Sacred Texts  Islam  Index  Previous  Next 

The Maqámát of Badí‘ al-Zamán al-Hamadhání, tr. W.J. Prendergast [1915] at


‘ÍSÁ IBN HISHÁM related to us and said: While we were at Jurján discussing in an assembly of ours, and there was none among us who was not of us, there stood before us a thick-bearded man, neither tall and lankey, 1 nor short and stunted, 2 and little children in worn-out clothes followed him. He began his speech with a greeting and the salutation of Islám. He approached us graciously and we treated him generously. He said: 'O people, I am a man, a citizen of Alexandria 3 of the Umayyad frontiers; the Sulaim 4 gave me birth and the tribe of ‘Abs 5 welcomed me. I have traversed horizons and travelled through the remotest parts of ‘Iráq. I have been among the dwellers of the desert and the people of the towns and in the two Houses of Rab‘iah and Muḍar. 6 Wherever I have been I have not been slighted. Let not what you see of tattered garments, and threadbare clothes make me appear despicable, for by Heavens! we once were of those that help and reform, 7 giving a camel 8 in the morning and a sheep 9 in the evening.

'And among us there are maqámát 10 whose faces are fair,
And councils where words are followed by deeds.

p. 54

Those of them who have much undertake the support of them who seek their aid,
And those who have little are generous and liberal.'

Then, O people, fate singled me out from among them and turned the back of the shield 1 towards me. Therefore, I exchanged sleep for wakefulness and rest for journeying. The hurlings 2 have thrown me hither and thither, desert has passed me on to desert and the haps of time have stripped me as gum is stripped from the tree, so that at morn and eve I am barer than the palm of the hand and cleaner than the face of a new-born babe. My courtyard is void and my vessels are empty. There is nought for me but the hardship of travel and the constant gripping of the camel's nose-string. I suffer poverty and I conciliate the deserts. The hard ground is my bed, my pillow a stone.

Now at Ámid 3 and then at Ras-u-‘Ainin 4
And sometimes at Mayyafáriqín 5
One night in Syria and then at Ahwaz
Is my camel, and another night in ‘Iráq.'

Separation ceased not to hurl me to every hurling-place, till I traversed the stony hill-tract and then it set me down at Hamadhán. Its people received me and its friends craned their necks to look at me. But I inclined to one of them whose dish was most capacious and who was most stinting of roughness.

'His fire is lit upon the hill tops, 6
At a time of scarcity, when fires are covered up.'

He prepared me a couch and made ready a bed for me. If I felt any languor a son, like a keen Yemen blade, 7 or as the new moon appearing in a clear atmosphere, hastened to attend to me.

p. 55

He bestowed favours upon me which made me straitened as to desert and expansive as to joy. The first of them was house furniture and the last a thousand dinars. But the only thing that made me flee from Hamadhán was the stream of gifts 1 which was continuous, and the rain of generosity which was constant. So I fled from Hamadhán as flees the fugitive, and bolted as bolts the wild animal, 2 traversing the roads, pursuing dangers and suffering hardships in the countries. But I have left behind the mother of my abode 3 and my little one as though he were a precious armlet of silver, broken and thrown down on the playground 4 of the maidens of the tribe. And the wind of need and the breeze of penury have blown me to you. Therefore observe, may God have mercy upon you! one rendered lean and emaciated by travel, directed by need and tormented by want.

'A traveller, a mighty traverser of the earth, 5 cast hither and thither,
By deserts; his hair is matted and he is dust-stained.'

May God grant you a guide to goodness and may He make no way for evil to reach you.

Said ‘Ísá ibn Hishám: By Heavens! then did hearts feel compassion for him and eyes streamed with tears at the beauty of his speech. And we gave him what was then ready to hand, and he turned away from us praising us. I followed him and lo! by Heavens, it was our Sheikh Abú’l Fatḥ al-Iskanderí.


53:1 Lankey: Literally, stretched.

53:2 Stunted: Literally, prevented.

53:3 Alexandria of the Umayyad frontiers. A reference to the importance attached to Egypt by Mu‘awíyah.

53:4 Sulaim: the name of a tribe.

53:5 ‘Abs, the name of a large tribe, the descendants of Sulaim.

53:6 Rab’iah and Muḍar: the names of tribes.

53:7 Those that help and reform: A popular saying, i.e. we were the persons to put it into proper order, literally, the repairers and menders.

53:8 giving a camel and a sheep: Another popular expression, from a kind of gurgling growl made by the camel when it is being laden; then applied to the camel itself. See Arab Proverbs, ii, 327.

53:9 And giving a sheep: from the bleating or cry of the sheep goat or the like, and then applied to the sheep, absolutely. Cf. the expression He has neither a sheep nor a camel.

53:10 And there are maqámát: Metre táwil. These lines are taken from the Qaṣída of Zuheir, Shu‘ará an-Naṣrániain, pp. 573-4. In the original the first line begins with and not . It is correctly quoted on p. 32 of the Letters. The sense of the word maqámát here is not known, but the context indicates that it signifies champions and the like.

54:1 Turned the back of the shield: said of a friend who has become inimical. See Arab Proverbs, ii, 258.

54:2 Hurlings: from the place of the butt where arrows are shot.

54:3 Sometimes at Ámid: Metre, Wáfir.

Ámid: the name of a fortress in Diyar Bakr.

54:4 Ras al-‘Ain: a large town in Diyar Bakr between Nasibín and Harran, fifteen parasangs from the former place. It is noted for its numerous springs. The scene of a famous battle between the Tamím and Bakr ibn Wá‘il.

54:5 Mayyafáriqín: Is a town of Diyar Bakr thirty parasangs from Nasibín.

54:6 His fire is lit upon the hill tops: An allusion to the practice of lighting a fire in a prominent position at night () to indicate to the belated traveller where he might find food and shelter. Metre, Wáfir.

54:7 Like a keen Yemen blade: In sharpness and effectiveness.

55:1 The stream of gifts which was constant: A very strange reason to assign for leaving Hamadhán. Cf. The Odes of al-Buḥturí, ii, 220. (Constantinople edition A.H. 1300) where the same idea is expressed.

55:2 A wild animal: From shy or unsociable. Cf. Qaṣída of Imr al-Qais, line 35 (Lyall's edition) where the fleet horse is said to prevent the wild animals from escaping. Also the Tradition 'Benefits are fugitives, or wild animals, therefore detain them by gratitude.'

55:3 The mother of my abode: The mistress of the house, or a man's wife. See Ibn al-Athír, Kunya Lexicon, p. 199.

55:4 Broken and thrown on the playground: And therefore in a condition to excite pity.

55:5 A traveller, a mighty traverser of the earth. Metre, tawíl.

Next: X. The Maqámá of Isfahan