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The Legacy of Al-Farazdaq: The Elegy in Praise of Imam Ali ibn Hussain Zayn al-Abidin

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The Distinguished Life of Imam Sajjad

Imam Ali ibn Husayn, the fourth Imam, renowned as “Zain al-Abidin” and “Sayyid al-Sajjadin,” graced the world with his presence on the 5th of Sha’ban in the year 38 AH in Medina. His esteemed mother, Shahrbano, was the daughter of Yazdegerd III, the last Emperor of the Sassanian dynasty. Imam Sajjad (PBUH) spent his formative years under the guidance of Imam Mujtaba (PBUH) and his father, Husayn ibn Ali (PBUH). Although present in Karbala, his illness at the time prevented him from partaking in the battle. Following this pivotal event, he led the Shia community for nearly thirty-four years, until 94 AH.

Imam Sajjad (PBUH) was also affectionately known by the epithets Abu al-Hasan and Abu Muhammad. Among his notable titles were Zain al-Abidin, Sayyid al-Sajjadin, Al-Abidin, Al-Zaki, Al-Amin, Sajjad, Dhul-Thafanat, and, as recounted by Imam Sadiq (PBUH), “Al-Hamdulillah al-Ali.” According to Imam Muhammad Baqir (PBUH), another of his titles was “Al-Izzatu Lillah,” and Imam Musa al-Kazim (PBUH) referred to the one who would betray Husayn ibn Ali (PBUH) as “Khazi wa Shaqi.”

In 94 AH, Imam Sajjad (PBUH) was martyred due to poisoning, orchestrated by Walid ibn Abd al-Malik. He was laid to rest beside Imam Mujtaba (PBUH) in Jannat al-Baqi.

The Elegy of Al-Farazdaq

The Elegy of Al-Farazdaq, venerating Ali ibn Husayn, stands as a monumental ode within the annals of poetic tributes, celebrating the esteemed Fourth Imam of the Twelver Shia, Imam Ali ibn Husayn ibn Ali Abi Talib. Crafted by the illustrious Hammam ibn Ghalib al-Darimi, known to posterity as Al-Farazdaq, this poem was eloquently recited within the sanctified confines of the Sacred Mosque. It was here, in the illustrious presence of Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik, that Al-Farazdaq extolled Imam Al-Sajjad, following the latter’s reverent circumambulation of the Kaaba and his subsequent approach to the Black Stone.

This celebrated composition has been echoed through the corridors of Islamic scholarship, receiving acknowledgment and narration by a distinguished roster of Muslim scholars and literati. Among them, Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi, in his compendium ‘Bihar al-Anwar’; Sheikh Al-Mufid, within the pages of ‘Al-Irshad’; and Ibn Shahrashub al-Mazandarani, in his revered ‘Manaqib Aal Abi Talib’. Further testimonies to its enduring legacy are found in ‘Hilyat al-Awliya’ by Abu Na’im al-Asfahani, ‘Al-Aghani’ by Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani, ‘Hilyat al-Abrar fi Ahwal Muhammad wa Aalihi al-Athar’ by Sayyid Hashim al-Bahrani, and the ‘History of Damascus’ by Ibn Asakir, among other illustrious works.

Background

Before his ascent to the caliphate, Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik embarked on the Hajj pilgrimage, aspiring to touch the revered Black Stone. Alas, the teeming throngs of the faithful thwarted his approach. In response, a pulpit was constructed, from which he sat, elevated above the gathering, encircled by the people of Sham (Syria).

Amid this scene, Ali ibn Hussain al-Sajjad, known as Al-Sajjad, made his way, draped in an izar and a cloak. His visage shone with unparalleled handsomeness, his aroma surpassed the sweetest perfumes, and his attire outshone all in purity. A mark of devotion graced his forehead as he made his rounds about the Kaaba. When he neared the Black Stone, the crowd, in a gesture of deep reverence and respect, receded, allowing him passage to touch the stone. This act incited Hisham’s ire.

A man from Syria inquired, “Who commands such veneration among the people, O Commander of the Faithful?” In a bid to quell any burgeoning interest from the people of Sham, Hisham feigned ignorance of the man’s identity.

It was then that Al-Farazdaq, a renowned poet and eulogist of the Umayyads who was present, declared, “But I am acquainted with him.” Prompted by the Syrian’s curiosity, “Who might he be, O Abu Firas?” Al-Farazdaq commenced with a recitation, a composition whose excerpts find mention in ‘Al-Aghani’, ‘Hilyat al-Awliya”, and ‘Al-Irshad’, unveiling the full breadth and depth of his verse

The Poem

To the one who queries where grace and nobility dwell,
I offer a tale that time will eagerly tell.
The desert knows his stride, the sacred House his face,
In him, virtues of the divine find their perfect place.

He’s the son of the best, God’s most noble slave,
A beacon of purity, devout and brave.
The Chosen’s offspring, blessed by every pen stroke,
Where his shadow falls, the darkness is broke.

If the cornerstone knew who kissed it with love,
It would kiss back, a blessing from above.
Ali’s his father, by the Prophet’s side,
In his light, nations find their guide.

