The Poet-Knight Abu Firas al-Hamadani and his Famous Poem Lampooning the Abbasids

Below we have translated the legendary Qaṣīdah al-Mīmīyyah of the Arabian poet-knight al-Amīr Abū Firās al-Ḥamadānī (may God have mercy on him); this poem is also famously known also as al-Shāfiyah (the Gratifier), as it quenched the anger of the Shī’ah against the ‘Abbāsid regime. It was composed in defense of the Ahlulbayt and as a rebuttal to the tyrannical Abbasid Caliphate, who persecuted the Imāms immensely. Insult to injury occurred after one of their official poets Ibn Sukrah al-‘Abbāsī lampooned the family of Imam ‘Alī in a poem of his stating: “Oh sons of ‘Ali, leave your claim to glory; for though you cast pearl, you are but lowly!” At that time, given that poetry was considered the equivalent of a breaking news headline, this attack on the Alids caused a great deal of angst for their lovers.

Therefore, Abū Firās became intent on delivering an impassioned response with this poem. The composition is considered eloquence of the highest caliber in keeping with the prowess of Abū Firās, who is regarded as one of the contemporaries and staunchest rivals to the renowned Arab poet al-Mutanabbī. It has been famously stated, “Arabic poetry began with a king (Imru’ al-Qays) and ended with a king (Abū Firās).” An avid and passionate Shī’ī, Abū Firās is narrated to have mounted his horse to the military camp of the Abbasids in Baghdad, where he recited the poem aloud in front of their army headquarters with full brazenness under the shade of 500 swords of his fellow clansmen. As Allāmah Amīnī states in his work al-Ghadīr, “This is among the immortalized poems memorized by the Shī’ah since the time of its composition until the present day, and it will remain as such given its eloquence and rhetorical power.” We have furnished our translation with footnotes derived from the commentary of the poem by the late Iraqi poet and scholar ‘Alī ibn Ḥusayn al-Hāshimī al-Najafī (may God have mercy on him).

الدين مخترم والحق مهتضم

وفئ آل رسول الله مقتسمُ

إني أبيت قليل النوم أرقني

قلب تصارع فيه الهم والهممُ

وعزمة لا ينام الدهر صاحبها

إلا على ظفر في طيه كرمُ

يصان مهري لامر لا أبوح به

والدرع والرمح والصمصامة الخذمُ

وفتية قلبهم قلب إذا ركبوا

يوما ورأيهم رأي إذا عزموا

يا للرجال اما لله منتصف

من الطغاة؟ أما للدين منتقم

بنو علي رعايا في ديارهم

والامر تملكه النسوان والخدم

 محلؤون فأصفى وردهم وشل

عند الورود وأوفى شربهم لمم

فالارض إلا على ملاكها سعة

والمال إلا على أربابه ديمُ

فما السعيد بها إلا الذي ظُلموا

وما الشقي بها إلا الذي ظلموا

للمتقين من الدنيا عواقبها

وإن تعجل فيها الظالم الاثم

لا يطغين بني العباس ملكهم

بنو علي مواليهم وإن رغموا

أتفخرون عليهم لا أبا لكم

حتى كأن رسول الله جدكم

وما توازن يوما بينكم شرف

ولا تساوت لكم في موطن قدم

 ولا لكم مثلهم في المجد متصل

ولا لجدكم معشار جدهم

قال النبي بها يوم الغدير لهم

والله يشهد والاملاك والامم

حتى إذا أصبحت في غير صاحبها

باتت تنازعها الذؤبان والرخم

وصيروا أمرهم شورى كأنهم

لا يعلمون ولاة الحق أيهم

تالله ما جهل الاقوام موضعها

لكنهم ستروا وجه الذي علموا

ثم ادعاها بنو العباس ملكهم

ومالهم قدم فيها ولاقدم

لا يذكرون إذا ما معشر ذكروا

ولا يحكم في أمر لهم حكم

 ولا رآهم أبو بكر وصاحبه

أهلا لما طلبوا منها وما زعموا

فهل هم يدعوها غير واجبة؟

أم هل أئمتهم في أخذها ظلموا؟

أمّا علي فقد أدنى قرابتكم

عند الولاية إن لم تكفر النعم

بئس الجزاء جزيتم في بني حسن

أبوهم العلم الهادي وامهم

ما نال منهم بنو حرب وان عظمت

تلك الجرائر إلا دون نيلكم

كم غدرة لكم في الدين واضحة

وكم دم لرسول الله عندكم

أأنتم له شيعة فيما ترون وفي

أظفاركم من بنيه الطاهرين دم

هيهات لاقرّبت قربى ولا رحم

يوما إذا أقصت الاخلاق والشيم

كانت مودة سلمان لهم رحما

ولم تكن بين نوح وابنه رحم

ليس الرشيد كموسى في القياس ولا

مأمونكم كالرضا إن أنصف الحكم

يا باعة الخمر كفوا عن مفاخركم

لمعشر بيعهم يوم الهياج دم

خلوا الفخار لعلامين إن سئلوا

يوم السؤال وعمالين إن علموا

لا يغضبون لغير الله إن غضبوا

ولا يضيعون حكم الله إن حكموا

تنشى التلاوة في أبياتهم سحرا

وفي بيوتكم الاوتار والنغم

ما في بيوتهم للخمر معتصر

ولا بيوتهم للشر معتصم

ولا تبيت لهم خنثى تنادمهم

ولايرى لهم قرد له حشم

الركن والبيت والاستار منزلهم

وزمزم والصفا والحجر والحرم

صلى الإله عليهم أينما ذكروا

لأنهم للورى كهف ومعتصم


The truth has dissolved and the creed has been burst:

