Monthly Archives: December 2017
Alhamdulilah. Indeed, all glory and praise is due to Allah. We glorify and praise Him and we ask Him for help and forgiveness. In Allah we seek refuge from the evils in ourselves and from our wrong doings. He whom Allah guides shall not be misguided, and he whom He misguides shall never be guided. I bear witness that there is no [true] god except Allah, alone without any partners, and I bear witness that Muhammad, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, is His ‘abd (devoted servant and worshipper) and Messenger. Verily, the best words are those of Allah, ta’ala; the best guidance is that of Muhammad, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam; the worst matters [in creed or worships] are those innovated [by people], for every such innovated matter is a bid’ah (innovation in the creed or in acts of worship), and every bid’ah is a misguidance which shall reside in the Fire.
(The foregoing paragraphs are a translation of khutbat ul-hajah (the sermon of need) with which the Messenger, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, used to start his speeches and which he was keen to teach hs companions).
To many people, celebrating an ‘Eid (holidays and other recurring events) is a non-religious matter, and one has the choice to participate in celebrating any ‘Eid, for any nation or religion, as long as that does not involve engaging in haram (prohibited) actions. This view is the basis for what we witness repeatedly of Muslims engaging in various celebrations and in sharing in the holidays of other nations. This article is meant to present, based on the Qur’an and the authentic sunnah, guidelines for evaluating holidays and other related practices. This should enable one to reach a quick and sound conclusion when faced with such events.
Completeness of the Din
By Allah’s blessing and mercy, Islam is complete, perfect, and universal in nature. Allah, ta’ala, said (what means):
“This day I have perfected your religion for you, have completed my favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.” [Al-Qur’an 5:3]
It is narrated by Muslim that some mushrikun (idol worshipers) tried to mock of Islam by saying, “It seems as if your prophet has taught you everything, even how to defecate!” When Salman, radiallahu ‘anhu, heard this he responded with the strong dignity of a true believer, “Yes indeed! He prohibited us from turning our faces or backs to the qiblah (the direction of al-Ka’bahfaced by Muslims in prayer) when defecating or urinating, from using the right hand to cleanse ourselves, from using less than three stones to cleanse ourselves [in the absence of water], and from using animal waste or bones to cleanse with.”
Allah’s mercy has required that people be informed of all what would save them from the Fire and what would let them into the Gardens of the Hereafter. This was the mission of all prophets, as declared by Muhammad, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, “There was never any prophet before me but that his duty was to reveal to his people what he knew to be best for them, and to warn them of what he knew to be evil for them.” [Narrated by Muslim] And this was certainly the mission of the Final Messenger, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, as he said, “Nothing of what would bring you closer to the Jannah (Gardens of Paradise) and further away from the Fire but have been clarified [through me] to you.” [Authentic; narrated by Ahmad].
With His encompassing Wisdom, Allah, ta’ala, made His Final Revelation, Islam, a universal message meant for all peoples, at all times, without any distinction:
“We have not sent you [Muhammad] otherwise than to mankind at large, to be a herald of glad tidings and a warner.” [Al-Qur’an 34:28]
Furthermore, this most important Message is preserved intact through the centuries, as is clearly observed today by any impartial examiner. This is in fulfillment of Allah’s promise:
“It is We Ourselves who have sent down the dthikr (the Message), and it is We who shall surely guard it [from corruption].” [Al-Qur’an 14:9]
We conclude then that:
- Islam contains the complete and perfect guidance for humanity;
- Islam did not neglect any information that would be needed by people to reach happiness and to avoid harm, in all matters, whether minute or large;
- Islam is the only guidance tailored for all peoples at all times; and
- Islam has been preserved, and will remain intact through the ages, as the only true guidance capable of helping and saving people.
Completing That Which Had Been Completed?
The completeness of Islam obviously means that it cannot be completed further. Whether people realize it or not, believing otherwise would imply one or more of the following dangerous conclusions:
- that Allah, ta’ala, was not truthful in declaring this completeness (I seek refuge in Allah from such a blasphemous thought);
- that Allah, ta’ala, has forgotten or missed some details needed to complete the din (again, I seek refuge in Allah from such a blasphemous thought); or
- that Muhammad, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, has neglected or forgotten to convey to us some matters needed to complete the din (and again, I seek refuge in Allah from such a blasphemous thought).
This shows why Islam warned so strongly against introducing bid’ah into the din. We have cited in the introduction above the Prophet’s, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, words warning of bid’ah. Imam Malik, radiallahu ‘anhu, said, “Whoever innovates in Islam what he believes to be a good bid’ah would be [implicitly] claiming that Muhammad, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, has betrayed the trust (of delivering the full Message).” He then recited the above ayah (A portion of the Qur’an which is usually about one sentence long) from al-Maidah.
Distinct Muslim Identity – Is There a Choice?
To some people, the universality of Islam means that Muslims have the full choice to resemble and behave in coherence with other people in their localities (or in other locations as well). You continue to hear questions like the following: Is it all that important for a Muslim to have a clear distinctive identity? Is it not sufficient to have a strong belief within the heart and to perform Islam fully but privately? Based on simple Islamic principles, we can immediately conclude that the answer to the first question is, simply, yes! And the answer to the second question is, simply, no! A true Muslim is always eager to associate with his fellow believers:
If anyone contends with the Messenger even after the Guidance has been plainly conveyed to him, and follows a path other than that of the believers, We shall leave him in the path he has chosen, and land him in Hell: What an evil abode! [Al-Qur’an 4:115]
And a true Muslim is very anxious to be distinctive and different from the non-believers. This attitude follows from the repeated instructions of the Messenger, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, “Be different from the Jews and the Christians.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim], “Be different from the disbelievers.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim], and, “Whoever imitates a people is one of them.”[Authentic; narrated by Ahmad] Why is it so important to be distinctive and different from the disbelievers? For the following reasons:
“We Muslims are blessed with the best guidance. The Guidance from the Lord of lords, from Allah ta’ala. This gives us true dignity and pride that no one else has a claim to: Honor belongs to Allah, to the Messenger, and to the Believers.” [Al-Qur’an 63:8]
The disbelievers are misguided, and their ways are based on sick or deviant views concerning their societies, the universe, and their very existence. Their actions frequently reflect their deviant opinions. Why then would anyone ever think of imitating them? Yet Muslims sometimes do just that – they imitate them in their most unintelligible acts! The Messenger, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, “You [Muslims] will [in future times] follow the ways of those [disbelieving] nations who preceded you very closely; even if they enter into the hole of a lizard you would follow them into it.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
There is a substantial amount of evidence in Islam leading to the important rule: external agreement or similarity results in real similarity and agreement of the hearts. Thus, resembling disbelievers is Satan’s first step in leading Muslims to behave and believe like the kuffar (Those who reject Islam – disbelievers). Differing from the kuffar is of different levels or types, some of which are more important than others. They can be broadly classified as follows: Islam requires us to be different from non-Muslims in matters which are particular to their beliefs or worships, such as: wearing a cross, attending their religious services, wearing monks’ attires, displaying or valuing their idols, etc. Imitating the kuffar in such matters constitutes a major sin which is most possibly a form of disbelief that leads to permanent abode in the Hell Fire (may Allah, ta’ala, save us). Islam requires us to be different from the kuffar in matters which are representative of them or are characteristic of their identity, even if the religious aspect were not apparant in such matters. Examples of this type of requirements: growing beards and trimming moustaches, dying white hair, not to totally abandon women in their menses, etc. Matters which can be classified under the above two types should be treated similarly, even if there is no specific text to require such treatment. Examples: wearing the Western hat or wedding bands, carrying pictures of family members, walking dogs, wasting time in watching sports games and soap operas, etc. As for other matters which are done by the kuffar but are not specific to them, the above texts inform us that we should still try to be distinctive from them as much as possible. What is stated above should not be taken to mean, for instance, that we should not learn the sciences or use technology because the kuffar are currently its leaders. Islam requires us to learn and benefit from such forms knowledge, and this does not have to do with the subject of being different from the disbelievers.