His uncle, the soaring Ja’far, and Hamza, the lion, both share,
In the love that their sacrifice did bear.
Son of Fatimah, lady of grace,
And Ali, whose valor none can replace.

When Quraysh sees him, they acknowledge his worth,
His magnanimity known across the Earth.
The corner would hold him, recognizing his hand,
A sign of respect, more than it could stand.

Your questioning gaze, ‘Who is this?’ does not demean,
Both Arab and non-Arab, his lineage have seen.
Elevated to a stature, lofty and sublime,
Beyond reach, transcending time.

He speaks, and his words, the hearts they calm,
Only when he smiles, does he offer his balm.
His forehead’s light pierces the darkest night,
Like the dawn, making everything right.

A fragrance from his palm, the reed does tell,
His ‘no’ only in prayer, otherwise, ‘yes’ does dwell.
From the Prophet, his lineage is clear,
Noble are his traits, far and near.

Bearing others’ burdens without a frown,
Sweet are his manners, his renown.
When he speaks, it’s what all yearn to hear,
His words adorn the day, make the path clear.

Son of Fatimah, if you did not know,
With his grandfather, prophethood’s seal did show.
Favored by God, with honor so vast,
Recorded by the pen, his virtues cast.

His grandfather’s excellence, by prophets, is esteemed,
And his nation’s virtue, by others, is deemed.
Spreading goodness, dispelling the dark,
His hands, a refuge, a divine spark.

Gentle by nature, no sudden fear,
Adorned with patience and generosity, near.
Promises kept, with a fortunate hand,
In his presence, the vastest lands stand.

Loving them is faith, their hate, disbelief,
Their nearness, a safety, a relief.
Evil and calamity, by their love, are repelled,
With their favor, kindness, and blessings are swelled.

After God, their remembrance is due,
In every prayer, their mention, true.
If the pious are counted, they’re the leaders, the best,
Above all on Earth, they stand, distinguished from the rest.

No generous hand can extend beyond their reach,
Nor can any rival their lessons teach.
In crises, they are the refuge, the lions in the fight,
Their valor known, in the darkest night.

Disgrace cannot touch their noble estate,
Generous, their hands, never hesitate.
Whether in abundance or in need, they stand tall,
Their generosity known to all.

Which tribe does not owe them their allegiance clear?
For their guidance, the nations revere.
Those who know God, know their rightful place,
Through their house, faith the world does embrace.

Their homes in Quraysh, like beacons, bright,
In times of judgment, they are the light.
Muhammad, their forebear, a leader so true,
And Ali, the flag, after him, flew.

Badr, Uhud, the trench, and the day of the Conquest, too,
Khaybar, Hunayn, their valor, through and through.
In every trial, their status did soar,
Above companions, their stories roar.

Aftermath of recitation of the poem

Enraged, Hisham withheld his reward, challenging, “Could you not craft praises for us as well?” Al-Farazdaq, undeterred, responded, “Present me with lineage akin to his—ancestors as venerable, a father as esteemed, and a mother as revered—then, indeed, I shall pen for you a comparable ode.”

Thus, for his audacity, Al-Farazdaq found himself confined within Asfan’s bounds, nestled between the sacred cities of Mecca and Medina. Upon hearing of his plight, Ali ibn Husayn extended twelve thousand dirhams towards Al-Farazdaq with a message of humility, “Forgive us, O Abu Firas. Were our resources greater, they would be at your disposal.” Al-Farazdaq, in a gesture of profound respect, declined the offering, proclaiming, “O progeny of the Messenger, my words were but a testament to my fervor for God and His Messenger, not uttered in anticipation of reward.” Yet, the Imam persisted, “Accept this, by my right over you. The Almighty is witness to your stance and purity of intent. Ours is a household that retracts not what it has bestowed.” Reluctantly, he acquiesced.

Even in captivity, Al-Farazdaq’s spirit remained unbridled, as he composed verses that mocked Hisham’s pretense of leadership:

“Imprisoned betwixt the city of the Prophet and the sanctuary, where devout hearts turn,

He assumes a leadership never his, his flaws for all to discern.”

Upon these words reaching Hisham, the chains of confinement were loosened, and Al-Farazdaq was dispatched to Basra, as narrated by Abu Bakr Al-Alaaf, thus ending a chapter marked by defiance, poetry, and an unyielding commitment to truth.

Imam Sajjad Through the Eyes of Others

The esteemed Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) foretold a moment of divine reckoning, saying, “When the Day of Judgment arises, a herald among the gathered throngs will proclaim with a resounding voice, ‘Where is the ornament of the worshippers?’ At that instant, my son Ali ibn Hussain (PBUH), with dignity and grandeur, will grace the assembly, moving amidst the ranks with pride.” Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (PBUH), speaking of Ali ibn Hussain (PBUH) even before his birth, revered him as “the best of those upon the earth.” Imam Sadiq (PBUH), in praise of his noble ancestor, Imam Zain al-Abidin (PBUH), remarked, “Among the progeny of Imam Ali (PBUH) within the household of the Prophet, none resembles him more in the manner of living, attire, jurisprudence, and derivation of legal rulings than Ali ibn Hussain (PBUH).”

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