“And an emigrant for the sake of God”

This poem was written by Salih Sirriya (1936-1976), a Palestinian educator, political activist, and militant who lived in Egypt. Known for his attempt to overthrow the Egyptian government, which was dubbed the “military academy case”, he was a member of the global Islamist political party known as Hizb-ut-Tahrir (Arabic for “Party of Liberation”). After his attempted coup against the Egyptian government failed, he was sentenced to death, jailed, and then executed. Allegedly, Sirriya wrote the poem on the wall of his jail cell, with the bottom line written just above two flags, red and black, that he drew beneath it, with his name written between them.

Parts of the poem were later turned into a song, “Wa muhaajirun” (“ومهاجرٌ” or “And an emigrant”), which was recorded and released on Saudi singer Abu Usayd’s album “Shaymaa’ tabki” (“شيماء تبكي” or “Shaymaa Cries”; Shaymaa’ is an Arabic female name). The album was released prior to 2001. Abu Usayd al-Madani was no ordinary Saudi singer; his brother Abu Zubayr al-Madani (real name Muhammad al-Hibshi; al-Madani indicates he is from al-Madinah) was known for fighting in Afghanistan and Bosnia, and the two recorded the original album in the series of releases known as Qawaafil al-Shuhadaa’ (Caravans of Martyrs), which is dedicated to (mostly Saudi) fighters who left Muslim countries to fight in the wars in Bosnia and Afghanistan, with the help of a Saudi production company.

The version heard in the song also contains lines not found in the original; despite the differences, the origin of the lyrics is clearly from Sirriya’s poem. I have translated the original poem, and followed it with the version as sung in the song. While I was unable to determine the origin of the lines in the song which were not included in the poem, I coincidentally found two lines very similar to two of the lines in the song, in a story which originally came from an Arabic magazine printed in Philadelphia. The story, “Abu al-Mawt in the Land of Ice Cream” (or “أبو الموت في بلاد الأيسكريم”), was published in As-Sirat al-Mustaqim magazine, which – if reports by American sources after the closure of the publication are to be believed – had an editorial line sympathetic with al-Qa’idah. It reportedly featured an article praising the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania as positive for the Muslim world.  The article was translated into English and published as the foreword to Al-Qaida’s Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network by terrorism researcher, commentator, and writer Evan Kohlmann, who is often called on by the government as an expert witness in terrorism trials (and has also been widely critiqued for both his conclusions and the nature of his qualifications). In the story, the central character Abu al-Mawt (Arabic for “Father of Death” [أبو الموت]) is an extremely strict Muslim fighter, who breaks down from culture shock when he arrives in the United States after leaving the war in Afghanistan, in which he participated as a mujahid (a participant in the jihad). Presumably not from Afghanistan or the US, Abu al-Mawt wanders into a café and, after sitting down and taking in some discomfort regarding the looser dress standards in the US, reaches into his pocket to find a copy of the Qur’an with a dedication from his best friend killed in battle. As he breaks into sadness and subsequent uncontrollable tears upon seeing this reminder of his days in Afghanistan and their friendship, he begins to silently recite the words of a poem (words taken from one of the few copies of the original Arabic story available online), which says:

هل بعد أن ترك النبي ديارهم   ***   تــرضى بدور الكـافرين ثراء؟
أم ما سمعت عن النبي معلماً   ***   أو ما سمعت عن الدليل حداء؟

In the English version printed in Kohlmann’s book, the translator of the story translates the lines thus:

“Would it be that after the Prophet has abandoned their land, you would accept to prosper among the infidels? Haven’t you found the path of the Prophet, haven’t you heard the songs of the caravan [of martyrs]?”

These lines are very similar to lines 6 and 7 in the song by Abu Usayd, printed at the bottom of this post, though the words in the song are different than those of this poem. I do not know where the lines in the poem originally came from, whether they were simply both variations on a poem popular among fighters in Afghanistan at that time, or whether they were simply modified from the song; the year the story was written is given as 2000.

