The Islamic Post Blog

The Marsiya by Khalida
February 2, 2009, 11:01 am
Filed under: February Volume I- 2009, Magazine/ Culture, Poetry, Religion | Tags: ,

Excerpts from The Marsiya, describing the Battle at Karbala

Written By Mir Anis

‘This morning brings an evening ever blessed:
We who depart for Paradise will slake
Our thirst by Kausar’s spring, and therein rest.
May God exalt our names for honor’s sake.’
Unequalled, each of them to joy gave birth
‘Let martyrs rise in glory from this earth.’

At this the faithful friends rose from their beds,
And donning glorious raiment combed their hair;
Then tying turbans on their noble heads,
They faced the peerless Lord and gathered there.
Wrapped in colored cloaks, their fear grew less;
Rose perfume, musk and civet filed their dress.

Their dry lips sang the praise of God; and light
Shone on their faces; fear was put aside.
No grief or panic clouded o’er their sight;
They joked and laughed and shared their skills with pride.
Their charming accents gladdened every ear;
Each word they uttered was a joy to hear.

The kinsmen of the King stepped from their tent,
Fatima’s darlings all of beauteous face;
Qasim the fair and Akbar heaven-sent,
Aqil and Muslim, Jafar’s valiant race.
Their countenances lit the sky around.
The flower of eighteen suns stood on the ground.

That morning ‘neath the shadow of the stars!
If Moses, who called God on Sinai,
Had seen their light that with the vision jars,
He would have swooned. Celestial majesty
Was echoed by the birds’ song in the bowers
Of the desert valley filled with fragrant flowers.
And here amid the thongs the Prophet’s flowers
Imparted fragrance to the desert lands;
The house of Fatima faced its last hours
In the garden planted by Muhammad’s (sas) hands
This garden cut down in those ten days,
By traitors wasted, cruelly set ablaze.

Then suddenly the dawn’s white light came in;
To lead the prayers the King came from his throne.
All stood behind the Lord of Men and Jinn;
Ali Akbar called the prayer in Hassan’s tone.
The eyes of everyone were filled with tears.
As if the Prophet’s voice fell on their ears.

The birds fell silent; trees in ecstasy
Rocked to an’ fro; their buds and fruit sang praise.
The towns and deserts joined in harmony,
And ocean-beasts emerged to hear their lays.
The darling of Shabbir to all lent weight;
O’er land and sea they cried: ‘Our God is great!’

‘Make ready for your worship!’ came the cry.
The King of all Creation leaves his seat.
In ranks of light the Leader passes by;
Salvation’s path bows down to touch his feet.
His radiance in the highest heaven will reign.
The Qur’an became a prayer-mat for Hussein.

The company’s prayers were verses from that age;
Like ‘Bismillah’ the King stood at their head;
The ranks were lines of writing on the page,
And proudly stood behind the one who led.
The dawn blinked at the whiteness shown between
The rows of words that Ali once had seen.

They stood, then bowed; their prayers flew to the sky;
To the One Existing Lord they showed devotion.
Prostrate upon the ground, their time passed by;
Their hands, their arms, their feet betrayed no motion.
But of their own dire plight, they made no word.
They prayed beneath the shadow of the sword.
The prayer of the King of Men was now compete;
His thirsty friends came forth to shake his hand.
One kissed his cheek, another touched his feet;
What stalwart spirits had this hungry band!
His soldiers pledged their faith with every breath;
Embracing on the feast-day of their death.

To Ali Akbar he made his behest:
‘On treachery our evil foe is bent.
Life of my soul, go where the women rest,
And lead them from the forecourt to the tent.
Through negligence let no child come to grief;
For Asghar’s neck is the target of the thief.’

The Sky-Throned King had thus addressed his son,
When Fazza cried from the porch: ‘Behold our plight!
Oh Lord, now where may Ali’s daughters run?
The children have been crying through the night.
Suffocated by the heat they weep,
But now in the morning breeze they got to sleep.

