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Imam Busiri and the Ode of the Mantle

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Poets raised in the Islamic world beginning with Hassan ibn Thabit and Ka’b ibn Zuhair put forth the most mature works of their genius and art in eulogies and odes written for Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). However, some of these are considered to be more fortunate than others due not so much to the artistic value of their work, but to the fame they gained. One of those heading this caravan is Imam Busiri who lived in Egypt in the 13th century. Born on Shawwal 1, 608/ March, 1212, in Behsim tied to the city of Behnesa in Upper Egypt, Muhammad al-Busiri was a Berber from a family known as ibn Habnun from the Hammad Fortress in Morocco. He is called Busiri from his father’s side and Delasi from his mother’s side. It is seen that the poet sometimes combined the two words and used Delasiri. His childhood passed in Delas where his family settled. Later, going to Cairo, he studied language and literature in addition to Islamic sciences. It is understood that he was more preoccupied with hadith (sayings of the Prophet) and sirah (the life story of the Prophet) and that, in view of the rebuttals he made against Judaism and Christianity, he had broad knowledge of the Old and New Testaments. After working some time as a scribe in the treasury in the city of Bilbis, he returned to Cairo and participated in educational and teaching activities in the Quranic private teaching institution. Later on, while working as a scribe in the cities of al-Mahalla and Seha, he became very uncomfortable with the corruption made by his fellow-workers who were Christian civil servants, and he expressed this in his poetry.

Short and weak, Busiri’s main complaints were his wife’s ill-temper, his large number of children and difficulty making a living. Affiliating with Abul-Hasan es-Shazeli, the founder of the Shazeli dervish order, the poet mentions the sheikh’s virtues and merits with praise in an elegy of 142 couplets ending with “branch” addressed to Abul-Abbas al-Mursi, who replaced Sheikh Shazeli after his death. It can be understood that the famous sufi Ibn Ataullah of Alexandria and Busiri were Sheikh Shazeli’s two most prominent disciples. However, while Ibn Ataullah used the theme of divine love, Busiri celebrated more love for the Prophet.

Busiri became paralyzed towards the end of his life, but it is related that he recovered by means of a eulogy he wrote for Prophet Muhammad and died in his eighties (696/1296-97) at Alexandria after a long life.  Almost all the works of Busiri were written in verse and are odes written about the Prophet. They are extremely sound and lyrical in regard to poetical structure and style. For this reason, his odes and eulogies have been shown great interest over the centuries in every region of Islamic geography and are among poems read most at religious gatherings. Consisting of twelve eulogies which were dispersed in classical sources, his poetry was gathered together and published under the name of Diwan al-Busiri (pub.Muhammad Sayyid Kaylani, Cairo, 1374/1955). His most famous work world-wide in the field of Islamic literature is the160 verse poem known as the Ode of the Mantle (Qasidat al-Burda). An enthusiastic lover of the Prophet, Busiri called the ode that made him famous “al-Kavakibud-durriya fi madhi hayri’l-bariyya.” Its being called the Ode of the Mantle stems from a dream he saw. When he was paralyzed towards the end of his life, it is related that in his dream the Prophet Muhammad asked Busiri to read the ode the poet wrote for him. When he said, “O, Messenger! I wrote many eulogies for you; which one do you want,” the Prophet indicated this one by reciting the first verse. While Busiri recited the ode, the Prophet listened with pleasure, swaying from side to side. Again it is related that in order to reward Busiri, the Prophet took off his mantle and covered the sick poet who was lying down. Another narration states that the Prophet rubbed his hands over the paralyzed part of Busiri’s body. The poet woke up excitedly. While pleasurably trying to gather the dream together, he realized that his paralysis had vanished, and he was astounded with happiness. At this time dawn and the time of morning prayer were approaching. When Busiri took ablution and started towards the masjid, he saw a dervish. The dervish wanted Busiri to give him the ode he recited in the presence of the Prophet the night before. When this event was heard about, the eulogy gained great fame and in time was called the Ode of the Mantle because of the mantle the Prophet covered him with in the dream rather than the name the poet gave it. Although it is written in some sources that it was called the Ode of Cure because the illness vanished, they are nothing but imputations.

Taking its place among the most famous and widely read odes in the world, this work, just as it has been translated into all languages of great cultures, has also been translated into local dialects in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Balkans. It is generally read in various regions and countries at circumcision, engagement and wedding ceremonies, on holy days and nights and also as a weekly scripture. The final prayer section is read for paralysis seven consecutive days and health is pleaded for from Allah.

As well as can be ascertained, approximately 110 commentaries, 58 tahmises (poems composed by adding three lines rhyming with the first line of a couplet), and 16 tesdises (poems of stanzas of six distichs or hemistichs) and innumerable nazires (imitative poems) have been written on it. The power of its artistry has been used in every period of time for keeping religious emotion vibrant and to keep alive love of Prophet Muhammad.

 

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