WARRIORS + POETS

Category: Karbala poetry

the smallest acts

there have been times an infant this has shown
that age does not define how much you know
the wisdom that we look for in the skies
is oft found in the youngest child’s cries

there have been times without having to speak
servants of God managed the greatest deeds
unrecognized by servants of this world
young soldiers in the service of their Lord

such tyrants history had come to see
the likes of which before there’d never been
yet, by this Pharaoh’s reign would come to end—
a infant’s basket down the river bend

such miracles which had not yet been done
Maryam, untouched, had given birth—a son
protect his mother, Isa had been able
words spoken by one resting in his cradle

such darkness had been spread in Karbala
when called a question out Aba Abdillah
an answer given by his infant son
showed clearly who the battle truly won

when tender Ali Asghar raised his arms
eager to save the life of his Imam
it demonstrated no matter your age
we all have our own separate part to play

when his tongue was run over thirsty lips
soldiers of greed found that their choice was this:
repent and turn back from the way they’d come,
or seal their fate with Asghar’s martyrdom

perhaps some men start shuffling their feet
perhaps this truth they slowly start to see
what excuse do they have to truly give
for not letting an infant child live?

what is it, in the gasping of his breath?
what is it, resting on his father’s chest?
that causes seasoned soldiers to grow scared
as if a dark abyss before them stares

without words Ali Asghar sends a message
the only weapon that you need is courage
the smallest acts will always aid the fight
to overcome the darkness with the light

the cries of Ali Asghar reach their ears
the piercing of a soldier’s driving spears
tears making plain the message of Islam
cannot be made separate from the Imam

with tears he strikes such fear into their souls
with tears demanding each of them to know:
his tears are tears that smother flaming fires
his tears are tears that topple grand empires

all murdered but Hussain still stands unbeaten!
before them, Ali Asghar undefeated!
…and so an archer raises up his bow
the coward’s old response to the hero

Hurmala aims towards a small body
and strikes the small neck of the young Ali
goes limp an infant in his father’s arms
blood-red rivers pooling in his palms

and yet, the patience of Hussain remains
in tears towards the sky such words he says
how easy hardships that on me befall
when witnessed in the presence of Allah…

using his sword Hussain then digs a grave
in which this tiny body is to lay
how can the heart hold back its wailing screams
thinking of how small this grave must be…

wails sounding from a mother’s empty arms
for centuries this grief will now live on
until that moment comes on Judgement Day
when every tyrant’s sentence is proclaimed

when angels will scream, wa Museebata!
as brought forth are tyrants of Karbala
an infant’s justice will be realized
appearing with this question in his eyes:

speak of your sins, explain before Allah!
is on your hands, blood of RasoolAllah!
speak as your hearts with terror are now filled—
for what sin with such cruelty was i killed?

sweeter than honey

the meeting of swords, the clashing of souls
brought by dawn after silence of night
thousands who fight for darkness to prevail—
less than one hundred warriors of the light

the tenth of Muharram on Karbala’s sands
a battle this morning has bloodily raged
a few hours the length of centuries seems
a grief by which young children are aged

from the first arrow released by the enemy
Imam Hussain’s companions for him have bled
while there is strength remaining in their bones
not a drop of the Prophet’s blood will be shed

men continue to leave, bodies continue to return
as a bloody scene in a weeping desert unfurls
until finally none of these brave souls remains
each companion valiantly departs from this world

yet still, Yazeed’s army continues to advance
Imam Hussain’s family now must enter the fray
brothers and nephews and sons never to return
on burning sands their bodies now lay

of Karbala’s youth there is a brave soul
who has come now to ask his Uncle a question
to take up his sword and to enter the battle
he has come to seek his Imam’s permission

how can Hussain look upon this young face
and let him go knowing the enemy’s plans
that they will not rest until piercing his skin
until his blood flows like rivers in the sands

he refuses but his nephew Qasim is insistent
he kisses his uncle’s hands with this request
to allow him to defend the message of Islam
until then the blood in his veins will not rest

his requests are delivered with such earnest
that Imam Hussain can deny him no longer
he kisses his face and allows him to leave
his face so much like the face of his brother

in youth, wealth or beauty or power or fame
anything we dream of our horizon may hold
our bones are now strong and our blood is fresh
thoughts of death come when we’re frail and old

in youth, our shoulders are unburdened
we cannot be expected to represent our faith
thoughts of this world are right here and now
thoughts of the hereafter can surely wait

when it comes to religion, we still have time
when we’re older we’ll learn more of Islam
when we’re older will come the light of our faith
when we’re older will we understand our Qur’an

right now all that matters is being young
all is enjoyment from each dusk to dawn
is that how it is? is this age and youth?
or have we understood living all wrong?

