Post-classical history

PART III CURIOUS TALES: HOLY MEN AND HEALERS

[169] Section1

‘Whatever good things you possess come from God.’2

§ Introduction

Usama ibn Murshid ibn ‘Ali ibn Muqallad ibn Nasr ibn Munqidh (may God forgive him, his parents and all the Muslims for their sins) said:

Here are some curious tales, in some of which I figure myself, though some others were told to me by people I trust. I add them here as an appendix to my book, since they are not really concerned with the subjects I focused upon in the preceding pages. I will begin with some tales about holy men, may God be pleased with them all.

§ The Miracle of the Sweet-Wrapper

[170] The sheikh and imam Siraj al-Din Ibrahim, the preacher of the city of Is’ird,3 related to me the following in Dhu al-Qa’da in the year 562 (August–September 1167) on the authority of Abu al-Faraj al-Baghdadi, who said:

I was in attendance at a meeting led by the sheikh and imam Abu ‘Abdallah Muhammad al-Basri4 in Baghdad, when a woman presented herself. She said, ‘Master, you were among those who served as a witness when my dowry was fixed, but I have since lost the dowry-certificate. I ask you, then, to show me your favour by confirming your testimony before the court tribunal.’ ‘I won’t do this’, he replied, ‘until you bring me some sweets.’ The woman just stood there, thinking he was joking, given what he said. ‘Don’t waste time,’ he said. ‘I won’t go anywhere with you until you bring me some sweets.’

So, she went away and later returned and took out a paper cornet filled with dry sweets from a pocket under her wrap. The sheikh’s companions were amazed at his request for sweets, given his ascetic outlook and abstinence. He took the cornet and opened it up, tossing aside the sweets one by one until it was empty. He then examined the paper and what should it be but the very dowry-certificate that the woman had lost! ‘Take your dowry,’ he said. ‘Here it is!’

Those who were present with him thought this was an extraordinary occurrence, but he just said, ‘Eat what is lawful,5 and you will do this, and even more.’

§ A Holy Man’s Last Request

The sheikh Abu al-Qasam al-Khidr ibn Muslim ibn Qasim al-Hamawi told me the following in Hama [171] on Monday, the last day of Dhu al-Hijja, in the year 570 (21 July 1175). He said, ‘A man from al-Kufa once came to me, a descendant of the Prophet,6and related to us on the authority of his father, saying:

I used to visit the Chief Judge al-Shami al-Hamawi,7 who would receive me with great generosity and honour. One day he said to me, ‘I love the people of al-Kufa because of one man among them. I was in Hama as a young man when ‘Abdallah ibn Maymun al-Hamawi passed away there (may God have mercy upon him). They had asked him to draw up his last will, and he said, ‘‘When I am dead and you are preparing my body for burial, take me out to the desert and have someone climb up the hill that overlooks the cemetery and call out, ‘‘Abdallah ibn al-Qubays! ‘Abdallah ibn Maymun is dead! Present yourself and pray over him!’’’ When the man died, they did what he had told them to do, and a man approached, wearing a robe of raw cloth and a mantle of wool, coming from the direction towards which the announcement had been made. He came and prayed over the body while everyone stood in shock, speechless. When he finished his prayers, he left, returning whence he came. The people then began complaining to one another for not having got hold of the man to question him. They ran after him, but he lost them without ever speaking a word to anyone.’

§ A Similar Tale

I witnessed a similar occurrence in Hisn Kayfa. In the Mosque of al-Khidr there, there was a man known as Muhammad al-Samma’.8 He had his own prayer-room adjacent to the mosque and would come out to pray at the time of communal prayer but then return to his own room. He was one of the saints.9 I once presented myself before him when he was close to the hour of his death.

He said, ‘I have always wished that God (may He be exalted) would bring before me my master, Muhammad al-Busti.’10

No sooner had they made the preparations for the washing of his body and the funeral procession when his master Muhammad al-Busti arrived at his side. He oversaw the washing of the body and went out behind the body to lead the way for the procession, and prayed over it.

Later, al-Busti repaired to his pupil’s prayer-room, where he resided for a short time, during which time he visited me and I him. He was [172] (may God have mercy upon him) an ascetic of great learning, the likes of whom I have never seen nor heard. He would practise daily fasting,11 neither drinking any water nor eating any bread or grains. He would merely break his fast with a couple of pomegranates or apples or a bunch of grapes. Once or twice a month, he would take a few small bites of fried meat.

I said to him one day, ‘Sheikh Abu ‘Abdallah, how is it that you neither eat bread nor drink water and are always fasting?’

‘At first’, he said, ‘I fasted and suffered from the hungerpangs, but then I found that I could put up with it. I suffered for three days and said to myself, ‘‘I’ll practise it according to the rules about eating dead animals,12 which are lawful if absolutely necessary after three days of going without food.’’ And I found that I could put up with that too, so I gave up eating and drinking altogether. Now my spirit is used to it and does not complain, so I keep doing what I have been doing.’

One of the great men of Hisn Kayfa had a prayer-room built for the sheikh in a garden, which he also granted to the sheikh. The sheikh came to me on the first day of Ramadan and said, ‘I have come to say farewell.’

I said, ‘But what about the prayer-room that has been prepared for you, and the garden?’

‘My brother,’ he replied, ‘I have no need for either of them. I am not staying.’ And he bade me farewell and set off, may God have mercy upon him. That was in the year 570 (1175).

§ A Miraculous Messenger

The sheikh Abu al-Qasam al-Khidr ibn Muslim ibn Qasim al-Hamawi related to me in Hama in the year just mentioned that a man who used to work in a garden belonging to Muhammad ibn Mis’ar (may God have mercy upon him) went up to the latter’s family as they sat at the doors of their homes in Ma’arra13 and said, ‘I have just now heard an amazing thing!’ ‘What is it?’ they asked and he replied:

A stranger passed by me carrying a water-skin and asked me to fill it up with water. So I gave him his water and he did his ablutions. I offered him two cucumbers, too, but he refused to take them. I said, ‘Half of this garden is mine by the right of my labour in it. The other half belongs to Muhammad ibn Mis’ar by right of ownership.’ At this he asked, ‘Did Muhammad go on pilgrimage to Mecca this year?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘Yesterday,’ the stranger said, [173] ‘after we departed from making the station,14 he died, and we prayed over his body.’

Muhammad’s family then went out looking for this man to ask him more about it, but they saw him at such a distance away that they could not catch up with him. So they returned and made a note of the man’s account – dates included – and the affair turned out just as the man had said.

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