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Story 22: At The Feast Of The Caliph

Al-Mutawakkil, a tyrannical and ruthless Caliph of the Abbasid dynasty, was fearful of the attention people were paying to Imam Al-Hadi (‘a). He worried that people were reluctant to obey his orders. Moreover, some backbiters told him that Ali ibn Muhammad (Imam Al-Hadi) (‘a) might secretly harbour a plan to overthrow him. It was possible that they might find weapons in his home, or at least some letters which indicated his plan. For this reason, one night, while everyone was fast asleep, Al-Mutawakkil secretly sent a number of his thugs and relatives to the Imam’s (‘a) house in order to inspect his residence and to summon him to the palace. Al-Mutawakkil took this decision while he was holding a feast and was busy drinking wine.

His agents broke into the Imam’s (‘a) house and crudely called out for him. They saw the Imam (‘a) had rolled up all his carpets, and was sitting all alone in his room on sand and pebbles, absorbed in supplication and prayers, and addressing the Essence of the Creator. They rushed from room to room, but could not find what they were after. Thus, empty-handed, they were compelled to take the Imam (‘a) to the palace of Al-Mutawakkil.

When the Imam (‘a) arrived, Al-Mutawakkil was sitting at the throne of the banquet table busy drinking wine. He ordered his men to make the Imam (‘a) sit beside him. The Imam (‘a) sat down. Al-Mutawakkil offered him (‘a) the glass of wine which was in his hand. The Imam (‘a) refused it and said, “I swear by Allah that wine has never penetrated my flesh and blood till now! Exempt me from this!”

Al-Mutawakkil agreed, then said, “Then recite poems in honour of our banquet with elegant and delightful lyrical verses.”
The Imam (‘a) replied, “I am not a poet nor do I recite poetry. I know only a few poems of the deceased.”
Al-Mutawakkil said, “It is unavoidable, you must surely recite a poem.”

Then Imam (‘a) began reciting the poems whose verses were as follows:
“Guarded and surrounded by armed men, they rested upon the high summits of castles
Yet none of them were able to stop death and to protect themselves from the decay of passing time
From the castles of these high summits and the heart of those solid and firm ramparts
They were pulled down deep into the abyss of the grave
How ill-fated they were to descend into the abyss
Whereas the herald's voice cried: ‘Where did the jewelry, the crowns, the extravagance, the glory and the magnificence depart to?’
So did those epicures (gluttons) who always escaped from people’s sight with a manner full of pride and haughtiness, hidden behind multi-coloured curtains.
The tomb finally disgraced them; those pampered figures became a field of worms crawling in them in the end
For a long time, they ate, drank and swallowed whatever they found; but those who had spent their lives consuming everything, today became the nourishment of the earth and the insects of soil!”

The Imam's (‘a) voice, with its peculiar timbre and intonation, penetrated into the depth of the spirit of all at the banquet, as well as Al-Mutawakkil himself. The poem came to an end. The fumes of wine evaporated from the drunkards’ minds. Al-Mutawakkil smashed his glass of wine violently on the ground, while tears were streaming down from his eyes like raindrops. Thus, for a short time, the banquet was disrupted and the light of reality shone onto a heart full of cruelty, the dust of arrogance and thoughtlessness.1

  • 1. Bihar ul-Anwar, v. 2, p. 149, The attitude of Imam Hadi (‘a).