excerpts from ALI

These excerpts have been selected from a poetry project I’ve been working on called ALI. It’s 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, I expect that it will comprise three volumes of rhymed and metered narrative poetry, spanning from 570 CE — the Year of the Elephant — through the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, until the assassination of Ali in 661 CE, a period of almost one hundred years.

The poem is a work in progress which I’ll continue to update periodically. I hope to publish the complete epic poem one day.

In the Name of the Gracious, Merciful God, 

The Master of the heavens and the earth,

The Knower of the hidden and the bared,

In his Most Holy Name I now Begin: 

The ancient poets sing of timeless kings 

From far and wide who spread their spacious wings 

Above the lengthy lands and endless seas.

They sing of lords whose stunning wealth could please

A thousand dying nations and the sons

Of these tenfold. They sing of mighty ones,

Of warriors who shamed the mountains high

With brutish strength and quenched the thirsty eye 

With handsomeness and daring unsurpassed.

They sing of men whose names will ever last.

And yet, for all their singing, little gain.

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 Haydar’s name. 

And Beowulf, of whom the Saxons sung,

Would have no name in song had Haydar 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 Haydar’s hands.

If came the very gods of earth and sea,

And beasts, and heroes too, collectively,

To bring the noble Haydar to one knee,

Then earth and sea and sky would never be! 

No, not a soul that breathes of worldly air 

To challenge Haydar’s savage strength would dare.

Our hero, then, was born into a time

So filled with hatred, vice, and bitter crime.

It was a culture shameless and distraught.

To pass the time these countless people fought.

It was a world on which warfare was based.

Their honor lay in tribal clans. Disgraced

Was any man without a tribe or clan

To guard him from the rage of fellow man.

No written law did rule these nations, spare

The law of vengeance. Little did they care

For peace or knowledge. Only few could read

Or write— these men were ignorant indeed.

What’s more, they drank excessively, and so

Intoxicated, they would come and go.

The woman was to them a great disgrace.

Big crimson banners blew in every place. 

She had no rights. Her presence was a shame, 

For she could not uphold her father’s name. 

And if the news was to a father brought

That he’d produced a daughter, then he sought 

To bury her alive, despite the pleas 

Of a most brokenhearted mother. These 

Were times of evil, ignorance, and hate

Such as our race cannot appreciate. 

Thus ignorance was rooted in their arts; 

Thus did corruption brew within their hearts. 

But as the Lord did ‘pon the Greeks bestow 

The greatest gift of mind and thought, and so

Did God adorn the Chinese with his grace

(With craftsmanship did God exalt that race)

So too were Haydar’s people blessed, you see:

The Lord exalted them with poetry.

Indeed, no tongue in all of human song

Could match the Arab’s. Gladly men would throng 

From all across the land and sea to hear

That oral magic quench the thirsty ear.

If had they value ‘pon this jagged earth,

Then ‘twas the tongue which gave those Arabs worth. 

Yet so it was before the gleaming moon 

Had shone his face on Yathrib. Surely soon, 

These Arab tribes would raise a kingdom vast,  

And honor would uphold their names at last. 

To rule them came a great and mighty man 

Who did what no one could, and no one can. 

Our hero was a servant to this King 

Who spoke through God Almighty, one who’d sing 

Of Oneness, Peace, and of a life beyond

The death of man. By this King’s efforts dawned 

An era unsurpassed in Arab time, 

One rich with peace and knowledge. ‘twas the prime 

Of all that Arab lands had ever known.

Through him the light of God had lastly shown. 

This noble King would save them from their blight.

The love of God would cause them to unite. 

But do not think this love comes easy. No!

The love of God is tested, don’t you know?

So when the call for sacrifice was made, 

They bowed, and their allegiances were paid

To God and their most true and righteous 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:

But we’ll save that one for another night.


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. Big crimson banners a red flag would hang at the entrance of a whorehouse to mark its location. To bury her alive a custom among pre-Islamic Arabs was to bury their newborn girls alive out of shame from the rest of the clan. gleaming moon…Yathrib referring to Muhammad, who, upon arriving in Yathrib on his migration from Mecca in 622 C.E. was greeted with the famous cry, “[Finally] the [full] moon has appeared to us!” Mother of the Tribes Mecca, the major city of the Arab world.

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