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A Sword That Becomes a Word (Part 1)

Supplication to ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib and Dhū’l-Faqār

The sword Dhū'l-Faqār, from an Ottoman prayerbook dated to 1766 CE. The illustration of the sword is flanked by the duʿā nādi ʿAlī (2014.44; courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art) (photo credit: Michael Pregill). From the exhibition Power and Piety: Islamic Talismans on the Battlefield.

Majid Daneshgar


This is the first installment of a two-part essay. The second part will be published here on Mizan in February.

Introduction

It is well known that Muslim ritual life has often centered on the idealization or invocation of influential figures from early Islamic history. Islamic sources suggest that there have always been various types of Shi’i symbols and rituals connected to such figures.1 For instance, rituals commemorating the death of Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī, Muḥammad’s grandson (who was killed on the plain of Karbala in 680 CE according to Islamic tradition), are viewed differently in various corners of the world. Many elements from the account of the massacre of Karbala have an important part in Muslim rituals, whether in the Middle East, South Asia, or the Malay-Indonesian world.

Among other important figures, Ḥusayn’s sister Zaynab (d. 682) is a symbol of resistance and patience, and his brother-in-law ʿAbbās b. ʿAlī (d. 680) is a symbol of protection and dedication. Other members of Ḥusayn’s family such as his infant son ʿAlī al-Aṣghar (d. 680) and his older son ʿAlī al-Akbar (d 680) are important figures as well.

On some occasions, animals and objects associated with these important figures, who are most commonly venerated by Shi’is, but also sometimes by Sunnis and Sufis, become important symbols invoked by believers. Ḥusayn’s faithful horse Dhū’l-Janāḥ (lit., ‘the winged one’), which according to some sources disappeared in the desert after its owner was killed, is an important element in some commemoration feasts in general and Iranian-Indian lamentations in particular.2 For some believers, this horse understood human language (at least metaphorically), and so they ask it about Ḥusayn’s fate in Karbala. For example:

Dhū’l-Janāḥ, tell me where my father Ḥusayn is, O Dhū’l-Janāḥ, Dhū’l-Janāḥ!3

Dhū’l-Janāḥ is considered especially holy in some South Asian communities. For instance, as Abou Zahab notes: “In Bengal, Hindu and Muslim women placed their newborn babies at Zuljinah’s feet to gain protection, they gave milk to the horse…”4

Such ritual practices, through which Muslims (mainly Shi’a) interact with important religious symbols, could have reached the Malay-Indonesian world through India. For instance, people in Sumatra (including different groups of Muslims) used to commemorate the death of Ḥusayn during the Tabut feast held annually during the month of Muharram.5

Now, it can be said that the most comprehensive Shi’i ritual is the commemoration of the death of Ḥusayn, the son of ʿAlī, on ʿAshūrāʾ. However, such commemoration is not merely restricted to Shi’is. Rather, traces of important figures such as Muḥammad and ʿAlī are evident in the texts and rituals of Sunni, Shi’i, and Sufi communities alike.  For Shi’is, ʿAlī and his descendants (the Imāms) were infallible (maʿṣūm) and the best of God’s servants on earth. ʿAlī, as the first leader (imām), has different qualities attributed to him such as knowledge, bravery, and chivalry. He is known by such epithets among Muslims as Asad Allāh, Ḥaydar, and Shīr-i Khudā, all of which translate to “Lion of God.”6 There are some studies, many of them included in Khosronejad’s volume on the iconography of Twelver Shi’ism, that analyze ʿAlī’s role as the Lion of God in the Middle Eastern and Central Asian regions.7

ʿAlī is very much admired by Malay-Indonesian people, whether Sunni, Shi’i, or Sufi. The terms lion and tiger are interchangeably used as ʿAlī’s epithets in Malay literature. It is argued that the lion (singa) is not indigenous to this equatorial region; rather, it is the tiger (harimau) that is the king of the forests in Southeast Asia, and so serves as a symbol of fearsomeness. Malay folk prose and treatises thus occasionally refer to ʿAlī as harimau ʿAlī.8 In Malay Islamic literature, ʿAlī’s bravery and chivalry is depicted in Islamic books for children, too: harimau is a nickname for the hero (pahlavān) ʿAlī.9

Different forms of the harimau and singa referring to ʿAlī also appear in Malay magic and divinatory texts.10 A popular form is the display of a calligraphic lion or tiger, originally inherited from Middle Eastern documents.11 For example, we may observe the similarity between the calligraphic lion on the scroll of Mehmet II (1458 CE) preserved in the Topkapı Seraı Library and the calligraphic lion on the standard of Sultan Muhammad IV of Kelantan (r. 1899-1920).12

CAPTION

(Top) Calligraphic lion from a scroll of Mehmet II dated to 1458 CE preserved in the Topkapı Seraı Library, from T. Zarcone, “The Lion of Ali in Anatolia: History, Symbolism and Iconology” (in P. Khosronejad, The Art and Material Culture of Iranian Shi’ism: Iconography and Religious Devotion in Shi’i Islam (London: I.B. Tauris, 2012), 104-121), 110, fig. 41. (Bottom) Calligraphic lion on the standard of Sultan Muhammad IV of Kelantan (r. 1899-1920) (courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

All of this has encouraged me to look for different elements and symbols connected to ʿAlī in Malay treatises. For example, I have come across a Malay manuscript of supplications containing hints of references to ʿAlī’s well-known sword, Dhū’l-Faqār or Dhū’l-Fiqār. Apart from having various special qualities (khawāṣṣ) attributed to it, this mysterious sword plays a significant role in Muslim life. According to Shi’is, it belonged to the household of Muḥammad (i.e. the Ahl al-Bayt). Its roles in the Malay Archipelago (Arkhabīl or Nusantara) have been frequently assessed.13

The main resources that the majority of studies dealing with the Ahl al-Bayt in Nusantara – both Shi’i elements in general and symbols of ʿAlī in particular – draw upon are Malay folk stories (hikayat) some of which  have been listed by Baroroh Baried and Edwin Wieringa.14 However, a new volume edited by Feener and Formichi aptly addresses ʿAlid piety throughout Southeast Asia through reference to history, culture, literature, and manuscripts, pointing the way forward to a broader use of evidence.15

In the hikayat in which Dhū’l-Faqār is found, it is mentioned simply as an object. None of these narratives, however, refer to it as a supplication that a reader can recite in order to receive victory and fortune.

