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Seerah

The Ziyara in the Poetry of Lament for Al-Husayn (a.s.)

In the odes of the poets of lament for al-Husayn which they composed in praise of and in lament for the Holy Family, and in lament for al-Husayn, they have given expression to the ritual of the ziyara since the first half of the fourth century. It is a date for which we possess poetic evidence. Even though we can estimate that the poetry of lament included this purpose before this date, there is not much before it.

That is because the reflection of any concern of the people in poetry implies two things: (i) This concern which the poetry reflects, is a common subject which excites the interest of many groups of people of diverse schools of thought and views.

This common subject excites in the people emotions and feelings of love, or awe, or hostility towards it. (ii) There is no danger, or at least no great danger, in the expression and practice of this common subject. Otherwise the poets would not express it in poetry which came readily to men's tongues and which was recited at their gatherings.

In the light of this analysis we can judge that poetry gave expression to the pilgrimage from several aspects out of the total of its purposes when the pilgrimage became a common concern for the Shi'a, and was no longer limited to a selected few among them, when it became an established part of their religious activity which had a socio-political quality.

This is from one aspect. From another, poetry probably gave expression to the pilgrimage when it became possible to carry it out with security and the safety of the pilgrim was not exposed to danger.

We can deduce that these two matters -the widespread nature of the pilgrimage and freedom to carry it out with security- were achieved in the second stage of the 'Abbasids, after the Buwayhids had gained real control over Iraq and Iran and the Hamdanids had gained control in Syria.

In this period, popular consciousness attained an understanding of the pilgrimage in a comprehensive form. This consciousness came to express its understanding of it on numerous occasions when thousands of people gathered. Karbala' began to witness a constant movement of pilgrims coming to the tomb of al-Husayn.

Then the pilgrimage became one of the topics of the poetry about al-Husayn, which the poets expressed in a variety of ways and at which they looked from different aspects.
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Perhaps Abu Bakr Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ibn Murad al-Dabbi al-Halabi al-Antaki, known as al-Sunawbari (d. 334) was among the first poets of lamentation who reflected the subject of- the pilgrimage to al-Husayn in their poetry. Al-Sunawban spent his life between Aleppo and Damascus.

For this reason, his poetry's inclusion of references to the pilgrimage in a number of his odes discloses, without any doubt, an important historical fact about this subject, namely that groups of pilgrims at this historical period were flowing into Karbala' from the Syrian area. This is a phenomenon which, first of all, proves that the ritual of ziyara had become a common popular Shi'ite practice which went beyond the geographical region of Karbala', that is Iraq, to other geographical regions.

Secondly it proves that the element of security had increased to such an extent that it allowed great numbers of people to cross this long distance between Syria and Iraq without very great fear.

In one ode in lamentation for al-Husayn, al-Sunawbari called on the pilgrims to stop at the place on the bank of the Euphrates and described their weeping at the graves.

In another ode, he tells of their camels halting at the place of grief and the people smelling the musk and kissing the camphor of the ground. They perform the pilgrimage there, which is recommended, and they grieve for him with tears flowing down.

In a third ode, he urges the people to travel straight. The pilgrimage to the Imam of guidance is the best pilgrimage which can be made.

It appears that the third ode may be adressed in farewell to a group who are heading for Karbala' to perform the pilgrimage.
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Abu 'Abd Allah al-Husayn ibn Ahmad ibn al-Hajjaj al-Nili al-Baghdadi (d. 391) comes almost half a century later than al-Sunawburi so that he reflects for us, in one of the beautiful passages of his poetry, a picture of the pilgrimage, which indicates the depth of the penetration of the ritual into popular consciousness so that it has become an institution with traditional practices.

In his ode, al-Husayn ibn al-Hajjaj has spoken about the pilgrimage to the Commander of the faithful, 'Ali ibn Abi Talib. It gives a picture of the circumstances which were prevailing then at the sanctuary of Imam al-Husayn.

