth) in times of peril (al-radā) and generosity (al-nadā) for the frightened (al-khā’if) and the needy (al-rāj) who seek refuge (lādh) and express want (intaja’). This line employs a very powerful Arabic linguistic device called (al-laff wa al-nashr), which doesn’t have an English rhetorical equivalent, but is best described as conjunctional parallelism from which two sentences are parsed: “And you are the succor in times of peril for the frightened who seek refuge;” as well as “And you are the rain in times of generosity for the needy who express want.” A full exposition of all the Arabic eloquence in this line is not possible within these limited footnotes.

[11] In these lines is an explicit declaration of Imām ‘Alī’s nobility and liberality; as al-Ālūsī says, this applies to the Imām both during his life in how he was a fort and shelter for the poor and needy, as well as after his death for his solicitors through the doctrine of tawassul.” There is also an indication in these lines that those who sought to curry favor with other than Imām ‘Alī (as) are debased while those who seek his   graces are honorable. Perhaps this is one of the most clearly Shī’ī lines in this poem, whereby the poet blames those who seek other than the Imām’s graces.

[12] This line is an allusion to the famous statement of Imām ‘Alī (as): “If the veils were lifted for me, I would not be increased in certainty.”

[13] In this line, Imām ‘Alī’s sword is compared to the staff of Mūsā while the pitches of disbelief are compared to the ropes of the Egyptian magicians; just as Mūsā invalidated their magic with his staff, Imām ‘Alī destroyed the dastardly plans of the pagan Arabs with the strike of his impeccable two-pronged sword.

[14] This of course refers to the pristine pedigree of Imām ‘Alī in his maternal and paternal descent from Banū Hāshim, the most noble of the Qurayshite tribes. As is narrated in the ḥadīth literature on the authority of the Prophet regarding Imām ‘Alī and himself, “…and we [‘Alī and myself] did not cease to be transferred from pure loins and blessed wombs until Allah placed me in the loins of ‘Abdullah and placed ‘Alī in the loins of Abū Tālib.”

[15] The Prophetic and ‘Alid progeny numbers in the millions today and is multiplied constantly by the passage of time. This refers to the Prophetic ḥadīth which states, “On the Day of Resurrection every relation and pedigree will be cut off except my relation and pedigree.” As al-Ālūsī states “And how is ‘Alī (may God honor his face) not the source of this pedigree, while he is the Father of the Two Basils (Abū al-Rayḥānatayn)?”  

[16] Imām ‘Alī is again figuratively hinted to as the Lion of God in these lines.

[17] Al-Ālūsī recounts here the tragedies of the martyrdom of Imām ‘Alī, Imām Ḥasan, and Imām Ḥusayn and then states about Ibn Muljim and Yazīd, “Both of them were deviant, sinful, and foolish and I do not shy away from sending God’s curses (al-la’n) upon them.”

[18] The poet here repeats the pronoun “you” (anta) twice in a row from this point onwards, conveying a sense of exclusivity in this praise of Imām ‘Alī. The knowledge and zeal of Imām ‘Ali is likened to pillars of dawn while the darkness of jāhiliyyah is likened to the wreath of the night.

[19] This is perhaps one of the most famous lines of the poem and refers to a famous ḥadīth narrated in Sunnī books whereby it is mentioned that when the Prophet went on al-Mi’rāj, God placed his hand between the Prophet’s shoulder blades (fawaḍa’a yadahu bayna katifayya) until the Prophet felt a coolness in his bosom. Imām ‘Alī is praised in this line as putting his feet in that same place on the Prophet’s back to remove the idols in the Ka’bah on the Day of the Conquest of Makkah. Al-Ālūsī comments regarding this that, “Perhaps the Prophet had ‘Alī (may Allah honor his face) perform this task in order to requite the Ka’bah with removal of its idols at the hands of the very one who was born inside it…or perhaps in order to ensure that the Ahlulbayt would have a role to play in purification (al-taṭhīr) of the House of God.”

[20] These merits are well-known for Imām ‘Alī (as) and are narrated in both Shī’ah and Sunnī books.

[21] As al-Ālūsī remarks here, “As I have heard from the poet himself, he means by antiquity here the axis of the universe. The signs that ‘Alī left which humble the entire cosmos include what he has left of knowledge; his purest progeny which benefits this ummah more than the stars (and it is narrated in the ḥadīth that “your children are of your own earning);” and how he humiliated the polytheists—and I swear by my life that this is enough for the entire Cosmos to pale in comparison to ‘Alī’s stature.”

[22] Al-Ālūsī remarks here, “This is a reference to the fact that ‘Alī worshipped God due to God’s intrinsic worthiness and never considered his own self at all—and this is the true servanthood.” This is by no means surprising, as it is stated in the ḥadīth, “The strike of ‘Alī on the Day of Khandaq is better than the worship of all jinn and men until the Day of Judgement.”

[23] Al-Ālūsī states here, “This is a reference to the sword of ‘Alī known as Dhū al-Fiqār and as it is narrated by Abū Najīon the Day of Uḥud, “There is no youth except ‘Alī and there is no sword except Dhū al-Fiqār.” I say to al-Umarī here that a sword is not decisive except if its wielder is sharper than it; and if al-Amīr (may Allah honor his face) took my pen instead of Dhū al-Fiqār he would have still indubitably shattered the backbone of disbelief—therefore it is in fact Dhū al-Fiqār that is honored to be held by him!”

[24] As per al-Ālūsī, “The strength of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) is well-known in our traditions as it is narrated he has the strength of forty men of Heaven, each of whose strength is equivalent to forty men in this world. This should indicate to you that the strength of his twin, brother, and inheritor [is its like]…for it is narrated that ‘Alī stated, “I did not uproot the door of Khaybar except by divine power.””

[25] This is a beautiful metaphor that is difficult to translate into English, but Imām ‘Alī in his radiance is being compared to the Sun while his shield is being compared to the shining moon. Just as the moon on a dark night, his shield shone brilliantly against the black banner of the Prophet known as “The Banner of the Eagle,” which the Imām had also been carrying in the Battle of Badr.

[26] This line is very difficult to translate but it is a pun based on the fact that Fāṭimah was the son of Asad (which means lion). More literally it means, “Your mother—the daughter of a lion (i.e. Asad)—named you Haydar; how noble was the lioness of a lion (i.e. Abu Ṭālib) who gave birth to a lion!”

[27] This is an allusion to the famous Ḥadīth of the Cloak (al-Kisā’) that is accepted and widely narrated by all Muslims.

[28] This refers to the famous ḥadīth from the Prophet telling Imām ‘Alī, “You are the King Bee (al-ya’sūb) of the Believers, and wealth is the King Bee of the disbelievers.” This is also the reason for one of the Imām’s other famous titles “The Prince of the Bees” (amīr al-naḥl).

[29] The poet notes here that he resembles in his praise of Imām ‘Ali the likes of Hassān ibn Thābit in his praise of the Prophet; and indeed the poet is true in this statement of his, as he has devoted an entire diwān in praise of the Ahlulbayt entitled “Al-Bāqiyāt al-Ṣāliḥāt” (The Permanent Deeds) in which he states: The praise of the Ahlulbayt to me is greater than any frivolity or pastime. For I aim by their praise to escape the Fire whose fuel is men and stones.”