Classical Arabic Stories

Classical Arabic Stories: An Anthology

Edited and with an introduction by Salma Khadra Jayyusi
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    Classical Arabic Stories
    Book Description:

    Short fiction was an immensely innovative art in the medieval Arab world, providing the perfect vehicle for transmitting dazzling images of life and experiences as early as pre-Islamic times. These works also speak to the urbanization of the Arab domain after Islam, mirroring the bustling life of the Muslim Arabs and Islamized Persians and reflecting the sure stamp of an urbanity that had settled very staunchly after big conquests. All the noises and voices of the Umayyads and Abbasids are here. One can taste the flavor of Abbasid food, witness the rise of slave girls and singers, and experience the pride of state. Reading these texts today illuminates the wide spectrum of early Arab life and suggests the influences and innovations that flourished so vibrantly in medieval Arab society. The only resource of its kind, Salma Khadra Jayyusi's Classical Arabic Stories selects from an impressive corpus, including excerpts from seven seminal works: Ibn Tufail's novel, Hayy ibn Yaqzan; Kalila wa Dimna by Ibn al-Muqaffa; The Misers by al-Jahiz; The Brethren of Purity's The Protest of Animals Against Man; Al-Maqamat (The Assemblies) by al-Hamadhani and al-Hariri; Epistle of Forgiveness by al-Ma'arri; and the epic romance, Sayf Bin Dhi Yazan. Jayyusi organizes her anthology thematically, beginning with a presentation of pre-Islamic tales, stories of rulers and other notables, and thrilling narratives of danger and warfare. She follows with tales of love, religion, comedy, and the strange and the supernatural. Long assumed to be the lesser achievement when compared to Arabic literature's most celebrated genre-poetry-classical Arabic fiction, under Jayyusi's careful eye, finally receives a proper debut in English, demonstrating its unparalleled contribution to the evolution of medieval literature and its sophisticated representation of Arabic culture and life.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52027-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-36)

    Arabic fictional genres have suffered a great injustice throughout their history, mainly through the secondary status they acquired in the rich Arabic critical tradition. Their importance and great variety and originality were overlooked in favor of poetry, the tradition’s oldest and most favored art form. The Arabic critical concept of literature in classical times, represented by a long list of critics and literary historians, concentrated disproportionately on poetry and bestowed much less attention on fiction. Poetry was regarded, and, to an extent, still is, even with the rise of a strong fictional tradition in the twentieth century, as the Arabs’...

  5. I. Pre-Islamic Tales
    • 1 The Sons of Nizar
      (pp. 39-41)

      When Nizar¹ felt himself about to die, he called his sons Mudar, Iyad, Rabiʿa, and Anmar.

      “Sons,” he told them, “this red tent” (which was of leather) “is to be Mudar’s; and this black horse and black woolen tent are to be Rabiʿa’s; and this gray-haired servant” (she was of middle age) “is to be Iyad’s; and this reception room is to be Anmar’s, in which he will sit. If you find any difficulty in dividing [the inheritance], then go and consult with the Serpent of Jurhum [the High Priest], who lives in Najran.”²

      When Nizar died, they found themselves...

    • 2 The Priestess of the Banu Saʿd
      (pp. 42-44)

      ʿAbd al-Muttalib¹ vowed that, should he have ten sons and find them all men around him, he would sacrifice one of them at the Kaʿba in honor of the [pagan] god.

      When all his sons had grown to the age of ten, he told them:

      “Sons, I made a vow of which you know. What do you have to say?”

      “The choice is yours,” they said. “We are all in your hands.”

      “Let each of you take his arrow,” ʿAbd al-Muttalib said, “and write his name on it.”

      They did so and gave him the arrows. Then ʿAbd al-Muttalib summoned...

    • 3 Faithfulness and Sense of Honor
      (pp. 45-47)

      Once, it is said, al-Nuʿman ibn al-Mundhir¹ went out hunting on his mare called al-Yahmoum [the black]. The mare took him astray in the open country, and, unable to control it, he was separated from his companions. Then the rains assailed him and he sought out a shelter, finding a house in which there was a man called Hanzala, from the tribe of Tayʾ, along with his wife.

      “May I take shelter here?” al-Nuʿman asked.

      Hanzala agreed, and came out to him and helped him dismount. Hanzala, who did not know al-Nuʿman, had only one goat.

      “This man,” he told...

    • 4 Al-Nuʿman’s Outfit
      (pp. 48-50)

      ʿAmr ibn al-ʿAlaaʾ said:

      Al-Nuʿman sat one day clothed in an outfit studded with jewels, the like of which had never been seen. He gave audience to the Arabs, among whom was Aws ibn Haritha,¹ and those present gazed long and hard on the clothing.

      “Never,” each said to his friend, “have I seen an outfit to match this one, nor have I heard that any king was ever able to possess one like it.”

      Aws ibn Haritha, though, sat with his head bowed, not looking at it.

      “ I have seen,” al-Nuʿman said to him, “how all those who...

    • 5 A Lowly Man Gains a Wife
      (pp. 51-52)

      A man from the Asad tribe recounted a story, as follows:

      Some of my camels had lost their way, and I sought them among the Qudaʿa tribe. When night fell, I found myself close to a house that had a hospitable air. I called, and a woman of shining beauty, like the sun, came out.

      “Come down,” she said. “You’re welcome.”

      She had me sit by a fire to warm myself and brought me a platter of food, sitting to talk with me as I ate. After this a herd of many camels came toward the house, and a man...

    • 6 A Charitable Gift
      (pp. 53-53)

      Hammad told the following, which he learned from the chieftains of the Tayy tribe:

      So generous and munificent was ʿUnbah bint ʿAfif, mother of Hatim [al-Taʿi], that she could withhold nothing. Her brothers strove to restrain her, but she would not listen to them; and, since she was wealthy, her brothers confined her in a house for a year, providing her with food, in the hope she would learn to hold back. Then, after a year, supposing her to have changed her ways, they released her and gave her a flock of camels [between twenty and fifty in number].


    • 7 A Cunning Message
      (pp. 54-54)

      Abu Hatim, quoting al-Asmaʿi, told me how a certain Bedouin had related as follows:

      A man fell in love with a woman and married her, sending her a gift of thirty sheep and a skin of wine. On his way the messenger drank some of the wine and slaughtered a sheep. As he made to leave, she told him:

      “Greet your master, and tell him our month is one day short, and that Sahim, the shepherd minding our ewe, brought it to us sucked.”

      When he reached his master and told him this, his master beat him till he confessed...

    • 8 A Noble Wife
      (pp. 55-55)

      I spoke of the eloquence of women to Ziyad bin Abih, telling him as follows:

      Qais bin ʿAsim converted to Islam while he had a wife from the Hanifa tribe. Her relatives and her father refused to do the same, and they feared she herself would convert. Should she do so, they vowed, they would have nothing more to do with her as long as she lived.

