Post-classical history

§ A Mission to Syria and Starving Bedouin at al-Jafr

Ibn al-Sallar (may God have mercy upon him) ordered me to prepare for a journey to Nur al-Din32 (may God have mercy upon him). He said, ‘You will take with you treasure and go to him to persuade him to besiege Tiberias33 and keep the Franks occupied so that we can set out from here and lay waste to Gaza.’34

The Franks (may God confound them) had just started to rebuild Gaza so that they might blockade Ascalon.35

I said, ‘My lord, if he refuses your request or if he has other pressing concerns that prevent him from doing so, what are your orders?’

He replied, ‘If he lays siege to Tiberias, then give him the treasure that you have with you. But if there is something that prevents him, then enlist as many soldiers as you can from his army and go up to Ascalon, establishing yourself there to combat the Franks. Once you arrive, write to me and I will send you orders about what you should do next.’

He then gave me six thousand Egyptian dinars and a camel-load of clothes of [11] Dabiqi cloth, ciclatoun, squirrel-fur, Dimyati brocade and turbans.36 He also assigned a group of Bedouin to me to act as guides. And so I set out, he having dispelled all obstacles to my travel by seeing to all my needs, great or small.

As we approached al-Jafr,37 my guides said to me, ‘This place is rarely free of Franks.’

So I ordered two of the guides riding Mahri camels38 to go ahead of us to al-Jafr. Yet no sooner had they departed than they returned, their Mahri camels flying, saying, ‘The Franks are at al-Jafr!’

So, I stopped, assembled the camels that were carrying my luggage and certain members of the party travelling with me and sent them back westward.

I then chose six horsemen from my mamluk-troops39 and said, ‘You go ahead of us and I’ll be right behind you.’ So they went galloping off while I went behind them.

One of them returned to me and said, ‘There isn’t anyone at al-Jafr. Maybe what they had seen were Bedouin.’ He and the guides then began arguing. I sent someone to go and collect the camels and continued on my way.

When I arrived at al-Jafr (where there is water, green herbage and trees), there appeared from the undergrowth a man wearing a black outer-garment. We captured him and my companions then fanned out and captured another man, two women and some youngsters. One of the women came forward and grabbed my garment and said, ‘Sheikh, I am at your mercy!’

I said, ‘You are free. What is the matter with you?’

‘Your companions’, she replied, ‘have taken of mine a garment, a brayer, a barker and a bead.’40

I said to my attendants, ‘Whoever has taken anything, give it back.’

[12] So an attendant came and presented a piece of cloth of maybe two cubits in length.

‘That’s the garment,’ she said.

Another one came and presented a piece of sandarach resin.41 ‘That’s the bead,’ she said.

‘What about the donkey and the dog?’ I asked.

As for the donkey, they said that they had tied up his forelegs and hind legs, and had thrown him to the ground on the grass. As for the dog, it was loose, running around from place to place.

I then called all these people together and saw that they were in a truly deplorable state: their skin had dried up around their bones. ‘So,’ I asked them, ‘who are you then?’42

They said, ‘We are of the Banu Ubayy.’

The Banu Ubayy are an Arab clan from the tribe of Tayyi’. They only eat carrion43 yet go around saying, ‘We are the finest of all the Arabs. You won’t find among us anyone with elephantiasis, leprosy, blindness or any chronic disease.’ And if a guest stays with them, they slaughter an animal for him and feed him with food other than what they eat.

I asked them, ‘What brings you out here?’

They replied, ‘We have heaps of corn buried in the ground in the Hisma,44 and we have come to collect it.’

‘And how long have you been here?’ I asked.

‘Since the feast of Ramadan’,45 they replied, ‘we have been out here, without setting eyes on any food.’

‘So what do you live on?’ I said.

‘On carrion,’ they replied (meaning dried-up, thrown-away bones), ‘we crush them and mix them with water and orach leaves46 (a plant common to those parts) and we survive on that.’

‘And your dogs and donkeys?’ I asked.

They said, ‘The dogs we feed with our own food and the donkeys eat hay.’

‘So why’, I pressed, ‘don’t you go into Damascus?’

They said, ‘We were afraid of the plague.’

Yet there is no plague greater than the one afflicting them! This took place after the Feast of Sacrifice.47 We stopped there until our camels came back and I gave them some of the extra provisions we had with us. I also cut up a cloth I had been wearing on my head and gave it to the two women. They almost lost their minds with joy on account of the food. I warned them, ‘Don’t stay here or else the Franks will capture you.’

