AL HARIRI OF BASRAH AND THE MAQAMATS

AL HARIRI OF BASRAH (1054-1122)


Ilse Lichtenstadter (1907- 1991), a Middle Eastern expert at Harvard wrote: “ Pure entertainment for the masses as well as for a more sophisticated audience formed an important part of the adab (non-religious, entertainment) literature. The two outstanding examples of works addressed to the latter were the socalled maqamat, a literary term usually translated as "assemblies" or "séances." Full of wit and learned allusions, they presupposed a knowledgeable audience that could appreciate them. The creator of this art form - for it was art and not instruction that the author had in mind - was Badi' al-Zamdn, "Wonder of the Age," al-Hamadhdni (359-99 A.H./969-1008 A.D.). The leading character of his work was Abu'l-Fatih of Alexandria, the wandering scholar, the Muslim counterpart of the Fahrende Schüler or Vagans Clericus of medieval Europe, who lived by his wits roving through the land. The narrator of the Maqamat pretends to have encountered this character wherever he went and entertained his audience with Abu'l-Fatih's erudition and the anecdotes he told. [Source: Excerpted from Ilse Lichtenstadter, Introduction to Classical Arabic Literature, (Boston: Twayne, 1974), p. 122, Internet Islamic History Sourcebook, sourcebooks.fordham.edu]

“The Maqamat were composed in a style characteristic for this art form, They were cast into the ancient form of saj, "rhymed prose" (the form, as will be remembered, in which the Qur’an was revealed). Each maqamat dealt with a separate topic, the whole being unified by the persons of the narrator and the traveler, Abu'lFatb in al-Hamadhani's Maqamat, Abu Zayd of Saruj in those by the later al-Hariri (446-516 A.H./1054-1122 A.D.), This style enabled the authors to display all the brilliancy of their erudition, their rhetoric, and their wit. The maqdmdt became almost the best known and most highly appreciated literary works of later times among the Arabs; in particular, al-Hariri's Maqamat were praised highly and remained a favorite in the Muslim world. They found imitators all over its sphere of influence, including, in Spain, the Maadmat of the Jewish thinker al-Harizi (thirteenth century). [Ibid]

“Philip Hitti wrote in “History of the Arabs”: Arabic literature in the narrow sense of adab (belles-lettres) began with al-Jahiz (d. 868-9), the sheikh of the Bazrah littérateurs, and reached its culmination in the fourth and fifth Moslem centuries in the works of Badi al-Zaman al-Hamadhani (969-1008), al-Tha'alibi of Naysabur (961-1038) and al-Hariri (1054-1122). One characteristic feature of prose-writing in this period was the tendency, in response to Persian influence, to be affected and ornate. The terse, incisive and simple expression of early days had gone for ever. It was supplanted by polished and elegant style, rich in elaborate similes and replete with rhymes. The whole period was marked by a predominance of humanistic over scientific studies. Intellectually it was a period of decline. It supported a literary proletariat, many of whose members, with no independent means of livelihood, roamed from place to place ready to give battle over linguistic issues and grammatical technicalities or to measure poetical swords over trivial matters with a view to winning favours from wealthy patrons. This .period also saw the rise of a new form of literary expression, the maqamah. [Source: Philip Hitti, “History of the Arabs,” 10th ed. (London: Macmillan, 1970)]

“Badi al-Zaman ("wonder of the age") al-Hamadhani is credited with the creation of the maqdamah (assembly), a kind of dramatic anecdote in the telling of which the author subordinates substance to form and does his utmost to display his poetical ability, learning and eloquence. In reality such a form of composition as the maqdmah could not have been the creation of any one man; it was a natural development of rhymed prose and flowery diction as represented by ibn-Durayd and earlier stylists. Al-Hamadhani's work served as a model for al-Hariri of al-Basrah, whose Maqamat for more than seven centuries were esteemed as the chief treasure, next to the Qur’an, of the literary Arabic tongue. In these maqamat of al-Hariri and other writers there is much more than the elegant form and rhetorical anecdote which most readers consider the only significant feature. The anecdote itself is often used as a subtle and indirect way of criticizing the existing social order and drawing a wholesome moral. Since the days of al-Hamadhani and al-ljariri the maqdmah has become the most perfect form of literary and dramatic presentation in Arabic, a language which has never produced real drama.