      Qais accordingly parted with her, and, when she was borne off to her people and some of them were in attendance, Qais stood up and praised her, saying he had separated from her...

    • 9 The Exile of al-Harith ibn Midad
      (pp. 56-62)

      It was related on the part of Iyad ibn Nizar ibn Maʿadd that he gave the following account when asked about the sources of his wealth:

      When my father, Nizar, died, he left behind him, along with myself, my three younger brothers, Mudar, Rabiʿa, and Anmar. As I was his eldest son, he had entrusted them to me, telling me I should seek the opinion of the wise Qulmus, the Serpent of Najran,¹ if we had disputes over the inheritance. When we went to him, he decided the camels and sheep should go to me, the dome to Mudar, the...

    • 10 The Story of the Cave Where Shaddad ibn ʿAad Was: HOW THE ADVENTURERS ENTERED AND WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM THERE
      (pp. 63-66)

      Wahb ibn Munabbeh said: “I was told by Abu Muhammad ʿAbd al-Malek ibn Hisham how he was told by Ziyad ibn ʿAbd al-Malek al-Bukaʾi, who was told by Muhammad ibn Ishaq al-Muttalibi, who was told by ʿUbaid ibn Shirya al-Jurhumi, that a very old man from Yemen, who was well informed about the kings of Himyar and its affairs, related the following story at Sanaa during the year of the renegades.”

      There was a man in Yemen among the descendants of the ʿAad ibn Qahtan—the junior ʿAad, for the descendants of the senior ʿAad had all died out. God...

    • 11 Luqman
      (pp. 67-70)

      Wahb said:

      The ʿAad al-Asghar ben Qahtan were a devious and treacherous tribe. No wayfarer could feel secure with them, no neighbor would trust them; no stranger would ever visit them, no one would venture to make a covenant with them. A branch of this tribe, the Banu Karkar Ben ʿAad ben Qahtan, lived in the far reaches of Yemen and was at war with all the tribes of ʿAad. These last had as allies the Banu Ghanem and the Banu Zalem ben Qahtan, and they were victorious over the Banu Karkar. When the Banu Karkar saw the abject depths...

  6. II. Tales of Rulers and Other Notable Persons
    • 12 ʿAmara the Faqih and ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Marwan
      (pp. 73-74)

      ʿAmara the Faqih said:

      I sat often with ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Marwan in the shadow of the Kaʿba. One day he told me:

      “ʿAmara, if you live long enough, you will see people craning their necks toward me and people’s hopes aspiring to me. If this should happen, do not hesitate to make me the means to fulfill your needs and the target to realize your hopes. By God, if you do this, I shall fill your hands with joy and bestow a bountiful bliss upon you.”

      Sometime after, ʿAbd al-Malik went to Damascus and became caliph. I went to...

    • 13 The Justice of ʿAdud al-Dawla
      (pp. 75-76)

      A man came to Baghdad on his way to the pilgrimage. He was wearing a necklace valued at a thousand dinars, which he tried to sell, but to no avail. And so he left it in the care of a perfume seller and went on the pilgrimage. When he returned, he brought the perfume seller a gift.

      “Who are you?” the perfume seller asked.

      “I’m the owner of the necklace,” the man replied. “The one I entrusted to your keeping.”

      No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the perfume seller kicked him, then flung him out of...

    • 14 The Piety of ʿUmar ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAziz
      (pp. 77-78)

      After the burial of [Caliph] Sulaiman [ibn ʿAbd al-Malik], ʿUmar ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAziz became caliph, and riding wagons were brought in to him.

      “What are these?” he asked.

      “These,” he was told, “are riding wagons never used by anyone, kept for the caliph to be first to use, when he ascends to the caliphate.”

      He left them and went out to seek his mule, saying:

      “Muzahim, add these [riding wagons] to the treasury.”

      New canopies and pavilions were pitched for him, which no one before him had ever sat in.

      “And what are these?” he asked.

      “These,” he was told,...

    • 15 A Furthur Story of ʿUmar ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAziz
      (pp. 79-80)

      Before ascending to the caliphate, ʿUmar ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAziz had a village in Yemen known as al-Sahla, which produced an abundant revenue from which he and his family lived.

      When he became caliph, he told his freed slave, Muzahim:

      “I have decided to return al-Sahla to the Muslim treasury.”

      “But,” Muzahim said, “do you not know how many your children are?

      They are such and such a number.”

      ʿUmar ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAziz wept, wiping away his tears with his middle finger, and said:

      “I trust in God concerning them. I trust in God concerning them.”

      Muzahim went to ʿUmar’s son,...

    • 16 The Chief of Police and Caliph al-Hadi
      (pp. 81-82)

      ʿAbd Allah ibn Malik said:

      I was once chief of police to [Caliph] al-Mahdi. He would order me to go to the companions of his son al-Hadi and have them beaten and imprisoned, so as to protect al-Hadi from them. Al-Hadi would send asking me to treat them with mildness, but I never heeded his requests and would proceed as al-Mahdi had instructed me.

      When al-Hadi ascended to the caliphate, I was sure things would go badly with me. One day he sent for me, and I entered his presence sensing death before me. I found him sitting in his...

    • 17 At Khosrow’s Court
      (pp. 83-84)

      Abu Sufyan traveled out [from Mecca] with the aim of making trading arrangements in Iraq. He was accompanied by a group from the Quraish. After three days, Abu Sufyan gathered them together and said:

      “We’re faced with danger on our journey, for we’re coming to [the realm of] an invincible king, who hasn’t given us leave to enter his territory. His land is no trading place for us. But let one among you go in with the camels. If he should be harmed, we’ll say we’re innocent of his blood; and if he’s successful, he shall have half the profits.”...

    • 18 An Arab at Khosrow’s Court
      (pp. 85-85)

      A man of Arabia, Hajib ibn Zirara, requested an audience with Khosrow. The chamberlain asked who he was, and he said: “A man of the Arabs.” He was permitted to enter.

      When he was standing before Khosrow, the king asked: “Who are you?”

      “I am the chief of the Arabs,” Hajib said.

      “But did you not say before,” Khosrow asked, “that you were a man of the Arabs?”

      “Yes,” Hajib answered, “but then I was standing at the king’s door. When I entered his court, I became the chief of the Arabs.”

      Khosrow, liking the answer, said: “Zeh!” Then he...

    • 19 I Take Refuge in Your Justice, Prince of the Faithful
      (pp. 86-91)

      It has been told how, one hot day, Muʿawiya ibn Abi Sufyan held his court along one of the streets of Damascus, which was open on all sides to the breezes. While he was installed on his official seat, surrounded by citizens of his kingdom, he saw a barefoot man walking hurriedly toward him. Muʿawiya pondered about him, and—the day being so hot—said to his assembly: “God never created any man I have need of on a day like this.” Then he said to one of his attendants:

      “Go to him and see what his trouble is, and...

