Al-Hajjaj of Kufah, and the Young Sayyed
A Tale from 1001 Nights
Hasan Yahya, Ph.ds
1001 Nights like al Aghani liAbil Faraj al Asphahani, narrated many stories about the tyrannnical governor in the time of first Umayyad Caliph: Mu’awiyah bin Abi Sufyan. This story from 1001 Nights.
As Hajjaj (the Umayyad caliph) was was one day seated in his hall of audience, surrounded by his nobles and dependents, tremblingly awaiting his commands, for his countenance resembled that of an
enraged lion, there suddenly entered, unceremoniously, into the assembly a beardless youth of noble but sickly aspect, arrayed intattered garments, for misfortune had changed his original
situation, and poverty had withered the freshness of his opening youth. He made the customary obeisance to the governor, who returned his salute, and said, “Who art thou, boy? what hast thou
to say, and wherefore hast thou intruded thyself into the company of princes, as if thou wert invited? who art thou, and of whom art thou the son?” “Of my father and mother,” replied the youth.
“But how earnest thou here?” “In my clothes.” “From whence?”
“From behind me.” “Where art thou going?” “Before me.” “Upon what
dost thou travel?” “Upon the earth” Hyjauje, vexed at the
pertness of the youth, exclaimed, “Quit this trifling, and inform
me whence thou comest.” “From Egypt.” “Art thou from Cairo?” “Why
askest thou?” said the boy?” “Because,” replied Hyjauje, “her
sands are of gold, and her river Nile miraculously fruitful; but
her women are wanton, free to every conqueror, and her men
unstable.” “I am not from thence, but from Damascus,” cried the
youth.” “Then,” said Hyjauje, “thou art from a most rebellious
place, filled with wretched inhabitants, a wavering race, neither
Jews nor Christians.” “But I am not from thence,” replied the
youth, “but from Khorassan.” “That is a most impure country,”
said Hyjauje, “whose religion is worthless, for the inhabitants
are of all barbarians the most savage. Plunderers of flocks, they
know not mercy, their poor are greedy, and their rich men
misers.” “I am not of them,” cried the youth, “but of Moussul.”
“Then,” exclaimed Hyjauje, “thou art of an unnatural and
adulterous race, whose youths are catamites, and whose old men
are obstinate as asses.” “But I am from Yemen,” said the boy. “If
so,” answered the tyrant, “thou belongest to a comfortless
region, where the most honourable profession is robbery, where
the middling ranks tan hides, and where a wretched poor spin wool
and weave coarse mantles.” “But I am from Mecca,” said the boy.”
“Then,” replied Hyjauje, “thou comest from a mine of
perverseness, stupidity, ignorance, and slothfulness; for from
among its people God raised up his prophet, whom they
disbelieved, rejected, and forced away to a strange nation, who
loved, venerated, and assisted him in spite of the men of Mecca.
But whence comest thou, youth? for thy pertness is become
troublesome, and my inclination leads me to punish thee for thy
impertinence.” “Had I been assured that thou durst kill me,”
cried the youth, “I should not have appeared before thee; but
thou canst not.” “Woe to thee, rash boy,” exclaimed Hyjauje; “who
is he that can prevent my executing thee instantly?” “To thee be
thy woe,” replied the youth: “he can prevent thee who directs man
and his inmost thoughts, and who never falsifieth his gracious
promises.” “He it is,” cried the tyrant, “who instigates me to
put thee to death.” “Withhold thy blaspheming,” replied the
youth; “it is not God, but Satan that prompts thy mind to my
murder, and with God I hope for refuge from the accursed: but
know, that I am from the glorious Medina, the seat of religion,
virtue, respectability, and honour, descended of the race of Bin
Ghalib, and family of Ali, son of Abou Talib, whom God has
glorified and approved, and will protect all his posterity, which
you would extirpate; but you cannot root it out, for it will
flourish even to the last day of the existence of this world.”
The tyrant was now overcome with rage, and commanded the youthful
Syed to be slain; but his nobles and officers interceded for him,
saying, while they bowed their necks before him, “Pardon, pardon;
behold our heads and our lives a ransom for his! For God’s sake
accept our intercession, O ameer, for this youth is not deserving
of death.” “Forbear your entreaties,” exclaimed the tyrant, “for
were an angel to cry from Heaven, ‘Do not slay him!’ I would not
attend.” Upon this the young Syed said, “Thou ravest, O Hyjauje;
who art thou that an angel should be commissioned for thy sake?”
The tyrant, struck with his magnanimity, became calm, and
commanding the executioner to release the youth, said, “For the
present I forbear, and will not kill thee unless thy answers to
my further questions shall deserve it.” They then entered on the
following dialogue; Hyjauje hoping to entrap him in discourse.
Hajjaj: How can the creature approach the perfection of the
Syed. By prayer, by fasting, by the commanded alms, by
pilgrimage, and fighting for the cause of God.