Holidays Are Part of the Complete Din
After the above lengthy discussion which, as stated earlier, is meant to provide general guidelines concerning celebrations and other related matters, we come back to apply what we have learnt so far to the subject at hand.
Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, once saw the Ansar celebrating a certain day. He inquired about that and was informed, “This is one of two days that we used to celebrate in Jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic ignorance) and we continue to do so.” He replied, “Nay! Allah has substituted for you two better days: the day of al-Fitr and the day of al-Adha.” [Authentic; narrated by Ahmad, an-Nasai, and others]
In addition to these two days, the Jumu’ah (Friday) is an ‘Eid day. The Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said, “This is a day which Allah has designated as an ‘Eid for Muslims.” [Authentic] From this and the previous hadith, we conclude that Muslims have only three ‘Eid days, a weekly ‘Eid every Friday, and two annual ‘Eid, al-Fitr and al-Adha.
Also, Islam instructs us as to how to celebrate our ‘Eid. No fasting is allowed on these days (Friday is excepted under certain conditions). On ‘Eid days, Muslims take a bath and wear their best clothes. They avoid all forms of sinning which people tend to commit when they are in a state of rejoice. The major part of the celebration is not eating or drinking. Rather, it is a prayer which gathers Muslims together to remember Allah’s bounties and to chant His glory and greatness. It becomes clear then that Allah alone has the right:
- to prescribe eids and to set their dates, and
- to prescribe the manner of celebrating them.
Imitating Non-Muslims in Celebrations
The evidence from the Qur’an and the sunnah is quite clear in that eids are distinctive features for every nation. Allah, ta’ala, said (what means):
“To every people we have appointed [its own] rites and ceremonies.” [Al-Qur’an (22) 34/67]
And it was shown in the previous section that eids are purely religious occasions for Muslims.
As discussed earlier, Allah, ta’ala, and His Messenger, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, have warned us against following or imitating non-Muslims in things which are characteristic of their religions or beliefs. This is more emphasized in the case of their ‘Eid or occasions, which always hold some religious or ideological non-Islamic meanings, and on which the kuffar indulge in many evil practices. Differing from them on such occasions includes the following:
Staying completely away from their celebrations. This means to avoid places where they perform their holiday practices and to avoid participating with them in such practices (Christmas and New Year parties, Halloween trick-and-treat nonsense, Thanksgiving celebration and dinner, Fourth of July fireworks, First of April lies, birthday parties, anniversaries, etc).
Avoiding doing, ourselves, things which pertain to the practices of the kuffar on such occasions (allowing Christmas trees in our homes or offices, inviting our friends to a Turkey dinner on Thanksgiving day, allowing members of our families to purchase or borrow Halloween attires, holding birthday or anniversary parties for our family members, etc). Avoiding to congratulate the kuffar on their occasions. For, How can we bring ourselves to congratulate or wish people well for their disobedience to Allah, ta’ala? Thus expressions such as: happy Thanksgiving, happy birthday, happy New Year, etc, are completely out. The only possible happiness is in true iman! Avoiding to celebrate our eids in a way which is meant to copy the ways of the kuffar(mingling and shaking hands between men and women, improper cover for both genders, etc). Avoiding to initiate certain occasions or ‘Eid in imitation to theirs (the Day of the Earth, the Day of Iowa Muslims, etc.).
Bid’ah and Sinning on ‘Eid
It has been shown above that ‘Eid are meant to be purely Islamic occasions and practices. They are not liable to the innovation or disobedience of people. The warnings concerning bid’ah (and sinning in general) clearly applies to them. Thus:
Celebrating so called Islamic occasions other than the three days prescribed by Allah is a bid’ah which is rejected by Islam, because it consists of introducing new rites and worships which only Allah or His Messenger, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, have the right to do. This applies to occasions like the Prophet’s Birthday, the Hijri New Year’s Day , the Middle of Sha’ban and the like.
Introducing certain baseless practices during the three legitimate days is also a bid’ah. On these days, people choose, for instance, to visit graveyards and distribute sweets there, to read specific portions of the Qur’an, to specify the preceding night for extended worship, and to do other things which have no valid evidence. Committing all sorts of innovations and sins in imitation to the kuffar and the ignorant Muslims is obviously a combination of bid’ah and other forms of disobedience which are emphasized by that people get involved in them at the time when they are supposed to be performing a purely religious worship.
To preserve our identity and our dignity, and to attain Allah’s love and acceptance (which means peace and happiness in this life and ultimate prosperity in the Hereafter), let us adhere to what pleases Him as he instructed in His Book or in His Messenger’s sunnah; and remember: ‘Eid and celebrations are no exception to that. We ask Allah for guidance.
From the website of the Qur’aan and Sunnah Society of America (no longer available)
VERSES TO MY ENEMIES
Why thus to passion give the rein?
Why seek your kindred tribe to wrong?
Why strive to drag to light again
The fatal feud entomb’d so long?
Think not, if fury ye display,
But equal fury we can deal;
Hope not, if wrong’d, but we repay
Revenge for every wrong we feel.
Why thus to passion give the rein?
Why seek the robe of peace to tear?
Rash youths desist, your course restrain,
Or dread the wrath ye blindly dare.
Yet friendship we not ask from foes,
Nor favor hope from you to prove,
We lov’d you not, great Allah knows,
Nor blam’d you that ye could not love.
To each are different feelings given,
This slights, and that regards his brother;
‘Tis ours to live—thanks to kind heav’n—
Hating and hated by each other.
Alfadhel Ibn Alabas.
THE BATTLE OF SABLA
Sabla, them saw’st th’ exulting foe
In fancied triumphs crown’d;
Thou heard’st their frantic females throw
These galling taunts around:—
“Make now your choice—the terms we give,
Desponding victims, hear;
These fetters on your hands receive,
Or in your hearts the spear.”
“And is the conflict o’er,” we cried,
“And lie we at your feet?
And dare you vauntingly decide
The fortune we must meet?
“A brighter day we soon shall see,
Tho’ now the prospect lowers,
And conquest, peace, and liberty
Shall gild our future hours.”
The foe advanc’d:—in firm array
We rush’d o’er Sabla’s sands,
And the red sabre mark’d our way
Amidst their yielding bands.
Then, as they writh’d in death’s cold grasp,
We cried, “Our choice is made,
These hands the sabre’s hilt shall clasp,
Your hearts shall have the blade.”
Jaafer Ben Alba.
 This poem and the one following it are both taken from the Hamasa and afford curious instances of the animosity which prevailed amongst the several Arabian clans, and of the rancor with which they pursued each other, when once at variance.
How frail are riches and their joys?
Morn builds the heap which eve destroys;
Yet can they have one sure delight—
The thought that we’ve employed them right.
What bliss can wealth afford to me
When life’s last solemn hour I see,
When Mavia’s sympathizing sighs
Will but augment my agonies?
Can hoarded gold dispel the gloom
That death must shed around his tomb?
Or cheer the ghost which hovers there,
And fills with shrieks the desert air?
What boots it, Mavia, in the grave,
Whether I lov’d to waste or save?
The hand that millions now can grasp,
In death no more than mine shall clasp.
Were I ambitious to behold
Increasing stores of treasured gold,
Each tribe that roves the desert knows
I might be wealthy if I chose:—
But other joys can gold impart,
Far other wishes warm my heart—
Ne’er may I strive to swell the heap,
Till want and woe have ceas’d to weep.
With brow unalter’d I can see
The hour of wealth or poverty:
I’ve drunk from both the cups of fate,
Nor this could sink, nor that elate.
With fortune blest, I ne’er was found
To look with scorn on those around;
Nor for the loss of paltry ore,
Shall Hatem seem to Hatem poor.
 Hatem Tai was an Arabian chief, who lived a short time prior to the promulgation of Mohammedanism. He has been so much celebrated through the East for his generosity that even to this day the greatest encomium which can be given to a generous man is to say that he is as liberal as Hatem. Hatem was also a poet; but his talents were principally exerted in recommending his favorite virtue.
THE DEATH OF HIS MISTRESS
Dost thou wonder that I flew
Charm’d to meet my Leila’s view?
Dost thou wonder that I hung
Raptur’d on my Leila’s tongue?