    • 20 Tricked She Was
      (pp. 92-93)

      Al-Haytham ibn ʿAdi, reporting to Ibn ʿAbbas, said:

      ʿAtika, daughter of Yazid ibn Muʿawiya, was married to [Caliph] ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Marwan, who loved her deeply. One day she became angry with him and would not be reconciled for all his efforts. He was much concerned by this and complained of the matter to his close entourage.

      “What will you give me,” asked ʿUmar ibn al-Asadi, “if I am able to appease her?”

      “Whatever you wish,” Marwan replied.

      ʿUmar went and sat at the entrance to her chambers, weeping.

      “What is troubling you, Abu Hafs?” her chambermaid asked.

      “I have...

    • 21 Um Asya the Midwife and the Palace of Khumarawayh
      (pp. 94-96)

      I was with Um Asya, the midwife of Khumarawayh ibn Tulun’s wife (a pious woman who conducted herself most excellently and enjoyed a favored status with Khumarawayh), and we were discussing how God’s grace intervened in the livelihood of His worshippers, and how He warded evil away from them. She told me the following story.

      Two brothers (she said) married me and my sister. My sister’s husband grew rich, but my own became very poor and at last died in great penury, leaving me with several daughters. My sister’s husband died, too, but left her and her children a rich...

    • 22 Yazid and Habbaba
      (pp. 97-102)

      Habbaba was owned at first by the famous Umayyad poet al-Ahwas. Yazid ibn ʿAbd al-Malik, the brother of the caliph then ruling, heard her singing and bought her for four thousand dinars. His brother the caliph, though, when he heard of this, decided to indict him.

      Yazid was already married to Suʿda bint ʿAbd Allah ibn ʿUthman and to Rabiha bint ʿAbd Allah ibn Jaʿfar. He had grown deeply attached to Habbaba, but, fearing the indictment, he suppressed his regrets and sold her to a man from Ifriqiya. In due course, when he himself became caliph, Suʿda sent a...

    • 23 A Ruse of Muʿawiya
      (pp. 103-108)

      Yazid ibn Muʿawiya heard of the beauty of Zainab bint Ishaq, the wife of ʿAbd Allah ibn Salam the Qurashi. She was indeed one of the most beautiful women of her time, and also one of the most learned and one of the wealthiest. He became enchanted by her. When at last he could bear the situation no longer, he mentioned the matter to one of his father’s entourage, a man named Rafiq, who in turn divulged it to Muʿawiya.

      “Yazid,” he told Muʿawiya, “has come to feel the deepest longing for her.”

      Muʿawiya sent for Yazid and asked him...

    • 24 Caliph ʿUmar and the Soldier’s Wife
      (pp. 109-110)

      ʿAbd al-Razzaq said, following Ibn Juraij:

      [Caliph] ʿUmar [ibn al-Khattab], may God be pleased with him, was making one of his rounds of Mecca by night [to assure himself all was well with his subjects]. He heard a woman say:

      The night is long and dark,

      And no beloved with whom to divert myself.

      But for the fear of God beyond compare,

      The sides of this bed would be squeaking.

      “What is troubling you?” ʿUmar asked her.

      “Months back,” she told him, “you sent away my beloved husband. Now I long for him.”

      “Have you done any wrong?” ʿUmar asked...

    • 25 Al-Akhtal Imprisoned in a Church
      (pp. 111-112)

      Ishaq ibn ʿAbd Allah said:¹

      As a young man I went with my father to Damascus, and there I wandered among its churches and mosques. As I entered one of the churches, I found al-Akhtal imprisoned there and couldn’t take my eyes off him. He asked about me and was told of my lineage. Then he addressed me.

      “Young man,” he said, “you’re of noble birth. I wish to ask a favor of you.”

      “Your request is granted,” I answered.

      “The priest,” he said, “has imprisoned me here. Would you ask him to set me free?”

      I went to...

    • 26 A Miserly Governor
      (pp. 113-113)

      Ziyad ibn ʿAbd Allah al-Harithi, a man of the most miserly and harsh ways, was governor of Medina. One day, one of the secretaries sent him several baskets of food, elegantly covered, which arrived after he had eaten.

      “What are these?” he asked.

      “Baskets of food,” he was told, “sent by the secretary such and such.”

      “People always send things when it’s too late!” he said, highly vexed.

      “Khaitham ibn Malik [his chief of police], go and invite the people of the suffa¹ here to eat this.”

      Khaitham sent the guards to bring them. Then the messenger who had brought...

    • 27 All Lies
      (pp. 114-115)

      Al-Jahiz said:

      Muhammad ibn Yasir told me the following of a governor in Persia: While [this governor] was busy with his accounts and affairs, having removed himself as far as he could, a poet came to him and recited poetry in his praise and to his glory. When he had finished, the governor told him, “Very good” and ordered his secretary to give the man ten thousand dirhams. The poet was transported with delight.

      When the governor saw this, he told him: “I see this instruction has moved you greatly.” He then ordered his secretary to give him twenty thousand...

    • 28 Two Great Musicians
      (pp. 116-118)

      Ziryab learned music at the hands of Ishaq al-Mawsili¹ in Baghdad. Often he took Ishaq’s songs by stealth and was guided to a serious understanding of the art, as well as possessing a fine voice, and he came to excel Ishaq without Ishaq’s realizing this—until Ishaq suggested to [Haroun] al-Rashid that he would send him an unknown musician, who knew the art of music well but had not yet gained fame. Ishaq told him of this student:

      “He is one of your freed slaves, and I have heard he has good manners and a gentle heart. He renders tunes...

    • 29 An Attendant of al-Hallaj Fasts for Fifteen Days
      (pp. 119-120)

      I was informed by Abu ʾl-Hasan Ahmad ibn Yusuf al-Azraq as follows:¹

      I had heard how [the Sufi leader] Husain ibn Mansur al-Hallaj would eat nothing for a month or more, and he was being closely watched, too. I was amazed at this; and, since there was a friendship between me and Abu ʾl-Faraj ibn Rauhan the Sufi, a pious and devout traditionalist whose sister was married to Qasri, Hallaj’s attendant, I asked him about this.

      “How Hallaj managed it,” he replied, “I have no idea. But my brotherin-law Qasri, his attendant, practiced abstinence from food for years and, by...

    • 30 A Vizier Removes a Dessert Stain with Ink
      (pp. 121-121)

      I was told this story by Abu Ishaq ibn Abu ʾl-Dahhak, who was known as al-Dinari because his mother came from Dar Dinar in Baghdad. Abu ʾl-Qasim ʿAli ibn Muqla¹ told me the same anecdote, in much the same words:

      The vizier Abu ʿAli ibn Muqla, who was also a fine calligrapher, was having a meal one day. The dining table was cleared. As he was washing his hands, he saw on his garment a yellow stain from the sweet dessert he had just been eating. He opened the inkpot, dipped his finger in it, and let a drop of...