(Side note: Evidently the single word حداء which is pronounced “hidaa'”, with a hard “h”, is being translated here as “songs of the caravan”, and someone, either the translator or Evan Kohlmann himself, thought it appropriate to add “of martyrs”. The poem itself in no way mentions the word for “martyr”, or any word related to it, and the term “hidaa'” does not refer to martyrs. Rather it is an old word, found in centuries-old texts, which means chanting, and has referred to a specific type of chant, which, according to academic sources, was originally associated with camel riders and the rhythm of camels walking. I find it likely that someone translated the term as “caravan songs”, and that someone else conflated this with the expression “caravans of martyrs”, and must have assumed they referred to the same concept. The term “dalil” [الدليل], the object in the sentence, means “the [piece of] evidence”, not “the caravan”. But I cannot be certain.)

أقري العدا من لحمهم أشـــــلاء   ***   وأذيقهم كأس الردى لا مــــاء
I play host to the enemies with limbs severed from their flesh,
And I make them taste a cup: of death, not of water.

وأطـبهم بالقتل أو أحييــــــــــــهم   ***   بالأسر لا موتى ولا أحيـــــاء

And I treat them with killing, or I bring them to life,
By making them captive, neither dead nor among the living.

بمجـرب في الحرب يكره غمـــده   ***   ماض كسيف المسلمين مضاء

With a well-tested [sword] in war, which despises its scabbard,
Advancing like the sword of the Muslims advances;

ومهاجـر في الله ودع أهلـــــــــه   ***   لم يلتفت يوم الفـــــــراق وراء

And an emigrant for the sake of God bids farewell to his family,
He does not turn back, on the day of separation, behind him;

ألـــــقى ثقال الأرض عن أكتافـــــه   ***   ورمى الهوى لما أراد سمــاء

He throws off the weight of the world from atop his shoulders,
And casts away desire when he wants to reach for the sky.

ومــضى كأن الأرض لم يولد بها   ***   ولم يعرف بها رفقــــــــــــــــاء

And he left as though he had not ever been born in the land,
And as if he had not known any companions,

الله أكبر يوم يزحــــف جيشــــــــنا   ***   صـــوب المدينة يقطع البيــــداء

God is the greatest on the day when our army marches forth
Towards the city, cutting through the deserts.

اليـوم يوم السيف إن تضـــــرب به   ***   أثــخن وإن تنذر فلا إرجــــــــاء

Today is the day that, if the sword strikes out,
It is debilitating; and if it is alerted, there is no delay.

راياتنا سود كراية أحمــــــــــــد   ***   لكنها عادت إذن حمـــــــــــراء

Our banners are black like the banners of Ahmad [prophet Muhammad];
But they return to us when they are stained red.

For comparison, here are the lyrics of the song as sung by Abu Usayd al-Madani off of the album, Shaymaa’ Tabki:

And an emigrant for the sake of God bids farewell to his family,
He does not turn back, on the day of separation, behind him;

ومهاجر في الله ودع أهله   ***   لم يلتفت يوم الفراق وراءه

He throws off the weight of the world from atop his shoulders,
And casts away desire when he wants to reach for the sky.

القى ثقال الارض عن اكتافه   ***   ورمى الهوى لما اراد سماه

And he left as though he had not ever been born in the land,
And as if he had not known any companions,

ومضى كان الارض لم يولد بها   ***  ابدا ولم يعرف له رفقاء

Amassed together in his chest are his secrets,
The heart grunts, bearing their heavy weight.

مستجمعا اسراره في صدره   ***   أطَ الفؤاد بثقلهن وناء

Were it not for his certainty, he would not have endured their remains,
Deep inside his ribs, and they would not have endured his remains!

لولا اليقين لما أطاق بقاءها *** بين الضلوع ولا اطقن بقاءَهْ

Would it be that after the warner had abandoned their homes,
You would accept accommodation among those sitting idly?

هل بعد ان ترك النذير ديارهم   ***   ترضَى بدُور القاعدين إيواءَ

Or that after they had abandoned Jihad from their path,
There would neither be a blessing along it nor a favor?

أم بعد ان ترك الجهاد سبيلهم   ***   لا نعمة فيها ولا نعماء

Today is the day that, if the sword strikes out,
It is debilitating; and if it is alerted, there is no delay.

اليوم يوم السيف ان تضرب به   ***   اثخن وان تنذر فلا ارجاء

And the army is an army of Muslims, trusting [in God],
With trust, and a creed, and a banner.

والجيش جيش المسلمين توكلاً   ***   توكلاً وعقيدةً ولواءَ

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