The following excerpts have been selected from a long-term project called ‘Ali’ (formerly ‘Hagdar’), an American English epic poem exploring the life and times of Ali ibn Abi Talib (عَلِيّ ٱبْن أَبِي طَالِب), the cousin, companion, and successor of the Prophet Muhammad. When completed, the poem is estimated to be roughly 10,000 lines in length, spanning almost a century of Arab and Islamic history.
In the name of the Most Gracious, Merciful,
The Master of the heavens and the earth,
The Knower of the hidden and the bared,
In God’s Most Gracious name I now begin:
So sing, O ancient bards, of ageless kings
From far and wide, who spread their spacious wings
Above the lengthy lands and endless seas!
Go sing of lords whose stunning wealth could please
A thousand dying nations and the sons
Of these tenfold. Sing ye of mighty ones,
Of warriors who shamed the mountain high
With brutish strength, and quenched the thirsty eye
With handsomeness and daring unsurpassed.
Sing ye of men whose names will ever last.
Sing ye ‘til ‘pollo’s lamp is cleft in twain;
To find one greater than Ali is vain.
Of noble men so many earth has bared,
But to the great Ali no one compared.
I summon all who hear and challenge thee!
Search earth and sea and sky; present to me
The name of one vain soul who’d dare to stand
In Haydar’s shadow, king of sea and land!
Achilles would have stood with rattling frame
And humbled brow had one spoke Ali’s name.
And Beowulf, of whom the Saxons sung,
Would have no name in song had Ali swung
His timeless blade about in Grendel’s day.
The King of Beasts himself would turn away.
And blank would be where Persia promptly stands
Had Rostam fallen into Ali’s hands.
If came the very gods of earth and sea—
And beasts and heroes too, collectively—
To bring the noble Ali to one knee,
Then earth and sea and sky would never be!
Nay, not a soul that breathed of earthy air
To challenge Ali’s savage strength would dare…
…So when the call for sacrifice was made,
They bowed, and their allegiances were paid
To God and their most loved and honored King.
And here begins our story: Here we sing
Of news which from the Mother of the Tribes
Was brought before the King, in which describes
A servant to his King a horrid sight:
“An army of such great and massive might
Approaches us from mountain tops! They seem
To be a most ferocious, deadly team.
I saw that there were thousands—surely more!
Their battle cries did quake me to my core.”
The King abruptly sent a scout to see
How great a threat this army force could be.
The news brought back was not of pleasant taste:
“Prepare for war! Amass our forces—haste!
They come in crowds uncountable—with swords
And steeds and arrows come these dreadful hordes:
Ten thousand strong, an army truly great—
The largest force we’ve ever seen to date!
… Haste—we must campaign
Against this force which seeks to kill our King!”
But all of this did not the spirit ring
Of he whose faith resides in God alone,
Of he who shatters gods of wood and stone.
The King was wise, and not of hasty mind.
He sought refuge from Satan’s sinful kind,
Then praised his God. He gathered all his men,
And sought their counsel. As they gathered then,
They shared ideas, plots, and cunning schemes,
All aimed to rid them of those warring teams.
…And from among the silent multitude,
He rose and spoke with such determined mood.
“I wish to fight, O Messenger of God,”
Said Ali with his sword raised, and a nod.
But kindly did the King respond, and say:
“O goodly youth, I must refuse thee. Nay!
There are among thee older men, with wit,
Men worthier to fight this day, so sit.”
Obediently, Ali took his seat.
Again the King proposed the trying feat:
“I ask again, who from among thee will
This godless foe, this vile villain, kill?”
Again, the King’s request was proven fond,
For neither man nor boy would dare respond.
When silence seemed to never reach an end,
One single youth requested to contend.
Again the noble Ali spoke with might:
“O Messenger of God, I wish to fight!”
Behind his grin, the Messenger replied:
“My good youth, you were formerly denied,
And thus you are again. For I do think
Your cup of youth is full; persist to drink.”
Again the good King called; again no word.
Again rose Ali’s hand, this time the third.
“O Messenger of God, do not them blame.
Send me to fight our foe in God’s good name!”
“O son of Abu Talib, vain of fright,
I hereby grant thee God’s accord to fight…”
“…You spineless foes, I, Amr ibn Widd,
Will not confront this frightened little kid!”
The King’s good men then dropped their heads, ashamed
And anxious from the words the Brute proclaimed.
Our hero heard these words as well, and yet
His fearless heart did no concern beget.
With tranquil eyes, a daring stance, and grace,
He stated with a smile upon his face:
“I come with God’s Most True and Righteous Word.
There is no God but He, our King and Lord.
To Him submit the spacious earth and skies,
And He is the Most Marvelous, Most Wise.”
Then Amr yelled a most appalling thing:
“Cursed be your God, and damn to hell your king…”
“…Now is your chance, O Amr, to atone!
The worship of these gods of wood and stone
You must denounce, and in return accept
God’s oneness—and this promise must be kept.
But if you choose to turn away from this,
And thus reject forever Heaven’s bliss,
Then I shall offer you my second choice:
Withdraw from battle. Soften now your voice,
Which speaks such wicked words against our Lord.
Go back from whence you came; let down your sword.
And if not, then I have an offer yet:
If you shall stay, then live up to your threat!
In battle I have vowed to never be
The first to strike a worthy enemy.
Hence, if upon a fight you still insist,
Then take the sword that’s pressed within your fist
And be the first among us here to strike.
And I, in turn, will answer thee with like.
Now, two of these three terms you can refuse,
But one or more of them you now shall choose…”
bards poets (especially of the oral tradition). ‘pollo’s lamp “Apollo’s lamp”, i.e. the Sun. Achilles the Greek hero of The Iliad. Beowulf…Grendel’s Day from an Anglo-Saxon epic. King of Beasts the Lion, king of the jungle. Rostam a Persian hero. Mother of the Tribes Mecca. The largest force…date the Meccan army at the Battle of the Trench was the largest military force ever organized by the Arabs until that time. shatters gods…stone i.e. the pagan idols. Amr ibn Widd the great Arab warrior who traversed the Trench to face the Muslims.
Read more by Yousef Alqamoussi.