H. I serve him by shedding the blood of infidel man. You pretend
that Hassan and Houssain, your ancestors, were descendants of the
prophet; but how can that be, when God has declared in the Koran
Mahummud was not of your obstinate race; but the prophet of God,
and last of divine messengers?
S. Hear the answer to that in the verse following it. “Hath not a
prophet come unto you of your own nation? Receive him, and from
what he hath forbidden be forbidden.” Surely, then, God hath
forbidden the shedding of the blood of him whom he sanctified.
H. Thou hast spoken justly, young man; but inform me what God
hath daily and nightly commanded us as obligatory to do?
S. To pray five times.
H. What to observe in each year?
S. To keep the month of Ramzaun as a fast.
H. What to perform in the course of life?
S. To make a pilgrimage to Mecca, the temple of God.
H. Truly said; but what hath mostly dignified and enlightened
S. The tribe of Koreish.
S. Because of our holy prophet’s being a member of it.
H. Who were the most skilful in horsemanship in all Arabia, the
most valiant, and of best conduct in war?
S. The tribe of Hashim.
H. Why think you so?
S. Because my grandfather Imaum Ali, son of Abou Talib, was one
H. What tribe of Arabs is most famous for benevolence, and
celebrated for liberality?
S. The family of Tai.
S. Because Hatim belonged to it.
H. Which of the tribes have been most disgraceful to Arabia, and
most oppressive to its inhabitants?
S. The tribe of Sukkeef.
H. Why so?
S. Because thou belongest to it.
The tyrant could scarcely now contain his anger; but said, hoping
to cut the youth off from reply, “Tell me, is the Capricorn of
the heavens male or female?” To which he answered, “Shew me its
tail, that I may inform thee.” The tyrant laughed, and continued
his questions as follows:
H. Wert thou ever in love?
S. Yes, completely immersed in it.
H. With whom?
S. With my God, who will, I trust, pardon me for my errors, and
deliver me from thee this day.
H. Knowest thou thy God?
H. By what means?
S. By the scriptures, which he caused to descend to his prophet.
H. Dost thou guard the Koran?
S. Does it fly from me, that I should guard it?
H. What dost thou learn from it?
S. That God commanded its rules to be obeyed.
H. Hast thou read and understood it?
H. If so, tell me, first, What passage in it is most sublime.
Secondly, Which most commanding. Thirdly, Which most just.
Fourthly, Which most alarming. Fifthly, Which most encouraging.
Sixthly, That which Jews and Christians both believe in.
Seventhly, That in which God has spoken purely of himself; that
where he speaks of the angels; that in which he mentions the
prophets; that where he alludes to those destined to Paradise;
and that in which he speaks of those devoted to hell; that which
includes ten points; and that which Eblis the accursed delivered.
S. By God’s help I will answer thee. The most sublime passage is
the Koorsee: the most commanding, “God insisteth on justice:” the
most just, “Whoever diminishes the least of a measure, God will
requite him doubly, and the same to whoever addeth the least:”
the most alarming, “All expect to enter Paradise:” the most
encouraging, “O my servants, who have mortified yourselves,
despair not of the mercy of God!” that in which are ten points,
“God created the heavens and the earth, the revolutions of night
and day; also, the firmament over the waters that it might profit
man:” that which is believed alike by jews and christians, “The
Jew saith that the Christian is in error, and the Christian saith
that the Jew is mistaken, they both believe so; and both are in
error:” that in which God hath spoken purely of himself, “I have
not created genii and men but to worship me:” that in which he
speaks of the angels, “They said, we have no knowledge, but what
thou hast taught us; for thou only art wise and all-knowing:”
that which speaks of the prophets, “How could we deliver you a
verse without the order of God, on whom the faithful will rely:”
that which mentions the devoted to hell, “God hath cast us down
from heaven, for we were transgressors:” that which describes the
blessed, “Praised be God, who hath divested us of all sorrow, for
our Lord is merciful and gracious:” that which satan spoke, “None
will profit by thy mercy but thy servants the blessed.”
Hyjauje involuntarily exclaimed, “Praised be God, who giveth
wisdom to whom it pleaseth him; but I have found none so learned
of such tender age.” Having thus spoken, he put many other
questions to the youth in every science, and he answered them so
readily that the tyrant was overcome with admiration, and offered
him a residence at his court; but the young man declined it, and
requested his dismission, which he granted, conferring upon him a
beautiful female slave richly habited, a thousand pieces of gold,
and a steed elegantly caparisoned. The courtiers were astonished
at the bounty of the tyrant, which he perceiving, said, “Be not
surprised, for the advice he hath given me was worthy of reward,
and ‘Cursed is he who doth not requite a sincere adviser,’
declareth our sacred Koran.”
عرب يارسول الله ….. عرب !
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