    • 31 How a Baghdadi Chief of Police Questioned Suspects
      (pp. 122-126)

      I was told this story by Abu ʾl-Qassem Bahloul ibn ʿAli Abu Talib al-Qadi Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Ishaq ibn Bahloul al-Tanukhi, who heard it from the administrator of the Bab al-Sham quarter in the west of Baghdad:

      When I worked as a police officer with Abu ʾl-Hassan al-Abzaʿji, the chief of police in Baghdad, he once brought out twenty thieves from prison and sought the caliph’s permission to have them crucified near the bridge. Permission was granted, and al-Abzaʿji gave orders for them to be crucified in the early evening, instructing my unit to keep watch over them.


    • 32 God Alone Be Thanked
      (pp. 127-128)

      Al-Hajjaj¹ had some wrongdoers brought before him and ordered that they be beheaded. When the time came for the early evening prayer, just one of them remained. He told Qutaiba ibn Muslim: “Take him away with you and bring him back tomorrow.”

      Later Qutaiba said:

      “I went out with the man. As we were going on our way, he asked me:

      “ ‘Do you feel inclined to a charitable deed?’

      “ ‘And what might that be?’ I asked.

      “ ‘By God,’ he replied, ‘I’ve made no rebellion against the Muslims, nor wished to fight with them. You’ve seen what I...

    • 33 Al-Hajjaj Orders the Torture of Azadmard
      (pp. 129-130)

      In a note written by the judge Abu Jaʿfar ibn Bahloul, I found this story that was reported to him by Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Hashimi:

      The ruler of Iraq, al-Hajjaj ibn Yousuf al-Thaqafi, instructed his assistant, Muhammad ibn al-Muntashir, as follows: “Take Azadmard ibn al-Firand the Zoroastrian¹ and beat his hand and leg till he settles his debts to us.”

      In a week of courteous discussion (Muhammad said), I managed to recover three thousand dirhams from Azadmard. Al-Hajjaj, though, wasn’t satisfied. He brought the man back and handed him over to Maʿad, who was in charge of torture for the...

    • 34 Iyas as Judge
      (pp. 131-131)

      A man gave another some money to keep for him, but the other man denied he had ever been entrusted with it. The first man then took him to Iyas’s court, telling Iyas:1

      “I gave him some money to keep for me in such and such a place.”

      “What was in this place?” Iyas asked.

      “A tree,” the man answered.

      Iyas thereupon told the plaintiff:

      “Go to the place in question and look at the tree. It may be God will make things clear to you. Or it may be you buried the money beneath the tree, then forgot about...

    • 35 The Wisdom of Judge Iyas
      (pp. 132-133)

      A man placed some money with Iyas’s treasurer and went to the Hijaz. When he returned, he claimed it back, but the treasurer denied all knowledge. The man thereupon went to Judge Iyas and told him what had happened.

      “Does he know you’ve come to me?” Iyas asked.

      “No,” the man said.

      “Have you claimed it in the presence of anyone else?” Iyas went on.

      “No,” the man said.

      “Leave then,” Iyas said, “and say nothing of this to anyone. Then come back to me in two days.”

      The man left, and Iyas summoned his treasurer.

      “We’ve received a large...

    • 36 Why a Judge Pardoned a Fraudster
      (pp. 134-136)

      I was told this story by Abu Ahmad ibn Abu ʾl-Wadr, a sheikh and son of a judge, who heard it from his father. I met him in [A.H.] 349 [971 C.E.]. He said his father was a close adviser to the judge Abu ʿUmar al-Qadi:

      A man once forged a letter in the name of judge Abu ʿUmar to the governor Abu ʾl-Qassem al-Hiwari, asking for his help and assistance. There was much trust and respect between Abu ʾUmar and al-Hiwari. The man took the forged document to al-Hiwari’s office and, having submitted the letter, was asked to wait...

  7. III. Tales of Danger and Warfare
    • 37 Maʿn ibn Zaʾida and the Black Man
      (pp. 139-140)

      Maʿn ibn Zaʾida said:

      When I fled from al-Mansour,¹ it was from the battlefield. I’d spent days in the [burning] sun and thinned my beard and sideburns, and I was wearing a coarse woolen cloak. I mounted a camel and went out toward the desert, but I was pursued by a black man carrying a sword. No sooner had I slipped the guards than this black man caught hold of the camel’s nose rope, brought it to its knees, and took me in charge.

      “What is it you want?” I asked.

      “You are sought,” he answered, “by the Prince of...

    • 38 Al-Mansour’s Pride
      (pp. 141-142)

      When al-Mansour went on pilgrimage, he was shown some jewels of priceless value. Recognizing them, he said:

      “These belonged to [Caliph] Hisham ibn ʿAbd al-Malik¹ and were passed on to his son, Muhammad ibn Hisham, the only man left from the Umayyad dynasty. I must seize him.”

      With that he looked toward his bodyguard al-Rabiʿ.

      “When,” he said, “I have finished leading prayers tomorrow in the Kaʿba, and when everyone has gathered, close all the doors of the mosque and have them guarded by men you trust. Leave just one door open and stand guard there yourself. Let no one...

    • 39 With the Byzantines
      (pp. 143-145)

      When [Haroun] al-Rashid began capturing the various [Byzantine] cities and fortresses and destroying them, he came to Heraclea, which was the strongest and best fortified of their strongholds. The people were well entrenched. The gate overlooked a valley and had a ditch all around it. As he was bombarding it ceaselessly with his engines of war, the gate was opened, and one of its men came out in full battle array, calling out:

      “Your fighting has been long! Let two of your men come out to meet me.”

      Still he raised the number, till he had reached twenty men. But...

    • 40 Muslims at the Court of China
      (pp. 146-148)

      Qutaiba ibn Muslim¹ struck deep with his eastern conquests, till he came close to China. The king of China wrote to him, saying: “Send us one of your noblest men, to tell us of you and answer us concerning your religion.”

      Qutaiba chose twelve from among his army, all handsome, tall, with strong hair, eloquent, and courageous. He spoke with them and found them wise and able to inspire respect. He ordered they should be equipped with good weapons, good clothes, some of them embroidered, and with soft shoes and perfume, and he sent them off with thoroughbred horses and...

    • 41 Greed and Treason
      (pp. 149-154)

      When Caliph al-Walid ibn Yazid heard that Yazid ibn al-Walid had stirred the hearts of men against him, incited the people of Yemen, and challenged his rule, he withdrew from his companions and summoned one of his servants.¹

      “Go out in disguise,” he told him, “and stand by one of the roads, watching those who pass. If you should see an old man in tattered clothes, walking slowly by with his head bent, greet him and whisper in his ear that the Prince of the Faithful wishes to see him. If he answers you at once, then bring him here...

