Post-classical history

§ A Good Deed is Amply Rewarded

The sheikh and hafiz Abu al-Khattab al-’Ulaymi35 related to me in Damascus early in the year 572 (summer 1176) the following on the authority of a man, who told it to him in Baghdad on the authority of al-Qadi Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Baqi ibn Muhammad al-Ansari al-Furdi, also known as Qadi al-Maristan,36 who said:

During my pilgrimage, as I was circumambulating the Ka’ba, I spotted a necklace of pearls, so I tied it to the edge of my pilgrim-garment.37 After a while, I heard someone in the Sacred Precinct38 seeking after it and offering twenty dinars to whomever would return it to him. I asked him to name some feature by which he could identify the lost object, and he provided it, so I handed the necklace over to him.

‘Come with me to my home,’ he said, ‘so that I can give you the reward I promised you.’ But I said, ‘I don’t need any of that. I didn’t return it to you just for the sake of the reward. God has provided me with ample good fortune.’ ‘So you returned it to me only for the sake of God, the Mighty and Majestic?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Then let us turn and face the Ka’ba so that you can say ‘‘amen’’ to my prayer.’ So we turned to face the Ka’ba and he prayed, ‘O God, pardon the sins of this man, and grant me the means by which I might repay him!’ ‘Then he said farewell to me and left.

It happened later that I travelled from Mecca to the land of Egypt, from where I took ship on the sea [179] heading for the Maghrib. But the Romans captured the ship, and I, with others, was taken captive. As plunder, my lot fell to one of the priests, whom I continued to serve until his own death approached, upon which he arranged in his will for me to be set free.

I therefore set out from the land of the Romans and headed for a certain part of the Maghrib, where I found myself a spot as a scribe in a baker’s shop. Now, that baker used to offer his trade to one of the great landowners of that city. When the first of the month came, an attendant of the landowner came to the baker and said, ‘My master summons you to settle the accounts with him.’ The baker asked me to accompany him, and so the two of us went to the landowner and the baker settled his account according to his bills. When the landowner saw that I wrote in a fine hand and that I was knowledgeable about accounting, he demanded me from the baker. He then changed my clothes and submitted all the revenues of his property to me, which was a considerable fortune. He also reserved a house for me next to his own residence.

After a small stretch of time passed, my new master said to me, ‘Abu Bakr, what do you think about getting married?’ ‘My lord,’ I replied, ‘I can barely manage to provide for myself; how will I manage to provide for a wife?’ At this, he said, ‘I will provide for you the dowry, your new home, your clothing and everything else you might need.’ ‘The decision is yours,’ I said. Then he said, ‘My boy, this wife has quite a few defects,’ and he didn’t leave out any of her physical flaws from her head down to her toes. ‘I am satisfied,’ I said. And, indeed, my internal thoughts were in accord with my external expressions. Finally, he concluded, ‘And this wife is my daughter.’ He then got a group of people together and we settled the contract.

A few days later, he said to me, ‘Prepare to enter your home.’ He then ordered some fancy clothes for me and I went into a house that had inside it luxurious furniture and other accoutrements. I was seated upon a cushioned platform and my bride came out, covered by her coloured wrap. I rose to meet her, and when I raised her covering I beheld a vision more beautiful than anything I have seen in this world. I immediately fled from the house. But the old man intercepted me and asked me what was the cause of my flight.

I told him, ‘This wife is not the one you described to me with all the defects!’ The man smiled and said, ‘My boy, [180] she is your wife! I have no other child but her. I only described her the way I did so that you wouldn’t think less of her when you saw her.’ I went back, and the bride was exhibited before me.39

The next morning, I started to admire the jewellery and precious gems she wore. Among the mass of things she wore, I noticed the necklace that I had found back in Mecca! I was astounded and lost myself in thought about it. When I was leaving the building, my father-in-law called to me and asked how I was doing, saying, ‘Lawful enjoyment has bent the nose of jealousy.’40 I thanked him for what he had done for me, but was then seized with the thought of that necklace and how it could have come to him. He asked me, ‘What are you thinking about?’