§§ A Vigilant Arab Guide

[13] One of the amazing things that happened to me during that trip was the following. One night I dismounted to pray the sunset and dusk prayers (abridged and combined), when the camels ran off.48 So I stood on a bit of raised ground and said to my attendants, ‘Go spread out in search of the camels, and then come back to me. I won’t move from my place.’

They spread out and galloped about this way and that and never laid eyes on the camels. Then they all came back to me saying, ‘We didn’t find them, and we don’t know which way they went.’

So I said, ‘We’ll seek assistance from God (may He be exalted) and travel using the stars to guide us.’

And so we set out, even though, separated in the desert from our camels as we were, we risked meeting a grim fate indeed.

Now, among our guides was a man called Jazziya, a man of vigilance and savvy. When he became aware of our tardiness, he realized that we had strayed off from the rest of the party. So he, while still sitting on his camel, took out his flint-and-steel and began striking them, the sparks from the flintstone flying this way and that. As a result, we saw him from far away and headed off in the direction of the fire until we caught up with the party. Had it not been for God’s kindness and the inspiration He gave to that man, we would have perished.

§§ A Felonious Mule

Another thing that took place during that trip was the following. Ibn al-Sallar (may God have mercy upon him) had told me, ‘Don’t let the guides who are with you know about the treasure.’

So I put four thousand dinars in a saddle-bag on a saddle-mule being led alongside me and handed him over to an attendant. I also put two thousand dinars, along with my own petty cash, a bridle and some Maghribi dinars49 in another saddle-bag on a horse being led alongside me, and I handed it off to another attendant. Whenever we stopped to camp, I would put the saddle-bags in the middle of a carpet, fold up its edges on top of them, spread another carpet over it and sleep on top of the saddle-bags, rising before my companions when it was time to go. The two attendants who were responsible for the saddlebags would then come [14] and take charge of them. As soon as they had them tied onto the two animals alongside me, I would mount up and rouse the rest of my companions and we would busy ourselves about the departure.

One night, we stopped to camp in the Wilderness of the Children of Israel.50 When I rose to depart, the attendant in charge of the mule being led alongside me took his saddle-bag, threw it onto the back of the mule and turned around intending to tighten it down with its strap. But the mule started and then galloped off with the saddle-bag still on it. At this, I mounted my horse, which the groom had just brought to me, and shouted to one of my attendants, ‘Saddle up! Saddle up!’

I galloped off in pursuit of the mule but I didn’t catch up with it, since it was going like a wild ass. My horse was already exhausted because of the pursuit when my attendant caught up with me. So I said, ‘Follow the mule that way!’

He left and returned saying, ‘By God, my lord, I didn’t see the mule! But I did find this saddle-bag, which I picked up.’

‘It was the saddle-bag that I was looking for,’ I replied. ‘The mule is no big loss.’

So I went back to the camp and what do you know, but the mule had come galloping back, made its way into the horses’ picket-line and stopped, as if it had wanted to do nothing else except lose four thousand dinars!

§§ Meeting with Nur al-Din

By that route of ours we arrived at Bosra,51 where we found that Nur al-Din (may God have mercy upon him) was encamped against Damascus. It happened that the amir Asad al-Din Shirkuh52 (may God have mercy upon him) had already arrived in Bosra, so I went with him to the army. We arrived on Sunday night.53 I awoke the next morning to discuss my mission with Nur al-Din. He said, addressing yours truly,54 ‘The people of Damascus are my enemies. The Franks are my enemies. I don’t trust either of them enough to get between them.’

‘Then’, I asked him, ‘will you permit me to enlist a body of troops from the soldiers rejected for service in your army? I will take them and return, and you can send along with me one of your companions at the head of thirty horsemen so that it can be said to have been carried out in your name.’

‘Make it so,’ he said.

By the following Monday, I had recruited 860 horsemen. I took them [15] and set out into the very heart of Frankish territory,55 stopping and starting out again at the sound of the bugle. Nur al-Din sent with me the amir ‘Ayn al-Dawla al-Yaruqi56 at the head of thirty horsemen.

§§ At the Cave of the Seven Sleepers

My route took me by the Cave of the Seven Sleepers.57 So I stopped there and went in to pray at the mosque, but I did not go through the narrow passage that one finds there. One of the amirs of the Turks who were with me, called Barshak, came, wanting to enter by that narrow cleft.

I said, ‘What are you doing that for? Come and pray outside.’

‘There is no God but God,’ he replied. ‘I must be a bastard then if I can’t get through that narrow cleft!’

‘What are you talking about?’ I asked.

He said, ‘This is a place that no son of adultery can pass through – he cannot enter.’