Websites and Resources: Islamic, Arabic and Persian Literature Islamic and Arabic Literature at Cornell University guides.library.cornell.edu/ArabicLiterature ; Internet Islamic History Sourcebook fordham.edu/halsall/islam/islamsbook ; Wikipedia article on Islamic Literature Wikipedia ; Wikipedia article on Arabic Literature Wikipedia ; Wikipedia article on Persian Literature Wikipedia ; Persian literature at Encyclopædia Britannica britannica.com ; Persian Literature & Poetry at parstimes.com /www.parstimes.com ; Arabic Poetry web.archive.org ; Arabic Poetry from Princeton princeton.edu/~arabic/poetry ; Thousand and One Nights wollamshram.ca/1001 ; 1001 Nights fairytalez.com ; Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, Burton, gutenberg.org ; Islamic Stories islamicstories.com

Maqamat (The Assemblies, 1100) by Al Hariri of Basrah


Cover book of Maqamat of al-Warighi and his his letters by Mahmoud Rebai

Maqamat (The Assemblies, c. 1100) by Al Hariri of Basrah begins:“Preface: O God, we praise thee for what perspicuity thou hast taught, and what enunciation thou hast inspired; as we praise thee for what bounty thou hast enlarged, what mercy thou hast diffused: And we take refuge with thee from the vehemence of fluency and the immoderation of talkativeness, as we take refuge with thee from the vice of inarticulateness and the shame of hesitation. And by thee we seek to be kept from temptation through the flattery of the praiser and the connivance of the favor, as we seek to be kept from exposure to the defaming of the slanderer and the betrayal of the informer. And we ask pardon of thee if our desires carry us into the region of ambiguities, as we ask pardon if our steps advance to the domain of errors. And we ask of thee succor which shall lead us aright, and a heart turning with justice, and a tongue adorned with truth, and a speech strengthened with demonstration, and accuracy that shall keep us from mistake, and resolution that shall conquer caprice, and perception by which we may estimate duly: And that thou wilt help us by thy guidance to conceive, and enable us by thy assistance to express; that thou wilt guard us from error in narration, and turn us from unseemliness in jesting; that we may be secure from slanders of the tongue; that we may be free from the ill of tinseled speech; that we walk not in the road of sin, nor stand in the place of repentance; that we be not pursued by suit or censure, nor need to flee from hastiness to excuse. O God, fulfil to us this wish; give us to attain to this desire: put us not forth of thy large shadow, make us not a morsel for the devourer. For now we stretch forth to thee the hand of entreaty; we are thorough in humiliation to thee and abasement. And we call down thy abundant grace and thy bounty that is over all, with humbleness of seeking and with the venture of hope. Also approaching thee through the merits of Muhammad, lord of men, the intercessor whose intercession shall be received at the congregation of judgment. By whom thou hast set the seal to the prophets, and whose degree thou hast exalted to the highest heaven; whom thou hast described in thy clear-speaking Book, and hast said (and thou art the most truthful of sayers): "It is the word of a noble envoy, of him who is mighty in the presence of the tord of the throne, having authority, obeyed, yea, faithful." O God, send thy blessing on him and his house who guide aright, and his companions who built up the faith; and make us followers of his guidance and theirs, and profit us all by the loving of him and them: for thou art Almighty, and one meet to answer prayer. [Source: Excerpted from Ilse Lichtenstadter, Introduction to Classical Arabic Literature, (Boston: Twayne, 1974), p. 122, Internet Islamic History Sourcebook, sourcebooks.fordham.edu]

“And now: In a meeting devoted to that learning whose breeze has stilled in this age, whose lights are nigh gone out, there ran a mention of the Assemblies which had been invented by Badi'az Zeman, the sage of Hamadan (God show him mercy); in which he had referred the composition to Abu'l Fath of Alexandria and the relation of 'Isa, son of Hisham. And both these are persons obscure, not known; vague, not to be recognized. Then suggested to me one whose suggestion is as a decree, and obedience to whom is as a prize, that I should compose Assemblies, following in them the method of Badi' (although the lame steed attains not to outrun like the stout one). Then I reminded him of what is said concerning him who joins even two words, or strings together one or two verses: and deprecated this position in which the understanding is bewildered, and the fancy misses aim, and the depth of the intelligence is probed, and a man's real value is made manifest: and in which one is forced to be as a wood-gatherer by night, or as he who musters footmen and horsemen together: considering, too, that the voluble man is seldom secure or pardoned if he trips.