‘At Karbala the traveler is undone!
An assault upon a Sayyid, loved by all!
In foreign lands can battle e’er be won?
Have mercy on these babes so frail and small.
They die of hunger; thirst has plunged its sword.
They are your Holy Prophet’s family, Lord!’

Drawing near, the Lord of Heaven spoke:
‘Be not thou troubled.  All thy prayers are heard.
Our cursed foe all faith and pledges broke,
And now they will learn justice at my word.
This is no time, my sister, for they tears.
Bring forth the holy relics.  Cease thy fears.’

Zainab brought the clothes the Prophet wore
When he went to Heaven on that night.
Hussein put on his turban, and once more
He donned the cloak to which he had the right.
Those holy garments fitted perfectly;
The scarf of Fatima, his legacy.

The Prophet’s fragrance wafted from his train.
No bridegroom knew such perfume from a bride.
Haidar, Fatima, Hasan, Hussein.
The scent of the Holy Five on every side
Was squandered on the vale; the swaying flowers!
In Paradise Rizwan racked in its showers.

He fixed the sword that he alone could wield;
The crescent moon grew frantic in the sky;
Up to his shoulder mounted Hamza’s shield,
Whose dignity increased when raised on high.
The mark of Prophethood was its proud gain
From being on the shoulder of Hussein.

The Lord of High and Low in arms was dressed;
The Sayyid’s standard stood before the band.
The women, hair disheveled, were distressed;
His sister clutched the pole with trembling hand.
With swords bound to their waists, on battle bent,
The sons of Zainab came before the tent.

‘The bearer of the standard is thy choice.’
‘The King of Heaven must choose.’ Zainab replied.
‘Thou wert declared our mother with one voice’,
Answered Hussein, ‘the day that Fatima died.
So now must thou decide; for thee to say
Which one will bear the standard to the fray.’

Zainab answered: ‘I can do no more.
For thou art Leader of the Strong and Weak,
And after the Quran they word is law.
But if it is thy will that I should speak,
Then I would choose the brave Abbas [for the standard].  For me
In valour no one stands as high as he.

‘He loves thee; he is thine obedient slave;
A younger brother who will give his life
For thee, and fight with strength among the brave;
A worthy son in time of war and strive;
A lion-hearted general, good and fair.
With his great courage no one can compare,’

Standard in hand, Abbas to action fell.
The barefoot women ran with hair disheveled.
The Lord cried: ‘Brood of Mustafa, farewell!
We part. ‘Tis time the scores were duly leveled.
This is the morning of the night of sorrow.
Our fading stars unite to greet the morrow.’

Grief-stricken, Zainab fell before Hussein;
And Bano, stumbling, fell before her son;
Trembling, Kulsum fell, her heart in pain;
Sakina, Baqir fell down one by one.
The garden despoiled, no gay flowers danced;
The standard like a funeral-bier advanced.

[When]‘mid dead and dying stood the lone Imam,
The Prophet’s cloak was soaked in crimson gore.
Dejected, anxious, thirsty, in alarm,
He heard their victory drums; the enemies’ roar
Proclaiming slaughtered martyrs broke his heart;
It pierced his spirit like a poisoned dart.

Only he who grieves can understand.
The garden of life’s toil now wasted lay.
No rest from lamentation’s cruel hand.
The lamps were out that once burnt bright as day.
Scattered limbs exposed to seering heat;
On Ali Akbar’s corpse there was no sheet.

The King of the Age moved slowly to the tent;
He could not bring his thirsty lips to speak.
Lifting the flap, he cried: ‘My heart is rent!
My sister, it is Asghar that I seek.
Now bring him from his cradle to the door.
I long to see his moon-like face once more.’

He cradled Asghar in his warm embrace.
Outside in ambush lurked black Kahil’s son.
Who fired a three-pronged arrow from his place;
It’s target was the neck of the little one.
The baby writhed in pain; the Leader cried;
The tiny child was slaughtered by his side.

The baby died, and in the earth about
A little grave was fashioned by the sword.
The child was buried, and Hussein cried out;
‘Oh Holy Ground, be mindful of thy ward!
This love of Ali, keep him in thy care,
Ali’s pledge and Fatima’s treasure rare!’