    • 42 Consequences of Oppression
      (pp. 155-156)

      I was told this story by Muhammad ibn ʿAbdullah al-Ahwazi, who heard it from Abu ʿl-Fadl al-Balkhi, who said it had been reported to him by the qadi of Balkh, al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Sijistani:

      A battalion commander was sent to our region of Sijistan, with a huge army of soldiers, by Nasr ibn Ahmad, ruler of Khorasan. He took control of Sijistan, and his aides and Khorasani troops began plundering the country. They even molested women in the streets.

      People appealed to me and to the legal faqih, putting their grievances to us. We went with them to the army...

    • 43 Avoiding a Conflict
      (pp. 157-157)

      ʿAmr ibn Maʿdi Kareb said:

      I rode out one day and saw, in one of the quarters, a tethered mare and a spear wedged nearby; and I saw its rider in a hollow [i.e., relieving himself].

      “Beware,” I told him. “I intend to kill you.”

      “And who are you?” he asked.

      “I’m the son of Maʿdi Kareb,” I told him.

      “Abu Thaur,” he told me, “you’re not playing fair. You’re mounted on your horse and I’m here in a hollow. Give me your pledge you’ll make no attempt to kill me till I’m mounted on my horse and can take...

    • 44 The Byzantine Rulers and the Muslim Prisoners
      (pp. 158-161)

      I was told this story by Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Rahman, who heard it from Mukarram ibn Bakran, who said it had been reported to him by Abu Yahya, son of the judge Ibn Mukarram:

      I was one of the counselors to the vizier Abu ʾl-Hassan ʿAli ibn ʿIsa, who would often seek my advice. One day I entered his office to find him looking quite distressed, and I suspected he must have received some reprimand from Caliph al-Muqtadir.¹ Hinting along those lines, I asked him what the matter was.

      “That isn’t the cause of my anxiety,” he said....

    • 45 From The Lion and the Diver
      (pp. 162-164)

      The diver talks to the lion in a ploy to win a quest:

      “It has been told¹ how [the king of Persia] Khosrow Abrawiz dispatched [his general] Shahrabraz to fight the Byzantines. Shahrabraz tightened his grip on their king in Constantinople till he was almost ready to surrender and pay the jizya imposed on the conquered.² Still, the Byzantine king gathered on board ships all the weaponry and engines of war and ammunition he could, prepared to cross the Bay of Constantinople and face Shahrabraz with his assembled strength. When all was ready and at sea, a storm blew up...

  8. IV. Tales of Religion
    • 46 The Tale of Kaʿb ibn Malek
      (pp. 167-172)

      I was told by Abu ʾl-Taher, Ahmad ibn ʿAmr ibn ʿAbd Allah ibn ʿAmr ibn Surayj, a slave of the Bani Umayyah, that he was told by Ibn Wahb, who was told by Ibn Yunes, who was told by Ibn Shihab, who said that the Prophet Muhammad undertook the Tabouk Conquest against the Byzantines and the Arab Christians of Syria.

      Ibn Shihab said: I was told by ʿAbd al-Rahman ibn ʿAbd Allah ibn Kaʿb ibn Malek that ʿAbd Allah ibn Kaʿb was the leader of the Kaʿb when he became blind. He said: I heard Kaʿb ibn Malek tell of...

      (pp. 173-175)

      We have been told by Shayban ibn Farroukh, who was told by Sulaiman ibn al-Mughirah, who was told by Humayd ibn Hilal, who was told by Abu Rafiʿ, who was told by Abu Huraira, that Prophet Muhammad had said:

      Jurayj was worshipping at a hermitage when his mother came to him.

      [Humayd said:] “Abu Rafiʿ described to us how Abu Huraira had repeated the Prophet’s account of the way Jurayj’s mother had called him.

      “She placed her hand over her brows, raised her head, and called out: ‘Jurayj, here I am, your mother. Will you speak with me?’ Then she...

    • 48 The Tale of the Crevice People, and of the Magician, the Monk, and the Young Man
      (pp. 176-178)

      We were told by Haddab ibn Khaled that he had been told by Hammad ibn Salamah that he had been told by Thabet that he had been told by ʿAbd al-Rahman ibn Layla that he had been told by Suhayb that:

      The Prophet Muhammad said:

      There was once a king who had a magician working for him. When the magician grew old, he said to the king:

      “I have grown old, my lord. I beg you to let me have a young man to whom I can teach the art of magic.”

      The king accordingly sent a young man for...

    • 49 The Tale of the Leper, the Bald Man, and the Blind Man
      (pp. 179-181)

      We were told by Shayban ibn Farroukh that he was told by Hammam, who was told by Ishaq ibnʿAbd Allah ibn Abi Talhah, who was told by ʿAbd al-Rahman ibn Abi ʿAmra, that Abu Huraira told him that he had heard the Prophet [Muhammad] say:

      There were once three men among the sons of Israel, one a leper, the second bald, and the third blind. Wishing to test them, God sent an angel to them.

      The angel went to the leper and asked him:

      “What is it you wish for most?”

      “A good complexion,” the leper said, “a good skin,...

    • 50 Virtue and Divine Reward
      (pp. 182-183)

      It has been related, in the two compilations of authenticated Prophetic traditions, how the Prophet said as follows:

      Three men who lived before were walking when it began to rain. They took refuge in a cave, and a fall of rock blocked the mouth. “By God,” they said to one another, “nothing will save you now but the truth. Let each relate such [good deeds] as he knows to be true.”

      “God!” one of them said. “You know I had a hired hand who worked for me measuring rice. When he went away, he left his measure behind. I planted...

    • 51 A Vision of the Next World
      (pp. 184-188)

      Your servant wishes to free his hand and pen and set down his impressions, having before been burdened with weariness and exhaustion at the things he has seen, like a small donkey carrying loads only mules are able to bear.¹ I had read nothing of the strange, outlandish happenings in the country, and now I was made furious at what I saw in Damascus and Iraq. I saw squalor in the alleyways, changes of rulers and kings, and pillage by foreigners.

      One day, when overcome by sleep, I saw the Day of Judgment. The Summoner of Hell began calling people...

  9. V. Comic Tales:: Tales of Juha
    • 52 Juha as a Vehicle for Satire
      (pp. 191-193)

      [Juha’s role here permits not simply general social satire but attack on specific historical individuals of high rank.]

      One day Tamerlane¹ summoned the city’s governor to confiscate his possessions, on the pretext that he’d stolen large quantities of funds. The truth was, the crops and fruit had been damaged that year by Heavensent natural disasters. The previous year’s harvest had indeed been plentiful, but this year the earth had produced barely enough for the people to stay alive. The governor had in fact done the best he could, using all his powers of firmness to extract everything possible from what...

