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: 'When we were returning from Moṣul 2 intending to go home, the caravan was captured and our baggage and mount were stolen from us The little life I had left carried me to one of its villages 3 and with me was Abú’-Fatḥ al-Iskanderí. I asked him: 'What shall we devise?' He answered: 'God will suffice. 4 Now we were impelled to go to a house whose master had just died and the female mourners 5 had already stood up. It was filled with men, whose hearts grief had cauterized, and whose shirts terror had rent, and with women who had unloosed their hair, and were beating their breasts, cutting their necklaces and slapping their cheeks.

Said al-Iskanderí: 'In this mass 6 there is a palm tree for us and in this flock a lamb.' So he entered the house to look at the dead man whose chin was tied up ready to be carried out. The water had been heated to wash him, the bier had been got ready to bear him away, his garments had been sewn that he might be enshrouded and his grave had been dug that he might be buried. Now when al-Iskanderí had observed him, he seized his throat,

p. 86

felt his carotid artery, and said: 'O people, Fear God! Do not bury him for he is alive, he is unconscious and a fit has come upon him. I will hand him over with both eyes open in two days.' They said 'Whence knowest thou know that?' He replied: 'Verily, when a man dies his armpit becomes cold. Now I felt this man and I know he is alive.' Then they put their hands into his armpit and said, 'The fact is as he asserts, so do what he commands.' Then al-Iskanderí arose and went to the dead man, stripped him of his clothes, tied on his turban, hung amulets upon him, introduced 1 some olive oil into his mouth, cleared the house for him, and said: 'Leave him alone, and do not interfere with him. If you hear a moan from him, do not answer him.' Then he went out from the presence of the dead. Meanwhile the news had spread and circulated that the dead was raised. Pious gifts came to us from every house, and presents poured upon us from every neighbour, till our purse was swollen with silver and gold and our saddle bags were filled with cheese 2 and dates. We tried hard to seize an opportunity to bolt, but found none, till the appointed time arrived and they demanded the fulfilment of the lying promise. Al-Iskanderí enquired: 'Have ye heard a whisper 3 from the patient or observed from him a sign?' They answered: 'No.' Then he said: 'If he has made no sound since I left him, his hour is not yet come. Let him alone till to-morrow and, verily, if ye hear his voice, ye may be assured he is not dead. Then inform me that I may prescribe for his recovery and rectify what is wrong with his constitution.' They said: 'Do not put it off longer than to-morrow.' He replied: 'No.' Now when the morning beamed 4 and the wing of light spread over the horizon of the atmosphere, the men came in troops 5 and the women in pairs,

p. 87

and they said: 'We desire that thou cure the sick man and cease prating.' Said al-Iskanderí: 'Let us arise and go to him.' Then he took the amulets from his hands, removed the turban from his body and said: 'Lay him on his face,' and he was laid upon his face. Then he said: 'Stand him on his feet.' So he was made to stand. He then said 'Let go his hands,' but he fell a lifeless heap. 1 'Phew!' ejaculated al-Iskanderí: 'He is dead, how can I bring him to life?' Then shoes 2 clave unto him, and palms took possession of him, and it was so, when one hand was raised, another banged down upon him. Then the people busied themselves with the funeral obsequies of the dead man and we slipped away fleeing till we came to a village situated on the edge of a valley whose torrent was eroding it, 3 and whose waters were destroying it. Its people were distressed and had not slept a wink in the night for fear of the flood. Said al-Iskanderí: 'I will deliver 4 you from this flood and its mischief, and will turn away its devastation from this village. So obey me and attempt nothing without me.' They said: What is thy command?' He answered: 'Sacrifice in the course of this water a red 5 heifer, fetch me a young virgin, and pray behind me two genuflexions, so that God may divert the direction of this flood to this desert, and, if the waters are not turned away, my blood will be lawful to you.' 6 They said: 'We will do that.' So they immolated the heifer, and married the damsel to him. Then he stood up to pray the two genuflexions and said: 'O people, be careful with yourselves that, when standing, there happen no stumbling, in kneeling no fall, in prostration no slip, in sitting no irregularity, for the moment we blunder our hopes will be disappointed and our action will go for nothing. Be patient over these two genuflexions for their

p. 88

way is long.' Then he arose for the first genuflexion and he stood as rigid as the trunk of a palm tree till they complained of sideache. Then he prostrated himself so long that they thought he had gone to sleep, but they dared not to raise their heads until he repeated the takbír for sitting. Then he returned to the second genuflexion, signed to me, and we made for the valley and left the people worshipping and we know not what fate did with them. Then Abú’l-Fatḥ indited, saying:--

'May God not put far from Him the likes of me, 1
But where is the likes of me, aye where?
How marvellous was the stupidity of the people,
Which I took advantage of with ease!
I received from them the full measure of good,
While I weighed out to them nought but fraud and falsehood.'



85:2 Moṣul: A town in Mesopotamia on the right bank of the Tigris. This city reached its greatest prosperity towards the beginning of the decline of the Khalífate when it was for a time an independent capital. The dynasty of the Hamdánids reigned in Moṣul from A.D., 934 but the town was conquered by the Syrian Okailids in 990. Yaqút says the three great cities of the world are 'Nishapur, because it is the gate of the East, Damascus, because it is the gate of the West, Moṣul, because it is on the road between the two.' It appears the city had a notorious reputation for vice in its most degraded form. Yaqút, iv, 682 and Encyclopaedia Britannica, xviii, 904.

85:3 One of its villages: Moṣul had a large number of dependent villages.

85:4 God will suffice: Cf. English, The Lord will provide.

85:5 The female mourners had already stood up: To bewail and eulogize the deceased. wailing woman.

85:6 Mass: Literally, blackness.

86:1 Introduced: Literally, made him lick, from he licked his fingers, or he gave him as a () linctus.

86:2 and cheese: A preparation of dry curd. See De Sacy, Haréri, ii. 587.

86:3 whisper: An allusion to Qur’án, xix. 98.

86:4 The morning beamed: Literally, the morning smiled so as to show its front teeth.

86:5 In troops: An allusion to Qur’án, cx. 2.

87:1 A lifeless heap: Literally, stationary, fixed. Another, but less satisfactory reading, on his head.

87:2 a boot, or a concourse of people. I prefer the former reading. Cf. text p. 115. I was attacked with sandals.

87:3 The torrent was eroding it: In A.H. 376 the town was visited by an earthquake which caused great loss of life and property. Ibn al-Athír, ix. 35.

87:4 I will deliver you: Literally, I will suffice you.

87:5 Red heifer: Literally, an intensely yellow; an allusion to Qur’án, ii, 64.

87:6 My blood will be lawful to you: i.e., you may kill me.

88:1 May God not put far from Him: Metre, mujtath.

It is interesting to observe that the author is said to have been buried in the very state in which he falsely asserted the dead man was in order to defraud the too credulous people of Moṣul. See Ibn Khallikan, i. 114.

This maqáma has been translated by De Sacy. Chrestomathie Arabe, iii. 247.

Next: XXII. The Maqáma of the Maḍirah