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: A pressing need impelled me to go to Sijistán. 2 So I put my resolution into effect 3 and mounted the necessary camel. I sought God's blessing upon my determination which I set before me, while I made prudence my guide until it directed me thither. Now I arrived at the gates of the city after sunset and was, therefore, obliged to pass the night on the spot. 4

Now, when the blade of dawn was drawn, and the host of the sun sallied forth, I went to the business quarter to select a lodging. And when I had gone from the circumference 5 of the city to its centre, and walked along the circle of shops

p. 36

till I reached the chief one, 1 a loud-toned 2 voice penetrated my ear. I went towards the speaker until I stood near him, and behold it was a man mounted on his horse and panting for breath. 3 He had turned the back of his head towards me and was saying: He . who knows me, knows me well, and he, who does not know me, I will make myself known to him. I am the first-fruits of Yemen, 4 the much-talked-of of the age, the enigma of men and the puzzle of the ladies of the harem. 5 Ask of me concerning countries and their fortresses, mountains and their heights, valleys and their watercourses, seas and their springs, horses and their backs. Who has captured their walls, discovered the mysteries of their heights, explored their paths and penetrated into their lava hills? Ask of kings and their treasures, precious stones and their mines, 6 affairs and their inwardness, 7 sciences and their centres, weighty matters and their obscurities, wars and their difficult situations. Who has seized their hoards without paying the price? Who has got possessions of their keys 8 and known the way to victory? By Heavens! it is I who have achieved all that. I have made

p. 37

peace between powerful kings 1 and disclosed the mysteries of dark difficulties. By Heavens! I have been even in the place where lovers are overthrown. I have even been afflicted with sickness, even the sickness caused by the languishing eye. 2 I have embraced supple forms, 3 and plucked the rose from the crimson cheeks. Yet, with all this, I have fled from the world as a generous nature flees from the faces of the base. I have recoiled from despicable things as a noble ear recoils from obscene language. But, now that the morn of hoariness has dawned, and the dignity of old age has come upon me, I have resolved to make wise provision for my journey to the next world and I have not perceived any way better to right guidance, than that which I am treading. One of you will observe me riding a horse and speaking at random 4 and say, 'this is the Father of Wonder', 5 nay, but I am indeed the Father of Wonders, which I have both seen and experienced, and the Mother of Enormities which I have estimated and endured. I have with difficulty obtained the keys of treasures 6 and then have lightly cast them aside. I have bought dear and sold cheap. I have, by Heavens! joined their pageants and jostled against shoulders. I have watched the stars 7 and ridden the flesh off my mounts, I have been obliged to engage in dangerous enterprises vowing not to withhold from the Muslims the benefits accruing therefrom. Now I must transfer the cord of this trust from my neck to yours and offer for sale in your streets this medicine of mine. Let him buy from me who shrinks not from the place

p. 38

where God's servants stand, nor from the formula of unity. And let him who is of proud pedigree 1 and good breeding 2 preserve the remedy. Said ‘Ísá ibn Hishám: I went round in front of him that I might learn who he was, and by Heavens! it was our Shaikh Abú’l-Fatḥ al-Iskanderí. So I waited for the crowd to disperse 3 from before him, and then addressing him

I asked: 'How big an opening will this nostrum of thine want?' He answered, 'Thy purse will open as much as thou desirest.' I then left him and departed. 4


35:2 Sijistán: originally Sagistan, the land of the Sakas, Arabicized to Sijistan, the ancient Sacastane and the modern Seistan, the name of a district of Persia and of its chief town. The capital was formerly called Zaranj. It formed a part of the empire of the Khalífa and was a great Khárijite centre. About A.D. 860, when it had undergone many changes of Government under lieutenants of the Baghdad Khalífa, or bold adventurers acting on their own account, Yaqút ibn Laith al-Saffar, made it the seat of his power. In A.D. 901, it fell under the power of the Sámanids and towards the end of the century into that of the Ghaznavids. In Hamadhání's time Khalaf ibn Aḥmad was the Amír of Sijistán (A.H. 354-93). Yaqút says that when the inhabitants submitted to their Arab conquerors they stipulated that no hedgehog was to be killed. The reason assigned for this being that the country was infested with snakes and that the hedgehogs kept the number down. Every house had its hedgehog! Yaqút, iii, 41. Encyclopædia Britannica, xxiv, 592.

35:3 I put my resolution into effect: Literally, I mounted the intention thereof. Cf. De Sacy, Ḥarírí, i, 14.

35:4 I was obliged to pass the night on the spot: Literally, the passing of the night chanced where I reached.

35:5 circumference: Literally, a necklace.

36:1 The chief one: Literally, the jewel in the middle of a necklace and which is the best thereof.

36:2 Loud-toned: Literally, with something from every root, and therefore well nourished and strong.

36:3 Panting for breath: Literally, choking himself.

36:4 The first fruits of Yemen: Here Abú’l-Fatḥ begins to enigmatically refer to his name. The fruit of the tree nab‘a resembling that of the pistachia terebinthus, except that it is red, sweet and round, is called Fatḥ. It is also an allusion to the early conversion to Islám of the people of Yemen. The name of the first envoy that came from Yemen to visit the Prophet is said to have been Abú’l-Fatḥ. Al-Fatḥ means the opening, beginning, victory.

36:5 Ladies of the harem: pl, of a kind of curtained canopy, or tent, or chamber for a bride.

For courteous phrases for ladies, see Jáḥiz, Ḥaywán, v. 103-110.

36:6 Precious stones and their mines: I have read instead of as the former gives the required sense.

36:7 Inwardness: From the abdomen. Hence the interior of anything. e. g., To every verse thereof is an apparent (lit. back) sense and a sense requiring development. ().

36:8 Their keys: i.e. the keys of the positions.

37:1 Powerful kings: pl. of a man unable to look aside by reason of disease, probably a crick in the neck, and hence a king, who by reason of pride, does not turn his head to the right or left. But more probably = greatest hunter = lion = strong. Cf. Arab Proverbs, i, 748. See also Buḥturí, i. 224.

37:2 Eyes: pl. of Literally, the black of the eye and then the eye absolutely.

37:3 Supple forms: Literally, pliant branches; a very common figure for a flexible form.

37:4 Speaking at random opposed to in all senses.

37:5 The Father of Wonder: Cf. H. De Sacy, Ḥarírí, ii, 571.

37:6 For again read precious things, or treasures.

37:7 I have watched the stars: waited for their disappearance at dawn.

38:1 Of proud pedigree: Literally, whose grandfathers are noble.

38:2 Good breeding: Literally, whose wood has been irrigated with pure water.

38:3 The crowd to disperse: Literally, until the ostrich fled. The Paris MS. has &ale which yields a better sense. Cf. De Sacy, Ḥarírí, ii, 'He finished his work.'

38:4 This maqáma lacks the usual concluding lines of poetry and ends very abruptly.

Next: V. The Maqáma of Kúfa