A Poem From Guantánamo: “Ode to the Sea” by Ibrahim al-Rubaish


The following poem was chosen by Marc Falkoff, editor of Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak, as an example of a poem, which, as he described in an interview with me on Nth Position (and here), is “striking in terms of imagery, metaphor and thematic complexity.” The former detainee (he was released from Guantánamo in December 2006) is described as follows in an introduction to the poem:

“Ibrahim al-Rubaish was teaching in Pakistan when he was arrested by mercenaries and sold to allied forces. A religious scholar who dislikes hostility and was once a candidate for a judgeship, Rubaish has a daughter, born just three months before he was captured, who is now five years old. During a military administrative hearing, he was told, ‘If you are considered to be a continued threat, you will be detained. If you are not considered a threat, we will recommend release. Why should we consider releasing you?’ Rubaish’s response was, ‘In the world of international courts, the person is innocent until proven guilty. Why, here, is the person guilty until proven innocent?’”

By Ibrahim al-Rubaish

O sea, give me news of my loved ones.

Were it not for the chains of the faithless, I would have dived into you,
And reached my beloved family, or perished in your arms.

Your beaches are sadness, captivity, pain, and injustice.
Your bitterness eats away at my patience.

Your calm is like death, your sweeping waves are strange.
The silence that rises up from you holds treachery in its fold.

Your stillness will kill the captain if it persists,
And the navigator will drown in your waves.

Gentle, deaf, mute, ignoring, angrily storming,
You carry graves.

If the wind enrages you, your injustice is obvious.
If the wind silences you, there is just the ebb and flow.

O sea, do our chains offend you?
It is only under compulsion that we daily come and go.

Do you know our sins?
Do you understand we were cast into this gloom?

O sea, you taunt us in our captivity.
You have colluded with our enemies and you cruelly guard us.

Don’t the rocks tell you of the crimes committed in their midst?
Doesn’t Cuba, the vanquished, translate its stories for you?

You have been beside us for three years, and what have you gained?
Boats of poetry on the sea; a buried flame in a burning heart.

The poet’s words are the font of our power;
His verse is the salve for our pained hearts.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

47 Responses

  1. farah says...

    Beautiful, touching and such a good reminder to all of us.. may Allah not let his words have been in vain and allow us to take heed, learn and take action.. the men who have done no wrong yet suffer for their deen – they are our role models, they are our heroes.. let these heroes be known and their words resound throughout the ummah..

  2. Dear Kitty. Some blog :: Poetry, even in the infernos of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib :: February :: 2008 says...

    […] Ibrahim al-Rubaish, a religious scholar who was arrested in Pakistan, apostrophises the oceans that separate him from his home. Nevertheless, his poem and this book ends on a realisation of the importance of the act of versification. “The poet’s words are the font of our power/His verse is the salve for our pained hearts.” Not only for himself, but for all who read his words. […]

  3. Samra says...

    Talent and creativity arise when it is most needed and this poem is an example of deep literature that arose in circumstances where none of us could ever comprehend. May these words live forever and may your patience be a key to your heaven.

  4. A Poem from Guantanamo | Reflections says...

    […] My Father’ is selected and promoted by Amnesty International in their website. Another poem ‘Ode to Sea’ is included in the university syllabus in a state of […]

  5. aby says...

    this poem has been removed from the syllabus of an indian university (Calicut University) after protests, stating author has terror-links..!!.. It is making news now, here….

  6. Abdullah says...

    Was the poem originally in English or is this a translation?

  7. antony says...

    In India ,now a controversy is going on, after Calicut University in Kerala state included this poem in the syllabus of contemporary literature.The teacher who listed the poem faces media persecution .

  8. Ibrahim al-Rubaish’s ‘Ode to the Sea’ Pulled from Calicut University Syllabus « Arabic Literature (in English) says...

    […] Gentle, deaf, mute, ignoring, angrily storming, You carry graves. Continue reading.  […]

  9. Raees payyoli says...

    I don’t know why calicut university banned this poem.If the past of the poet is the reason,then who,on the face of earth,could be pure impeccable?and which poet could be brought before the students?