Maqamat Ajnas-Maraghi

But when he consented not to forbearance, and freed me not from his demand, I assented to his invitation with the assenting of the obedient, and displayed in according with him all my endeavor; and composed, in spite of what I suffered from frozen genius, and dimmed intelligence, and failing judgment, and afflicting cares, fifty Assemblies, comprising what is serious in language and lively, what is delicate in expression and dignified; the brilliancies of eloquence and its pearls, and beauties of scholarship and its rarities: besides what I have adorned them with of verses of the Qur'an and goodly metonymies, and studded them with of Arab proverbs, and scholarly elegancies, and grammatical riddles, and decisions dependent on the meaning of words, and original addresses, and ornate orations, and tear-moving exhortations, and amusing jests: all of which I have indited as by the tongue of Abu Zayd of Seruj, while I have attributed the relating of them to Al Harith, son of Hammam, of Basra. And whenever I change the pasture I have no purpose but to inspirit the reader, and to increase the number of those who shall seek my book. And of the poetry of others I have introduced nothing but two single verses, on which I have based the fabric of the Assembly of Holwan; and two others, in a couplet, which I have inserted at the conclusion of the Assembly of Kerej. And, as for the rest, my own mind is the father of its virginity, the author of its sweet and its bitter. Yet I acknowledge withal that Badi' (God show him mercy) is a mighty passer of goals, a worker of wonders; and that he who essays after him to the composition of an Assembly, even though he be gifted with the eloquence of Kodameh, does but scoop up of his overflow, and travels that path only by his guidance.

“And excellently said one: “If before it mourned, I had mourned my love for Su'da, then should I have healed my soul, nor had afterward to repent. But it mourned before me, and its mourning excited mine, and I said, “The superiority is to the one that is first." Now I hope I shall not be, in respect of the playful style that I display, and the source that I repair to, like the beast that scratched up its death with its hoof, or he who cut off his nose with his own hand; so as to be joined to those who are "most of all losers in their works, whose course on earth has been in vain, while they count that they have done fair deeds." Since I know that although he who is intelligent and liberal will connive at me, and he who is friendly and partial may defend me, I can hardly escape from the simpleton who is ignorant, or the spiteful man who feigns ignorance; who will detract from me on account of this composition, and will give out that it is among the things forbidden of the law. But yet, whoever scans matters with the eye of intelligence, and makes good his insight into principles, will rank these Assemblies in the order of useful writings, and class them with the fables that relate to brutes and lifeless objects. Now none was ever heard of whose hearing shrank from such tales, or who held as sinful those who related them at ordinary times. Moreover, since deeds depend on intentions, and in these lies the effectiveness of religious obligations, what fault is there in one who composes stories for instruction, not for display, and whose purpose in them is the education and not the fablings? Nay, is he not in the position of one who assents to doctrine, and "guides to the right path"?

“Yet am I content if I may carry my caprice, and then be quit of it, without any debt against me or to me. And of God I seek to be helped in what I purpose, and to be kept from that which makes defective, and to be led to that which leads aright. For there is no refuge but to him, and no seeking of succor but in him, and no prospering but from him, and no sanctuary but he. On him I rely, and to him I have recourse.

First Assembly

Maqamat (The Assemblies, c. 1100) by Al Hariri of Basrah reads: “Al Harith, son of Hammam, related: When I mounted the hump of exile, and misery removed me from my fellows, the shocks of the time cast me to San'a of Yemen. And I entered it with wallets empty, manifest in my need; I had not a meal; I found not in my sack a mouthful. Then began I to traverse its ways like one crazed, and to roam in its depths as roams the thirsting bird. And wherever ranged my glances, wherever ran my goings at morn or even, I sought some generous man before whom I might fray the tissue of my countenance, to whom I might be open concerning my need; or one well bred, whose aspect might dispel my pain, whose anecdote might relieve my thirsting. Until the close of my circuit brought me, and the overture of courtesy guided me, to a wide place of concourse, in which was a throng and a wailing. Then I entered the thicket of the crowd to explore what was drawing forth tears. And I saw in the middle of the ring a person slender of make; upon him was the equipment of pilgrimage, and he had the voice of lamentation. And he was studding cadences with the jewels of his wording, and striking hearings with the reproofs of his admonition. [Source: Excerpted from Ilse Lichtenstadter, Introduction to Classical Arabic Literature, (Boston: Twayne, 1974), p. 122, Internet Islamic History Sourcebook, sourcebooks.fordham.edu]