If her ghost’s funereal screech
Thro’ the earth my grave should reach,
On that voice I lov’d so well
My transported ghost would dwell:—
If in death I can descry
Where my Leila’s relics lie,
Saher’s dust will flee away,
There to join his Leila’s clay.
Abu Saher Alhedily.
 The sentiment contained in this production determines its antiquity. It was the opinion of the Pagan Arabs that upon the death of any person a bird, by them called Manah, issued from his brain, which haunted the sepulchre of the deceased, uttering a lamentable scream.
TOMB OF SAYID
Blest are the tenants of the tomb!
With envy I their lot survey!
For Sayid shares the solemn gloom,
And mingles with their mouldering clay.
Dear youth! I’m doom’d thy loss to mourn
When gathering ills around combine;
And whither now shall Malec turn,
Where look for any help but thine?
At this dread moment when the foe
My life with rage insatiate seeks,
In vain I strive to ward the blow,
My buckler falls, my sabre breaks.
Upon thy grassy tomb I knelt,
And sought from pain a short relief—
Th’ attempt was vain—I only felt
Intenser pangs and livelier grief.
The bud of woe no more represt,
Fed by the tears that drench’d it there,
Shot forth and fill’d my laboring breast
Soon to expand and shed despair.
But tho’ of Sayid I’m bereft,
From whom the stream of bounty came,
Sayid a nobler meed has left—
Th’ exhaustless heritage of fame.
Tho’ mute the lips on which I hung,
Their silence speaks more loud to me
Than any voice from mortal tongue,
“What Sayid was let Malec be.”
Abd Almalec Alharithy.
Note: Abd Almalec was a native of Arabia Felix. The exact period when he flourished is unknown, but as this production is taken from the Hamasa it is most probable that he was anterior to Mohammedanism.
THE TOMB OF MANO
Friends of my heart, who share my sighs!
Go seek the turf where Mano lies,
And woo the dewy clouds of spring,
To sweep it with prolific wing.
Within that cell, beneath that heap,
Friendship and Truth and Honor sleep,
Beneficence, that used to clasp
The world within her ample grasp.
There rests entomb’d—of thought bereft—
For were one conscious atom left
New bliss, new kindness to display,
‘Twould burst the grave, and seek the day.
But tho’ in dust thy relics lie,
Thy virtues, Mano, ne’er shall die;
Tho’ Nile’s full stream be seen no more,
That spread his waves from shore to shore,
Still in the verdure of the plain
His vivifying smiles remain.
Those dear abodes which once contain’d the fair,
Amidst Mitata’s wilds I seek in vain,
Nor towers, nor tents, nor cottages are there,
But scatter’d ruins and a silent plain.
The proud canals that once Rayana grac’d,
Their course neglected and their waters gone,
Among the level’d sands are dimly trac’d,
Like moss-grown letters on a mouldering stone.
Rayana say, how many a tedious year
Its hallow’d circle o’er our heads hath roll’d,
Since to my vows thy tender maids gave ear,
And fondly listened to the tale I told?
How oft, since then, the star of spring, that pours
A never-failing stream, hath drenched thy head?
How oft, the summer cloud in copious showers
Or gentle drops its genial influence shed?
How oft since then, the hovering mist of morn
Hath caus’d thy locks with glittering gems to glow?
How oft hath eve her dewy treasures borne
To fall responsive to the breeze below?
The matted thistles, bending to the gale,
Now clothe those meadows once with verdure gay;
Amidst the windings of that lonely vale
The teeming antelope and ostrich stray.
The large-eyed mother of the herd that flies
Man’s noisy haunts, here finds a sure retreat,
Here watches o’er her young, till age supplies
Strength to their limbs and swiftness to their feet.
Save where the swelling stream hath swept those walls
And giv’n their deep foundations to the light
(As the retouching pencil that recalls
A long-lost picture to the raptur’d sight).
Save where the rains have wash’d the gathered sand
And bared the scanty fragments to our view,
(As the dust sprinkled on a punctur’d hand
Bids the faint tints resume their azure hue).
No mossy record of those once lov’d seats
Points out the mansion to inquiring eyes;
No tottering wall, in echoing sounds, repeats
Our mournful questions and our bursting sighs.
Yet, midst those ruin’d heaps, that naked plain,
Can faithful memory former scenes restore,
Recall the busy throng, the jocund train,
And picture all that charm’d us there before.
Ne’e shall my heart the fatal morn forget
That bore the fair ones from these seats so dear—
I see, I see the crowding litters yet,
And yet the tent-poles rattle in my ear.
I see the maids with timid steps descend,
The streamers wave in all their painted pride,
The floating curtains every fold extend,
And vainly strive the charms within to hide.
What graceful forms those envious folds enclose!
What melting glances thro’ those curtains play!
Sure Weira’s antelopes, or Tudah’s roes
Thro’ yonder veils their sportive young survey!
The band mov’d on—to trace their steps I strove,
I saw them urge the camel’s hastening flight,
Till the white vapor, like a rising grove,
Snatch’d them forever from my aching sight.
Nor since that morn have I Nawara seen,
The bands are burst which held us once so fast,
Memory but tells me that such things have been,
And sad Reflection adds, that they are past.
Lebid Ben Rabiat Alamary.
 The author of this poem was a native of Yemen. He was contemporary with Mohammed and was already celebrated as a poet when the prophet began to promulgate his doctrines. Lebid embraced Islamism and was one of the most aggressive helpers in its establishment. He fixed his abode in the city of Cufa, where he died at a very advanced age. This elegy, as is evident, was written previous to Lebid’s conversion to Islamism. Its subject is one that must be ever interesting to the feeling mind—the return of a person after a long absence to the place of his birth—in fact it is the Arabian “Deserted Village.”
[Translation by J.D. Carlyle]
The essential qualities of Arabian poetry appear in the “Romance of Antar,” and the tales of the “Thousand and One Nights.” For such a blending of prose and verse is the favorite form of Arabian literature in its highest and severest form, even in the drama. But the character of the people is most clearly shown in the lyrical poems of the Bedouin country. The pastoral poetry of the peninsula is so local in its allusions that it cannot adequately be translated into English. It is in the lyrics that we find that “touch of nature which makes the whole world kin.” The gorgeousness of Hindoo literature, with its lavish description of jewelry and gold, precious stones and marbles, hideous demons, and mighty gods, is not to be looked for in Arabia. There the horizon is clear, and the plain has nothing but human occupants. The common passions of men are the only powers at work; love, war, sorrow, and wine, are the subjects of these little songs, some of which might have been written by “Anacreon” Moore, and others by Catullus. The influence of Greek poetry is indeed manifest in these light and sometimes frivolous effusions. The sweetness and grace which distinguish some are only equalled by the wit of others. For wit is the prevailing characteristic of Arabian poetry, which is attractive for its cleverness, its brightness, the alternate smiles and tears which shine through it, and make the present selections so refreshing and interesting a revelation of the national heart and intellect.
I use the word refreshing, because some of the imagery of these lyrics is new to me, and quite unparalleled in European literature. What can be more novel, and at the same time more charming than the following simile, with which a short elegy concludes:—
“But though in dust thy relics lie,
Thy virtues, Mano, ne’er shall die;
Though Nile’s full stream be seen no more,
That spread his waves from shore to shore,
Still in the verdure of the plain
His vivifying smiles remain.”
The praise of a humble lot has been sung from Háfiz to Horace, but never illustrated by a prettier conceit than the Arabic poet has recourse to in this stanza:—
“Not always wealth, not always force
A splendid destiny commands;
The lordly vulture gnaws the corse
That rots upon yon barren sands.
“Nor want nor weakness still conspires
To bind us to a sordid state;
The fly that with a touch expires,
Sips honey from the royal plate.”
This is undoubtedly a very original way of stating the philosophic axiom of the Augustan poet,
“The lord of boundless revenues,
Do not salute as happy.”