What he said forced me to get up, enter by that spot, pray and come out again without – God knows – believing what he said. Indeed, most of the troops came and entered and prayed. Yet, in the army with me was Baraq al-Zubaydi, who had with him a slave of his, a black man – devout fellow, taken to praying a lot, and one of the tallest and leanest people. He came to that spot and tried with all his might to enter, but he could not get through. The poor fellow wept, moaning and sighing over and over, and then left after failing to enter.

§§ At Ascalon: Fighting the Franks

When we arrived at Ascalon, dawn had broken. We unloaded our baggage in the public prayer-space. At sunrise, the Franks came to pay us a little good-morning visit.58

So Nasir al-Dawla Yaqut, the governor of Ascalon, came out to us crying, ‘Your baggage: pick it up! Pick it up!’

I said, ‘What, are you afraid the Franks will take it from us?’

‘Yes!’ he said.

‘Well, now, don’t worry,’ I said. ‘They’ve been watching us in the desert [16] and keeping us company all the way to Ascalon, and we haven’t been afraid of them yet. Are we supposed to be scared of them now, while we’re in our own city?’

The Franks stood off from us at a distance for a while. Then they went back to their territory, mustered more troops and came at us with cavalry, infantry and tents, clearly intending to put Ascalon to siege. So we went out against them, the infantry of Ascalon having already set out.

I circled around our detachment of infantry and said, ‘Comrades! Go back and man your walls, and leave these men to us! If we are victorious over them, then you can join us; if they are victorious over us, then you will be safe behind your city walls.’

But they refused to go back. So I left them and continued on towards the Franks, who had just unloaded their tents in order to pitch them. We surrounded them, pressing them so that they weren’t able to fold up their tents. So they threw them away just as they were, all spread out, and went away in retreat. After they had withdrawn some distance from the town, a group of those defenceless, useless fools59 followed them. So the Franks turned back and bore down upon them and killed a few of them. As a result, the infantry, whom I had told to go back but who refused, were routed and threw down their shields. We then encountered the Franks and drove them back. They then returned to their own territory, which was close to Ascalon.

Those infantrymen whom the Franks had routed came back, blaming one another and saying, ‘Ibn Munqidh knew better than we did. He told us “Go back!” but no, we didn’t do it; now we’ve been routed and disgraced!’

My brother, ‘Izz al-Dawla ‘Ali (may God have mercy upon him), was in the group that left with me from Damascus, he and his companions, for Ascalon.60 He (may God have mercy upon him) was one of the great cavaliers of the Muslims, who fought for religion, not for worldly matters. One day we went out from Ascalon to make a foray [17] on Bayt Jibril61 and raid it. So we went and attacked them. I noticed, as we set off to leave the town, that there were some large heaps of grain there. So I stopped with my comrades and started a fire and set the threshing floors alight. We then went from one place to another in this fashion, while the army itself had gone on ahead of me. Meanwhile, the Franks (God curse them) assembled from their fortresses. These are close to one another and house large numbers of cavalry so that the Franks can attack Ascalon day or night. But now the Franks made a sortie against our comrades.

One of our horsemen came to me at full gallop and cried, ‘The Franks have come!’

So I set off for our comrades; the vanguard of the Franks had already arrived. The Franks (God curse them) are the most cautious of all men in war. They climbed up a hill and stayed there, and we climbed a hill directly across from them. Between these two hills was an open space where our comrades who had been separated from us and those who led the extra horses crossed right beneath them. The Franks didn’t even send one horseman down against them for fear of some ambush or trick. If the Franks had just come down, they would have captured our comrades down to the last man. And we, all the while, stood right across from them, inferior in numbers, with our main troops gone ahead of us, routed. But the Franks remained stationed on that hill until our comrades’ crossing was finished – then they set out against us. As we fought, we withdrew before them, and they did not renew their pursuit. But whoever stopped his horse, they killed, and whoever fell from his mount, they captured. Then they turned back from us. Thus God (Glory be to Him) decreed that we would be safe thanks to their exaggerated sense of caution. If we had been as numerous as they were and had been as victorious over them as they had been over us, we would have wiped them out.

I spent four months in Ascalon fighting the Franks. During this period, we made an assault on Yubna,62 in which we killed about a hundred souls and captured some prisoners. After that period, a letter came to me from Ibn al-Sallar (may God have mercy upon him), summoning me back. [18] So I set out for Egypt while my brother, ‘Izz al-Dawla ‘Ali (may God have mercy upon him), remained behind in Ascalon. The army there set out and made an attack on Gaza, during which he achieved martyrdom (may God have mercy upon him). He was a genuine scholar, a real cavalier and a truly devout Muslim.

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