Post-classical history

§ Faint-Hearted Men

I have witnessed weakness and faint-heartedness in men that I never thought to see even in women. Here is an example:

One day, I was at the door of the house of my father (may God have mercy upon him). I was just a young boy, not being more than ten years old. An attendant belonging to my father named Muhammad al-’Ajami slapped one of the young servants of the house. The latter ran away from him and came and clung to my clothes. The attendant Muhammad caught up with him and slapped him again, even as he clutched at my clothes. So I struck back at him with a rod I happened to have in my hand and he pushed back at me. I then pulled out a knife from my waist and stabbed him with it. It struck his left breast and he fell down. An older attendant belonging to my father called Commander Asad came, examined him and saw the wound – whenever he breathed, blood spurted out of it like bubbles of water. Asad turned pale, shuddered and fell in a faint. In that state he was carried away to his house – he used to live with us in the citadel. He did not regain consciousness until the last part of the day. But by then the injured attendant was dead and buried.

Here is something similar to that example. A man from Aleppo used to visit us in Shayzar, a man possessing virtue and refinement. He played chess continuously, even when he was away. He was called Abu al-Murajja Salim ibn Thabit (may God have mercy upon him). He used to stay with us for a year, maybe more, maybe less. If by chance [146] he became ill, the physician would prescribe blood-letting for him. And when the blood-letter would appear before him, Abu al-Murajja would turn pale and start to shudder. And when the blood-letter actually bled him, Abu al-Murajja would faint and remain unconscious until the incisions were bandaged up. Only then did he recover.

§ Stout-Hearted Men

Here is an example that contrasts with the above. Among our comrades of the Banu Kinana, there was a black man called ‘Ali ibn Faraj, in whose foot there developed a pustule, which just became worse. His toes fell off and the rest of his leg began to rot. The surgeon said to him, ‘There is no treatment for your leg except amputation. If you don’t have it done, you will die.’

So the surgeon went and got a saw and started to saw his leg until ‘Ali fainted from the loss of blood. Once he regained consciousness, the surgeon would start sawing away again until finally he cut his leg off at the middle. They treated it and it was healed.

This ‘Ali (may God have mercy upon him) was one of the most enduring and powerful men. He used to ride in the saddle with one foot in a stirrup and, on the other side, he would put his knee in a strap. In this state he would attend battle and exchange spear-thrusts with the Franks. I used to see him with my own eyes (may God have mercy upon him): no man could match him at arm-wrestling or keep a hold on him.

Yet with all his strength and courage, he was a light-hearted fellow. Early one morning, while he and the Banu Kinana were living in our fortress at the Bridge, he sent a message to some of the leaders of the Banu Kinana, saying, ‘It’s a rainy day today and I haven’t got any flour, bread or wine in the house. Yet all of you have in your homes everything you need for the day. I propose that you send to your homes and have your food and wine brought out – I’ll provide the house. Let’s get together today to drink and shoot the breeze.’

To this they all replied, ‘Fine! Great idea, [147] ‘Ali!’

They then sent for and brought out all the food and drink from their homes and passed their day at his place. He was quite a respected man. Exalted is He who created His creatures in various sorts!260 How can the endurance and stoutheartedness of this man be compared to the weakness and faint-heartedness of those others?

The following is an example similar to that case. A man from the Banu Kinana told me at the Bridge Fortress that there was a man there who had been afflicted with dropsy. But he sliced open his stomach and recovered, returning to health as he was before. I said, ‘I would like to examine this man and get some information out of him.’

The one who told me about this man was someone from the Banu Kinana called Ahmad ibn Ma’bad ibn Ahmad. He brought the man before me and I got information from him about his condition and how he did what he did to himself. He said:

I am just a poor beggar, all on my own. My abdomen became afflicted with dropsy and I got so big that I was unable to move, and I grew weary of life. So I took a razor and cut myself with it above my navel, across my abdomen, and sliced myself open. About two cooking-pots-worth of water (meaning two measures) came out of it. The water continued to seep out until my abdomen shrank back. I then stitched it up, treated the wound and it was healed. In this way my ailment passed.

He then showed me the scar where he had sliced himself open on his abdomen, which was more than a span in length. There is no doubt that this man still had a livelihood on earth that was yet due to him.

In other cases, I have seen people afflicted with dropsy who had their physician bleed their abdomen and extract water from it – just as the water came out of this man who punctured himself – yet who nevertheless died from the blood-letting. Fate is indeed an impregnable citadel.

§ Only God can Bring Victory in Battle

Victory in war is from God alone (may He be blessed and exalted), not from organization or skilled conduct, and not from strength of numbers of troops or allies.

