Assalamu alaikum, peace be upon you my dear readers,
With the new moon reported last week, we have entered the month of Sha’ban, the 8th month in the Islamic calendar and the month preceeding the month of months- Ramadan, whose arrival all Muslims around the world are counting the days to eagerly. We make the du’a (=supplication, a prayer) “O Allah grant us to meet Ramadan” (meaning ‘prolong our life so we can meet Ramadan’) since roughly about the 3rd month of the year, i.e., during the six months before Ramadan. The rest of the year, i.e., the six months following Ramadan, we make the du’a “O Allah accept all our worship during Ramadan (our fasting and special salat=prayers, charity and hosting family and friends and so on). This was the habit of the prophet Muhammed (peace and blessing of God be upon him) and of his companions (God be pleased with them all) and so we follow his example in this as we try to in every other aspect of our lives. So you can imagine now that Ramadan is almost around the corner, the frequency with which Muslims make this prayer increases exponentially :)
The month of Sha’ban is sandwiched between Ramadan and Rajab, which is the month we just exited. Rajab is considered one of the four sacred months. These four months were a time when warring was forbidden in the Arabian peninsula since before the time of the prophet (peace and blessing of God be upon him) and Islam upheld that tradition. The other three months are the 11th, 12th and 1st months of the year, traditionally the time when the pilgrims for the Hajj pilgrimage would be traveling to Mecca, perform the pilgrimage (which happens in the 12th month) and return. You can imagine, had tribal war been allowed during that time, the pilgrimage would not happen – hence the importance of them being ‘sacred’. Rajab stands alone and therefore is given a great deal of importance.
Ramadan is actually not one of the four ‘sacred’ months. It is however one of the holiest of the year, and unlike the other four, whose sacredness predates the time of the beloved messenger (peace be upon him), its status as the month of fasting was instituted by the messenger (peace be upon him). It is the month in which the Quran was first revealed. More on Ramadan in the coming weeks inshaAllah (God willing). There is so much information available online on Ramadan, I am not sure I need to write a post. Here is a good link gathering a lot of information in one place (I haven’t read all the information there, but the site is generally reliable).
It is said that Rajab is the month of God, Sha’ban the month of the messenger of God (peace be upon him) and Ramadan the month of his community! Rajab is generally a time Muslims spend a lot of time in reflection and ‘returning’ to God, then in the month of Sha’ban there is an emphasis on sending prayers upon Muhammed. We call this salawat and I gathered some types of salawat in this post. Of course ‘salawat’ can be done without any music, and done alone as many of us do.
In that post, I introduced some forms of salawat. Here I want to introduce a ‘salawat’ so famous in the Muslim world, I doubt there are many Muslims who have not heard it. They may not know what they heard (such is the sad state of Muslims divorce from their tradition and heritage – due to a large part to a catastrophic period of colonial subjugation – but I am digressing), but they would have heard it! It has been rendered into every musical form contained in the vastly diverse Muslim world, sung in so many different languages in so many corners of the world. It is the famous ‘Qasida Burdah’
Qasida (=elegiac/laudatory poem) Burdah, or ‘The poem of the cloak’ was written by a great scholar – Imam Buseeri (raheemahullah alai = God have mercy upon him), who lived in Egypt in the 13th century CE which would be 6th century AH (=After Hijri). The real name of the publication is “Al-Kawakib Al-Durriyya Fi Madh Khayr Al-Bariyya” (=The Brilliant Stars in Praising the Best of Mankind), but the poem has come to be most known as simply ‘Al-Burdah’ (=the cloak) or the ‘Qasida Burdah’. I could go on a long time about both Imam Busiri and Qasida Burdah, but I will limit myself to telling you about why the poem’s popular name is what it is. It is said Imam Busiri suffered a grave illness and was paralyzed for a long time. No doctors could cure him. He wrote this poem as way of praying to God, by praising the beloved of God, His final messenger, Muhammed (upon whom be God’s peace and blessing). One night he saw the prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) appear to him in a dream and convey his pleasure with the poem – the blessed prophet took his cloak and put it on Imam Busiri. The next day Imam Busiri (rah) was miraculously cured and his paralysis lifted. Hence the naming of the poem by the populace, and the name that stuck. Beautiful detail about Qasid Burdah can be found here and audio of the recitation of it in entirety with translation. I will quote a few sentences from there below;
It reached unsurpassed fame, where it was taught, copied, distributed, recited, transcribed on mosque walls, memorized, commented on, studied, and considered required reading by countless scholars. The Burda was engraved on the Prophet’s mosque in Medina, where it adorned the walls for centuries before being erased by people who could not comprehend it. There is still one line left that has not been removed: “He is the beloved, whose intercession is hoped for….to overrun every terrible horror” (on the day of resurrection)
The poem is usually given as ~300 lines arranged in 10 sections, and each verse ends with the letter ‘meem’. In Arabic poetic forms this is called a ‘meemiya’. I want to collect several renderings of Qasida Burdah to introduce the variety in the Muslim world, but this post is too long already. And I have just found a wonderful interview online with the author of the best English translation of Qasida Burdah currently available, and a person I am honored to say I have studied briefly with.
So below is an interview with and a recent ‘recital’ of the Burdah by the western world’s well known scholar Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad, also known as Dr. Tim Winter, professor of Islamic studies at Cambridge University (and one of my favouritest scholars – such a purely scholarly soul in every sense of the word. If you ever have the time youtube one of his talks, I promise you, you won’t be bored!). He sings in an ‘olde English’ style I grew up with and love. I don’t know the technical term for it though.
In this interview, he beautifully explains the traditional Muslim civilization’s celebration of poetry and the qasida tradition as well as the metaphysical realities to do with Quranic recitation.
And his rendition of it in ‘olde English’, which I love
Stay tuned for future posts with other renditions of the Qasida Burdah ‘bi ithnillahi ta’ala’ (= with the permission of God, the most high).
God’s blessing be with you.