Maqam bayati and ushshaq turki tone row


“And now the medley of the crowds had surrounded him, as the halo surrounds the moon, or the shell the fruit. So I crept toward him, that I might catch of his profitable sayings, and gather up of his gems. And I heard him say, as he coursed along in his career, and the throat of his improvisation made utterance: “O thou reckless in petulance, trailing the garment of vanity! O thou headstrong in follies, turning aside to idle tales! How long wilt thou persevere in thine error, and eat sweetly of the pasture of thy wrong? How far wilt thou be extreme in thy pride, and not abstain from thy wantonness? Thou provokest by thy rebellion the Master of thy forelock; in the foulness of thy behaving thou goest boldly against the Knower of thy secret. Thou hidest thyself from thy neighbor, but thou art in the sight of thy Watcher; thou concealest from thy slave, but no hidden thing is hidden from thy Ruler. Thinkest thou that thy state will profit thee when thy departure draweth near? or that thy wealth will deliver thee when thy deeds destroy thee? or that thy repentance will suffice for thee when thy foot slippeth? or that thy kindred will lean to thee in the day that thy judgment-place gathereth thee? How is it thou hast not walked in the high-road of guidance, and hastened the treatment of thy disease, and blunted the edge of thine iniquity, and restrained thyself—thy chief enemy? Is not death thy doom? What then is thy preparation? Is not gray hair thy warning? What then is thy excuse? And in the grave's niche thy sleeping-place? What dost thou say? And to God thy going? and who shall be thy defender? Oft hath the time awakened thee, but thou hast set thyself to slumber; and admonition hath drawn thee, but thou hast strained against it; and warnings have been manifest to thee, but thou hast made thyself blind; and truth hath been established to thee, but thou hast disputed it; and death hath bid thee remember, but thou hast sought to forget; and it hath been in thy power to impart of good, but thou hast not imparted. Thou preferrest money which thou mayest hoard before piety which thou mayest keep in mind: thou choosest a castle thou mayest rear rather than bounty thou mayest confer. Thou inclinest from the guide from whom thou mightest get guidance, to the pelf thou mayest gain as a gift; thou lettest the love of the raiment thou covetest overcome the recompense thou mightest earn. The rubies of gifts cling to thy heart more than the seasons of prayer; and the heightening of dowries is preferred with thee to continuance in almsgivings. The dishes of many meats are more desired to thee than the leaves of doctrines: the jesting of comrades is more cheerful to thee than the reading of the Qur'an. Thou commandest to righteousness, but violatest its sanctuary: thou forbiddest from deceit, but refrainest not thyself: thou turnest men from oppression, and then thou drawest near to it; thou fearest mankind, but God is more worthy that thou shouldest fear him.

“Then he recited: “Woe to him who seeks the world, and turna to it his careering: And recovers not from his greediness for it, and the excess of his love. Oh, if he were wise, but a drop of what he seeks would content him. “Then he laid his dust, and let his spittle subside; and put this bottle on his arm, and his staff under his armpit. And when the company gazed on his uprising, and saw that he equipped himself to move away from the midst, each of them put his hand into his bosom, and filled for him a bucket from his stream: and said, "Use this for thy spending, or divide it among thy friends." And he received it with half-closed eyes, and turned away from them, giving thanks; and began to take leave of whoever would escort him, that his road might be hidden from them; and to dismiss whoever would follow him, that his dwelling might be unknown. Said Al Harith, son of Hammam: Now I went after him, concealing from him my person; and followed on his track from where he could not see me; until he came to a cave, and slipped into it suddenly. So I waited for him 'till he put off his sandals and washed his feet, and then I ran in upon him; and found him sitting opposite an attendant, at some white bread and a roast kid, and over against them was a jar of date-wine. And I said to him, "Sirrah, was that thy story, and is this thy reality?" But he puffed the puff of heat and went near to burst with rage; and ceased not to stare at me >till I thought he would leap upon me. But when his fire was allayed, and his flame hid itself, he recited:


Maqamat Al-Adwar, page 14


“I don the black robe to seek my meal, and I fix my hook in the hardest prey: And of my preaching I make a noose, and steal with it against the chaser and the chased. Fortune has forced me to make way even to the lion of the thicket by the subtlety of my beguiling. Yet do I not fear its change, nor does my loin quiver at it: Nor does a covetous mind lead me to water at any well that will soil my honor. Now if Fortune were just in its decree it would not empower the worthless with authority. Then he said to me, "Come and eat; or, if thou wilt, rise and tell." But I turned to his attendant, and said, "I conjure thee, by him through whom harm is deprecated, that thou tell me who is this." He said, "This is Abu Zayd, of Seruj, the light of foreigners, the crown of the learned." Then I turned back to whence I came, and was extreme in wonder at what I saw.”