This essay, therefore, focuses on a manuscript entitled Buku Doa dan Jampi (The Book of Supplication and Incantations) in which the name of a supplication entitled Dhū’l-Faqār appears. This manuscript, designated MS 13 at the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (Institute of Language and Literature) in Kuala Lumpur, dates to the nineteenth century.16 This essay assesses the features of this historical book of supplications and subsequently considers the traces of Dhū’l-Faqār in it.

The Origin of Dhū’l-Faqār

Some traditions report that Dhū’l-Faqār was granted to ʿAlī by Muḥammad. Although some argue that the sword reached Muḥammad after the battle of Badr in 624, various reports claim that it was sent down from heaven:

It was narrated from Ibn ʿAbbās that the Messenger of Allah acquired his sword Dhū’l-Faqār from the spoils of war on the Day of Badr.17

Based on some Shi’i sources, ʿAlī b. Mūsā (d. 818), the Eighth Imām of the Twelver Shi’a, was asked where Dhū’l-Faqār came from (min ayna huwa?) He responded:

It was sent down to Muḥammad from Heaven by Gabriel, its handle was of silver and it is with me now (wa-huwa ʿindī).18

Likewise, Ibn Shahrāshūb states that this sword was handed down to Muḥammad and ʿAlī from Adam, who brought it from Paradise.19

The sword was originally depicted as being double-edged. It appears this way on a coin circulated during the Umayyad caliphate, during the reign of ʿAbd al-Malik (r. 685-705).20 Nevertheless, from the medieval era onwards, the image of a straight-bladed Dhū’l-Faqār was mostly replaced with that of a sword with a bifurcated point, now recognizable as the sign of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib worldwide. Mittwoch opines that the bifurcated point of the sword is intended to “mark its magical character… [and] to put out the eyes of an enemy”.21 According to Alexander, Dhū’l-Faqār represents the legacy of the Prophet, and by using it symbolically, rulers could announce their authority, legitimacy, and victory. Historical evidence demonstrates that an image of Dhū’l-Faqār was inscribed on metal or embroidered on fabric to bring warriors – whether Shi’i or Sunni – an auspicious victory.22

Ottoman military banner depicting Dhū’l-Faqār at its center dated to 1819-20 CE (1976.312; courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art) (photo credit: Michael Pregill). From the exhibition Power and Piety: Islamic Talismans on the Battlefield.

Dhū’l-Faqār as a Word: duʿā nādi ʿAlī

According to another Islamic tradition, Dhū’l-Faqār was granted to ʿAlī during the battle of Uḥud in 625 or Khaybar in 628; his standing with Muḥammad was appreciated by the angels of the throne (ʿarsh). In particular, Gabriel is said to have stated lā fatā illā ʿAlī, lā sayf illā Dhū’l-Faqār (“there is no hero but ʿAlī, there is no sword but Dhū’l-Faqār”). In other accounts, it is the angel Riḍwān who declares lā sayf illā Dhū’l-Faqār wa-lā fata illa ʿAlī at the battle (“there is no sword but Dhū’l-Faqār, and there is no hero but ʿAlī”).23 Although Mittwoch argues these two phrases were later added, the traditions portray the Prophet replying by exclaiming:

nādi ʿAliyyan maẓhar [or muẓhir] al-ʿajāʾib

tajidhu ʿawnan laka fī’l-nawā’ib

kullu ghammin wa-hammin sa-yanjalī

bi-wilāyatik yā ʿAlī yā ʿAlī yā ʿAlī

 

Invoke ʿAlī, who makes wonders manifest

You will certainly find him helping in your difficulties

All distress and grief will disappear

By your authority O ʿAlī, O ʿAlī, O ʿAlī!

In this supplication, or dhikr, called duʿā nādi ʿAlī (also just nād-i ʿAlī) (“invoke ʿAlī”), ʿAlī is described as the manifestor of wonders who is able to mitigate all problems. Other Shi’i sources suggest that ʿAlī, the owner of Dhū’l-Faqār, is a lord of battles as well.24 It is not surprising that all these notions encouraged military forces to employ talismans and amulets with the name of ʿAlī’s name, that of his sword, or this supplication, which is often  accompanied by Q 61:13.25

CAPTION - note naad and sura!

Helmet from the Deccan dated to the seventeenth century. A talismanic cobra rises up over the faceplate; the central ornament of the faceplate reads O ʿAlī!, while the inscription to the left reads there is no hero but ʿAlī, there is no sword but Dhū’l-Faqār and that to the right victory from God, and quick success, an allusion to Q 61:13 (36.25.63a; courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art) (photo credit: Michael Pregill). From the exhibition Power and Piety: Islamic Talismans on the Battlefield.

Although this has been a very famous supplication frequently uttered by Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslims (especially Shi’is and Sufis), reciting this supplication is apparently not acceptable to some Sunni authorities. Some took the debate over it seriously and devoted time to discussing it, as can be seen from the section on duʿā nādi ʿAlī in the work of the Afghan scholar Mullā ʿAlī al-Qārī (d. 1605) on fabricated ḥadīth.26

Muḥammad Bāqir al-Majlisī (d. 1698), a well-known Persian Shi’i religious figure during the Safavid dynasty, cites al-Maybudī’s Dīwān Amīr al-Muʾminīn in declaring that Muḥammad was the first one who recited this supplication to the people. Although I am in need of further sources to determine how popular the duʿā nādi ʿAlī may have been among Sunnis, it is possible that al-Majlisī was the one who officially added this duʿā into the body of Shi’i literature. Reference to it is rare in older authorities.  For example, this supplication is not found in either the Manāqib Āl Abī Ṭālib of Ibn Shahrāshūb (d. 1192) or the Rawḍat al-shuhadāʾ of Mullā Ḥusayn Vāʾiẓ Kāshifī (d. c. 1504). To my knowledge, the only reference to ʿAlī’s sword in the latter source occurs when Kāshifī displays ʿAlī’s chivalry and the power of his sword by pronouncing lā fatā illā ʿAlī lā sayf illā Dhū’l- Faqār.27