when we see Karbala, we see there are youth
many who are not quite much older than us
there is Qasim and there is Muhammad and Aun
who at such an age put in Allah their trust

youth who come to the aid of their Imam
with no thought to the length of their years
ready to stand for the purity of their beliefs
even if it means facing the enemy’s spears

they could have been worried about the enemy
not just what they’d say, but to them what they’d do
they could have cried out we are yet only youth!
and the army stands as many while we are so few!

they could have been nervous of standing out
not to a few people, but an army of thousands
not just a group who would jeer at them with words
but those who’d ready their swords to surround them

but to these youth, none of this was a thought
for being young did not stop them from knowing
the divine purpose for which they had been created
where they came from and where they were going

they would sacrifice each and every desire
not at life’s edges where death’s kept at bay
rather living each moment only for their Lord
when death’s call still seems far away

Hazrat Qasim enters the battle with such valor
the cub no less than his father, the lion, Hassan
a young boy striking fear into soldier’s hearts
showing them how the battle of the soul is won

eager to defend Islam and his Imam Hussain
he does not hesitate in setting off on the plains
the enemy hopes to strike fear in his heart—
forgetting which bloodline runs through his veins

these is the son of Hamza and Haydar!
the son of Abu Talib and Hassan al-Mujtaba!
his is a lineage more radiant than the stars
this is the grandson of Muhammad al-Mustafa!

yet the cruelty of the charge, the cutting of his bones
the army surrounds him – imagine the scene
men racing forward on horses, and his spilling blood
amidst snarling wolves, a young child’s screams…

a soldier coming forward and striking his head
and Hazrat Qasim falling down on the plains
with wounds kissing his skin, this final farewell
“O dear Uncle, come to my aid!”

like a wild falcon, Hussain enters the battle
the enemy from his force scatters and flees
he cradles this young child’s head to his chest
as Qasim’s soul from this world slowly leaves

“By Allah! It is difficult for your Uncle
that he could not come to your aid…”
as he holds him in his arms, these tender words
the master of Martyrs to a young boy says…

in death, Hazrat Qasim’s face holds a smile
and in it the night’s memory comes to mind
an image of a young face in a tent full of men
who knew with dawn, all present would die

of the boy who realized his youth may be at stake
who tomorrow, may life for death have to barter
yet with passion in his voice he had asked his Imam
“Uncle, am I, too, included in the list of martyrs?”

Imam Hussain had responded, “O my dear son!
How do you consider death (in the way of Allah)?”
and Hazrat Qasim had smiled such a sweet smile
and in his answer, this shining lesson history saw

that the human’s true price is greater than this world
that the only thing worth it is eternity

that no oppressor or tyrant can shackle your soul
when God Himself has created you free

that to enter the fray with your honor and die on your feet
is better than living life on your knees

for such death dying for truth
can only be as he said:

for Qasim, such death,
sweeter than honey

o eyes, shed your tears

O eyes shed your tears
Muharram’s moon has turned
in these days Hussain’s blood is spilled—
the tents of Zaynab burned

O eyes shed your tears
the caravan arrives
soon will the sands redden with blood—
the children’s gasping cries

O eyes shed your tears
a battle now will rage
a noble band of few will rise—
warriors of every age

O eyes shed your tears
the bodies on the ground
trampled by the hooves of horses—
broken, in pieces found

O eyes shed your tears
the son and father part
the Prophet’s face enters the fray—
yet spears still pierce his heart

O eyes shed your tears
to Furat Abbas goes
Hussain rushes to his side—
Hussain returns alone

O eyes shed your tears
will not be quenched a thirst
the neck of Hussain’s pure infant—
an arrow reaches first

O eyes shed your tears
Hussain will call this cry
“Is there no one to help us?”—
will ring throughout the sky

O eyes shed your tears
join Hussain’s ranks and know
you could not be there in body—
you can still be in soul

O eyes shed your tears
more than just in sorrow
but in reflection and new growth—
to better our tomorrows

O eyes shed your tears
these tears must us revive
they lead to perfecting our souls—
they bring dead hearts alive

O eyes shed your tears
weep and recall Hussain!
how they surrounded him with swords—
how he fell on those plains…

O eyes shed your tears
Hussain killed in Karbala!
from the skies heard, O soul at peace—
return now to Allah…

O eyes shed your tears
the heart begins to shake
a young daughter’s heart-wrenching wails
the head raised on the stake

O eyes shed your tears
the ringing of her cries
searching the desert for his chest
for where his body lies

O eyes shed your tears
don’t let this month’s moon pass
without your heartstrings torn apart
in Hussain’s love steadfast