Second Assembly

Maqamat by Al Hariri of Basrah reads: “Al Harith, son of Hammam, related: Ever since my amulets were doffed and my turbans were donned, I was eager to visit learning's seat and to jade to it the camels of seeking, that through it I might cleave to what would be my ornament among men, my rain-cloud in thirst. And through the excess of my longing to kindle at it, and my desire to robe myself in its raiment, I discussed with every one, great and small, and sought my draught both of the rain-flood and the dew, and solaced myself with hope and desire. Now when I descended at Holwan, and had already tried the brethren, and tested their values, and proved what was worthless or fine, I found there Abu Zayd of Seruj, shifting among the varieties of pedigree, beating about in various courses of gain-getting; for at one time he claimed to be of the race of Sasan, and at another he made himself kin to the princes of Ghassan; and now he sallied forth in the vesture of poets; and anon he put on the pride of nobles. And yet with all this diversifying of his condition, and this display of contradiction, he is adorned with grace and information, and courtesy and knowledge, and astonishing eloquence, and obedient improvisation, and excelling accomplishments, and a foot that mounts the hills of the sciences. Now, through his goodly attainments he is associated with in spite of his faults; and through the largeness of his information there is a fondness for the sight of him; and through the blandishment of his fair-speaking men are loath to oppose him; and through the sweetness of his address he is helped to his desire. Then I clung to his skirts for the sake of his peculiar accomplishments, and valued highly his affection by reason of his precious qualities:

“With him I wiped away my cares, and beheld my fortune displayed to me, open of face, gleaming with light. I looked upon his nearness to me as kinship, his abiding as wealth, his aspect as a full draught, his life as rain. Thus we remained a long season; he produced for me daily some pleasantness, and drove some doubt from my heart, until the hand of want mixed for him the cup of parting, and the lack of a meal urged him to abandon Iraq; and the failures of supply cast him into desert regions, and the waving of the banner of distress ranged him in the line of travelers; and he sharpened for departure the edge of determination, and journeyed away, drawing my heart with his leading cord. After he was gone none pleased me who kept by me, none filled me with affection by urging me to intimacy. Since he strayed away none has appeared to me his like in excellence; no friend has gotten the equal of his qualities.


“So he was hidden from me a season: I knew not his lair; I found none to tell of him; but when I had returned from my wandering to the place where my branch had sprouted, I was once present in the town library, which is the council-hall of scholars, the meeting-place of residents and strangers: Then there entered one with a thick beard and a squalid aspect, and he saluted those who sat, and took seat in the last rows of the people. Then began he to produce what was in his wallet, and to astonish those present by the sagacity of his judgment. And he said to the man who was next him, "What is the book into which thou lookest?" He said, "The poems of Abu 'Obadeh; him of whose excellence men bear witness." He said, "In what thou hast seen hast thou hit on any fine thing which thou admirest?" He said, "Yes; the line, As though she smiled from strung pearls or hailstones, or camomile flowers.

“For it is original in the use of similitude which it contains." He said to him, "Here is a wonder! here is a lack of taste, Sir, thou hast taken for fat what is only swollen; thou hast blown on that which is no fuel: where art thou in comparison with the rare verse which unites the similitudes of the teeth? My life a ransom for those teeth whose beauty charms, and which a purity adorns sufficing thee for all other. She parts her lips from fresh pearls, and from hail-stones, and from camomile-flowers, and from the palm-shoot, and from bubbles.

“Then each one approved the couplet and admired it, and bade him repeat it and dictate it. And he was asked, "Whose is this verse, and is its author living or dead? He said, "By Allah, right is most worthy to be followed, and truth is most fitting to be listened to: Know, friends, that it is his who talks with you to-day." Said Al Harith: Now it was as though the company doubted of his fathering, and were unwilling to give credit to his claim. And he perceived what had fallen into their thoughts, and was aware of their inward unbelief; and was afraid that blame might chance to him, or ill-fame reach him; so he quoted from the Qur'an, "Some suspicions are a sin." Then he said, "O ye reciters of verse, physicians of sickly phrase!—Truly the purity of the gem is shown by the testing, and the hand of truth rends the cloak of doubt.—Now it was said aforetime that by trial is a man honored or contemned. So come! I now expose my hidden store to the proving, I offer my saddle-bag for comparison."