I have spoken of the wit of these verses, which is certainly one of their distinguishing qualities. It is quite Attic in its flavor and exquisitely delicate in its combined good-humor and freedom from rancor. An epigram, according to the old definition, should be like a bee; it should carry the sweetness of honey, although it bears a sting at the end. Sometimes the end has a point which does not sting, as in the following quatrain of an Arabic poet:—
“When I sent you my melons, you cried out with scorn,
They ought to be heavy and wrinkled and yellow;
When I offered myself, whom those graces adorn,
You flouted, and called me an ugly old fellow.”
Martial himself could not have excelled the wit of an epigram addressed to a very little man who wore a very big beard, which thus concludes:—
“Surely thou cherishest thy beard
In hope to hide thyself behind it.”
To study a literature like that of the Arabians, even partially and in a translation, is one of those experiences which enlarge and stimulate the mind and expand its range of impressions with a distinctly elevating and liberalizing effect. It has the result of genuine education, in that it increases our capacity for sympathy for other peoples, making us better acquainted with the language in which they reveal that common human heart which they share with us.
King Cais, chief of the Absians, distrusting the evil designs of Hadifah, the chief of the tribe of Fazarah, had sent out his slaves in every direction to look after Antar. One of these slaves on his return said to the king: “As for Antar, I have not even heard his name; but as I passed by the tribe of Tenim, I slept one night in the tents of the tribe Byah. There I saw a colt of remarkable beauty. He belonged to a man named Jahir, son of Awef. I have never seen a colt so fine and swift.” This recital made a profound impression upon Cais. And in truth this young animal was the wonder of the world, and never had a handsomer horse been reared among the Arabs. He was in all points high-bred and renowned for race and lineage, for his sire was Ocab and his dam Helweh, and these were horses regarded by the Arabs as quicker than lightning. All the tribes admired their points, and the tribe of Byah had become celebrated above all others, because of the mare and stallion which pertained to it.
As for this fine colt, one day, when his sire Ocab had been put out on pasture, he was being led by the daughter of Jahir along the side of a lake at noonday, and there he saw the mare Helweh, who was tethered close to the tent of her master. He immediately began to neigh, and slipped his halter. The young girl in her embarrassment let him go, and for modesty took refuge in the tent of a friend. The stallion remained on the spot until the girl returned. She seized the halter and took him to the stables.
But her father discerned the anxiety which she could not conceal. He questioned her, and she told him what had happened. He became furious with rage on hearing her story, for he was naturally choleric; he ran among the tents, flinging off his turban, and crying at the top of his voice, while all the Arabs crowded round him, “Tribe of Byah, tribe of Byah! Kinsmen and friends, hear me.” Then he related what his daughter had told him. “I cannot permit,” he added, “that the blood of my horse should be blended with that of Helweh; yet I am not willing to sell him for the most costly sheep and camels; and if I cannot otherwise prevent Helweh from bearing a colt to my stallion, I shall be glad if some one will put the mare to death.” “By all means,” cried his listeners, “do as you please, for we can have no objection.” Such were the usual terms of Arabian courtesy.
Nevertheless, Helweh, in course of time, bore a fine colt, whose birth brought great joy to her master. He named the young horse Dahir. The colt waxed in strength and beauty, until he actually excelled his sire Ocab. His chest was broad, his neck long, his hoofs hard, his nostrils widely expanded. His tail swept the ground, and he was of the gentlest temper; in short, he was the most perfect creature ever seen. Being reared with the greatest care, his shape was perfect as the archway of a royal palace. When the mare Helweh, followed by her colt, was one day moving along the shore of a lake, Ocab’s owner chanced to see them. He seized the young horse, and took him home with him, leaving his mother in grief for his difference. “As for Jahir,” he said, “this colt belongs to me, and I have more right to him than anyone else.”
The news of the colt’s disappearance soon reached his owner’s ears. He assembled the chiefs of the tribe, and told them what had happened. They sent to Jahir, and he was reproached bitterly. “Jahir,” they said, “you have not suffered, yet have done injustice, in that you carried off that which belonged to another man.” “Say no more,” answered Jahir, “and spare me these reproaches, for, by the faith of an Arab, I will not return the colt, unless compelled by main force. I will declare war against you first.” At that moment the tribe was not prepared for a quarrel; and several of them said to Jahir: “We are too much attached to you to push things to such an extreme as that; we are your allies and kinsmen. We will not fight with you, though an idol of gold were at stake.” Then Kerim, son of Wahrab (the latter being the owner of the mare and colt, a man renowned among the Arabs for his generosity), seeing the obstinacy of Jahir, said to him: “Cousin, the colt is certainly yours, and belongs to you; as for the mare here, accept her as a present from my hand, so that mother and colt will not be separated, and no one will ever be able to accuse me of wronging a kinsman.”
The tribe highly applauded this act, and Jahir was so humiliated by the generosity with which he had been treated, that he returned mare and colt to Kerim, adding to the gift a pair of male and a pair of female camels.
Dahir soon became a horse of absolute perfection in every point, and when his master Kerim undertook to race him with another horse, he rode the animal himself, and was in the habit of saying to his antagonist, “Even should you pass me like an arrow, I could catch you up, and distance you,” and in fact this always happened.
As soon as King Cais heard tell of this horse, he became beside himself with longing and mortification, and his sleep left him. He sent to Kerim, offering to buy the horse for as much gold or silver as the owner demanded, and adding that the price would be forwarded without delay. This message enraged Kerim. “Is not this Cais a fool, or a man of no understanding?” he exclaimed. “Does he think I am a man of traffic—a horse-dealer, who cannot mount the horses he owns? I swear by the faith of an Arab that if he had asked for Dahir, as a present, I would have sent the horse, and a troop of camels besides: but if he thinks of obtaining him by bidding a price, he will never have him; even were I bound to drink the cup of death.”
The messenger returned to Cais, and gave him the answer of Kerim, at which the latter was much annoyed. “Am I a king over the tribes of Abs, of Adnan, of Fazarah, and of Dibyan,” he exclaimed, “and yet a common Arab dares to oppose me!” He summoned his people and his warriors. Immediately there was the flash of armor, of coats of mail, and swords and helmets appeared amid the tents; the champions mounted their steeds, shook their spears, and marched forth against the tribe of Byah. As soon as they reached their enemy’s territory they overran the pastures, and gathered an immense booty in cattle, which Cais divided among his followers. They next made for the tents and surprised the dwellers there, who were not prepared for such an attack: Kerim being absent with his warriors on an expedition of the same sort. Cais at the head of the Absians, pushing his way into the dwellings, carried off the wives and daughters of his foe.
As for Dahir, he was tethered to one of the tent-pegs, for Kerim never used him as a charger, for fear some harm might befall him, or he might be killed. One of the slaves who had been left in the encampment, and had been among the first to see the approach of the Absians, went up to Dahir for the purpose of breaking the line by which he was hobbled. This he failed to accomplish, but mounting him, and digging his heels into his flanks, he forced the horse, although he was hobbled, to rush off prancing like a fawn, until he reached the desert. It was in vain that the Absians pursued him; they could not even catch up with the trail of dust that he left behind him.
As soon as Cais perceived Dahir, he recognized him, and the desire of possessing him became intensified. He hurried on, but his chagrin was great, as he perceived that, do what he would, he never could catch up with him. At last the slave, perceiving that he had quite out-distanced the Absians, dismounted, untied the feet of Dahir, leapt again into the saddle, and galloped off. Cais, who had kept up the pursuit, gained ground during this stop, and coming within ear-shot of the slave, shouted out, “Stop, Arab, there is no cause for fear; you have my protection; by the faith of a noble Arab, I swear it.” At these words the slave stopped. “Do you intend to sell that horse?” said King Cais to him, “for in that case you have the most eager buyer of all the Arabian tribesmen.” “I do not wish to sell him, sire,” replied the slave, “excepting at one price, the restoration of all the booty.” “I will buy him then,” the King answered, and he clasped the hand of the Arab as pledge of the bargain. The slave dismounted from the young horse, and delivered him over to King Cais, and the latter overjoyed at having his wish, leapt on to his back, and set out to rejoin the Absians, whom he commanded to restore all the booty which they had taken. His order was executed to the letter. King Cais, enchanted at the success of his enterprise, and at the possession of Dahir, returned home. So great was his fondness for the horse that he groomed and fed him with his own hands. Soon as Hadifah, chief of the tribe of Fazarah, heard that Cais had possession of Dahir, jealousy filled his heart. In concert with other chiefs he plotted the death of this beautiful horse.