    • 53 The Comic Wit of Juha
      (pp. 194-199)

      [The following anecdotes demonstrate the wit, and also the ingenuity and resource, typical of Juha in many of the traditional stories.]

      A merchant went into a restaurant and ordered a chicken and two eggs. He would, he said, pay the restaurant owner in three months’ time, when he came back from a business trip. On his return he went to the restaurant and asked to settle the bill in full.

      “The account’s a high one,” the restaurant owner said, “but I’ll settle for two hundred dirhams.”

      “In Heaven’s name,” the merchant cried, “how could you ask two hundred dirhams, even...

    • 54 Juha the Fool
      (pp. 200-202)

      [Sometimes, in sharp contrast to the anecdotes of the previous section, Juha emerges rather as the fool, or as the butt of humorous situations.]

      Juha sent his son to buy him some grapes, but the son was away so long that Juha lost patience. When the boy finally came back, with the grapes, Juha asked him about the figs.

      “But,” the son said, “you didn’t ask me to get any figs.”

      “When I send you to do one thing for me,” Juha instructed him, “you ought to do two!”

      Sometime after this, Juha fell ill and told his son to...

    • 55 The Logic of Juha
      (pp. 203-204)

      [Special category of anecdotes featuring “Juha the fool” involves the use, by Juha, of an extraordinary, twisted logic. The following anecdotes, some of them not unlike certain kinds of modern surreal humor, illustrate this “logical” process.]

      One day Juha rode to the marketplace on his donkey. He bought some vegetables, put them in the saddlebag, then, flinging the saddlebag over his shoulders, he mounted the donkey and rode off.

      “Why,” a friend asked him, “don’t you put the saddlebag on the donkey’s back? That way you won’t have the work of carrying it yourself.”

      “Have a fear of God, man!”...

    • 56 Juha the Judge
      (pp. 205-206)

      Once, when Juha had been appointed a judge, a cook complained to him how a poor man had found a dry morsel of bread, then passed it over the steam of the food he was cooking, and eaten it. The cook demanded the price of the steam.

      Juha took out a bag of coins and counted them, making them jingle as he did it.

      “You can take the jingling of the coins,” he told the cook, “as the price for the flavorsome steam of your cooking.”

      A thief went into a butcher’s shop and ordered some meat. Then, while the...

  10. Other Comic Tales
    • 57 Abu ʾl-Qasim’s Slippers
      (pp. 209-211)

      There was, in Baghdad, a man called Abu ʾl-Qasim al-Tunbouri, who had a pair of slippers he wore for seven years. Whenever a tear appeared in them, he would have it patched, till at last they grew very heavy, so much so that they became a byword.

      It happened, one day, that he went into the glass market.

      “Abu ʾl-Qasim,” a broker told him, “today a merchant from Aleppo has come here with a load of gilded glass he couldn’t sell. Why don’t you buy it from him? I’ll sell it for you in no time. You’ll double your money...

    • 58 The Party Crashers
      (pp. 212-213)

      [Baghdad apparently contained many professional gate-crashers, who gained a livelihood by attending gatherings uninvited and consuming the food there. The following episode provides an example of this.]

      Darraj said:

      As I was coming from Baghdad, I happened to pass by a house where a big lunch party was evidently in progress. I saw the host inviting any man he didn’t recognize to climb a ladder to a furnished [upper] room. [Having added myself to their number,] I found myself among thirteen people. The host then pulled down the ladder.

      The tables below were set for the feast, leaving my companions...

    • 59 Me Too?
      (pp. 214-215)

      Abu ʾl-Hasan said:

      There was a man in our town who sank so deep into debt that he had to stay inside his house to keep his creditors at bay. One of the creditors, though, who was owed a small sum of money, managed to get in to him.

      “Suppose,” this man said, “I find a way for you to appear in public again, safe from your creditors? What will you give me?”

      “I’ll pay you what I owe you,” the man answered, “and as much as you like on top.”

      The creditor had to make pledges to reassure...

    • 60 A Quick-Witted Prisoner
      (pp. 216-217)

      Bakkar ibn Rabah said:

      There was a man in Mecca who made arrangements for men and women to meet and provided them with drinks. He was duly reported to the ruler of Mecca, who banished him to Mount Arafat.

      There he built himself a house, then sent for his old customers.

      “What’s stopping you,” he asked them, “from going on just as before?”

      “But how,” they answered, “when you’re living on Arafat?”

      “Pay out two dirhams for a donkey,” he said. “There’ll be a safe haven, and a wonderful time, just waiting for you.”

      So they started riding out to...

    • 61 Al-Hajjaj and al-Muttalib
      (pp. 218-218)

      Abu Ishaq al-Juhaimi said:

      Al-Hajjaj went out in disguise and, passing by al-Muttalib, Abu Lahab’s son, asked him:

      “What can you tell me about al-Hajjaj?”

      “May God’s curses descend on him!” al-Muttalib said.

      “And when,” al-Hajjaj asked, “does he come out [among the people]?”

      “May God cause his soul to come out from his breast!” al-Muttalib replied.

      “Do you know me?” al-Hajjaj asked then.

      “No,” said al-Muttalib.

      “I am al-Hajjaj,” al-Hajjaj said.

      “And do you know me?” al-Muttalib asked at once.

      “No,” al-Hajjaj answered.

      Al-Muttalib said:

      “I am al-Muttalib, Abu Lahab’s son, known to be afflicted by madness three days...

    • 62 A Cunning Marriage Broker
      (pp. 219-219)

      A marriage broker came to a man and said:

      “I have a woman who’s like a spray of narcissus.”

      The man married her forthwith, only to find she was old and ugly.

      “You deceived me,” he told the marriage broker.

      “No, by God,” she answered. “I didn’t. I said she was like a spray of narcissus, because her hair’s white, her face is yellow, and her feet are green.”...

    • 63 Forgery on a Shaky Boat
      (pp. 220-220)

      I was told this story by Abu ʾl-Husain, son of the judge Ibn ʿAyyash:

      One windy day in Baghdad, I saw a friend of mine sitting in a boat beneath the bridge over the river Dijla. He was writing there.

      “What a fool you are,” I said, “writing while you’re being tossed about on a stormy day like this.”

      “I’m about,” he said, “to forge a document, in the name of a quivering, tremulous man. I can’t use a steady hand to do it. And so I’ve chosen this place where the waves will shake the boat in the wind....

    • 64 A Tempting Wager
      (pp. 221-222)

      It has been told how a king offered a great sum of money as the price of a mare from the Arabian desert, belonging to a Bedouin. But the Bedouin would not sell. A basket weaver came to the king and told him: “Give a good sum of money to a man, to be handed over to me if I bring the mare. Then I will bring it.”