Then hastened one who was there and said: "I know a verse such that there is no weaving on its beam, such that no genius can supply one after its image. Now, if thou wish to draw our hearts to thee, compose after this style: She rained pearls from the daffodil, and watered the rose, and bit upon the 'unnab with hail-stone. And it was but the glance of an eye, or less, before he recited rarely: I asked her when she met me to put off her crimson veil, and to endow my hearing with the sweetest of tidings: And she removed the ruddy light which covered the brightness of her moon, and she dropped pearls from a perfumed ring. “Then all present were astonished at his readiness, and acknowledged his honesty. And when he perceived that they approved his diction, and were hastening into the path of honoring him, he looked down the twinkling of an eye; then he said, "Here are two other verses for you"; and recited: She came on the day when departure ardicted, in black robes, biting her fingers like one regretful, confounded: And night lowered on her morn, and a branch supported them both, and she bit into crystal with pearls.

“Then did the company set high his value, and deem that his steady rain was a plenteous one; and they made pleasant their converse with him, and gave him goodly clothing. Said the teller of this story: Now when I saw the blazing of his firebrand, and the gleam of his unveiled brightness, I fixed a long look to guess at him, and made my eye to stray over his countenance. And lo! he was our Shaykh of Seruj; but now his dark night was moon-lit. Then I congratulated myself on his coming thither, and hastened to kiss his hand: and said to him, "What has changed thy appearance, so that I could not recognize thee? what has made thy beard gray, so that I knew not thy countenance?" And he indited and said: The stroke of calamities makes us hoary, and fortune to men is a changer. If it yields today to any, tomorrow it overcomes him. Trust not the gleam of its lightning, for it is a deceitful gleam. But be patient if it hounds calamities against thee, and drives them on. For there is no disgrace on the pure gold when it is turned about in the fire. Then he rose and departed from his place, and carried away our hearts with him.

Third Assembly

Maqamat by Al Hariri of Basrah reads: “Al Harith, son of Hammam, related: I was set with some comrades in a company wherein he that made appeal was never bootless, and the rubbing of the fire-shafts never failed, and the flame of contention never blazed. And while we were catching from each other the cues of recitations, and betaking ourselves to novelties of anecdote, behold there stood by us one on whom was a worn garment, and in whose walk was a limp. And he said, O ye best of treasures, joys of your kindred: Health to you this morning; may ye enjoy your morning draught. took on one who was erewhile master of guest-room and largess, wealth and bounty, land and villages, dishes and feasting. But the frowning of calamities ceased not from him, and the warrings of sorrows, and the fire-flakes of the malice of the envious, and the succession of dark befallings, until the court was empty, and the yard was bare, and the fountain sank, and the dwelling was desolate, and the hall was void, and the chamber stone-strewed. And fortune shifted so that the household wailed; and the stalls were vacant, so that the rival had compassion; and the cattle and the goods they perished, so that the envious and malignant pitied. And to such a pass did we come, through assailing fortune and prostrating need, that we were shod with soreness, and fed on choking, and filled our bellies with ache, and wrapped our entrails upon hunger, and anointed our eyes with watching, and made pits our home, and deemed thorns a smooth bed, and came to forget our saddles, and thought destroying death to be sweet, and the ordained day to be tardy. And now is there any one generous to heal, bountiful to bestow? For by him who made me to spring from Kaylah, surely I am now a brother of penury, I have not a night's victual.


“Said Al Harith, son of Hammam: Now I pitied his distresses, and inclined to the eliciting of his rhymes. So I drew forth for him a denar, and said to him, to prove him, "If thou praise it in verse it is thine, full surely." And he betook himself to recite on the spot, borrowing nothing:
How noble is that yellow one, whose yellowness is pure,
Which traverses the regions, and whose journeying is afar.
Told abroad are its fame and repute:
Its lines are set as the secret sign of wealth;
Its march is coupled with the success of endeavors;
Its bright look is loved by mankind;
As though its ore had been molten of their hearts.
By its aid whoever has gotten it in his purse assails boldly,
Though kindred be perished, or tardy to help.
Oh charming are its purity and brightness;
Charming are its sufficiency and help.
How many a ruler is there whose rule has been perfected by it!
How many a sumptuous one is there whose grief, but for it, would be endless!
How many a host of cares has one charge of it put to flight!
How many a full moon has a sum of it brought down!
How many a one burning with rage, whose coal is flaming,
Has it been secretly whispered to, and then his anger has softened.
How many a prisoner, whom his kin had yielded,
Has it delivered, so that his gladness has been unmingled,
Now by the Truth of the Lord whose creation brought it forth,
Were it not for his fear, I should say its power is supreme.