Whenever my uncle (may God have mercy upon him) used to send me to fight Turks or Franks, I would ask him, ‘My lord, tell me how I should conduct myself when I finally meet the enemy.’

‘War conducts itself, my boy,’ he would say. And he was right.

[148] He once asked me to take his wife, Khatun261 bint Taj al-Dawla Tutush, and his sons with the army and proceed to Masyaf Castle, which belonged to him at the time, hoping to spare them the heat of Shayzar.262 I rode out, and my father and uncle (may God have mercy upon them both) rode with us for part of the way, and then returned, accompanied only by the young mamluks to lead the pack horses and carry the weapons. The entire army remained with me. When my father and uncle approached the town, they heard the beating of war-drums coming from the Bridge.263 They said, ‘Something is happening down at the Bridge,’ and spurred their horses towards it. At the time, there was a truce between us and the Franks (may God curse them!). Nevertheless, the Franks had sent some men to scout a ford for them by which they might cross over to the part of town by the Bridge. This was on a peninsula to which no one could cross except by an arched bridge of stone and lime mortar, and which the Franks could not reach. But a scout showed them a place to ford. So they all rode from Apamea and, the next morning, found themselves at that spot that the scout had indicated. They then crossed the water, took possession of the town, pillaged it, took away prisoners and killed some people. They dispatched some of the plunder and captives back to Apamea. They also took possession of the houses, every one of them affixing a cross-symbol to a house and raising his banner over it.

When my father and uncle (may God have mercy upon them both) approached the citadel, the inhabitants shouted, ‘God is great!’ and gave forth a cry. In this way God, glory be to Him, struck terror and despair into the Franks and so they forgot the spot by which they had crossed. Dressed in their mail hauberks, they urged their horses into the river where there was no ford. As a result, a large number of them were drowned. A rider would plunge into the water, fall from his saddle and sink in the water, only the horse coming out of it. Those of them that survived ran away in flight, [149] without anyone paying heed to anyone else. And although they were a numerous force, my father and uncle had with them only ten young mamluks.

My uncle took position at the Bridge, while my father returned to Shayzar. As for me, I delivered the sons of my uncle to Masyaf and returned home on the same day, arriving in the evening. I was informed about what had happened, so I presented myself before my father (may God have mercy upon him) and sought his counsel over whether I should go and join my uncle at the Bridge Fortress.

‘You will arrive at night,’ he said, ‘while they are sleeping. Go to them instead early in the morning.’

And so the next morning I went out and presented myself before my uncle. We went riding and stopped at that spot where the Franks had drowned. A group of swimmers had come down to the place and were pulling out some of their dead horsemen.

‘My lord,’ I said to my uncle, ‘why don’t we cut off their heads and dispatch them to Shayzar?’

‘Make it so,’ he replied. We cut off about twenty heads and the blood flowed from the dead bodies as if they had been killed that very moment, yet they had been there a day and a night. I believe the water preserved the blood inside them. The local people took many weapons from them as plunder, including mail, swords, quntariya-spears, helmets and mail chausses.264

Indeed, I saw one of the peasants of the Bridge present himself before my uncle with his hand beneath his clothes.

My uncle said to him, playfully, ‘And what is it you’ve set aside for me as plunder, then?’

He replied, ‘I have set aside for you a charger with its tack and horse armour,265 a shield and a sword.’ And he went and brought this all before him.

My uncle accepted the horse’s tack, but granted the charger to him, and asked, ‘But what’s that in your hand?’

‘My lord,’ the peasant replied, ‘me and a Frank got to grappling and I didn’t have any gear or sword. So I threw him down and punched him in the face, even though he was covered with an aventail, until I knocked him out. Then I took his sword and killed him with it. But the skin on my knuckles was all torn to shreds and my hand swelled up and was of no use to me.’

He then showed us his hand, which was just as he had said – even the bones of his fingers were exposed.

In the garrison of the Bridge was a Kurdish man called Abu al-Jaysh, who had a daughter named Raful, who had been carried off by the Franks. Abu al-Jaysh became pathologically obsessed with her, saying to everyone [150] he met, ‘Raful has been taken captive!’

The next morning we went out to walk along the river and we saw a form by the bank of the river. We told one of the attendants, ‘Swim over there and find out what that thing is.’

He made his way over to it, and what should the form be but Raful, dressed in a blue garment. She had thrown herself from the horse of the Frank who had captured her and drowned. Her dress was caught in a willow-tree. In this way were the pangs of despair of her father silenced.

Thus, the cry that frightened the Franks, their flight and their destruction were all due to the benevolence of God, the Mighty and Majestic, not due to any power or army. Blessed indeed is God, who is capable of whatever He wills.

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