Now it came to pass that at this time Hadifah gave a great feast, and Carwash, kinsman of King Cais, was present. At the end of the meal, and while the wine circulated freely the course of conversation turned to the most famous chiefs of the time. The subject being exhausted, the guests began to speak about their most celebrated horses, and next, of the journeys made by them in the desert. “Kinsmen,” said Carwash, “none of you ever saw a horse like Dahir, which belongs to my ally Cais. It is vain to seek his equal; his pace is absolutely terrifying. He chases away sorrow from the heart of him who beholds him, and protects like a strong tower the man who mounts him.” Carwash did not stop here, but continued to praise, in the highest and most distinguished language, the horse Dahir, until all of the tribe of Fazarah and of the family of Zyad, felt their hearts swell with rage. “Do you hear him, brother?” said Haml to Hadifah; “come, that is enough,” he added, turning towards Carwash. “All that you have said about Dahir is absolute nonsense—for at present there are no horses better or finer than mine, and those of my brother.”
With these words he ordered his slaves to bring his horses and parade them before Carwash. This was done. “Come, Carwash, look at that horse.” “He is not worth the hay you feed him on,” said the other. Then those of Hadifah were led out; among them was a mare, named Ghabra, and a stallion called Marik. “Now look at these,” said Hadifah. “They are not worth the hay they eat,” replied Carwash. Hadifah, filled with indignation at these words: “What, not even Ghabra?” “Not even Ghabra, or all the horses in the world,” repeated Carwash. “Would you like to make a bet for us with King Cais?” “Certainly,” answered Carwash—”I will wager that Dahir will beat all the horses of the tribe of Fazarah, even if he carries a hundred weight of stone on his back.” They discussed the matter for a long time, the one affirming the other denying the statements, until Hadifah closed the altercation by saying, “I hold to the wager, on condition that the winner takes from the loser as many male and female camels as he chooses.” “You are going to play me a nice trick,” said Carwash, “and for my part I tell you plainly that I won’t bet more than twenty camels; the man whose horse loses shall pay this forfeit.” The matter was arranged accordingly. They sat at table until nightfall, and then rested.
The next day Carwash left his tent at early morn, went to the tribe of Abs, to find Cais, whom he told about the wager. “You were wrong,” said Cais. “You might have made a bet with anyone excepting Hadifah, who is a man of tricks and treachery. If you have made the wager, you will have to declare it off.” Cais waited until certain persons who were with him had retired, then he at once took horse, and repaired to the tribe of Fazarah, where everybody was taking their morning meal in their tents. Cais dismounted, took off his arms, and seating himself among them began to eat with them, like a noble Arab. “Cousin,” said Hadifah to him jokingly, “What large mouthfuls you take; heaven preserve me from having an appetite like yours.” “It is true,” said Cais, “that I am dying of hunger, but by Him who abides always, and will abide forever, I came not here merely to eat your victuals. My intention is to annul the wager which was yesterday made between you and my kinsman Carwash, I beg of you to cancel this bet, for all that is uttered over cups and flagons is of no serious account, and ought to be forgotten.” “I would have you to know,” was the answer, “that I will not withdraw from the challenge, unless you forfeit the camels which are staked. If you accept this condition, I shall be perfectly indifferent to everything else. Nevertheless, if you wish it, I will seize the camels by force, or, if it be your good pleasure, I will waive every claim, save as a debt of honor.” In spite of all that Cais could say, Hadifah remained firm in his resolution, and as his brother began to deride Cais, the latter lost his temper, and with a face blazing with wrath he asked of Hadifah, “What stake did you offer in your wager with my cousin?” “Twenty she-camels,” said Hadifah. “As for this first wager,” answered Cais, “I cancel it, and propose another one in its stead: I will bet thirty camels.” “And I forty,” replied Hadifah, “I make it fifty,” was the retort of Cais. “Sixty,” quickly added the other; and they continued raising the terms of the wager, until the number of camels staked was one hundred. The contract of the bet was deposited in the hands of a man named Sabic, son of Wahhab, and in the presence of a crowd of youths and old men. “What shall be the length of the race?” asked Hadifah of Cais. “One hundred bow-shots,” replied Cais, “and we have an archer here, Ayas, the son of Mansour, who will measure the ground.” Ayas was in fact the strongest and most accomplished archer then living among the Arabs. King Cais, by choosing Ayas, wished the course to be made long, knowing the endurance of his horse, and the longer distance Dahir had to travel, the more he gained speed, from the increased excitement of his spirit. “Well now, we had better fix the day for the race,” said Cais to Hadifah. “Forty days will be required,” replied Hadifah, “to bring the horses into condition.” “You are right,” said Cais, and they agreed that the horses should be trained for forty days, that the race should take place by the lake Zatalirsad, and that the horse that first reached the goal should be declared winner. All these preliminaries having been arranged, Cais returned to his tents.
Meanwhile one of the horsemen of the tribe of Fazarah said to his neighbors: “Kinsmen, you may rest assured that there is going to be a breach between the tribe of Abs and that of Fazarah, as a result of this race between Dahir and Ghabra. The two tribes, you must know, will be mutually estranged, for King Cais has been there in person; now he is a prince and the son of a prince. He has made every effort to cancel the bet, but Hadifah would by no means consent. All this is the beginning of a broil, which may be followed by a war, possibly lasting fifty years, and many a one will fall in the struggle.”
Hadifah hearing this prediction, said: “I don’t trouble myself much about the matter, and your suggestion seems to me absurd.” “O Hadifah,” exclaimed Ayas, “I am going to tell you what will be the result of all your obstinacy towards Cais.” Then he recited some verses, with the following meaning: “In thee, O Hadifah, there is no beauty; and in the purity of Cais there is not a single blot. How sincere and honest was his counsels, although they were lacking in prudence and dignity. Make a wager with a man who does not possess even an ass, and whose father has never been rich enough to buy a horse. Let Cais alone; he has wealth, lands, horses, a proud spirit, and he is the owner of this Dahir, who is always first on the day of a race, whether he is resting or running—this Dahir, a steed whose feet even appear through the obscurity of night like burning brands.” “Ayas,” replied Hadifah, “do you think I would break my word? I will take the camels of Cais, and will not permit my name to be inscribed among the number of those who have been vanquished. Let things run their course.”
As soon as King Cais had regained his tents he hastened to tell his slaves to begin the training of his horses, and to pay especial attention to Dahir. Then he told his kinsmen all that had taken place between himself and Hadifah. Antar was present at this recital, and as he took great interest in all that concerned the king, he said, “Cais, calm your fears, keep your eyes well open, run the race, and have no fear. For, by the faith of an Arab, if Hadifah makes any trouble or misunderstanding, I will kill him, as well as the whole tribe of Fazarah.”
The conversation on this subject continued until they reached the tents, which Antar declined to enter before seeing Dahir. He walked several times round this animal, and saw at a glance that the horse actually possessed qualities which astonished any one who saw him.
Hadifah quickly learned the return of Antar, and knew that the hero was encouraging King Cais to run the race. Haml, Hadifah’s brother, had also heard the news, and in the distress which he felt remarked to Hadifah, “I fear lest Antar should fall upon me, or some one of the family of Beder, and kill us, and thus render us disgraced. Give up this race, or we are ruined. Let me go to King Cais, and I will not leave him until he promises to come to you and cancel the contract.” “Do as you please,” answered Hadifah. Thereupon Haml took horse, and went immediately to King Cais. He found him with his uncle Assyed, a wise and prudent man. Haml approached Cais, saluted him by kissing his hand, and after saying that he was the bearer of an important message, added: “Kinsman, you know that my brother Hadifah is a low fellow, whose mind is full of intrigues. I have spent the last three days in trying to persuade him to cancel this wager. At last he has said: ‘Very good, if Cais comes to me, and wishes to be released from the contract, I will annul it; but do not let any Arab think that I abandon the bet through fear of Antar.’ Now you, Cais, are aware that the greatest proof of attachment between kinsmen is their willingness to give way to one another. So I am here to beg that you will come to the dwelling of my brother Hadifah and ask him to give up the race, before it causes trouble, and the tribe be utterly driven away from its territories.” At this address of Haml, Cais became flushed with shame, for he was trusting and generous. He at once arose, and leaving his uncle Assyed in charge of his domestic business, he accompanied Haml to the land of Fazarah. When they were midway on their journey Haml began to utter lavish praises of Cais to the latter’s face, and to blame his own brother’s faults, in the following terms: “O Cais, do not let your wrath be stirred up against Hadifah, for he is verily a man headstrong and unjust in his actions. O Cais, if you persist in holding to the bet, great disasters will follow. Both you and he are impulsive and passionate, and this is what causes me to feel anxiety about you, Cais. Put aside your private feelings, be kind and generous, and it will come to pass that the oppressor himself will become the oppressed.”