O eyes shed your tears
cry wa Muhammada!
in these days, join his caravan—
Hussain and Karbala…

the secret

the world still craves to know the secret spoken by Hussain
that changed the heart of one such as Zuhayr the son of Qayn

what was it that was spoken in the silence of that tent
that changed a wary man into a man wholly content?

when just moments ago, Zuhayr had in this act persisted
where Hussain lay his camp, Zuhayr would lay his at a distance

two caravans had found their paths by destiny were crossed
yet one hid from the other steering clear at any cost

til finally the noble son, the heir of Thaqalayn
dispatched a message for Zuhayr, the simple son of Qayn

with one who had avoided him, Hussain now wished to speak
with one whose hesitance til now both caravans had seen

the news arrived and all around him motionless became
would he accept the invitation sent him by Hussain?

such an invitation, still the will of Zuhayr faltered
until were spoken such words by which destinies are altered

Zuhayr’s wife had beheld what her husband did not see
by such women are some men made from naught to Hussaini

how strange is this Zuhayr! all praise to God alone belongs!
the Prophet’s son has summoned you and you do not respond? 

her words ignite a spark inside the depths of Zuhayr’s soul
and so he stands and to the tents of Hussain he now goes

on entering the tent he’s who his whole life he had been
yet when he leaves an altered man by history is seen

Zuhayr has returned, shining bright, contentment on his face
his wife bids him farewell as with Hussain he takes his place

the world still craves to know the secret spoken by Hussain
that changed the heart of one such as Zuhayr the son of Qayn

what was it that was spoken in the silence of that tent
that changed a wary man into a man wholly content?

what was that treasure hidden in the depths of Zuhayr’s heart
that in the eyes of his Imam set him clearly apart?

something was seen there by Hussain; Zuhayr did not yet know
a seed in need of one small push into an oak to grow

men like Hussain are not just men, they are spirits in flight
and so the hearts they call to them turn by their touch to light

those who have known him, know that when you stand before Hussain
he’ll change your heart the way he changed that of Zuhayr bin Qayn

when came the call from his Imam, Zuhayr did not know why
yet answering the call alone, his soul was purified

such is the beauty of Hussain—by darkness we’re enthralled
yet to us he extends his hand: us by our names he calls

we choose so often to be blind and from our souls to turn
yet when we come to know Hussain we learn how to return

just like Zuhayr, our caravan has traveled on so far
beside us Hussain’s makes its way, headed for Karbala

if in this moment, sorrow’s weight upon you heavy lays
consider it the gentle touch of Hussain’s changing rays

if this desire – to be his – awakens in your heart
consider that Hussain has sent your soul a special call

if you respond seeking to learn the secret Hussain knows
and if you go leaving behind all that your tent now holds

if in this moment truth like that of lightning now does strike
and if you let it alter you, not slow, but speed of light

if like Zuhayr you wish that you are killed a thousand times
so that each time to your Hussain you may offer your life

then even when arrows of life towards you become vaulted
you will stand firm, you will not shake, your faith will never falter

and all will wonder what was said in your heart’s silent tent
that changed a straying soul into a soul in truth content

the world will ask to know the secret spoken by Hussain,
that in one moment made you rise a person truly changed

the world will ask, yet like the secret of Zuhayr bin Qayn—
this secret will always be yours, for you and your Hussain

the aftermath

your face haunts my every dream…
i wake from the fragrance of your embrace
to the scent of fire and weeping—
to the wailing of flowing rivers,
rivers of flowing blood.

.

“And think not Allah to be heedless of what the unjust ones do.
He only respites them to a day
when their eyes shall be fixed open [staring up with terror].”
 – The Holy Quran, 14:42 –

still far too soon

يا ليل طوّل ساعاتك
O night, prolong your hours—

let me for some moments longer gaze upon his face;

these hours of night,
still far too soon
these thousand years,
still far too soon
these infinite ages,
still far too soon

to embrace the
broken
body
of

Hussain.

the lion by the river

“al-atash, al-atash!”
O thirst, O thirst!

on the day of Ashura,
Yazeed’s army gathers water
sloshed across the desert,
dragging buckets from the river

precious drops seeping in the ground
are followed by tender eyes
thirsty children, the desert heat,
the broken piercing of their cries

Imam Hussain’s daughter sees the soldiers
lined up, perhaps she thinks:
after feeding the horses,
will they bring them something to drink?

from the riverbanks a soldier calls,
Do you see this water, O Hussain?
By God, you’ll not get a drop
perish from thirst upon these plains…

Hadhrat Abbas turns to face his brother
how much grief has he seen today?
how many bodies brought to the camp?
how many on the sands now lay?

but despite the depth of tragedy
how firm his back, how he stands tall
how firm his resolution: in each hardship,
to find patience with Allah

the protector of his brother
Abbas approaches him with this question,
will Hussain allow him to go to the battlefield?
will he grant him his permission?