Al-Husayn b. al-Hajjaj calls on 'Ali ibn Abi Talib. He says that the pilgrims may gain a cure or reward which they seek. It instructs the pilgrims to be in a state of ritual purity before entering the tomb.

They should prepare themselves to answer his call and go round his tomb seven times. At the door to the tomb, they should stand and call for peace to be with the people of knowledge and nobility. Then they should acknowledge that they are holding fast to the faith, because the Imam is the firm bond which binds them to the faith. They hope that he will intercede for them, that no harm will come to them and they will have no fear.

These verses depict some of the popular customs at the pilgrimage, as well as expressing some of the ideas which were circulating in some of the texts.
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Abu al-Hasan 'Ali ibn Hammad ibn 'Ubayd Allah ibn Hammad al-'Adawi al-'Abdi al-Basri (d. end of 4th century), was a poet who was a contemporary of al-Husayn ibn al-Hajjaj. In one of his odes of lament, he speaks of the ritual of the pilgrimage and the Divine blessing which are promised to those who perform it.

He tells the pilgrims to al-Husayn that they may receive forgiveness for their sins and safety from Hell. When they call upon al-Husayn, he will answer their prayers whether they are said aloud or in secret. For al-Husayn is alive with God. They should go round his tomb and kiss the soil of his grave, for al-Husayn possesses very great purity.

In another ode, the poet speaks of the great effect the deaths of the sons of the Prophet at Karbala' had. He mentions that whoever sees their graves begins to weep. He describes the light which shines on these graves and the angels which go back and forth from them. These are graves with the power to ward off harm and evil and pilgrims seek cures for their evil thoughts. Whenever one sees them, one is reminded of the day on which al-Husayn died and the words he spoke in admonition to his enemies.
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Al-Sharif al-Radi Abu al-Hasan Muhammad ibn Abi, Ahmad al-Husayn al-Musawi (359-406) spoke of the ritual of pilgrimage in one of his beautiful poems. In it he revealed his desire to perform the pilgrimage to the Commander of the faithful and Imam al-Husayn and he said that he quenched this thirst in his heart by performing the pilgrimage to the two tombs of the two Imams (al-Kazimayn) Imam Musa b. Ja'far and Imam Muhammad al-Jawad in Baghdad.

This demonstrates that in this period performing the pilgrimage to the tombs of the Imams of the Holy Family in Iraq had become a popular general practice.
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Abu al-Hasan Mihyar ibn Marzawayh al-Daylami, the famous poet, (d. 428) was one of those in this period who spoke of the ritual of pilgrimage in an ode of lament for Imam 'Ali, the Commander of the faithful, and Imam al-Husayn. That was in the month of Muharram in 392.

In his discussion he shows that the pilgrimage involves the practice of blessing the soil of the tomb of al-Husayn. It appears from this text that those who performed the pilgrimage used to go back with some of the soil of Karbala' which they used to sprinkle on those of their family and friends who used to ask for it as a means of seeking blessings and seeking cures. This practice does not exist in the present time, and it is a point which ought to be studied from the historical angle.
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Al-Sharif al-Murtada al-Qasim 'Ali ibn al-Husayn ibn Musa al-Musawi, known as 'Alam al-Huda (the sign of guidance) (355-436) is one of the distinguished men whose poetry reflects the ritual of the pilgrimage. In it he mentions the healing effect on the soul of performing the pilgrimage.
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In this way poets of lament for al-Husayn have continued to reflect in their poetry the ritual of the pilgrimage to the tomb of al-Husayn and the rest of the tombs of the Holy Family. They are expressing the doctrinal and emotional relationship of the Shi'ite with al-Husayn, the martyr. This relationship considers the pilgrimage as one of the most outstanding means of expressing it.

There has been much poetry dealing with the subject of the pilgrimage in recent times, even to the extent of some poets making it the sole purpose of some odes. This reflects the growth of this ritual in popular consciousness as one of the manifestations of the revolution of al-Husayn in popular consciousness.

Adapted from: "The Revolution of Imam al-Husayn (a)" by: "Shaykh Muhammad Mahdi Shams ad-Din Al-Amili"