Haml continued to abuse his brother, and to flatter Cais with expressions of admiration all the way, until in the evening they arrived at the tribe of Fazarah. Hadifah, who at the moment was surrounded by many powerful chiefs, upon whose aid he depended in the hour of need, had changed his mind since his brother Haml’s departure, and in place of coming to terms and making peace with Cais he had determined to yield in nothing, but to maintain rigorously the conditions of the coming race. He was speaking of this very matter with one of the chiefs at the moment when Cais and Haml presented themselves before him. As soon as Hadifah saw Cais, he resolved to cover him with shame. Turning therefore to his brother, he asked: “Who ordered you to go to this man? By the faith of a noble Arab, even if all the men who cover the surface of the earth were to come and importune me, saying, ‘O Hadifah, give up one hair of these camels,’ I would not yield until a lance had pierced my heart and a sword stricken the head from my shoulders.” Cais crimsoned, and immediately remounted his horse, bitterly reproaching Haml. He returned home with the utmost haste, and found his uncle and brothers waiting for him in extreme anxiety. “O my son!” said his uncle Assyed as soon as he saw him, “you have had a disastrous journey, for it has caused you to be disgraced.”
“If Hadifah had not been surrounded by certain chiefs, who gave him treacherous counsels, I could have arranged the whole affair,” answered Cais. “There is now nothing left but to carry out the race and the bet.”
King Cais did not sleep the whole of that night. On the morrow he thought of nothing but the training of his horses during the forty days’ interval before the race. All the Arabs of the land agreed to come to the pastures and see the race, and when the forty days had expired the horsemen of the two tribes came in a crowd to the banks of lake Zatalirsud. Next arrived the archer Ayas, who, turning his back to the lake at the point where the horses were to start, drew his bow as he walked toward the north a hundred times, and measured out to the goal the course of a hundred bow-shots. Soon the horsemen of Ghitfan and Dibyan arrived, for they were of the same territory, and because of their friendly relations and kinship were comprised as one tribe under the name of Adnan. King Cais had begged Antar not to show himself on this occasion, fearing that his appearance might cause dissension. Antar listened to this advice, but was unable to rest quiet in the tents. The interest he felt in Cais, and the deep distrust with which the falseness of the Fazareans—who were always ready for treason—inspired him, induced him to show himself. Girding on his sword Dhami, and mounting his famous charger, Abjer, he took with him his brother Shidoub, and reached the spot fixed upon for the race, in order that he might watch over the safety of King Zoheir’s sons. On his arrival he seemed to excel all that crowd, like a lion clad in coat of mail. He carried his naked sword, and his eyes flashed like blazing coals. As soon as he had reached the middle of the crowd, he cried out with a loud voice, that struck terror to all hearts: “Hearken, noble Arabian chieftains and men of renown assembled here—all of you know that I was supported and favored by King Zoheir, father of King Cais, that I am a slave bound to him, by his goodness and munificence; that it is he who caused my parents to acknowledge me, and gave me my rank, making me to be numbered among Arab chiefs. Although he is no longer living, I wish to show my gratitude to him, and bring the kings of the land into subjection to him, even after his death. He has left a son, whom his brothers have acknowledged, and have set on the throne of his father. This son is Cais, whom they have thus distinguished, because of his wisdom, rectitude, and noble heart. I am the slave of Cais, and am his property; I intend to be the supporter of him whom I love, and the enemy of whosoever resists him. It shall never be said, as long as I live, that I have suffered an enemy to affront him. As to the conditions of this wager, it is our duty to see them observed. The best thing, accordingly, to do is to let the horses race unobstructed, for victory comes from the creator of day and night. I make an oath, therefore, by the holy house at Mecca, by the temple, by the eternal God, who never forgets his servants and never sleeps, that if Hadifah commits any act of violence, I will make him drink the cup of vengeance and of death; and will make the whole tribe of Fazarah the byword of all the world. And you, Arab chieftains, if you sincerely desire the race to take place, conduct yourselves with justice and impartiality; otherwise, by the eyes of my dear Ibla, I will make the horses run the race in blood.” “Antar is right,” the horsemen shouted on all sides.
Hadifah chose, as the rider of Ghabra, a groom of the tribe of Dibyan. This man had passed all his days and many of his nights in rearing and tending horses. Cais, on the other hand, chose as rider of Dahir a groom of the tribe of Abs, much better trained and experienced in his profession than was the Dibyanian. When the two contestants had mounted their horses King Cais gave this parting instruction to his groom: “Do not let the reins hang too loosely in managing Dahir; if you see him flag, stand up in your stirrups, and press his flanks gently with your legs. Do not urge him too much, or you will break his spirit.” Hadifah heard this advice and repeated it, word for word, to his rider.
Antar began to laugh. “By the faith of an Arab,” he said to Hadifah, “you will be beaten. Are words so scarce that you are obliged to use exactly those of Cais? But as a matter of fact Cais is a king, the son of a king; he ought always to be imitated by others, and since you have followed, word by word, his speech, it is a proof that your horse will follow his in the desert.”
At these words the heart of Hadifah swelled with rage and indignation, and he swore with an oath that he would not let his horse run that day, but that he wished the race to take place at sunrise, next morning. This delay was indispensable to him in preparing the act of perfidy which he meditated, for he had no sooner seen Dahir than he was speechless with astonishment at the beauty and perfections of the horse.
The judges had already dismounted and the horsemen of the various tribes were preparing to return home, when Shidoub began to cry out with a loud voice, “Tribes of Abs, of Adnan, of Fazarah and of Dibyan, and all here present attend to me for an instant, and listen to words which shall be repeated from generation to generation.” All the warriors stood motionless. “Speak on,” they cried, “what is your will? Perhaps there may be something good in your words.” “Illustrious Arabs,” continued Shidoub, “you know what happened in consequence of the match between Dahir and Ghabra: I assure you on my life that I will outstrip both of them in running, even were they swifter than the wind. But listen to the condition I offer; if I am the winner, I am to take the hundred camels which are at stake; but if I am beaten, I am to forfeit fifty.” Upon this one of the Sheiks of Fazarah exclaimed, “What is that you are saying, vile slave? Why should you receive a hundred camels if you win and only forfeit fifty if you lose?” “Do you ask why, ancient mire of a dunghill,” replied Shidoub, “because I have but two legs to run on and a horse has four, not counting his tail.” All the Arabs burst out laughing; yet as they were astonished at the conditions proposed by Shidoub, and extremely curious to see him run the race, they agreed that he should make the hazardous experiment.
When all had returned to the tents Antar said to Shidoub: “Come, now, thou son of a cursed mother, how dared thou say that thou couldst outstrip these two horses, whose race all horsemen of our tribes have assembled to see, and who all the world admits have no equals in speed, not even among the birds of the air?” “By him who created the springs in the rocks and who knows all things,” replied Shidoub, “I will outstrip those two horses, be they fleet as the winds. Yes, and my victory will have an advantageous result, for when the Arabs hear of it, they will give up all idea of pursuing me, when I run across the desert.” Antar laughed, for he was in doubt about Shidoub’s plan. The latter went to find King Cais and his brothers, and the other witnesses of the race, and made oath on his life that he would outstrip the two horses. All present acknowledged themselves witnesses of the oath, and left the spot, filled with astonishment at the proposition.
