Poetry in Shiism (Weeks 4/5)

This blog post is a synthesis of weeks 4 and 5.  In week 5, during lecture, we discussed the differences between Sunnis and Shia Islam.  The split occurred when the question of post-prophetic authority arose.  Who was to inherit the Prophet’s authority and lead the people?  Who was to succeed him?  Eventually, two major branches arose: Sunni Islam, and Shia Islam.  The Sunnis believed in either the caliphate, or the alim (learned scholar), while the Shias believed in the Imams, direct descendants of the Prophet.  This split occurred after the assassination of Ali, who was not only the fourth caliph, but also the first Imam.  In other words, Ali was respected by both Sunnis, and Shias.  As the closest living relative of the Prophet, and his cousin, and his son-in-law, Ali was held in great esteem by Shias.  That he was a man of great piety and character only heightened the respect that Shias felt towards him.  In fact, among the Shias, he is almost as revered as the Prophet himself.  Stories about Ali, and what he said, similar to the hadith, are greatly valued.

In week 4, in the section readings we read about poems written in praise of the Prophet.  Given this background about Ali, that he was almost as respected as the Prophet, it would be natural that among Shias there would be poems about him.  Many poems have been written about Ali and his stories; in particular, you find many such poems in Rumi’s Masnavi, an epic narrative in a sense.  For this blog post, I decided to write my own poem in veneration of Ali, which is below:


Anonymous, and shrouded in moonlight

Humble, our first Imam acted in right

Visited and gave coins to those in need

His generosity teach us it might.


The poem that I wrote takes the form of a rubaiyat, a quatrain with a rhyme scheme, generally AABA, utilized by Omar Khayyam, an eminent 11th century Persian poet and mathematician.  My poem was about the generosity of Ali, a story that I had heard about.  It would serve not only as a tribute to Ali, but also as a reminder about the value of generosity.  He gave not in order to be recognized or acknowledged, but to simply give and be recognized in the eyes of God.  Generosity is a value that is quite important in Islam, and its significance is reflected in the well-known five pillars of Islam, where one of the pillars is to give to charity.  Islam teaches us to give to those who are less fortunate than us, and I hoped to convey that message through the poem.

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