‘About a certain necklace,’ I said. ‘For I was on pilgrimage to Mecca in a certain year when I found that necklace in the Sacred Precinct, or one very like it.’ The man cried, ‘You’re the one who returned the necklace to me!’ ‘That I am,’ I replied. ‘Take joy at this news!’ he said, ‘for God has forgiven me and you! For I had prayed to God – glory be to Him! – when it happened to forgive me and you and to provide me with the means to repay you. And now I have turned over to you my property and my child, and I have no doubt that my time draws near.’ He later made me the beneficiary of his will and died after a short period not long after that, may God have mercy upon him!

§ Raw Egg Cures a Boil

[181] The amir Sayf al-Dawla Zanki ibn Qaraja (may God have mercy upon him) related to me the following incident. He said:

So, Shahanshah (he’s the husband of Zanki’s sister) invited us to come to Aleppo. Once we gathered together at his place, we sent word to a companion of ours whom we like to spend time with and have drinking-sessions. He was a real sweetheart and made good company, so we invited him to come along. When he showed up, we offered him a drink, but he said, ‘I’m under strict orders not to drink. My physician has ordered me to fast for a few days until this boil splits open.’ He had this huge boil on the back of his neck. But we just told him, ‘Come on and join us today, and you can start fasting tomorrow.’ So he did, and he drank with us all day. Eventually, we asked Shahanshah for something to eat. ‘I haven’t got anything,’ he said. So we harassed him until he finally agreed to bring us some eggs to fry up on the brazier. He had the eggs brought out along with a plate, and we cracked the eggs and poured them out onto the plate and put the frying-pan on the brazier to get all hot. But I gestured to our man with the boil on his neck, and he lifted the plate up to his mouth to drink a bit of it and he totally poured the whole plate-load down his throat! So then we said to the master of the house, ‘Let’s have some compensation for those eggs!’ But he replied, ‘By God, I won’t do it.’ So we just drank some more and went our separate ways.

I was actually still in bed at dawn when somebody knocked on my door. A serving-girl went out to see who was there, and – guess what? – there was that friend of ours. ‘Let him in,’ I said. So he came over to me while I was still in my bed and said, ‘My lord, that boil that was on my neck has disappeared without a trace!’ I checked the spot, and, sure enough, it looked just like any other part of his neck. ‘What got rid of it?’ I asked. ‘It was God, glory be to Him!’ he replied. ‘As far as I know, I didn’t use anything I didn’t [182] use before, unless it was drinking those raw eggs.’

Glory be to the Almighty, the Afflicter, the Healer!

§ Raven-Flesh Cures a Hernia

We had with us at Shayzar two brothers from Kafartab, the oldest named Muzaffar, the other Malik ibn ‘Ayyad. As merchants, they both travelled to Baghdad and other lands. Muzaffar was afflicted with a terrible hernia, which tired him out. Once, while he was part of a caravan crossing the Syrian Desert to Baghdad, the caravan encamped with one of the nomadic Arab tribes, who treated them with hospitality and cooked some fowl for them. They had their supper and then went to sleep. But then Muzaffar woke up and awakened his travelling companion, who was next to him, saying, ‘Am I asleep or awake?’

‘Awake,’ he reasoned. ‘If you were asleep, you wouldn’t be talking.’

Muzaffar said, ‘My hernia has disappeared without leaving any trace.’ His companion examined him and, sure enough, he had returned to a state of health such as anyone else enjoys.

When they woke up the next morning, they asked the Arab tribesmen who had received them as guests what it was that they had fed them.

They said, ‘You encamped among us while our animals were out to pasture, so we just went out and captured some young ravens and cooked them up for you.’

When the caravan reached Baghdad, they went to the hospital and told Muzaffar’s story to the director of the hospital. The director sent word and obtained some young ravens and fed them to whomever was afflicted with this same malady, but it was of no benefit and had no effect whatsoever.

‘This raven that he ate,’ the director surmised, ‘its father must have bill-fed it some vipers, and for that reason it did the man some good.’