      When this had been done, the basket weaver went off to see how the mare was being kept, and he found its owner had appointed a slave whose sole task was to...

  11. VI. Tales of the Strange or Supernatural
    • 65 The Strangest Story
      (pp. 225-226)

      When the Abbasids assumed the caliphate, all those Umayyads that were left went into hiding. Among them was Ibrahim ibn Sulaiman. Some of his friends interceded on his behalf with the Abbasid caliph al-Saffah,¹ who granted him safe conduct, then received him at his court and honored him.

      One day, al-Saffah said to him:

      “Ibrahim, tell me the strangest thing to befall you during the time you were in hiding.”

      Thereupon Ibrahim recounted the following story:

      “I was hiding in al-Hira, in a house looking out on the desert. One day, as I was sitting on the roof of this...

    • 66 I Shall Never Eat Elephant Flesh
      (pp. 227-229)

      I was told this story by Jaʿfar al-Khalidi, who heard it from the prominent Sufi sheikh al-Khawwas:

      I took to the sea with a group of other Sufis, and, as we sailed on, our ship was wrecked. We floated on pieces of timber, and some of us were saved, being set ashore, finally, in a place unknown to us. There we stayed for a number of days with nothing to eat. We were starving and close to death.

      We came together, and some of us said:

      “Let us make a vow to Almighty God: that, should He save us from...

    • 67 A Dream Come True
      (pp. 230-232)

      I was told this story by the state secretary Abu Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Suleiman, known as al-Dalji:

      One night, Abu Ahmad al-Dalji said:

      I had a dream. I was wandering, lost in the wilderness; then, at last, I saw a steep mountain. I climbed it and reached its summit. I was, I felt, very close to the moon, and the moon so close to me I could put out my hand and touch it. I was holding a piece of wood, and I plunged it into the moon and kept on piercing the sphere, till it was riddled with...

    • 68 The Body Snatcher
      (pp. 233-238)

      We were told this story by the poet Abu ʾl-Mughira Muhammad ibn Yaʿqoub al-Asadi of Baghdad, who had heard it from Abu Moussa ʾIsa ibn ʾUbaid Allah al-Baghdadi, who had himself received it from a friend:

      I made my way to Ramlah [in Palestine], arriving there at night when the townspeople were sound asleep. So I made my way to the cemetery and went into one of the many vaults built above the graves. I placed my leather shield on the ground to use as a rest and, having slung my sword on the wall above me, lay down. I...

    • 69 The Old Tailor and His Untimely Call to Prayer
      (pp. 239-243)

      I was told this anecdote by the judge Abu ʾl-Hasan Muhammad ibn Qadi ʿAbd al-Wahid al-Hashimi:

      A large sum was owed to a leading tradesman by one of the generals, who constantly put off payment.

      “I’d resolved,” the tradesman said, “to appeal to al-Muʿtadid,¹ because, whenever I went to try to see the general, he ordered his door to be shut against me and had his slaves insult me. If, on the other hand, I tried gentle means and asked others to mediate, there was no result.

      “Then one of my friends said to me: ‘I’ll recover your money for...

    • 70 Crime and Punishment
      (pp. 244-247)

      I was told this story by ʿUbaid Allah ibn Muhammad al-Khaffaf, who heard it from his father, who said it had been reported to him by a friend in the army:

      One day, when I happened to find myself in the Karkh quarter of Baghdad, I noticed one of the loveliest women I’ve seen in my life, and I stopped for a moment to gaze at her. She, though, turned her back and abruptly went off. Then an old woman, who’d been with her, came back and invited me to be the beautiful woman’s guest.

      “I’m not in the habit...

    • 71 An Unlucky Encounter
      (pp. 248-250)

      A certain person related as follows:

      I once knew a merchant in Basra who was solidly prosperous. He was a friend of mine, but he went to live in Baghdad, and for several years all news of him ceased. Then I met him once more and found him in a very bad way, with almost no money, but I shied away from asking about his evident hardship. Then I noticed that, if ever he saw a woman, his face would change color, and he’d sigh and look away; then, his eyes still averted, he’d grow dejected and go on cursing...

    • 72 The Man and the Lark
      (pp. 251-251)

      A man hunted a lark. When he had her in his hand, the lark asked him: “What are you going to do with me?”

      “I’m going to kill you and eat you,” the man replied.

      “But,” she answered, “I’ll never satisfy your desire for meat. I’ll never fill you up. I could, though, give you three pieces of advice. Wouldn’t that bring you a lot more than eating me? The first I’ll let you have while I’m still here in your clutch. The second I’ll give you when I’m up in the tree, the third when I’m up on the...

    • 73 Two Surrealist Stories from the Desert
      (pp. 252-252)

      Abu ʾl-ʿAmaythal¹ recounted the following:

      Two Bedouins started to tell each other tall stories. The first said: “Once I set out on a horse of mine and suddenly I noticed a patch of darkness—pitch-black it was. I made for it, and when I got up to it, I saw it was a piece of night that had not noticed that dawn had come. So I kept charging at it on my horse until it dispelled.”

      The other rejoined: “I shot an arrow at a gazelle one day. The gazelle veered to the right, and the arrow followed it. Then...

    • 74 The Story of Tamim al-Dari
      (pp. 253-262)

      Praise be to God, source of all gifts, and may God bless and bring peace upon our master of the gorgeous face, Muhammad. This is the story of Tamim al-Dari and what happened to him with the jinn and others:

      ʿAbdullah bin ʿAbbas told us that when sitting with Amir al Muʾminin [Prince of the Faithful], ʿUmar ibn al Khattab, may God bless him, an Ansari woman came in and said: “My husband has been away for the past seven years, without any news from him. Will you allow me to get married?” “Complete the ʿudda¹ for the deceased...

  12. VII. Tales of Love
    • 75 A Love Story
      (pp. 265-269)

      Ishaq ibn Ibrahim al-Mawsili said:

      When [Haroun] al-Rashid entered Basra [on his pilgrimage to Mecca] I was with him. One day Jaʿfar ibn Yahya [al-Barmaki]¹ told me:

      “I’ve heard, Abu Muhammad, of a beautiful concubine and singer [for sale]. Her owner, though, refuses to have her shown anywhere but in his house. I’ve decided to go there in disguise to see her. Will you come with me?”

      “If that’s your wish,” I said.

      At noon, the slave vendor came and Jaʿfar was told. He put on a turban, an outer shawl, and a pair of Arabic shoes, then he summoned...

    • 76 A Strange Vow
      (pp. 270-277)

      Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Abdul al-Baqi al-Bazzaz relates how Abu ʾl-Qasim ʿAli ibn al-Muhassan al-Tanukhi quoted his father as saying: Abu ʾl-Faraj Ahmad ibn ʿUthman ibn Ibrahim, the jurist known as Ibn al-Nursi, told me as follows:

      As a boy, when I was with my father in a company of people, my father was telling of people who’d found prosperity in various novel ways. Among those present was one of my father’s friends, and I heard him tell my father the following:

      I’d been invited by a friend, a merchant worth a hundred thousand dinars, and a man of many...