Although some ḥadīth scholars consider the account of Muḥammad uttering the invocation to be a weak tradition (ḍaʿīf), it is still pronounced by many believers during difficult times.28 There is also a longer version of duʿā nādi ʿAlī uttered by some Shi’ites and Sufis called duʿā nādi ʿAlī maẓhar [or muẓhir] al-ʿajāʾib (the supplication of “invoke ʿAlī, who makes wonders manifest”) or nād-i ʿAlī-yi kabīr (“the great nādi ʿAlī”), obtained from Majlisī’s Zād al-Maʿād (Provisions for the Hereafter), a book dedicated to Shi’i prayers, supplications, and ziyārāt to visit a holy shrine.

Traces of this supplication are also seen among South Asians whose ancestors brought Islam to Malaya. Shaykh Muḥammad Ghauth of Gwalior (d. c. 1563), a Sufi who produced many mystical treatises and respected followers of Hinduism authored  Jawāhir al-khamsa (The Five Jewels); this work includes different supplications along with Persian annotations that codified the doctrine of the Sufi school of the Shaṭṭāriyyah, and was translated into Urdu by Mawlanā Muḥammad Beig Naqshbandī Dihlawī.29 Two of the supplications written in this book contain the duʿā nādi ʿAlī supplication. First, the Sayfī supplication (duʿā-yi Sayfī) or Ḥirz al-Yamānī is an invocation ascribed to ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib that has various qualities, including granting one’s request. A practitioner is instructed to prepare by reading some supplications before reciting duʿā-yi Sayfī. One of them is duʿā nādi ʿAlī, in a version that resembles that found in Majlisī’s Biḥār al-anwār, despite some phrases having been rearranged.30 Second, the Ḥaydarī supplication (duʿā-yi Ḥaydarī) includes only a part of the opening phrase of ‘invoke ʿAlī’: maẓhar al-ʿajāʾib and the final remembrance of O ʿAlī, O ʿAlī, O ʿAlī.31 Notably, the supplication begins by invoking numerous epithets of ʿAlī: yā Ḥaydar, yā  Ḥaydar, yā  Abā Turāb, yā ʿAlī, yā Asad Allāh, yā Walī Allāh;…

CAPTION

The naqsh nādi ʿAlī, a “magic square” sometimes associated with the invocation of ʿAlī and Dhū’l-Faqār.

A book in Urdu entitled Wazāʾif nād-i ʿAlī, written by Maulavī Mirzā Ghulām ʿAbbās ʿAlī, discusses the qualities and features of this supplication. The author explains that in seventy-seven situations duʿā nādi ʿAlī should be recited several times. For instance, to discover secrets (kashf al-asrār), a reader is required to recite this supplication seventy times.  The main references mentioned by the author that specify the divine origin of this supplication are the Ḥayāt al-qulūb (Life of the Hearts) by Majlisī and Maybudī’s Dīwān Amīr al-Muʾminīn. The names of influential Shi’i figures including Jaʿfar al-Ṣādīq, ʿAlī b. Mūsā, and Shaykh Bahāʾī  (probably referring to Bahāʾ al-Dīn Muḥammad b. Ḥusayn al-ʿĀmilī) are mentioned as well. However, a tableau (or “magic square”), commonly used among Sufis, is shown in this book as well; called naqsh nādi ʿAlī (“the tableau of nādi ʿAlī”), this increases the possibility that the supplication was popular among South and Southeast Asian Sufis in the author’s time.32

 

The second part of this essay will appear here on Mizan next month.

CAPTION

A dagger preserved at the Otago Museum inscribed with lā fatā illā ʿAlī lā sayf illā Dhū’l-Faqār (D24-2401; courtesy of the Otago Museum, Dunedin, New Zealand).

 

MAJID DANESHGAR is a lecturer at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He teaches Islamic Studies and his research interests pertain to the connection between Islamic intellectual and exegetical progress in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as well as Malay Islamic studies. His main volumes are The Qur’ān in the Malay-Indonesian World: Context and Interpretation, co-edited with Peter G. Riddell and Andrew Rippin (Routledge 2016) and Islamic Studies Today: Essays in Honor of Andrew Rippin, co-edited with Walid A. Saleh (Brill 2016). His monograph on the modern Qurʾān exegete Tantawi Jawhari (d. 1940), Tantawi Jawhari and the Quran: Tafsir and Social Concerns in the Twentieth Century, will be published in 2017.

 

[1] This essay is a part of an larger ongoing project. Thus, I look forward to receiving readers’ comments by which I can improve my arguments. My special thanks go to Christiane Gruber, Hamid Algar, Peter G. Riddell, Martin van Bruinessen, and Edwin Wieringa who provided me with their fruitful comments. Of course, all errors are mine. Greatest gratitude is due to the Director-General of the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) for kind permission to use images of MS 13 preserved at the DBP. I also thank Moira White and the staff of the Otago Museum for providing me with digital images of objects from their collection reproduced in this essay.

[2] See Encyclopædia Iranica, s.v. Du’l-Janāḥ” (J. Calmard).

[3] Dhū’l-Janāḥ bigū cha shud bābā Ḥusayn-am.

[4] Mariam Abou Zahab, “‘Yeh Matam Kayse Ruk Jae?’(‘How Could This Matam Ever Cease?’): Muharram Processions in Pakistani Punjab,” in Knut A. Jacobsen (ed.), South Asian Religions on Display: Religious Processions in South Asia and in the Diaspora (Abingdon: Routledge, 2008): 104-114.

