Craig White's Literature Courses

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After the Funeral of Assam Hamady
Sam Hamod

Biographical background for Sam Hamod: born in Gary, Indiana, to a family of Lebanese-Muslim descent that helped build a mosque there.

Undergraduate and graduate degrees at Northwestern University; Ph.D. from Iowa Writers' Workship

Taught at Princeton, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Howard, and Valparaiso Universities.

Numerous poetry collections include Just Love Poems for You (2006), The Arab Poems, The Muslim Poems (2000), which won the Ethnic Prize in Poetry, and Dying with the Wrong Name: New and Selected Poems 1968–1980 (1980), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

As a young man he helped form the Federation of Islamic Associations in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and was Director of The Islamic Center in Washington, DC.

"I've always mixed Arabic with English in my poems," he says. "Certain things have more power in other languages."

Sources:;;; and, the last of which reviews a recent anthology of Arab-American poetry in the past century.

Instructor's note: poem used by permission of author; prayer translations by Abdullah Yusuf Ali (1872-1953) at

Background: "Sullee," a.k.a. "Salah" ("Muslim prayer") is observed by Muslims five times a day at prescribed hours, preceded by ablution or ritual cleansing.

Discussion questions:

1. How does the poem's narrator ("me") exemplify a "second-generation immigrant" caught between the Old World and assimilation to the USA's dominant culture?

2. How much assimilation (or acculturation) has already occurred? What images or symbols signify assimilation or acculturation?

3. What position or status does religion or religious expression have in modern America? How do immigrants in the poem and elsewhere resist or accommodate assimilation in terms of their religious practices?

After the Funeral of Assam Hamady
Sam Hamod


[Author's note:] The Muslim prayer in this poem is analogous to The Lord's Prayer.

Hajj Abbass Habhab: my grandfather [Hajj = term of respect for one who has made pilgrimage to Mecca]
Sine Hussin: an old friend of my father
Hussein Hamod Subh: my father


middle of South Dakota
after a funeral in Sioux Falls
my father and grandfather
ministered the Muslim burial                                  5
of their old friend, Assam Hamady

me—driving the 1950 Lincoln
ninety miles an hour

stop this car!"                                                       10

—Hajj Abbass
                                                     grabbing my arm from back seat
"Hysht Iyat? (What're you yelling about?)"—my Father
"Shu bikkeee? (What's happening?)"—Sine Hussin             15

I stop

"It's time to pray"—the Hajj
                                yanks his Navajo blanket
                                opening the door

"It's time to pray, sullee   [sullee or salah = the prayer]                 20
the sun sets
time for sullee"

my Father and Sine Hussin follow
I'm sitting behind the wheel                                             25
watching, my motor still running

car lights scream by
more than I've ever seen in South Dakota

the Hajj spreads the blanket
blessing it as a prayer rug                                               30
they discuss which direction is East        [Muslim prayers are directed toward Mecca in Saudi Arabia]

after a few minutes it's decided
it must be that way
they face what must surely be South

they face their East, then notice                                 35
I'm not with them

"Hamode! get over here, to pray!"

No, I'll watch
and stand guard

"Guard from what—get over here!"                                  40

I get out of the car
but don't go to the blanket

My father says to the others:
"He's foolish, he doesn't know how
to pray."                                                                          45

they rub their hands
then their faces
rub their hands then
down their bodies
as if in ablution             [ablution = ritual washing]              50
their feet bare
together now
they begin singing

Three old men
chanting the Qur'an in the middle    [Quran, Koran = Muslim scripture]  55
of a South Dakota night

    "Allahu Ahkbar                            ["God is great"]
    Allahu Ahkbar

    Ash haduu n lah illah illiliawhh  [I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah]
    Ash haduu n lah illah illilawhh                                      60

    Muhammed rasoul illawh"         [And I bear witness that Muhammed is the messenger of Allah]

in high strained voices they cant         [cant = chant]

    "Bismee lahee               [in the name of Allah]
    a rah'manee raheem"    [most merciful, most gracious]

more cars flash by                                                          65

    "malik a youm a deen   [Master of the Day of Judgment]
    ehde nuseerota el mustakeem   [guide us to the Straight Path]
    seyrota la theena"                 [to the way of those]

I'm embarrassed to be with them

    "en umta ailiy him   [on whom Thou has bestowed]           70
    ghyrug mugthubee aliy him"   [Thy grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath]

people stream by, an old woman strains a gawk at them

    "willathouu leen—     [and who go not astray]
    Bismee lahee"          [in the name of Allah]

I'm standing guard now                                                   75

    "a rah'maneel raheem   [most merciful, most gracious]]
    khul hu wahu lahu uhud"   [Say he is Allah, the one and only]

They're chanting with more vigor now
against the cars
—washing away
in a dry state                                                                   80
Hamady's death
he floats from their mouths
wrapped in white

    "Allahu sumud   [Allah, the eternal, the absolute]
    lum yuulud wa'alum uulud"    [He begetteth not, nor is He begotten] 85

striped across his chest, with green          [green = traditional color of Islam, assoc. w/ paradise]

    "Walum yankun a kuf one uhud   [Nor is there any like unto Him]
    will thouu leen"  [Nor of those who have gone astray (not in original prayer)]

his head in white, his gray mustache still

    "Ameen . . . "   [Amen]                                                     90

I hear them still singing
as I travel half-way across
to another job
burying my dead                                                             95
I always like trips, traveling at high speed
but they have surely passed me
as I am standing here now
trying so hard to join them
on that old prayer blanket
—                                           100

as if the pain behind my eyes could be absolution        [absolution = cleansing or, metaphorically, forgiveness of sins]