Dead lyricist Robert Hunter wrote the words for this song. In his lyrics collection Box of Rain, he explained, "This lyric is a requiem for King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, a progressive and democratically inclined ruler (and, incidentally, a fan of the Grateful Dead) whose assassination in 1975 shocked us personally. The lyrics were printed in Arabic on the jacket of the Middle Eastern release of the album."
Faisal was killed by the son of his half-brother, Prince Khalid bin Musaid, on March 25, 1975. No one is exactly sure why the assassination happened, but the common theory is that it was motivated by vengeance. Faisal had been a political moderate who tried to introduce secular reforms into Saudi Arabia. When he ordered the installation of television in the nation in 1966, violent protests broke out. Prince Khalid bin Musaid led one of these riots and attacked a television station. In the ensuing melee, a police officer shot him in the head.
Hunter took the event as inspiration to contemplate war and conflict in general, and "Blues for Allah" speaks to these things.
What good is spilling blood? It will not grow a thing
Taste eternity the swords sing: Blues of Allah In 'sh'Allah
The song calls for unity through humility, pleading that no one can truly know the answers to the mystery of the universe, so compromise should be pursed rather than conquering.
And know the truth must still lie somewhere in between
The song is part of a suite with "Sand Castles & Glass Camels" and "Unusual Occurrences in the Desert." The latter, along with "Blues for Allah," are credited to Hunter and Jerry Garcia. "Sand Castles & Glass Camels" is credited to the whole band.
Some lyrics in this song explained:
"In'sh'Allah" means "if Allah wills it." It's a term frequently used by Muslims.
"The thousand stories have come round to one again" refers to the Arabian Nights.
"Birds of paradise" are famous for their bright, elaborate plumage. They represent 42 species in 15 genera.
Allah is the Arabic word for "God." Hunter used this word twice in his lyrics. Once here and once in "What's Become of the Baby" on Aoxomoxoa. In "Blues for Allah," he used it in reference to the nation of Saudi Arabia.
The Dead performed the song live five times, all in 1975.