Continuing our "Conversations" Series, we were delighted to have the opportunity to connect with a familiar name amongst lovers of Ahlul Bayt (AS), Nouri Sardar. Nouri is a young poet, author and spoken word artist from England, known for his poems and writings on the household of Prophet Muhammad pbuh. Just as he has released his fifth poetry book titled, Fourteen, composed of his collected poetry in honor of the fourteen infallibles, written in celebration of their characters and lamentation of their tragedies, we spoke with Nouri to bring you this short interview. Get inside Nouri's mind, process and passion below:
What's miraculous and admirable is that you're a convert to Shia Islam. Let's begin with how you discovered Ahlul Bayt AS, how it effected you, the tipping point that made you convert, if you faced any expected or unexpected challenges and what they were.
I grew up in a very multicultural society, and my best friend happened to be a Shi'a. The first step to becoming Shi'a was probably exposure to his faith. As we reached our teens and began to become a bit more quote-unquote religious, we'd attend the local Shia center for Dua Kumayl, and Shahr Ramadhan programs. Here I was exposed to the beautiful words of Imam Ali (AS) in Dua Kumayl, and what Shia were really about. Come Muharram time, I'd respect the mourning ceremonies of Imam Hussain (AS) and attend majalis, dressed up in black, and listen to the great stories of the day of Ashura. In my spare time I'd read up online Sunni-Shia debates, and came across Shia beliefs in Sunni hadith books, from basics such as combining prayers, prostrating on dust, to deeper historical inconsistencies such as questionable actions of some of the companions of the Prophet (PBUH). I guess the tipping point for me was seeing to what extent the attack on the house of Fatima (AS) was recorded in Sunni books. I remember seeing a list of dozens (maybe over 100) of books that recorded the attack in some shape or form. It took a while for me to admit my acceptance. I remember lying in bed at one point and just questioning what I want from life. It was at that point that I felt I couldn't ignore the truth anymore, and became Shi'a therein.
How did you nourish that love for Ahlul Bayt AS into your poetic talents? Did you have an interest for writing already or did it become a channel for expressing your love for Ahlul Bayt AS? Where did the interest for writing come from?
I actually disliked poetry growing up, that is I disliked learning it at school. I grew up reading novels written for adults when I was around the age of 8, so my literary skills were always good. When I became Shia, I was looking for an avenue to express myself, and particular express my love of Ahlulbayt (as). I used to listen to latmayas and nohas in the Arabic language, and though my Arabic tongue was limited at the time, would love the recitations and the expressions of love for the Ahlulbayt (as). I wanted to write poems in Arabic, but thought that for the time being I would just try out writing poetry in English instead. I began writing poetry and putting my poems up online on various forums. Alhamdulilah, feedback was fantastic, and it was from there I continued writing, deciding to stick to English and improve myself however I could.
Congrats on your new book, MashAllah. Can you tell us a little more of what to expect from the book for those who don't know and fill us in on your creative and publishing process for the book.
I was encouraged to collect my poetry into an anthology back in 2009, which is how my first book came together titled We Remember. Throughout the year I write numerous poems, be they for recitation purposes, requested by reciters, or just for my own expression. Alhamdulilah since then, every two years I have been releasing an anthology. So my new book, Fourteen, is an anthology of my poetry written from 2014 till now. This is divided into chapters concerning the Fourteen Infallibles of the Ahlulbayt (AS). It's more of an art piece than a book, and more of an achievement to the legacy/work of myself than it is a business avenue. I collect the poetry together and literally put the PDF together myself, before sending it out to be printed, making sure that the quality of the printing - papers, cover and all are above par. Flicking through the pages, its a reminder to myself of the little that I've done, and a push to keep on striving for the cause, and hopefully an inspiration to whoever picks it up.
You touch many people with your poetic words. I'm sure you've came across many who've expressed how it effected them. What had been your most memorable encounter resulted from your work?
I never really knew or could quantify what impact my poetry would have on people, other than likes and comments on social media. My favourite recitation has to be at the UMAA Convention in 2014 in Dearborn, MI - I will never forget what an electric atmosphere it was, and how hooked the crowd were to what I was reciting. I consider it such a great honour to have that kind of stage. My most memorable encounter was probably in Karbala a few years ago. I was feeling really down about something in my life and was standing in Beyn al Haramayn. Feeling extremely depressed, I turned to walked towards to Abbas's (AS) shrine, almost in anger, intending to complain to him about my issues. It was here someone grabbed my arm and asked me if I was Nouri Sardar. I told him yes and simply said to me, "thank you for your poetry" before walking away. It was then I realized how petty any issues in my life were compared to what I've been blessed with, and how lucky I truly am.
Please share with us one of your favorite pieces from your latest book and do share where we can purchase your book.
My book can be purchased at NouriSardar.com. My favorite piece is probably my poem of 100 verses. It's quite long so I can't include it all here, but I'll include these verses:
The sky turns red with blood as the Heavens sway
The late hour grew later
I swear O' Imam we work on ourselves
And as those that seek carnage just fool themselves
We grow mightier and stronger
We're ready for you, if we're not, make us ready
The tides crash against us but we remain steady
And in your wind we flutter
Crushed beneath their feet but roses we remain
Even in death holding high the flag of Hussain
That will never change, ever.