He spoke and donned his shininge arms once more;
His eyes were bloodshiot, and his face was red.
Clothed in the Prophet’s cloak, now bent on war,
With Hamza’s shield lone to fight he sped;
With Zulfiqar, that sword of might and fame;
Muhammad’s (sas) armour graced his noble frame.

The mirror of the sky was scorched with heat,
And lighting dashed for shelter in the cloud.
Hot-tempered men could scarce stand on their feet.
For morning’s camphor cried the sun aloud.
The dome of elemental fire burnt red,
And clouds to even colder regions sped.

The son of Sa’d called: ‘Lord of Heaven, think!
Give me allegiance, for I mean no harm.
A cooling draught shall I give thee to drink.’
Hussein replied: ‘Ah wretch, respect Islam!
The son of Ali takes no gift from thee.
From thy hand water is but dust to me.

For if I asked, then Abraham would come
And fill my cup form the fount of Salsabil;
Woulds’t thou give me to drink, oh filthy scum?
With avaricious tyrants would I deal?
Thy very shadow causes flowers pain.
If thou art cut, no blood pours from thy vein.

‘And if I called, Jamshed would give his cup;
The Prophet (sas) would tell Gabriel to bring
A draught from Kausar’s spring for me to sup;
On earth the angels would my victory sing.
At my command the world would cease to be.
Iraq and Syria sink beneath the sea.

Intoning martial verses, Ali’s scion
Advanced with Gabriel’s had upon his shoulder.
Onward he advanced-a male lion-,
With sleeves rolled up; each step he took grew bolder.
The bride of battle was in splendor wreathed;
Hussein’s intrepid sword was now unsheathed.

The flaming sword was wrenched out of its cover,
As moonbeams fly, as perfume leaves the rose,
As a comely maiden taken from her lover,
As breath departs the breast, as red blood flows.
When thunder roared and all the air did swell,
Laila swooned and from her litter fell.

Hussein swooped like an eagle from on high,
As lions in the jungle pounce on deer.
The heavens flashed; the clouds began to cry;
His horse rushed down like water swift and sheer.
The sharp sword cut the foe with thunderous crash;
They fell like mountains ‘neath the lightning’s flash.

Ranks collapsed on ranks where’er it struck,
Now this way, that way, dashing through the air.
‘Where has it gone?’ ‘Which warrior did it pluck?’
The cries came: ‘It is here!’ No, it is there!’
The archers could not find the way to go.
If heads were severed, bodes did not know.

Ah, how they feared the Lion of Creation!
The stream of the Euphrates turned to bile.
Their cruel hearts were racked with consternation;
They could not run, nor could they stay awhile.
‘Run!’, came the cry, ‘before it is too late.
The river of God’s wrath was in full spate.

The Warrior King struck panic in his foe,
And turmoil broke beneath the ancient sky.
The bowstrings looked for refuge in the bow;
For help the bow to arrow-heads made cry.
The ruthless sword drove on, and everywhere
The enemy sought a respite from its glare.

From twanging bowstrings arrows sped like rain;
Hurtling from the Syrian cloud they poured.
The piebald horses, chestnut steeds in pain
Whinnied as the sweltering hot winds roared.
The hatred of the desert was on fire;
Hussein alone withstood its clamorous ire.

The prowess of the Lord against his foes!
With sunlight on his swarthy face he strode.
His dry cracked lips were petals of the rose;
Like Ali borne by Zuljanah he rode.
Came clamour from the battle, fierce and harsh:
‘Run off! An angry lion stalks the marsh!’

‘Hussein! Make haste to save us!’, came the cry.
‘Hussein contests the banks: the swamp he takes.
Hussein fights with the wrath God’s spirit wakes!
The world is his, in him God’s spirit wakes!
Hussein saved Noah from the dreadful flood.
May we be saved by Ali Akbar’s blood!’