As for the trickster Hadifah, in the evening he summoned one of his slaves named Dames, a rascal, if ever there was one. “O Dames,” he said, “you frequently boast of your cunning, but hitherto I have had no opportunity of putting it to the proof.” “My Lord,” answered the slave, “tell me in what way I can be useful to you.” “I desire,” said Hadifah, “that you go and post yourself in the great pass. Remain in this place, and go and hide yourself there in the morning. Watch the horses well, and see if Dahir is in advance. If he is, show yourself suddenly, strike him on the head, and cause him to stop, so that Ghabra may outstrip him, and we may not incur the disgrace of defeat. For I confess that since I have seen Dahir, his excellent points have made me doubt the superiority of Ghabra, and I fear my mare will be beaten, and we shall become the laughing stock of all the Arabs.” “But, sir, how shall I distinguish Dahir from Ghabra when they advance, both of them wrapped in a cloud of dust?”
Hadifah replied, “I am going to give you a sign, and to explain how the matter may be free from difficulty.” As he spoke he picked up some stones from the ground and said: “Take these stones with you at sunrise, begin to count them, and throw them to the earth, four at a time. You must repeat the operation five times, and the last time Ghabra will arrive. That is the calculation I have made, so that if a cloud of dust presents itself to you, and some of the stones, a third or a half of them, still remain in your hand, you may be sure that Dahir has gained first place, and is before your eyes. You must then hurl a stone at his head, as I said, and stop his running, so that my mare may gain the lead.” The slave agreed to do so. He provided himself with stones and went to hide himself at the great pass, and Hadifah felt confident of gaining the wager.
At the dawn of day, the Arabs, coming from all quarters, were assembled on the race ground. The judges gave the signal for the start, and the two riders uttered loud shouts. The racers started like flashes of lightning which dazzle the sight and seemed like the wind when, as it blows, it increases in fury. Ghabra passed ahead of Dahir and distanced him. “Now you are lost, my brother of the tribe of Abs,” cried the Fazarean groom to the Absian, “try and console yourself for this defeat.” “You lie,” retorted the Absian, “and in a few moments you will see how completely you are mistaken. Wait till we have passed this uneven ground. Mares always travel faster on rough roads than on smooth country.” And so it happened, for when they arrived in the plain, Dahir shot forward like a giant, leaving a trail of dust behind him. It seemed as if he went on wings, not legs; in the twinkling of an eye he had outstripped Ghabra. “Here,” cried the Absian to the Fazarean groom, “send a messenger from me to the family of Beder, and you yourself drink the bitter cup of patience behind me.” Meanwhile Shidoub, swift as the north wind, kept ahead of Dahir, bounding like a fawn and running like an ostrich, until he reached the defile where Dames was hidden. The slave had only thrown down less than a third of his pebbles, when he looked up and saw Dahir approaching.
He waited till the horse passed close by him, and suddenly showed himself with a shout, and hit the racer violently between the eyes with a stone. The horse reared, stopped one moment, and the rider was on the point of being unseated. Shidoub was a witness to the incident, and having looked at the slave, recognized him as belonging to the treacherous Hadifah. In the violence of his rage he flung himself upon Dames, and struck him dead with his sword: then he approached Dahir for the purpose of speaking soothingly to him, and starting him again on the race; but, alas, the mare Ghabra rushed up like the wind. Then Shidoub, fearing defeat, thinking of the camels he would forfeit, set out running at full speed towards the lake, where he arrived two bow-shots in advance of the horses. Ghabra followed, then Dahir last, bearing on his forehead the mark of the missile; his cheeks were covered with blood and tears.
All the spectators were astounded on seeing the agility and endurance of Shidoub; but as soon as Ghabra had reached the finish the Fazareans uttered loud shouts of joy. Dahir was led home all bleeding, and his rider told the men of the tribe of Abs what the slave had done. Cais examined the wound of his horse and asked for full details of the occurrence. Antar grew crimson with anger, and laid his hand upon his invincible sword, as if impatient to annihilate the tribe of the Fazareans. But the sheiks restrained him, although with difficulty, after which they went to Hadifah to cover him with shame, and to reproach him with the infamous deed he had done. Hadifah denied it, with false oaths, affirming that he knew nothing of the blow dealt to Dahir; then he added, “I demand the camels which are due to me, and I do not admit the treacherous pretext on which they are being withheld.”
“That blow is doubtless of evil augury for the tribe of Fazarah,” said Cais. “God will certainly give us victory and triumph, and destroy them. For Hadifah only desired this race to take place in order that it might cause trouble and discord, and the disturbance which this contest is sure to excite will stir up one tribe against another, so that there will be many men killed, and children made orphans.” The conversation which followed among the tribesmen became more and more excited, confusion followed, shouts rang out on all sides, and drawn swords flashed. Bloodshed would have resulted had not the sheiks and wise men dismounted and with bared heads mingled with the crowd, with humble mien, imploring them, until at last the matter was settled as harmoniously as possible. It was agreed that Shidoub should receive the amount of the wager—a hundred camels from the tribe of Fazarah, and that Hadifah should abandon his claims and refrain from all dispute. Such were the measures taken to extinguish the hostility and disorder which threatened to burst out among the tribes. Then the different families retired to their own dwellings, but the hearts of all were filled with bitter hatred. One whose resentment seemed keenest was Hadifah, especially when he learned of the slave Dames’s death. As for Cais, he was also filled with mute rage and intense hatred. Yet Antar tried to reassure him. “King,” he said to him, “do not let your heart be a prey to mortification; for I swear by the tomb of King Zoheir, your father, that I will cause disgrace and infamy to fall on Hadifah, and it is only from regard for you that I have up to this time delayed action.” Soon after all returned to their tents.
The following morning Shidoub killed twenty of the camels he had won the day before, and caused the meat to be distributed among the widows and those who had been wounded and crippled in war. He slaughtered twenty others, which he used in entertaining the tribe of Abs, including women and slaves. Finally, the next day, he killed the rest of the camels and made a great feast near the lake Zatalirsad, to which he invited the sons of King Zoheir and his noblest chieftains. At the end of this banquet, when the wine circulated among the guests, all praised the behavior of Shidoub. But the news of the camel slaughter and of all the feasting was soon known to the tribe of Fazarah. All the enraged tribesmen hastened to seek Hadifah. “What,” said they, “while we were first in the race, slaves and traitorous Absians have eaten our camels! Send for an equal number of camels, by all means; but if he refuses them let us make a terrible war upon the Absians.”
Hadifah raised his eyes upon his son Abou-Firacah. “Mount horse at once,” he said to him, “and go and say to Cais: my father says that you must this instant pay the wager, or he will come and seize the amount by main force, and will bring trouble upon you.” There was then present a chief among the sheiks, who, hearing the order that Hadifah had given to his son, said: “O Hadifah, are you not ashamed to send such a message to the tribe of the Absians? Are they not our kindred and allies? Does this proposal harmonize with the counsel and desire of allaying dissensions? The genuine man shows gratitude for generosity and kindness. I think it quite reasonable to expect that you desist from this perverse mood, which will end in our total extermination. Cais has shown himself quite impartial and has done wrong to no one; cherish, therefore, peace with the horsemen of the tribe of Abs. Take warning from what happened to the slave Dames; he struck Dahir, the horse of King Cais, and God punished him at once; he is left bathed in his slavish blood. I beg you to listen to none but wise counsels; act nobly, and abandon base designs. While you are thus forewarned as to your situation, keep a prudent eye on your affairs.” This discourse rendered Hadifah furious. “Contemptible sheik! Dog of a traitor!” he exclaimed. “What! Must I be in fear of Cais and the whole tribe of the Absians? By the faith of an Arab, I will let all men of honor know that if Cais refuse to send the camels I will not leave one of his tents standing.” The sheik was indignant, and to increase the fear he would cast into the heart of Hadifah he spoke to him in verses, to the following effect: “Insult is cowardliness, for it takes by surprise him who is not expecting it, as the night enwraps those who wander in the desert. When the sword shall once be drawn look out for blows. Be just and do not clothe thyself with dishonor. Enquire of those who know the fate of Themond and his tribe, when they committed acts of rebellion and tyranny. They will tell you that a command of God from on high destroyed them in one night, and on the morrow they lay scattered on the ground, their eyes turned towards the sky.”