The estate of the Prophet’s kin is dispersed![1]

I tarry by night in the throes of sleeplessness

With a heart that wrestles in anguish and eagerness:[2]

Resolve that does leave me in constant wakefulness

Unquelled but by triumph with highest gracefulness[3]

Preserved is my steed for a thing kept unseen;

My chainmail; my lance; my sword, oh so keen!

And knights whose hearts are but one when they mount,

Whose view is but one when they hold to account![4]

Oh ye men hear! Is there no demonstrator

For God against tyrants?! Is there no vindicator?

The sons of ‘Alī in their homes are like cattle

While the matter is governed by women and chattel![5]

Expelled, while their purest drink is a spittle

When they quench their thirst, they get but a tittle!


For the Earth is thus vast except for its kings

And wealth—but for its true owners—rains springs!

The gladdened are only those who are suppressed

And wretched are only those wont to oppress[6]

To the pious belongs life’s final fruitions

Although an oppressor may show expedition[7]

Let not the Abbasids by kingdom transgress

For their masters are Alids, though loath to confess![8]

Do you vaunt over them?! May you all have no father!

As though God’s Prophet had been your grandfather![9]

Nay your honor has never approached them in clout


And your feet don’t match with their station, stout

Like them unto majesty, you don’t have a link

For your grandfather is less than a tenth of theirs’ brink[10]

The Prophet affirmed their reign at Ghadīr

While God, the angels, and nations did hear

But then it was cast in the reins of another

And then it fell prey to the wolf and the vulture![11]

From there to a Shūrā they set the affair

As if they knew not who were its true heirs!

By God, they indeed knew its proper place

But rather had veiled veracity’s face[12]

And then the Abbasids did claim it their reign

While they had no rank or footing attained

While none had even considered their name

While no one had ever their favor ordained!

Abū Bakr and comrade had never maintained

The right to reign that they would proclaim

So is their sovereignty just not abiding

Or did their leaders fall short in their siding?![13]

But as for ‘Alī, your kindred he catered

During his rule, if you don’t belie favors!

How wicked your treatment of Ḥasan’s sons

Whose father and mother were like guiding Suns![14]

Though Banū Ḥarb’s crimes indeed were immense

They never came close to your misdeeds, intense![15]

How many betrayals of creed have you spread

And how much Prophetic blood have you shed!

Do you claim your adherence to his religion

While your claws do drip with the blood of his children?

No way! Neither kinship nor consanguinity

Will avail when distanced by lack of affinity

Salmān’s affection transformed him to family,

While Noah’s own son lost his claim to progeny![16]

Indeed your Rashīd is not Mūsā esteemed

And your Ma’mūn like Riḍā is not deemed![17]

Oh sellers of wine, desist from your flaunting

Over folk that sell blood on the day of its wanting

Leave aside the boasting for those who are knowers

When asked; and of what they know the performers

Except for God’s sake they don’t lose their temper

And by them God’s rules are forsaken never![18]

Their homes do ring with God’s hymns in the morning

While yours are with music and vanity swarming!

Their homes don’t contain a single wine-presser

And vices don’t find in their houses a shelter

By night you don’t see them with foppish sissies

And in their midst you will never find monkeys[19]

Their homes are the Kaabah, with Rukn and Kiswah

And Zamzam, Ḥajar, Ḥaram, and Ṣafā[20]

May God reward them at their every mention

As they are to mankind refuge and protection!

[1] Abū Firās al-Ḥamadānī starts his poem lamenting the state of the Muslim ummah at that time and how the right of the Ahlulbayt has been usurped by the Abbasids.

[2] The couplet has an alliteration (al-jinās) that is difficult to render in English; the words anxiety (al-hamm) and eagerness (al-himmah) come from a single root in Arabic which the speaker uses to his advantage. He states here that his insomnia is primed by both his eagerness to avenge the Ahlulbayt and anxiety over the sorry state of the Muslims in abandoning the righteous heirs of the Caliphate.

[3] In other words, he will never rest until he achieves his end in seeing the Ahlulbayt receive their rightful inheritance.

[4] Perhaps the allusion in these lines is to the advent to the 12th Imām (as), whereby these lines would then camouflage a hidden threat to the Abbasids.

[5] In this line, Abū Firās alludes to al-Khayzurān, the wife of the third Abbasid caliph al-Mahdi al-‘Abbāsī, who was known for her immense influence over state affairs. The Abbasid caliphs Al-Muqtadir and al-Mu’taḍid were also known for this practice, allowing slaves to assume prominent positions as governors, army commanders, and judges. Abū Firās remarks here on the irony that the Prophet’s own progeny have been ostracized while those deemed inferior in that society, who were more worthy of being subjects, were given a share of governance.