“Then he stretched forth his hand after his recitation, and said, "The honorable man performs what he promises, and the rain-cloud pours if it has thundered." So I threw him the dinar, and said, "Take it; no grudging goes with it." And he put it in his mouth and said, "God bless it." Then he girt up his skirts for departure, after that he had paid his thanks. But there arose in me, through his pleasantry, a giddiness of desire which made me ready to incur indebtedness. So I bared another dinar, and said, "Does it suit thee to blame this, and then gather it?" And he recited impromptu, and sang with speed:
Ruin on it for a deceiver and insincere,
The yellow one with two faces like a hypocrite!
It shows forth with two qualities to the eye of him that looks on it,
The adornment of the loved one, the color of the lover.
Affection for it, think they who judge truly,
Tempts men to commit that which shall anger their Maker.


But for it no thief's right hand were cut off;
Nor would tyranny be displayed by the impious
Nor would the niggard shrink from the night-farer;
Nor would the delayed claimant mourn the delay of him that withholds
Nor would men call to God from the envious who casts at them.
Moreover, the worst quality that it possesses
Is that it helps thee not in straits,
Save by fleeing from thee like a runaway slave.
Well done he who casts it away from a hill-top
And who, when it whispers to him with the whispering of a lover,
Says to it in the words of the truth-speaking, the veracious,
"I have no mind for intimacy with thee-begone!

“Then said I to him, "How abundant is thy shower!" He said, "Agreement binds strongest." So I tossed him the second dinar and said, "Consecrate them both with the Twice-read Chapter." He cast it into his mouth and joined it with its twin, and turned away blessing his morning's walk, praising the assembly and its bounty. Said Al Harith, son of Hammam: Now my heart whispered me that he was Abu Zayd, and that his going lame was for a trick; so I called him back and said to him, "Thou art recognized by thy eloquence, so straighten thy walk." He said, "If thou be the son of Hammam, be thou greeted with honor and live long among the honorable." I said, "I am Harith; but what is thy condition amid all thy fortunes." He said, "I change between two conditions, distress and ease; and I veer with two winds, the tempest and the breeze." I said, "And how hast thou pretended lameness? the like of thee plays not buffoon." Then his cheerfulness, which had shone forth, waned; but he recited as he moved away:

“I have feigned to be lame, not from love of lameness, but that I may knock at the gate of relief. For my cord is thrown on my neck, and I go as one who ranges freely. Now if men blame me I say, "Excuse me: sure there is no guilt on the lame."

Fourth Assembly

Maqamat by Al Hariri of Basrah reads: “Al Harith, son of Hammam, related: I journeyed to Damietta in a year of much coming and going, and in those days was I glanced after for my affluence, desired in friendship: I trained the bordered robes of wealth and looked upon the features of joy. And I was traveling with companions who had broken the staff of dissension, who were suckled on the milk-flows of concord, so that they showed like the teeth of a comb in uniformity, and like one soul in agreement of desires; but we coursed on withal apace, and not one of us but had saddled a fleet she-camel; and if we alighted at a station or went aside to a spring, we snatched the halt and lengthened not the staying.


“Now it happened that we were urging our camels on a night youthful in prime, raven-locked of complexion; and we journeyed until the night-season had put off its prime, and the morning had wiped away the dye of the dark; but when we wearied of the march and inclined to drowsiness, we came upon a ground with dew-moistened hillocks, and a faint east breeze: and we chose it as a resting-place for the white camels, an abode for the night-halt. Now when the caravan had descended there, and the groan and the roar of the beasts were still, I heard a loud-voiced man say to his talk-fellow in the camp, "What is the rule of thy conduct with thy people and neighbors?" The other answered, I am duteous to my neighbor though he wrong me; and give my fellowship even to the violent; and bear with a partner though he disorder my affairs; and love my friend even though he drench me with a tepid draught; and prefer my well-wisher above my brother; and fulfil to my comrade even though he requite me not with a tenth; and think little of much if it be of my guest; and whelm my companion with my kindness; and put my talk-fellow in the place of my prince; and hold my intimate to be as my chief; and commit my gifts to my acquaintance; and confer my comforts on my associate; and soften my speech to him that hates me; and continue to ask after him that disregards me; and am pleased with but the crumbs of my due; and am content with but the least portion of my reward; and complain not of wrong even when I am wronged; and revenge not, even though a viper sting me.