Hadifah dissembled his contempt for these verses and the sheik who had pronounced them, but he ordered his son to go at once to Cais. Abou-Firacah started for the tribe of Abs, and as soon as he arrived there repaired to the home of Cais, who was absent. The messenger asked then for his wife Modelilah, the daughter of Rebia. “What do you desire of my husband?” she asked. “I demand my due, the prize of the horse race.” “Misfortune take you and that which you demand,” she replied. “Son of Hadifah! Do you not fear the consequences of such perfidy? If Cais were here he would send you to your death, instantly.” Abou-Firacah returned to his father, to whom he told all that the wife of Cais had said “What, you coward,” shouted Hadifah, “do you come back without completing your errand? Are you afraid of the daughter of Rebia? Go to him again.”
As Abou-Firacah reminded his father that it was now near night-fall, the message was postponed until the next day. As for Cais, when he re-entered his home, he learned from his wife that Abou-Firacah had come to ask for the camels. “By the faith of an Arab,” he said, “if I had been here I would have slain him. But the matter is closed; let us think no more of it.” Yet King Cais passed the night in grief and annoyance until sunrise, at which time he betook himself to his tent Antar came to see him. Cais rose, and making him take a seat, mentioned the name of Hadifah. “Would you believe he had the shamelessness to send his son to demand the camels of me? Ah, if I had been present I would have slain the messenger.” Scarcely had he finished uttering these words when Abou-Firacah presented himself on horseback. Without dismounting, and uttering no word of salutation or preface, he said: “Cais, my father desires that you send him that which is his due; by so doing your conduct will be that of a generous man; but if you refuse, my father will come against you, carry off his property by force, and plunge you into misfortune.”
On hearing these words Cais felt the light change to darkness before his eyes. “O thou son of a vile coward,” he exclaimed “how is it that you are not more respectful in your address to me?” He seized a javelin and plunged it into the breast of Abou-Firacah. Pierced through, the young messenger lost control of his horse.—Antar dragged him down and flung him on the ground. Then, turning the horse’s head away from the direction of Fazarah, he struck him on the flank with a holly-stick, and the horse took the road towards the pastures, and finally entered his stable, all covered with blood. The shepherds at once led him to the tents, crying out, “Misfortune! Misfortune!”
Hadifah became furious. He smote upon his breast, repeating the words: “Tribe of Fazarah, to arms, to arms, to arms!” and all the disaffected came to Hadifah once more, begging him to declare war on the Absians, and to take vengeance on them. “Kinsmen!” replied Hadifah, with alacrity, “let none of us sleep to-night without our armor on.” And so it happened.
At break of day Hadifah was on horseback; the warriors were ready, and only women and children and the feeble were left in the tents. Cais, on the other hand, after slaying Abou-Firacah, expected that the Fazareans would come and attack himself and his warriors; he therefore prepared for battle. Antar was charged with taking the necessary reconnoitre. He left in the tents only women, children, and those too feeble to bear the sword; then he put himself in command of the heroes of Carad. Nothing could be more brilliant than the ranks of the Absians in their coats of mail and gleaming weapons. These preparations caused an anxious moment for both parties. They marched forth against each other, and the sun had scarcely appeared, before scimitars flashed, and the whole country was in a turmoil.
Antar was impatient to press forward, and satisfy his thirst for battle; but, lo! Hadifah, dressed in a black robe, advances, his heart broken by the death of his son. “Son of Zoheir,” he cried to Cais, “it is a base action to slay a child; but it is good to meet in battle, to decide with these lances which shall predominate, you or me.” These words cut Cais to the quick. Hurried along by passion he left his standard and rushed against Hadifah. Then the two chiefs, spurred on by mutual hatred, fought together on their noble chargers, until nightfall. Cais was mounted on Dahir, and Hadifah on Ghabra. In the course of this combat the exploits of the past were eclipsed. Each tribe despaired of his chieftain’s safety, and they were eager to make a general attack, in order to stop the struggle of the chieftains and the fury with which they contended. Cries began to be heard in the air. Scimitars were drawn, and lances advanced over the ears of Arabian chargers. Antar approached certain Absian chiefs and said, “Let us attack the traitors.” He prepared to charge, when the ancients of the two tribes came forth into the middle of the plain, with heads uncovered, their feet bared, and their idols hung from their shoulders. Standing between the two armies they spoke as follows: “Kinsmen and allies, in the name of that harmony which has hitherto prevailed among us, let us do nothing that will make us the byword of our slaves. Let us not furnish our enemies with ground for reproaching us. Let us forget all matter of dispute and dissension. Let us not turn wives into widows and our children into orphans. Satisfy your warlike ardor by attacking those among the Arabs who are your real foes; and you, kinsmen of Fazarah, show yourselves more humble and less haughty, towards your brethren the Absians. Above all, forget not that insolent wrong has often caused the destruction of many tribes, which have had sore reason to regret their impious actions; in this way many men have been deprived of their possessions, and a vast number been plunged into the gulf of despair and regret. Expect the fatal hour of death, the day of dissolution, for it is upon you. You will be rent asunder by the threatening eagles of destruction, and enclosed in the dark prison-house of the tomb. Take care, that when your bodies are separated from life, men may think about you without any other memory than that of your virtues.”
The sheiks talked together for a long time, and meanwhile the flame of passion which had been kindled in the soul of the two heroes, Cais and Hadifah, became quenched. Hadifah withdrew from the fight, and it was agreed that Cais should pay as the price of Abou-Firacah’s blood a quantity of cattle and a string of camels. The sheiks did not wish even then to quit the field of battle until Cais and Hadifah embraced each other and had agreed to all the arrangements. Antar was crimson with rage. “O King Cais,” he exclaimed, “what have you done? What! while our swords flash in our hands shall the tribe of Fazarah exact a price for the blood of its dead? And we never be able to obtain retaliation excepting with our spear points! The blood of our dead is shed, and shall we not avenge it?” Hadifah was beside himself on hearing these words. “And you, vile bastard,” said Antar to him, “you son of a vile mother, must your honor be purchased at the expense of our disgrace? But for the presence of these noble sheiks I would annihilate you and all your people this very instant.”
Then Hadifah’s indignation and anger overleaped all bounds. “By the faith of an Arab,” he said to the sheiks, “I wish to hear no talk of peace at the moment that the enemy is ready to spear me.” “Do not talk in that way, dear son of my mother,” said Haml to his brother. “Do not dart away on the path of imprudence; abandon these gloomy resolutions. Remain in peace with the allies of the Absians, for they are shining stars: the burnished sun that guides all Arabs who love glory. It was but the other day that you wronged them by causing the horse Dahir to be wounded, and thus erred from the path of justice. As for your son, he was justly slain, for you had sent him to demand something that was not due you. After all, nothing is so proper as to make peace, for he who would seek and stir up war is a tyrant, and an oppressor. Accept therefore the compensation offered you, or you are likely to call up around us a fire which will burn us in the flames of hell.” Haml concluded with verses of the following import: “By the truth of him who has rooted firm the mountains, without foundations, if you decline to accept the compensation offered by the Absians, you are in the wrong. They acknowledge Hadifah as their chief; be a chief in very deed, and be content with the cattle and camels offered you. Dismount from the horse of outrage, and mount it not again, for it will carry you to the sea of grief and calamity. Hadifah, renounce like a generous man, all violence, but particularly the idea of contending with the Absians. Make of them and of their leader a powerful rampart against the enemies that may attack us. Make of them friends that will remain faithful, for they are men of the noblest intentions. Such are the Absians, and if Cais has acted unjustly towards you, it is you who first set him the example some days ago.”
When Haml finished these verses, the chiefs of the different tribes thanked him, and Hadifah having consented to accept the compensation offered, all the Arabs renounced violence and war. All who carried arms remained at home. Cais sent to Hadifah two hundred camels, six men-slaves, ten women-slaves, and ten horses. Thus peace was reestablished and every one rested in tranquillity throughout the land.