Imam Hussain responds and tells him,
O my brother, you bear my standard,
and if you leave to fight the enemy,
my army will become scattered.

instead Imam Hussain tells him,
bring for these children some water
and so Abbas prepares his steed,
with the water flask rides towards the river

four thousand men encircle him
and rain upon him the arrow’s shower
but Abbas is brave and before the son of Ali
the enemy shrinks and cowers

his sword flashes as angrily as the glint
steady, noble in his eye
until he reaches the banks of the river
before him the expanse of water lies

thirsty but not seeking for himself
he fills the water bag and turns away
not a drop will not touch his lips until
the children’s thirst is first assuaged

the water skin is filled, and Abbas
rests it firmly on his right shoulder
mounting his horse to ride to the tents
riding to bring the children water…

the enemy again surrounds him
but it as if watching a lion scatter sheep
the courage of Zaynab’s brother
from his gaze alone the soldiers flee

Abbas ibn Ali, he fights bravely,
calling to the enemy these noble words:
“I do not fear death when it screeches,
until I’m found hidden amongst the swords…”

may my soul be sacrificed for the Prophet’s grandson
,
he exclaims in every breath,
I take water, and on the day of battle,
Abbas does not care about his death

suddenly, a man ambushes and
strikes, cutting off his right hand
without hesitation, he switches it to his left,
his blood flowing into the sands

again a man strikes and severs his left,
thinking with this Abbas will stop
but Abbas is made of something different
a warrior, and the children are his heart

he holds the water-skin with his teeth,
but the cruelty of the enemy knows no bounds
an arrow strikes his mouth piercing the bag,
water and blood stream upon the ground…

the water drains from the water-bag
and the hopes of the children with it drain
the only water that will reach Karbala
will be blood from the relentless arrow’s rain

such an arrow is shot entrenching
itself in the chest of the son of Ali,
and a tragic cry rings through skies of Karbala
from Abbas: Brother, please find me…

Imam Hussain races towards his voice,
and sees drenched in blood a flag turned red
he falls to his knees besides his brother,
placing his head in his lap, to him he says,

“O brother, why are you crying?”
Abbas says, “Why should I not, light of my eyes?”
watching his final breath, Hussain calls,
O brother, Abbas! toward the skies

the ensuing silence in Karbala is an arrow
shooting through the Imam’s spine
when he returns to the camp the women greet
his grief with their wailing cries

the women weep and lament for their lion,
their prince, for Bani Hashim’s moon
for bringing the children water he was murdered
his body cut and strewn

the one whose loyalty was unmatched
who was firm in the message of Islam
the one who showed all to come what it means
to be faithful to your Imam

when we are caught in immense difficulties
giving up seems like the only choice
the world does not make it easy to practice Islam
and we feel like we have no voice

compromising on our values or fitting in
is easier than struggling for Allah
but is anything worth doing easy? Abbas asks us
his voice, an echo from Karbala

it is as if every Muharram, Hussain examines
his ardent lovers and friends*
addressing them with this question:
is your love truthful until the end?

truthfulness in the love of Hussain is embodied
in the war of the nafs before all else
the human being cannot be victorious before
winning the fight against his self

Abbas was a victor in Karbala, but also
in the battlefield of his soul
his sacrifice was not one that was easy,
as Karbala’s red sands still show

would it have been easier to turn back,
to save his life away from the river bank?
yes, but he chose to face the struggle,
brave even when surrounded from every flank

he knew that serving his Imam,
and gaining the pleasure of Allah His Lord
was far worth more than any pain,
any struggle to be faced in this paltry world

it is because of this level of servitude,
that Hussain weeps so profusely for his brother
the mark of grief shadowing his face,
the heart’s pain aching like for no other

in the mind replays that moment,
the moment of that final breath
Hussain and the bloodied body of his brother,

the moment of Abbas’ death

Hussain weeps for the lion by the river,
who now sleeps never to be awoken,
and from a severed heart comes this farewell,

Brother, my back has now been broken…

* “The doyen of martyrs sought cavaliers in the battlefield of the soul. It is as if I can behold al-Husayn (a) examining his ardent lovers and friends every Muharram. He tests and addresses them as follows: Are you truthful in your love and affection for me? Truthfulness in the love and affection for Imam al-Husayn (a) is embodied in the war of the self, before any other arena. This is because the human being cannot be genuine in fighting against other army camps before being genuine in his war and fight against his self.”

Ayatullah Shaykh Muhammad al-Sanad, al-Sha’a’ir al-Husayniyyah, v.2, p.308