[5] According to Yule and Burnell’s glossary of Anglo-Indian terms: “Taboot, s. The name applied in India to a kind of shrine, or model of a Mahommedan Mausoleum, of flimsy material, intended to represent the tomb of Husain at Kerbela, which is carried in procession during the Moharram.” Henry Yule and Arthur Coke Burnell, Hobson-Jobson: Being a Glossary of Anglo-Indian Colloquial Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical, and Discursive (London: John Murray, 1903), 887.

[6] It is reported that when ʿAlī’s mother gave birth to him, she chose the name of Asad or Ḥaydar for her son while his father was traveling. Upon his return, he did not like the name and changed it. See Ḥusayn b. Muʿīn al-Dīn Maybudī, Dīwān Amīr al-Muʾminīn, trans. Muṣṭafā Zamānī (Qom: Dār Nidā al-Islām li’l-Nashr, 1411/1990), 218.

[7] Pedram Khosronejad (ed.), The Art and Material Culture of Iranian Shi’ism: Iconography and Religious Devotion in Shi’i Islam (London: I.B. Tauris, 2012).

[8] R. Jones, “Harimau,” Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde/Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia 126 (1970): 260-262.

[9] Saya Sayang Allah: Kisah-Kisah Terpilih daripada al-Quran (Selangor: PTS One Sdn. Bhd., 2014), 49-54.

[10] See Farouk Yahya, Magic and Divination in Malay Illustrated Manuscripts (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2015).

[11] Shani argues that the use of the calligraphic lion was initiated by a Sufi group called the Ḥurūfīs and subsequently developed by Bektāshī artists “who thus express the idea that the blessed face of ʿAlī is the supreme manifestation of God. When the name of ʿAlī is used to construct the face of a lion, his esoteric dimension is emphasized in the purest way” (Raya Shani, “Calligraphic Lions Symbolising the Esoteric Dimension of ʿAlī’s Nature” (in Khosronejad (ed.), The Art and Material Culture of Iranian Shi’ism, 122-159), 136-137).

[12] Farouk Yahya, Magic and Divination in Malay Illustrated Manuscripts, 192.

[13] For a list of studies on this and other Shi’i elements in the Malay Archipelago, see Majid Daneshgar,  “The Study of Persian Shi’ism in the Malay-Indonesian World: A Review of Literature from the Nineteenth Century Onwards,” Journal of Shi’a Islamic Studies 7 (2014): 191-229.

[14] Baroroh Baried, Le Shīʿisme en Indonésie,” Archipel 15 (1978): 65-84. See also Edwin Wieringa, “Does Traditional Islamic Malay Literature Contain Shiʿitic Elements? ʿAlî and Fâtimah in Malay Hikayat Literature,” Studia Islamika: Indonesian Journal for Islamic Studies 3 (1996): 93-111.

[15] Chiara Formichi and R. Michael Feener (eds.), Shiʿism in Southeast Asia: ʿAlid Piety and Sectarian Constructions (London: Hurst & Company, 2015).

[16] See Kamariah Abu Samah and Wand Salhah Megat Ahmad, Katalog manuskrip Melayu Koleksi Pusat Dokumentasi Melayu (Kuala Lumpur: Pusat Dokumentasi Melayu, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 2006), 61.

[17] Recorded by the ḥadīth collector Ibn Majah in his Sunan, kitāb al-jihād, no. 2808 (http://sunnah.com/urn/1276570).

[18] Muḥammad Yaʿqūb al-Kulaynī, Al-Kāfī (4 vols.; Qom: Dār al-Ḥadīth, 1429 [2007]), 1.583.

[19] Al-Baḥrānī, al-Burhān fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān (Qom: Muʾassasat Biʿthah, 1374/1995), 5.304.

[20] David Alexander, “Dhu’l-Faqār and the Legacy of the Prophet, Mīrāth Rasūl Allāh,” Gladius 19 (1999): 157-188.

[21] Encyclopedia of Islam2, s.v. “Dhū l-Faḳār” (E. Mittwoch).

[22] See Zeynep Yürekli, “The Sword Dhū’l-faqār and the Ottomans,” in Fahmida Suleman (ed.), People of the Prophet’s House: Artistic and Ritual Expressions of Shi’i Islam (London: Azimuth Editions in Association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2015), 163-172.

[23] Muḥammad Bāqir b. Muḥammad Taqī al-Majlisī, Biḥār al-Anwār (Beirut: Muʾasssat al-Wafāʾ, 1983), 20.73.

[24] Ibn Mashhadī, Al-Mazār al-kabīr (Mashhad: Muʾassasat Nashr Islamī, 1999), 208.

[25] The verse reads: Another blessing you will love: victory from God, and quick success, and glad tidings for the believers!

[26] ʿAlī al-Qārīʾ, Al-Asrār al-marfūʿa (Beirut: Muʾassasat al-Risālah, 2010), 384-385, engaging the views of al-Ḥasan b. ʿArafah, Muḥammad b. ʿAlī al-Bāqir, Ibn Marzūq, and al-Qasṭallānī. See also Muḥammad al-Saʿīd Zaghlūl, Mawsū‘at aṭrāf al-ḥadīth al-nabawī al-sharīf (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyyah, 2004), 10.3.

[27] See Rawḍat al-Shuhadāʾ (Lucknow: Munshi Newal Kishor, 1873), 71. See also Cod. Pers. 12, Leipzig University Library, 61.

[28] Majlisī, Biḥār al-Anwār, 20.73-74.

[29] Tommy Christomy, Shaṭṭārīyah Tradition in West Java: The Case of Pamijahan,” Studia Islamika: Indonesian Journal for Islamic Studies 8 (2001): 55-82.

[30] Shaykh Muḥammad Ghauth of Gwalior, Jawahi-i Khamsah, trans. Mawlanā Muḥammad Beig Naqshbandī Dihlawī (Delhi: Naz Publishing House, n.d.), 281.

[31] I found the original copies of these supplications at http://www.falaah.co.uk/wahabi/shah-waliyullah-istighatha/.

[32] Maulavī Mirzā Ghulām ʿAbbās ʿAlī, Wazāʾif nād-i ʿAlī (Lucknow, 1990 [?]).