The name of Ali Akbar reached his ears;
His heart was pierced; he pulled his horse’s rein.
And as he stopped, his eyes were filled with tears;
He addressed the spot where his dead son had lain:
‘Life of my soul! They call you from afar.
The battle ends; I lay down Zulfiqar.’

The peaks of Qaf sped from the fairies’ sight;
The Jinn were lost; the lions strayed from the home;
The denizens of the deep dashed to the light;
The hawk and partridge fled where Pythons roam.
The mountains huddled, hiding, from the roar,
And eagles fell from eeries where they soar.

A voice came from the sky: ‘All hail, Shabbir!
This sword was made for him.  Shabbir, all hail!
All hail! To him was battle’s honor dear.
Nursed at his mother’s breast, how can he fail?
God gave him mastery o’er all creation.
For he alone could fight to save his nation.

‘But now enough!  No more, Hussein! No more!
‘Tis time to rest.  The horse pants from the heat.
The time for prayer draws nigh.  The battle’s roar
Is over now for thee.  No more! Retreat!
No one can fight thus, thirsty in the throng.
Attend to thy dear kin, and soothe their wrong.’

Sheathing his sword, the King cried: ‘I obey!’
The day of Judgment came upon the world.
The enemy stood like animals at bay.
Their arrows fixed, their standard’s flag unfurled.
Hussein stood helpless.  See and you will know
Your helpless Lord alone before his foe!

Ten thousand arrows dashed upon his chest;
A hundred at one time sought out their prey.
The spears transfixed his side and pierced his breast;
Ten stuck for every four he pulled away.
The shadow of the Lord was filled with spines,
Like needles in the backs of porcupines.

From all directions arrows poured like rain;
Assassins rushed with spears and daggers bared.
Such pain befell Hussein.  Such pain! Such pain!
The one who on the Prophet’s lap was reared.
No one to pluck the arrows from his chest.
No one to lift him to his place of rest.

Those who had fled from battle now returned;
One took a stone and aimed it at his head.
The blow struck home; his fevered forehead burned;
Then to his throat a three-pronged arrow sped.
He touched his forehead, clasped his throat and sighed.
The arrow flew out from the other side.

This arrow had three heads, so it is told;
It pierced the Lord, not stopping in its track.
His breathing stopped; his eyes wide open rolled;
He tried to pull the shaft out from his back.
His final breath emerged-an angry flood-,
The palm placed on his wound was filled with blood.

Hussein falls from his mount-calamity!
His holy foot falls from the horse’s girth.
His side is gaping open-misery!
He swoons; his turban drops upon the earth.
The Quran has fallen headlong from its stand.
The Ka’aba’s walls have crumbled into sand.

Far from the wastes came Fatima’s pure voice:
‘Muhammad [sas]! See our family despoiled!
Now who will save our friendship and rejoice?
Against what tyranny our Leader toiled!
Full nineteen-hundred wounds were on him thrust;
Ah Zainab! Come! Hussein writhes in the dust.’

Her head uncovered, Ali’s daughter walked
To the place where Ali’s darling son was slain.
She ran, though by the evil enemy balked,
And reached the spot, clutching her breast in pain.
Ignoring every danger, she drew near,
And saw her brother’s head stuck on a spear.

‘Thy sister greets thee, brother.  Answer me!
Hear the cry of Haidar’s daughter’s strife.
With thy dry tongue give answer! Hear my plea!
Should Zainab cling to this accursed life?
For Death alone can end this separation.
No one is left to give me consolation.

‘My brother, can I bring thee back once more?
What can I do?  Where can I tell my woes?
To whom can I recount the pain I bore?
Our city is now ruled by evil foes.
The world has been destroyed beyond belief.
How can I live within this house of grief?

‘Why did this wretched waif not die before?
Come tell me how the dagger ripped thy breast?’
A voice cried: ‘Do not ask the pains I bore!
For all that came to pass was for the best.
Now from all tribulations I am free,
But ah! The wound to be apart from thee!’

Enough, Anis! Your very limbs are quaking.
Such verses written while your hands were shaking.


1 Comment so far
Leave a comment

Love the poetry.

Comment by Asma

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