As a monolingual English speaker, I’ve oft been told that I really miss out during Muharram for not being able to understand some of the great recitations, Nauhas, Latmiyas, and the like that are made in Urdu, Arabic, and Farsi.But now there is something that is truly beautiful, well-made, and emanating love of Hussain (peace be upon him) and Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) so eloquently and powerfully that surely no English speaker can listen to it and not feel it. It is Karbala: The Unspoken Word, a CD of spoken-word poetry by a UK/USA collaboration calling itself ontheD. The album is on sale from its website for about $12.50, and 80 percent of proceeds from sales go to the Lady Fatima Charitable Trust . The CD looks and sounds like any other professionally-produced CD – full color insert with lyrics, album artwork, and studio-quality recording and mixing.
The album has 15 tracks that move the listener through the Karbala story in various imaginative interpretations of real events. It is not a simple retelling of the events of Karbala. Rather, some of the characters in this fabric include a modern Western soldier in Iraq, the Euphrates River, a Christian monk who finds the severed head of Imam Hussain, and a salesman at the Bazaar in Sham where the prisoners are brought.
The album is clearly a work of love, showing quality and attention to detail. The album artwork is fresh, modern, and evocative. The poetry is perfectly recited and accompanied by well-timed, well-selected background sounds and effects, including samples and speech segments that listeners will recognize from pop culture and more traditional Muharram artistic products.
After a short introduction track, the second track, titled “This is Karbala”, invites everyone – Muslim, non-Muslim, young old, rich, poor, sinner and saint – into the love of Imam Hussain and understanding of Ashura, and every track pulls the listener further along that path.
“This is for the thinkers
Believers in the Unseen
Minds that hold oceans
Eyes that drop tears
Arms that reach the skies
When calling He who is near
This is for the brothers and sisters
Who live in fear
Of bombs flying overhead
And their heads on a spear”
In the fourth track, we experience a mystical vision when a brother prays and sees Imam Hussain prostrated in prayer with arrows in his back – and the spoken word is recited in the tones of prayer itself.
“As I lay my head down on the ground reciting
‘Subhana Rabbi al-A’la Wa Bi Hamde’
Gateways open in front and behind me
Below the hell fire and heaven up above me
Fly the flight mini Me’raj in my mind
I see bright visions like flames in the night
Scattered on levels like basses and trebles
Tremors in my heart take me back to remember
Another head in prostration reciting and thanking
Arrows in his back still he lies there reciting and thanking”
A few of the tracks have a fast rap-style rhythm, while others are soft, slow, and deep. Some have clever plays on words like “Who’s Sane/Hussain”, some tell stories, some are pouring out of hearts, but the flow between tracks is flawless. All of them are thought-provoking, moving, and creative.
Scholars were consulted in the album production and were “satisfied with the halal-ness” of the album – and all involved in this project have proven that haram music isn’t needed to produce something that reaches the people.
The fourteenth track “Too Great to be Contained in Any Tomb”, about Lady Zainab (peace be upon her), is also available on YouTube .
“So young person, why are you waiting?
Sir, Madam, Agha, Khanom, Sheikh, Sheikhat
What excuse do you have?
Submitting to haraam, why do you do that?
When Zainab was bruised bad
Yet still had energy to move as
A calculated punch, to crunch down the munkar
From the Ummayad Minbar
But O’ Muslims you still sin far
Beyond what Shaitan urged
Have you forgotten Zainab’s words?
Have you forgotten the pain Ahlul Bayt (as) endured?”
I am very grateful to all involved in this project – may Allah bless them all. I and many others eagerly hope for more. This album brought me to tears and expanded the heart in my chest in love for Ahlulbayt. What greater testimony could I make than that? Karbala: The Unspoken Word – get it and give it if you can.