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A Sword That Becomes a Word (Part 1)

Supplication to ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib and Dhū’l-Faqār


Majid Daneshgar


This is the first installment of a two-part essay. The second part will be published here on Mizan in February.

Introduction

It is well known that Muslim ritual life has often centered on the idealization or invocation of influential figures from early Islamic history. Islamic sources suggest that there have always been various types of Shi’i symbols and rituals connected to such figures.1 For instance, rituals commemorating the death of Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī, Muḥammad’s grandson (who was killed on the plain of Karbala in 680 CE according to Islamic tradition), are viewed differently in various corners of the world. Many elements from the account of the massacre of Karbala have an important part in Muslim rituals, whether in the Middle East, South Asia, or the Malay-Indonesian world.

Among other important figures, Ḥusayn’s sister Zaynab (d. 682) is a symbol of resistance and patience, and his brother-in-law ʿAbbās b. ʿAlī (d. 680) is a symbol of protection and dedication. Other members of Ḥusayn’s family such as his infant son ʿAlī al-Aṣghar (d. 680) and his older son ʿAlī al-Akbar (d 680) are important figures as well.

On some occasions, animals and objects associated with these important figures, who are most commonly venerated by Shi’is, but also sometimes by Sunnis and Sufis, become important symbols invoked by believers. Ḥusayn’s faithful horse Dhū’l-Janāḥ (lit., ‘the winged one’), which according to some sources disappeared in the desert after its owner was killed, is an important element in some commemoration feasts in general and Iranian-Indian lamentations in particular.2 For some believers, this horse understood human language (at least metaphorically), and so they ask it about Ḥusayn’s fate in Karbala. For example:

Dhū’l-Janāḥ, tell me where my father Ḥusayn is, O Dhū’l-Janāḥ, Dhū’l-Janāḥ!3

Dhū’l-Janāḥ is considered especially holy in some South Asian communities. For instance, as Abou Zahab notes: “In Bengal, Hindu and Muslim women placed their newborn babies at Zuljinah’s feet to gain protection, they gave milk to the horse…”4

Such ritual practices, through which Muslims (mainly Shi’a) interact with important religious symbols, could have reached the Malay-Indonesian world through India. For instance, people in Sumatra (including different groups of Muslims) used to commemorate the death of Ḥusayn during the Tabut feast held annually during the month of Muharram.5

Now, it can be said that the most comprehensive Shi’i ritual is the commemoration of the death of Ḥusayn, the son of ʿAlī, on ʿAshūrāʾ. However, such commemoration is not merely restricted to Shi’is. Rather, traces of important figures such as Muḥammad and ʿAlī are evident in the texts and rituals of Sunni, Shi’i, and Sufi communities alike.  For Shi’is, ʿAlī and his descendants (the Imāms) were infallible (maʿṣūm) and the best of God’s servants on earth. ʿAlī, as the first leader (imām), has different qualities attributed to him such as knowledge, bravery, and chivalry. He is known by such epithets among Muslims as Asad Allāh, Ḥaydar, and Shīr-i Khudā, all of which translate to “Lion of God.”6 There are some studies, many of them included in Khosronejad’s volume on the iconography of Twelver Shi’ism, that analyze ʿAlī’s role as the Lion of God in the Middle Eastern and Central Asian regions.7

ʿAlī is very much admired by Malay-Indonesian people, whether Sunni, Shi’i, or Sufi. The terms lion and tiger are interchangeably used as ʿAlī’s epithets in Malay literature. It is argued that the lion (singa) is not indigenous to this equatorial region; rather, it is the tiger (harimau) that is the king of the forests in Southeast Asia, and so serves as a symbol of fearsomeness. Malay folk prose and treatises thus occasionally refer to ʿAlī as harimau ʿAlī.8 In Malay Islamic literature, ʿAlī’s bravery and chivalry is depicted in Islamic books for children, too: harimau is a nickname for the hero (pahlavān) ʿAlī.9

Different forms of the harimau and singa referring to ʿAlī also appear in Malay magic and divinatory texts.10 A popular form is the display of a calligraphic lion or tiger, originally inherited from Middle Eastern documents.11 For example, we may observe the similarity between the calligraphic lion on the scroll of Mehmet II (1458 CE) preserved in the Topkapı Seraı Library and the calligraphic lion on the standard of Sultan Muhammad IV of Kelantan (r. 1899-1920).12

CAPTION

(Top) Calligraphic lion from a scroll of Mehmet II dated to 1458 CE preserved in the Topkapı Seraı Library, from T. Zarcone, “The Lion of Ali in Anatolia: History, Symbolism and Iconology” (in P. Khosronejad, The Art and Material Culture of Iranian Shi’ism: Iconography and Religious Devotion in Shi’i Islam (London: I.B. Tauris, 2012), 104-121), 110, fig. 41. (Bottom) Calligraphic lion on the standard of Sultan Muhammad IV of Kelantan (r. 1899-1920) (courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

All of this has encouraged me to look for different elements and symbols connected to ʿAlī in Malay treatises. For example, I have come across a Malay manuscript of supplications containing hints of references to ʿAlī’s well-known sword, Dhū’l-Faqār or Dhū’l-Fiqār. Apart from having various special qualities (khawāṣṣ) attributed to it, this mysterious sword plays a significant role in Muslim life. According to Shi’is, it belonged to the household of Muḥammad (i.e. the Ahl al-Bayt). Its roles in the Malay Archipelago (Arkhabīl or Nusantara) have been frequently assessed.13

The main resources that the majority of studies dealing with the Ahl al-Bayt in Nusantara – both Shi’i elements in general and symbols of ʿAlī in particular – draw upon are Malay folk stories (hikayat) some of which  have been listed by Baroroh Baried and Edwin Wieringa.14 However, a new volume edited by Feener and Formichi aptly addresses ʿAlid piety throughout Southeast Asia through reference to history, culture, literature, and manuscripts, pointing the way forward to a broader use of evidence.15

In the hikayat in which Dhū’l-Faqār is found, it is mentioned simply as an object. None of these narratives, however, refer to it as a supplication that a reader can recite in order to receive victory and fortune.

