Ramzan for me was synonymous to listening to Qaseeda Burda sharif being recited by women in my grandmother's house. And yet I never knew who wrote it and how this poem had spread so widely in the Islamic world.
Early 7th century, Medina,
After much soul searching Ka'b has decided to take hand with Prophet Muhammad and submit to Divine submission (Islam). This is a man who earlier vociferously rejected the Messenger and the new message of unity and wrote satirical verses against the Prophet. In recent past, he was a relentless and vocal offender of the Prophet.
Upon ending prayer Ka'b approached the Prophet and as he made his identity known Prophet Muhammad forgave him instantly. At that point, Ka'b recited an ode that he had composed earlier to praise the qualities of Muhammad, the Messenger. It was in the traditional Bedouin style, splendid in diction and highly melodious, with many vivid descriptions of nature; but the gist of it was to ask forgiveness. When he finished, the Prophet drew off his famous stripped Yemeni cloak or mantle and threw it over the shoulders of the poet in recognition of his beautiful eloquence.
It's not surprising that Prophet Muhammad(PBUH) appreciated beauty in the eloquence of poetic expression. One of the famous sayings of his is, "Divine is Beautiful and Loves what is Beautiful." He had grown up in a culture obsessed with poetry and proud of the oral beauty of arabic. Quran had come down in a language of such unparalleled lyricism and beauty that its very existence spoke of its etheral origins.
Prophet Muhammad's elevated maqams (stations) include the maqam of ceaseless witnessing and affirming of the Jamal (Beauty) of God in all manifestations. May profound divine peace and blessings be upon his perfumed soul.
About 650 years later Prophet Muhammad will bless another poet in the same manner by wrapping his mantle over the poet for his sincere and beautiful words; but this time it will happen in a magnificent dream and the baraka (blessing) of the Prophet will make the very poem the single most celebrated and known poem in any language in human history.
12th century, Maghrib, Misr (Egypt)
Poet Busiri's name is well known not only in his own land but well beyond the continent for his elegance and unparalleled poetic talents. Due to his merit, in the earlier part of his life, he became a very successful poet patronized by royal courts and secretary of states of the land. Now coming towards more mature age his life took an unexpected turn. By a sudden stoke half of his body became completely paralyzed and the conditions only worsened by every day. Through his serious physical affliction coupled with a deeper spiritual aspiration, Busiri turned inward whole-heartedly.
Invoking the help of Prophet Muhammad and his intercession, he fervently prayed to God the Almighty, with tears, repentance, and sincerity of purpose, to grant him a speedy relief from the paralysis. With inspiration and love for the Prophet, the poetic instinct of Busiri composed a tribute to the Prophet as a hymn (qasida). He continued reciting the poem with ardent zeal again and again till he fell asleep. In his sleep state, Busiri had the most amazing dream unlike any he had ever before.
In that magnificently lucid dream, Prophet Muhammad appeared to him and asked Busiri to read the ode the poet wrote for him. When he said, "O Messenger! I wrote many eulogies for you; which one do you wish?" the Prophet indicated the last by reciting the first verse. While Busiri recited the ode, the Prophet listened with pleasure, swaying from side to side. Then as a sign of his approval and reward, the Prophet wrapped his famous mantle around the poet.
The dream came to an end.
Busiri woke up with profound joy. While pleasurably trying to gather the dream together, he realized that his paralysis had vanished, and he was astounded with happiness. Read from the account of the poet himself: "I was suddenly paralyzed down one side of my body by a stroke. I decided to compose this ode, the Burdah. I hoped that it would be a means unto Allah, by which He would cure me. So I recited it again and again, weeping, praying, and petitioning God. I fell asleep, and in a dream, I saw the Blessed Prophet. He moved his noble hand across my face and placed his cloak upon me. When I awoke, I found that I had recovered my health."
The historical record of the incident continues and as Busiri woke up from the dream near the dawn, the time of morning prayer were approaching. He took ablution and started towards the mosque where he saw a sufi dervish. With much surprise to Busiri the dervish wanted to receive the ode he recited in the presence of the Prophet the night before.
Reciting the first line exactly, the dervish informed that he also witnessed it in a dream recited before the Prophet, who continued moving to and fro like a tender plant, as a mark of his approbation, and then invested the reciter with a 'Mantle'. Hearing the exact description of the dream Busiri gave him the poem. The report of this incident spread out and soon enough the poem would famously be called "Qasidah al-Burdah" or "The Poem of the Mantle".
Full name of Imam Busiri was Abu Abdallah Sharafuddin Muhammad ibn Sa'id ul-Busiri (1211–1296). He was born and lived in Egypt. He himself was a sufi shaykh in the lineage of Shadhiliyya school of sufism. He was a disciple of Imam Abul 'Abbas al-Mursi who was a Khalifa of Imam Abul Hasan ash-Shadhdhuli, the epitome founder of Shadhdhuli sufi order. Busiri and Ibn Atallah as-Iskandari were contemporary and both were student of Abul 'Abbas. May God be pleased with them all.
So this Ramzan, recite the Qaseeda or listen to it