  10. Anna Katherine says...

    i realy like this poem……..

  11. manisha a n says...

    heart touching……………

  12. Misab Irikkur says...

    Ibrahim al Rubaish is fighting his way through his experiances to reach his beloved family

  13. AZEEZ says...

    hai al rubayish,,,,,continue your verses which only could pierce into the hearts of innocent people from whom we could expect little mercy and justice,,,,,carry on,,,,,

  14. AbdulRahman Musliarakath says...

    It’s a pity that this poem, included in the syllabus for degree courses under Calicut University, was recently scrapped, following protests from some BJP/RSS/Hinduthwa activists! Apart from fanaticism they do not have any knowledge of the worth of literature.

  15. Raju Thomas says...

    I very much like to see the poem in the original Arabic; can someone help?

  16. ABU says...

    I read the poem and poet only because of the ban made by Calicut University of Kerala.

  17. jamshid says...

    beautiful poem ,respected VC of calicut university please read the article of Sree kumar in mathrubhumi weekly

  18. Parasuraman says...

    Lovely poem Makes ones blood boil sea-like at the myriad atrocities committed by the US

  19. Noorudheen Musthafa says...

    Burning letters sprouted from the hotspot of pro imperialism

  20. Irshad.s.k says...

    I love the poem very much ,it deals with the pain that has been taken a prisonor from the prison.olso the sharp precision about a tolaring life ‘ode to the sea ‘ can tackle the heart of readers.iam against the decision that has been taken the kerala goverment against the poem.

  21. zakariya says...

    beautiful………………………………………………………………..let’s look at the poem, not at the premises

  22. siraj says...

    I very much like to see the poem in the original Arabic; can someone help? –

  23. dr.vincent says...

    beautiful and inspiring.The heartbreaking pain of captivity,separation and injustice has found its words.
    awfully simple too.

  24. rofl says...

    wow this guy is one of those in charge of a major terrorist group in yemen…



    Meanwhile, officials in Yemen released the names of 25 al-Qaeda suspects, saying they had been planning attacks targeting “foreign offices and organisations and Yemeni installations” in the capital of Sanaa and other cities across the country.

    AQAP, the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda, has also been blamed for the foiled Christmas Day 2009 effort to bomb an airliner over Detroit and for explosives-laden parcels that were intercepted the following year aboard cargo flights.

    Seven suspected al-Qaeda militants were killed in two US drone air strikes in southern Yemen in June, officials say.

  25. Babu says...

    Inspiring…. touching…..

  26. Sidhik Mohamed Ali says...

    بواسطة إبراهيم الربيش

    O البحر، أعطني الأخبار من الأحباء.

    لو لم يكن لسلاسل من كافر، لكنت قد اتجه الى لك،
    وصلت عائلتي الحبيبة، أو لقوا حتفهم في ذراعيك.

    الشواطئ الخاصة بك الحزن، الأسر، والألم، والظلم.
    المرارة الخاص يأكل بعيدا في الصبر بلدي.

    الهدوء الخاص بك هو مثل الموت، وموجات كاسحة الخاص غريبة.
    الصمت الذي ترتفع منك يحمل الغدر في صفوفه.

    سوف سكون الخاص اقتل كابتن إذا ما استمر،
    وسوف الملاح يغرق في موجات الخاص بك.

    لطيف، والصم، والبكم، وتجاهل، اقتحام بغضب،
    كنت تحمل القبور.

    إذا الريح يغضب لك، الظلم الخاص بك هو واضح.
    إذا صمت الريح لك، وهناك هو مجرد انحسار وتدفق.

    O البحر، لا سلاسل لدينا يسيء لك؟
    أنها ليست سوى تحت إكراه أن نقوم يوميا تأتي وتذهب.

    هل تعرف خطايانا؟
    هل تفهم أننا كان يلقى في هذه الكآبة؟

    O البحر، كنت تهكم لنا في الأسر لدينا.
    لقد تواطأت مع أعدائنا وأنت حراسة بقسوة لنا.