    • 77 A Merchant and His Wife
      (pp. 278-280)

      Ahmad ibn Ayman, secretary to Ahmad ibn Tulun, told me as follows:

      I went to Basra to visit a merchant, whose name I forget, and I saw with him two most smart-looking lads.

      “If you will,” he said, seeing how keenly I was gazing at them, “pray to God to protect them.”

      I did this, then said:

      “You must have chosen their mother well, to have such splendid children.”

      “There’s no woman in Basra,” he answered, “finer than their mother, and none closer to my heart. My story with her makes a wondrous tale.”

      I asked him to tell it...

    • 78 A Final Meeting
      (pp. 281-282)

      Bashir ibn al-Ashtar fell in love with a girl from his own tribe, called Jaidaʾ. Quite enraptured by her, he finally became sick with love. Her family thereupon stopped him from seeing her, and a great enmity and quarrel sprang up between the two families.

      As his longing for her showed no sign of abating and his state grew worse, he went to a friend of his, called Numair.

      “Would you,” he asked him, “do me a friendly service, so my soul may return to me?”

      “Ask whatever you wish,” Numair replied.

      “Go to Jaidaʾ’s neighborhood,” he said, “and, if...

    • 79 A Party Crasher’s Reward
      (pp. 283-285)

      Ten men accused of heresy were sent off to al-Maʾmun. When they’d assembled to board their ship, a party crasher, thinking they were gathered ready for a banquet, added himself to their number. When he found they were all being put in chains, he regretted what he’d done, but he knew there was no turning back.

      The others, all known to al-Maʾmun, were beheaded in his presence. Then al-Maʾmun asked who the further man was. No one knew, he was told.

      “May my wife be divorced,” the man said then, “if I knew these other people, or anything about them!...

    • 80 Parting and Reunion
      (pp. 286-290)

      A wealthy man from Baghdad, so it is told, fell in love with a slave girl singer of great beauty and accomplishment, highly skilled in singing and playing the lute. He lavished all his money on her, till at last he began to feel the pinch. Why, his friends asked him, didn’t he have her sing at other people’s gatherings (she was much sought after)? This would bring him in a good deal of money. The prospect, though, left him utterly downcast—death, he told them, would be easier for him.

      She, for her part, told him to sell her....

  13. VIII. Excerpts from Seven Major Classical Works
    • 81 From Ibn Tufail, Hayy ibn Yaqzan
      (pp. 293-304)

      Wasting and weakness were taking their toll on the Doe, until at last she was overtaken by death, her movements at an end along with all her actions. When the boy saw her in this state, he was overwhelmed by grief, his soul almost spent with sorrow. He took to calling, using the voice she always answered when she heard it. He called at the top of his voice; but he could spy no movement or change. He gazed at her ears and eyes, but could see no evident defect. He gazed at all her limbs, but could see nothing...

    • 82 From Al-Jahiz, Al-Bukhalaʾ (Book of Misers)
      (pp. 305-317)

      A group of men would meet regularly at a mosque in Basra. They were known for their frugality and for their eagerness to amass wealth while denying such wealth to others—a trait that made for a kind of bond of mutual affection, or covenant for mutual support. Whenever these men met in their circles, they would indulge the trait, relishing any appropriate news in a spirit of enjoyment and emulation.

      1. One day an old man in the group addressed the others as follows:

      “My dear old comrades, never underestimate little things. After all, everything that’s big was small...

    • 83 From Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ, Kalila and Dimna
      (pp. 318-345)

      The king said to the philosopher:

      “I have understood the example of those whose affections for others are spoiled by the treachery of backbiters. Now tell me about those who are brothers in happiness. How does their friendship for one another begin? And how do they enjoy one another’s comradeship?”

      “The wise man,” the philosopher replied, “doesn’t recompense his supporters by showering them with favors and rewards. Those who are bound to one another in the brotherhood of goodness do good whenever called upon to do it, and they’re always ready to bring comfort to others in trouble. Such was...

    • 84 From Rasaʾil Ikhwan al-Safa(Epistles of the Brethren of Purity)
      (pp. 346-357)

      The Epistles of the Brethren of Purity , or The Epistles of the Brethren of Purity and Loyal Friends (Rasaʾil ikhwan al-safa wa khillan alwafa) is a collection of works of an obscure and mysterious organization of Neoplatonic Arabic philosophers who lived in Basra, Iraq, sometime in the tenth century, during the Abbasid caliphate.

      Scholarly sources are unclear as to who they were, but it is generally accepted that this group authored at least the fifty-two rasaʾil (epistles) in the collection. The subject matter of these epistles is vast and ranges from mathematics, music, and logic through mineralogy, astronomy, ethics,...

    • 85 From Al-Maqamat(The Assemblies)
      (pp. 358-373)

      The cotton trade took me to Balkh. So, in the prime of youth, without a care in the world and bedecked in wealth, I went there. My only concern was thought’s restless filly that I tried to keep reined in and discourse’s shy creature that I kept hunting. Throughout my travels nothing more eloquent than my own speech reached my ears. As we were on the point of leaving or almost so, a youth in eye-catching garb came up to me, fresh stubble visible on his cheeks and a gaze so clear that it had drunk of the waters of...

    • 86 From Abu ʾl-ʿAlaʾ al-Maʿarri, Risalat al-Ghufran
      (pp. 374-381)

      Abu ʾl-ʿAlaʾal-Maʿarri (363–449 A.H.) was one of the greatest classical Arab poets and thinkers, and one of the few major blind poets in Arabic and world literature. He was born in Maʿarrat al-Nuʿman in what is now called Syria, and after trying the ways of other poets, moving around and experiencing Arab life in the fourth century A.H. (tenth century C.E.), he went back to his birthplace and lived in relative seclusion until his death at a ripe age. Aside from his poetry, in which he, in eulogizing princes and living on their bounty, he wrote creative prose epistles...

    • 87 From The Adventures of Sayf Ben Dhi Yazan: AN ARAB FOLK EPIC
      (pp. 382-398)

      The folk epic of Sayf Ben Dhi Yazan, composed sometime between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, during the Mamluk period, is based on the story of the sixth-century Yemeni king who fought against the Ethiopian forces occupying the country. He is portrayed in the tale as a Muslim warrior of the time before the advent of Islam who fights successfully against pagan forces, establishes the dominion of Islam, and is one of the first genuine Arab heroes. We encounter him when he has already established himself as the one destined to lead, successfully undertaken a quest to win the hand...

  14. Notes on the Translators
    (pp. 399-400)
  15. Name Index
    (pp. 401-408)
  16. Subject Index
    (pp. 409-410)