[6] There is a use of alliteration in this line with the active and passive forms of ẓalama, and the syntactic use of al-ḥaṣr (exclusivity) is a powerful rhetorical flourish that adds to the power of Abū Firās’ lament.

[7] Abū Firās here laments on the sorry state of the dunyā, wherein those who are deserving of merit are squandered and deprived (i.e. the Ahlulbayt) while those who are wicked are given authority (i.e. the Abbasids). Nonetheless, he takes solace in the fact that the Hereafter is for the righteous, as derived from the Qur’ānic verse (Sūrah Qaṣaṣ: verse 83), and therefore this is an example of al-iqtibās (intertextuality).

[8] Perhaps the allusion in these lines is to Nutayla bint Janab, who was a bondswoman of the Holy Prophet’s grandmother Fāṭimah bint ‘Amr al-Makhzūmīyyah and the mother of the patriarch of the Abbasids, ‘Abbās ibn ‘Abdul Muṭṭalib.

[9] The reference in this couplet is towards the vaunting of Hārūn al-‘Abbasi against Imam al-Kāẓim (as) when he told the Imām in the well-known ḥadīth, “Why do you assume you have closer bonds of kinship to the Prophet than us?”

[10] At this, Abū Firās hints to the fact that the grandfather of the Abbasids al-‘Abbās can never be deemed equal to the Holy Prophet (saw).

[11] This is an extremely poignant metaphor by Abū Firās, as wolves and vultures are but scavengers that feast on dead bodies. Hence, when stating that the caliphate was transferred to another, Abū Firās is implying that it became lifeless and weak such that even scoundrels had the audacity to vie for it.

[12] These lines contain an explicit rebuke of Ahl al-Saqīfah who pretended to be ignorant of the right of Imam ‘Alī (as) in being the rightful heir to the Prophet (saw). These lines mirror the words of Imam ‘Ali (as) in Nahjul Balāghah in his famous sermon of Shiqshiqīyyah where he states: “They assigned it (the Caliphate) to a group of which they assumed I was a member! Oh my God at this Shūrā! At what point did doubt ever arise about me with the first (caliph), such that I am compared with these rivals?”

[13] The reference in these lines is to the fact that the progeny of al-‘Abbās was never considered by Ahl al-Saqīfah in the first place to be worthy of the caliphate. Thus, Abū Firās rebukes the Abbasids saying that when your leaders Abu Bakr and ‘Umar did not find Banū ‘Abbās worthy of leadership in the first place, how is it that later on you assume yourselves as leaders? He then leaves them with two equally catastrophic options: either the Abbasid’s caliphate has no religious legitimacy or Ahl al-Saqīfah committed an error by not recognizing the Abbasid’s right of inheritance.

[14] In these potent lines, Abū Firās contrasts beautifully how Imām ‘Alī always treated the children of ‘Abbās with the highest honor while the Banū ‘Abbās slaughtered and poisoned their progeny in the most gruesome manner. The historical allusion is to what al-Manṣūr al-‘Abbāsī did in torturing and murdering the sādāt of al-Imām al-Ḥasan (as). Unfortunately, the oppression of the Ḥasanī sayyids (may God’s peace and blessings be upon them) is little known in the Shī’ah world today. The brevity of this commentary does not allow us to expound more on these historical realities, but they are well-documented in the books of tārīkh. For a brief introduction, we would recommend reading about these atrocities in Shaykh al-Mufīd’s Kitāb al-Irshād translated into English by I.K.A. Howard.

[15] Banū Ḥarb is a reference to the father of Abū Sufyān, whose name was Ḥarb ibn Umayyah. Abū Firās remarks that the Umayyad’s crimes pale in comparison to those of the Abbasids, who killed the Imāms of Ahlulbayt repeatedly via trickery and hypocrisy.

[16] This is of course derived on the basis of the famous hadith, “Do not say Salmān al-Fārisī but rather say Salmān al-Muḥammadī.” (Ikhtiyār Ma’rifat al-Rijāl volume 12, page 26) The reference to the son of Noah is a Qur’ānic one where God refutes Noah’s son as a member of his family (Sūrah Hūd: 46).

[17] In this is a reference to the famous hadith, “We are an Ahlulbayt who is not compared to anyone, and no one can be compared to us.” (‘Ilal al-Sharāi’ volume 1 page 211)

[18] These are perhaps the most famous lines of Abū Firās’s qaṣīdah, whereby he puts the Ahlulbayt and the Abbasids in stark antithesis; while the Abbasids are engaging in wine and merrymaking, the Ahlulbayt sacrifice their lives and blood at the time of war for the sake of God’s pleasure.

[19] The Abbasids were known for their vanities, singing, merrymaking, and revelry in wine. Al-Mutawakkil, who was known as the Yazīd of the Abbasids, used to frequent effeminate slaves and monkeys in his gatherings who would perform theatricals for his entertainment.

[20] There is a resemblance in these lines to the famous poem of al-Farazdaq regarding Imam Zaynul ‘Ābidīn (as), which we have also translated.