“Then said his companion to him, Alas! my boy, only he who clings should be clung to; only he who is valuable should be prized. As for me I give only to him who will requite; I distinguish not the insolent by my regard; nor will I be of pure affection to one who refuses me fairdealing; nor treat as a brother one who would undo my tethering-rope; nor aid one who would baulk my hopes; nor care for one who would cut my cords; nor be courteous to him who ignores my value; nor give my leading rope to one who breaks my covenant; nor be free of my love to my adversaries; nor lay aside my menace to the hostile; nor plant my benefits on the land of my enemies; nor be willing to impart to him who rejoices at my ills; nor show my regard to him who will exult at my death; nor favor with my gifts any but my friends; nor call to the curing of my sickness any but those who love me; nor confer my friendship on him who will not stop my breach; nor make my purpose sincere to him who wishes my decease; nor be earnest in prayer for him who will not fill my wallet; nor pour out my praise on him who empties my jar. For who has adjudged that I should be lavish and thou shouldest hoard, that I should be soft and thou rough, that I should melt and thou freeze, that I should blaze and thou smolder? No, by Allah, but let us balance in speech as coin, and match in deed as sandals, that each to each we may be safe from fraud and free from hatred. For else, why should I give thee full water and thou stint me? why should I bear with thee and thou contemn me? why should I gain for thee and thou wound me? why should I advance to thee and thou repel me? For how should fair-dealing be attracted by injury? how can the sun rise clear with cloud? And when did love follow docilely after wrong? and what man of honor consents to a state of abasement?


For excellently said thy father: Whoso attaches his affection to me, I repay him as one who builds on his foundation: And I mete to a friend as he metes to me, according to the fulness of his meting or its defect.
I make him not a loser! for the worst of men is he whose to-day falls short of his yesterday.
Whoever seeks fruit of me gets only the fruit of his own planting.
I seek not to defraud, but I will not come off with the bargain of one who is weak in his reason.
I hold not truth binding on me toward a man who holds it not binding on himself.
There may be some one insincere in love who fancies that I am true in my friendship for him, while he is false;
And knows not in his ignorance that I pay my creditor his debt after its kind. "Sunder, with the sundering of hate, from one who would make thee a fool, and hold him as one entombed in his grave.
And toward him in whose intercourse there is aught doubtful put on the garb of one who shrinks from his intimacy.
And hope not for affection from any who sees that thou art in want of his money.

“Said Al Harith, son of Hammam: Now, when I had gathered what passed between them, I longed to know them in person. And when the sun shone forth, and robed the sky with light, I went forth before the camels had risen, and with an earliness beyond the earliness of the crow, and began to follow the direction of that night-voice, and to examine the faces with a searching glance: until I caught sight of Abu Zayd and his son talking together, and upon them were two worn mantles. Then I knew that they were my two talkers of the night, the authors of my recitation. So I approached them as one enamored of their refinement, pitying their shabbiness; and offered them a removal to my lodging, and the disposal of my much and my little; and began to tell abroad their worth among the travelers, and to shake for them the fruited branches; until they were overwhelmed with gifts, and taken as friends. Now we were in a night-camp, whence we could discern the build of the villages, and spy the fires of hospitality. And when Abu Zayd saw that his purse was full, and his distress removed, he said to me, "Truly my body is dirty, and my filth has caked: Wilt thou permit me to go to a village, and bathe, and fulfil this urgent need?" I said, "If thou wilt; but quick! return!" He said, "Thou shalt find me appear again to thee, quicker than the glancing of thine eye." Then he coursed away, as courses the good steed in the training-ground, and said to his son, "Haste! haste!" And we imagined not that he was deceiving, or seeking to escape. So we stayed and watched for him as men watch for the new moons of feasts, and made search for him by spies and scouts, until the sunlight was weak with age, and the wasted bank of the day had nigh crumbled in. Then, when the term of waiting had been prolonged, and the sun showed in faded garb, I said to my companions, "We have gone to the extreme in delay, and have been long in the setting forth; so that we have lost time, and it is plain that the man was lying. Now, therefore, prepare for the journey, and turn not aside to the greenness of dung-heaps." Then I rose to equip my camel and lade for the departure; and found that Abu Zayd had written on the pack-saddle:

“Oh thou, who wast to me an arm and a helper, above all mankind! Reckon not that I have left thee through impatience or ingratitude: For since I was born I have been of those who "when they have eaten separate." Said Al Harith: Then I made the company read the words of the Qur'an that were on the pack-saddle, so that he who had blamed him might excuse him. And they admired his witticism, but commanded themselves from his mischief. Then we set forth, nor could we learn whose company he had gotten in our place.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Arab News, Jeddah; Islam, a Short History by Karen Armstrong; A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994). Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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