This essay, therefore, focuses on a manuscript entitled Buku Doa dan Jampi (The Book of Supplication and Incantations) in which the name of a supplication entitled Dhū’l-Faqār appears. This manuscript, designated MS 13 at the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (Institute of Language and Literature) in Kuala Lumpur, dates to the nineteenth century.16 This essay assesses the features of this historical book of supplications and subsequently considers the traces of Dhū’l-Faqār in it.

The Origin of Dhū’l-Faqār

Some traditions report that Dhū’l-Faqār was granted to ʿAlī by Muḥammad. Although some argue that the sword reached Muḥammad after the battle of Badr in 624, various reports claim that it was sent down from heaven:

It was narrated from Ibn ʿAbbās that the Messenger of Allah acquired his sword Dhū’l-Faqār from the spoils of war on the Day of Badr.17

Based on some Shi’i sources, ʿAlī b. Mūsā (d. 818), the Eighth Imām of the Twelver Shi’a, was asked where Dhū’l-Faqār came from (min ayna huwa?) He responded:

It was sent down to Muḥammad from Heaven by Gabriel, its handle was of silver and it is with me now (wa-huwa ʿindī).18

Likewise, Ibn Shahrāshūb states that this sword was handed down to Muḥammad and ʿAlī from Adam, who brought it from Paradise.19

The sword was originally depicted as being double-edged. It appears this way on a coin circulated during the Umayyad caliphate, during the reign of ʿAbd al-Malik (r. 685-705).20 Nevertheless, from the medieval era onwards, the image of a straight-bladed Dhū’l-Faqār was mostly replaced with that of a sword with a bifurcated point, now recognizable as the sign of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib worldwide. Mittwoch opines that the bifurcated point of the sword is intended to “mark its magical character… [and] to put out the eyes of an enemy”.21 According to Alexander, Dhū’l-Faqār represents the legacy of the Prophet, and by using it symbolically, rulers could announce their authority, legitimacy, and victory. Historical evidence demonstrates that an image of Dhū’l-Faqār was inscribed on metal or embroidered on fabric to bring warriors – whether Shi’i or Sunni – an auspicious victory.22

Ottoman military banner depicting Dhū’l-Faqār at its center dated to 1819-20 CE (1976.312; courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art) (photo credit: Michael Pregill). From the exhibition Power and Piety: Islamic Talismans on the Battlefield.

Dhū’l-Faqār as a Word: duʿā nādi ʿAlī

According to another Islamic tradition, Dhū’l-Faqār was granted to ʿAlī during the battle of Uḥud in 625 or Khaybar in 628; his standing with Muḥammad was appreciated by the angels of the throne (ʿarsh). In particular, Gabriel is said to have stated lā fatā illā ʿAlī, lā sayf illā Dhū’l-Faqār (“there is no hero but ʿAlī, there is no sword but Dhū’l-Faqār”). In other accounts, it is the angel Riḍwān who declares lā sayf illā Dhū’l-Faqār wa-lā fata illa ʿAlī at the battle (“there is no sword but Dhū’l-Faqār, and there is no hero but ʿAlī”).23 Although Mittwoch argues these two phrases were later added, the traditions portray the Prophet replying by exclaiming:

nādi ʿAliyyan maẓhar [or muẓhir] al-ʿajāʾib

tajidhu ʿawnan laka fī’l-nawā’ib

kullu ghammin wa-hammin sa-yanjalī

bi-wilāyatik yā ʿAlī yā ʿAlī yā ʿAlī

 

Invoke ʿAlī, who makes wonders manifest

You will certainly find him helping in your difficulties

All distress and grief will disappear

By your authority O ʿAlī, O ʿAlī, O ʿAlī!

In this supplication, or dhikr, called duʿā nādi ʿAlī (also just nād-i ʿAlī) (“invoke ʿAlī”), ʿAlī is described as the manifestor of wonders who is able to mitigate all problems. Other Shi’i sources suggest that ʿAlī, the owner of Dhū’l-Faqār, is a lord of battles as well.24 It is not surprising that all these notions encouraged military forces to employ talismans and amulets with the name of ʿAlī’s name, that of his sword, or this supplication, which is often  accompanied by Q 61:13.25

CAPTION - note naad and sura!

Helmet from the Deccan dated to the seventeenth century. A talismanic cobra rises up over the faceplate; the central ornament of the faceplate reads O ʿAlī!, while the inscription to the left reads there is no hero but ʿAlī, there is no sword but Dhū’l-Faqār and that to the right victory from God, and quick success, an allusion to Q 61:13 (36.25.63a; courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art) (photo credit: Michael Pregill). From the exhibition Power and Piety: Islamic Talismans on the Battlefield.

Although this has been a very famous supplication frequently uttered by Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslims (especially Shi’is and Sufis), reciting this supplication is apparently not acceptable to some Sunni authorities. Some took the debate over it seriously and devoted time to discussing it, as can be seen from the section on duʿā nādi ʿAlī in the work of the Afghan scholar Mullā ʿAlī al-Qārī (d. 1605) on fabricated ḥadīth.26

Muḥammad Bāqir al-Majlisī (d. 1698), a well-known Persian Shi’i religious figure during the Safavid dynasty, cites al-Maybudī’s Dīwān Amīr al-Muʾminīn in declaring that Muḥammad was the first one who recited this supplication to the people. Although I am in need of further sources to determine how popular the duʿā nādi ʿAlī may have been among Sunnis, it is possible that al-Majlisī was the one who officially added this duʿā into the body of Shi’i literature. Reference to it is rare in older authorities.  For example, this supplication is not found in either the Manāqib Āl Abī Ṭālib of Ibn Shahrāshūb (d. 1192) or the Rawḍat al-shuhadāʾ of Mullā Ḥusayn Vāʾiẓ Kāshifī (d. c. 1504). To my knowledge, the only reference to ʿAlī’s sword in the latter source occurs when Kāshifī displays ʿAlī’s chivalry and the power of his sword by pronouncing lā fatā illā ʿAlī lā sayf illā Dhū’l- Faqār.27

Although some ḥadīth scholars consider the account of Muḥammad uttering the invocation to be a weak tradition (ḍaʿīf), it is still pronounced by many believers during difficult times.28 There is also a longer version of duʿā nādi ʿAlī uttered by some Shi’ites and Sufis called duʿā nādi ʿAlī maẓhar [or muẓhir] al-ʿajāʾib (the supplication of “invoke ʿAlī, who makes wonders manifest”) or nād-i ʿAlī-yi kabīr (“the great nādi ʿAlī”), obtained from Majlisī’s Zād al-Maʿād (Provisions for the Hereafter), a book dedicated to Shi’i prayers, supplications, and ziyārāt to visit a holy shrine.