    لا الصخور اقول لكم من الجرائم التي ارتكبت في وسطهم؟
    لا كوبا، المهزوم، تترجم قصصها بالنسبة لك؟

    لقد كان بجانبنا لمدة ثلاث سنوات، وماذا جنيت؟
    قوارب من الشعر على البحر؛ لهب دفن في القلب حرق.

    كلمات الشاعر هي الخط من قوتنا؛
    شعره هو مرهم للقلوب يتألمون لدينا.

  27. kunjumuhammad koya says...

    Heart braking ……… Gantinamo the hell of the Earth………… But a muslim [ Mu’min ] this Earth is all ways jail
    [ Fe dunya sijinul Muh’min ]

  28. MUJEEB says...


  29. zayana says...

    i am doing my project work on this topic.can anybody help me to get more details about this poem.seeking suggestions.

  30. Abdul Kader says...

    Say always “Truth” whether it is not delicious

  31. Ashique Marjan says...

    “Ode to the sea” ,this poem is in our syllabus and university of calicut banned this poem.Followers of dark arms?

  32. Muhammed Mk Farook college says...

    It is a beautiful poem. why the Clt unisty banned it?
    can any one see anyehere terrorism? i can’t see..!
    it is a poem from reality,aloneliness pain,injustisness. poet heartfully ask,complaint to see..
    The prohibition of clt uni, is a violation against ‘Right to expression’.

  33. pradamesh says...

    Its a poem which has got all the meanings in it and says how a person misses his family when he is away from them and about the terrible life in guantanamo bay

  34. NIHLA says...

    experience made Rubaish a man…………………… a REAL man

  35. hameed says...

    it is a beautiful

  36. Paula Abdula says...

    I much prefer many of his earlier writings & poems:


  37. Zainul Abideen says...

    I have to study this poem… If anybody has any doubt I can help you, contact me +919961089208

  38. Raees payyoli says...

    The sea in his heart is restless than the sea outside…
    Going through the poem i become a ship that lost the sailor!

  39. U.S. offers reward ex-gitmo poet | Drawnlines Politics says...

    […] the time, Rubaysh was a poster child for the terrorist detainee-sympathizing, anti-Gitmo crew. Marc Falkoff, a lawyer for detainees and editor of Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak, included in his […]

  40. Next Time You Hear About the Wonders of Rehab… | Innovations in Law says...

    […] the time, Rubaysh was a poster child for the terrorist detainee-sympathizing, anti-Gitmo crew. Marc Falkoff, a lawyer for detainees and editor of Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak, included in his […]

  41. NOUFAL says...

    I am Noufal Kadakot. I have project on this poem, so please give me more details about poem,,, my contact number,,9946981175. Help me

  42. Yemen: Reported US covert actions 2015 | The Bureau of Investigative Journalism says...

    […] a Saudi, from the Qassim region. He fought against the US in Afghanistan where he was picked up, by mercenaries according to the introduction to a poem he wrote while incarcerated in […]

  43. Center for Security Policy | Gitmo “Poet” Who Became Leading AQAP Cleric Killed in Drone Strike says...

    […] an associate professor of law at Northern Illinois University. Both Worthington and Falkoff paint a sympathetic picture of al-Rubaish, who was captured while fighting for a terrorist […]

  44. US Drone Kill Top Al-Qaeda’s Figure in Yemen - Afrolinkusa says...

    […] “some type of leadership role among detainees and strongly influences them.” He contributed an “Ode to the Sea” to a collection of poems by Guantánamo prisoners published in […]

  45. ODE TO THE SEA | Contemplate says...

  46. Yemen: Reported US covert actions 2015 – The Intell Blog says...

    […] AQAP said he was “was a brave warrior in the front lines, and a good Islamic scholar as well.” He was born in 1979 and had at least one child, a daughter, “born just three months before he was captured“. […]

  47. Uriah Heap says...

    When you start proselytising shit, make sure you do it for the right reasons.
    These morons were in there. not for going on a picnic to some god forsaken hole. but for committing
    crimes too barbaric to describe here. All despots fall on their sword. it’s deemed in the Christian way of life.
    You will never succeed because you are hypocrites _ who cry when they can’t get their own way.
    Alas, your poem is complete and utter shit, but your not on your own – We too have F****** woke idiots.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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