Traces of this supplication are also seen among South Asians whose ancestors brought Islam to Malaya. Shaykh Muḥammad Ghauth of Gwalior (d. c. 1563), a Sufi who produced many mystical treatises and respected followers of Hinduism authored  Jawāhir al-khamsa (The Five Jewels); this work includes different supplications along with Persian annotations that codified the doctrine of the Sufi school of the Shaṭṭāriyyah, and was translated into Urdu by Mawlanā Muḥammad Beig Naqshbandī Dihlawī.29 Two of the supplications written in this book contain the duʿā nādi ʿAlī supplication. First, the Sayfī supplication (duʿā-yi Sayfī) or Ḥirz al-Yamānī is an invocation ascribed to ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib that has various qualities, including granting one’s request. A practitioner is instructed to prepare by reading some supplications before reciting duʿā-yi Sayfī. One of them is duʿā nādi ʿAlī, in a version that resembles that found in Majlisī’s Biḥār al-anwār, despite some phrases having been rearranged.30 Second, the Ḥaydarī supplication (duʿā-yi Ḥaydarī) includes only a part of the opening phrase of ‘invoke ʿAlī’: maẓhar al-ʿajāʾib and the final remembrance of O ʿAlī, O ʿAlī, O ʿAlī.31 Notably, the supplication begins by invoking numerous epithets of ʿAlī: yā Ḥaydar, yā  Ḥaydar, yā  Abā Turāb, yā ʿAlī, yā Asad Allāh, yā Walī Allāh;…

CAPTION

The naqsh nādi ʿAlī, a “magic square” sometimes associated with the invocation of ʿAlī and Dhū’l-Faqār.

A book in Urdu entitled Wazāʾif nād-i ʿAlī, written by Maulavī Mirzā Ghulām ʿAbbās ʿAlī, discusses the qualities and features of this supplication. The author explains that in seventy-seven situations duʿā nādi ʿAlī should be recited several times. For instance, to discover secrets (kashf al-asrār), a reader is required to recite this supplication seventy times.  The main references mentioned by the author that specify the divine origin of this supplication are the Ḥayāt al-qulūb (Life of the Hearts) by Majlisī and Maybudī’s Dīwān Amīr al-Muʾminīn. The names of influential Shi’i figures including Jaʿfar al-Ṣādīq, ʿAlī b. Mūsā, and Shaykh Bahāʾī  (probably referring to Bahāʾ al-Dīn Muḥammad b. Ḥusayn al-ʿĀmilī) are mentioned as well. However, a tableau (or “magic square”), commonly used among Sufis, is shown in this book as well; called naqsh nādi ʿAlī (“the tableau of nādi ʿAlī”), this increases the possibility that the supplication was popular among South and Southeast Asian Sufis in the author’s time.32

 

The second part of this essay will appear here on Mizan next month.

CAPTION

A dagger preserved at the Otago Museum inscribed with lā fatā illā ʿAlī lā sayf illā Dhū’l-Faqār (D24-2401; courtesy of the Otago Museum, Dunedin, New Zealand).

 

MAJID DANESHGAR is a lecturer at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He teaches Islamic Studies and his research interests pertain to the connection between Islamic intellectual and exegetical progress in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as well as Malay Islamic studies. His main volumes are The Qur’ān in the Malay-Indonesian World: Context and Interpretation, co-edited with Peter G. Riddell and Andrew Rippin (Routledge 2016) and Islamic Studies Today: Essays in Honor of Andrew Rippin, co-edited with Walid A. Saleh (Brill 2016). His monograph on the modern Qurʾān exegete Tantawi Jawhari (d. 1940), Tantawi Jawhari and the Quran: Tafsir and Social Concerns in the Twentieth Century, will be published in 2017.

 

[1] This essay is a part of an larger ongoing project. Thus, I look forward to receiving readers’ comments by which I can improve my arguments. My special thanks go to Christiane Gruber, Hamid Algar, Peter G. Riddell, Martin van Bruinessen, and Edwin Wieringa who provided me with their fruitful comments. Of course, all errors are mine. Greatest gratitude is due to the Director-General of the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) for kind permission to use images of MS 13 preserved at the DBP. I also thank Moira White and the staff of the Otago Museum for providing me with digital images of objects from their collection reproduced in this essay.

[2] See Encyclopædia Iranica, s.v. Du’l-Janāḥ” (J. Calmard).

[3] Dhū’l-Janāḥ bigū cha shud bābā Ḥusayn-am.

[4] Mariam Abou Zahab, “‘Yeh Matam Kayse Ruk Jae?’(‘How Could This Matam Ever Cease?’): Muharram Processions in Pakistani Punjab,” in Knut A. Jacobsen (ed.), South Asian Religions on Display: Religious Processions in South Asia and in the Diaspora (Abingdon: Routledge, 2008): 104-114.

[5] According to Yule and Burnell’s glossary of Anglo-Indian terms: “Taboot, s. The name applied in India to a kind of shrine, or model of a Mahommedan Mausoleum, of flimsy material, intended to represent the tomb of Husain at Kerbela, which is carried in procession during the Moharram.” Henry Yule and Arthur Coke Burnell, Hobson-Jobson: Being a Glossary of Anglo-Indian Colloquial Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical, and Discursive (London: John Murray, 1903), 887.

[6] It is reported that when ʿAlī’s mother gave birth to him, she chose the name of Asad or Ḥaydar for her son while his father was traveling. Upon his return, he did not like the name and changed it. See Ḥusayn b. Muʿīn al-Dīn Maybudī, Dīwān Amīr al-Muʾminīn, trans. Muṣṭafā Zamānī (Qom: Dār Nidā al-Islām li’l-Nashr, 1411/1990), 218.

[7] Pedram Khosronejad (ed.), The Art and Material Culture of Iranian Shi’ism: Iconography and Religious Devotion in Shi’i Islam (London: I.B. Tauris, 2012).

[8] R. Jones, “Harimau,” Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde/Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia 126 (1970): 260-262.

[9] Saya Sayang Allah: Kisah-Kisah Terpilih daripada al-Quran (Selangor: PTS One Sdn. Bhd., 2014), 49-54.

[10] See Farouk Yahya, Magic and Divination in Malay Illustrated Manuscripts (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2015).

[11] Shani argues that the use of the calligraphic lion was initiated by a Sufi group called the Ḥurūfīs and subsequently developed by Bektāshī artists “who thus express the idea that the blessed face of ʿAlī is the supreme manifestation of God. When the name of ʿAlī is used to construct the face of a lion, his esoteric dimension is emphasized in the purest way” (Raya Shani, “Calligraphic Lions Symbolising the Esoteric Dimension of ʿAlī’s Nature” (in Khosronejad (ed.), The Art and Material Culture of Iranian Shi’ism, 122-159), 136-137).

[12] Farouk Yahya, Magic and Divination in Malay Illustrated Manuscripts, 192.

[13] For a list of studies on this and other Shi’i elements in the Malay Archipelago, see Majid Daneshgar,  “The Study of Persian Shi’ism in the Malay-Indonesian World: A Review of Literature from the Nineteenth Century Onwards,” Journal of Shi’a Islamic Studies 7 (2014): 191-229.

[14] Baroroh Baried, Le Shīʿisme en Indonésie,” Archipel 15 (1978): 65-84. See also Edwin Wieringa, “Does Traditional Islamic Malay Literature Contain Shiʿitic Elements? ʿAlî and Fâtimah in Malay Hikayat Literature,” Studia Islamika: Indonesian Journal for Islamic Studies 3 (1996): 93-111.

[15] Chiara Formichi and R. Michael Feener (eds.), Shiʿism in Southeast Asia: ʿAlid Piety and Sectarian Constructions (London: Hurst & Company, 2015).

[16] See Kamariah Abu Samah and Wand Salhah Megat Ahmad, Katalog manuskrip Melayu Koleksi Pusat Dokumentasi Melayu (Kuala Lumpur: Pusat Dokumentasi Melayu, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 2006), 61.

[17] Recorded by the ḥadīth collector Ibn Majah in his Sunan, kitāb al-jihād, no. 2808 (http://sunnah.com/urn/1276570).

[18] Muḥammad Yaʿqūb al-Kulaynī, Al-Kāfī (4 vols.; Qom: Dār al-Ḥadīth, 1429 [2007]), 1.583.

[19] Al-Baḥrānī, al-Burhān fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān (Qom: Muʾassasat Biʿthah, 1374/1995), 5.304.

[20] David Alexander, “Dhu’l-Faqār and the Legacy of the Prophet, Mīrāth Rasūl Allāh,” Gladius 19 (1999): 157-188.

[21] Encyclopedia of Islam2, s.v. “Dhū l-Faḳār” (E. Mittwoch).

[22] See Zeynep Yürekli, “The Sword Dhū’l-faqār and the Ottomans,” in Fahmida Suleman (ed.), People of the Prophet’s House: Artistic and Ritual Expressions of Shi’i Islam (London: Azimuth Editions in Association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2015), 163-172.

[23] Muḥammad Bāqir b. Muḥammad Taqī al-Majlisī, Biḥār al-Anwār (Beirut: Muʾasssat al-Wafāʾ, 1983), 20.73.

[24] Ibn Mashhadī, Al-Mazār al-kabīr (Mashhad: Muʾassasat Nashr Islamī, 1999), 208.

[25] The verse reads: Another blessing you will love: victory from God, and quick success, and glad tidings for the believers!

[26] ʿAlī al-Qārīʾ, Al-Asrār al-marfūʿa (Beirut: Muʾassasat al-Risālah, 2010), 384-385, engaging the views of al-Ḥasan b. ʿArafah, Muḥammad b. ʿAlī al-Bāqir, Ibn Marzūq, and al-Qasṭallānī. See also Muḥammad al-Saʿīd Zaghlūl, Mawsū‘at aṭrāf al-ḥadīth al-nabawī al-sharīf (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyyah, 2004), 10.3.

[27] See Rawḍat al-Shuhadāʾ (Lucknow: Munshi Newal Kishor, 1873), 71. See also Cod. Pers. 12, Leipzig University Library, 61.

[28] Majlisī, Biḥār al-Anwār, 20.73-74.

[29] Tommy Christomy, Shaṭṭārīyah Tradition in West Java: The Case of Pamijahan,” Studia Islamika: Indonesian Journal for Islamic Studies 8 (2001): 55-82.

[30] Shaykh Muḥammad Ghauth of Gwalior, Jawahi-i Khamsah, trans. Mawlanā Muḥammad Beig Naqshbandī Dihlawī (Delhi: Naz Publishing House, n.d.), 281.

[31] I found the original copies of these supplications at http://www.falaah.co.uk/wahabi/shah-waliyullah-istighatha/.

[32] Maulavī Mirzā Ghulām ʿAbbās ʿAlī, Wazāʾif nād-i ʿAlī (Lucknow, 1990 [?]).

A Sword That Becomes a Word (Part 1)

Supplication to ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib and Dhū’l-Faqār

A Sword That Becomes a Word (Part 1)

Supplication to ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib and Dhū’l-Faqār