§ Some Cures from Ibn Butlan

[183] There was a case similar to that one. A man once went to Yuhanna ibn Butlan the physician, who was famed for his knowledge, wisdom and prominence in the field of medicine. This was when Ibn Butlan had his clinic in Aleppo.41 The man complained to Ibn Butlan about his ailment and the physician could see that he was stricken by dropsy – his stomach was enlarged, his neck emaciated and his whole appearance changed. So he said to the man, ‘By God, my boy, I haven’t got anything to help you, and medicine will no longer be of any use.’ So the man left.

After a while, the man passed by again while Ibn Butlan was in his clinic, and his ailment had entirely left him, his abdomen had shrunk back and his condition was improved. So Ibn Butlan called to him and said, ‘Aren’t you the one who came to see me a while ago with a case of dropsy, with an enlarged stomach and emaciated neck, and I told you, ‘‘I haven’t got anything to help you’’?’

‘I am indeed,’ he replied.

‘With what have you been treated such that your ailment has left you?’ ‘the physician asked.

‘By God,’ he responded, ‘I haven’t been treated with anything. I’m but a poor beggar, without any possessions or anyone to look after me other than my mother, an old and feeble woman. She had two casks full of vinegar which she used to feed to me every day with bread.’

Ibn Butlan asked him, ‘Is there anything left of this vinegar?’

‘Yes,’ the man said.

‘Then take me and show me the cask that has the vinegar in it,’ the physician said.

The man led him to his house and showed him the cask of vinegar. Ibn Butlan emptied out the vinegar that was inside, and discovered two vipers at the bottom that had decomposed. So he said to the man, ‘My boy, no one could have treated you with vinegar containing two vipers to the point that you would have recovered – except for God, the Mighty, the Majestic.’

[184] This Ibn Butlan had an amazing propensity for accurate diagnosis. Here is an example. A man once came to him while he was in his clinic in Aleppo. The man had lost his ability to speak and was barely intelligible when he spoke.

‘What is your trade?’ Ibn Butlan asked the man.

‘I am a sifter,’ he replied.

‘Bring me half a ratl of sharp vinegar,’ the physician said, and it was brought to him. ‘Drink!’ he said to the man.

So the man drank it and sat down for a moment until he was overcome with nausea. He then started vomiting large amounts of clay mixed in with all that vinegar. As a result, his throat opened up and his speech became unimpaired.

Ibn Butlan thereupon said to his son and his pupils, ‘Don’t treat just anyone with this remedy, as it will kill him. In this case, a layer of dirt from the sifting-dust had been deposited along the oesophagus, and nothing could clear it out except vinegar.’

Ibn Butlan used to be attached to the service of my great-grandfather, Abu al-Mutawwaj Muqallad. It happened that my grandfather, Sadid al-Mulk ‘Ali (may God have mercy upon him), developed a white patch of skin when he was just a little boy. His father became anxious about it, fearing it might be leprosy. So he summoned Ibn Butlan and said to him, ‘Have a look at what has appeared on ‘Ali’s body.’

So Ibn Butlan examined him and said, ‘I’ll need five hundred dinars to treat him and make this malady leave him.’

‘If you had treated ‘Ali, I would not have considered it fair to you to pay only five hundred dinars,’ replied my great-grandfather.

When he saw that my great-grandfather was angry, Ibn Butlan said, ‘My lord, I am your servant and slave, existing by your bounty. What I said, I said only by way of a jest. The ailment afflicting ‘Ali is just a skin-irritation that affects the young. When he reaches adolescence, it will pass. So don’t be worried about it and don’t let anyone tell you ‘‘I’ll treat him if you pay me money’’. For all this will clear up when he matures.’

And it turned out just as he had said.

There was in Aleppo a woman, one of the notable women of Aleppo, called Barra. She caught a bad head-cold. She used to fashion for her head some old cotton, a tall pointed cap, some velvet and some pieces of cloth [185] so that she looked like she had a gigantic turban on her head, and she would still beg for relief from her cold. So she summoned Ibn Butlan and complained to him of her malady.

He said to her, ‘Tomorrow, obtain for me fifty mithqals of strong-smelling camphor, either purchased or rented from one of the perfumers, with the understanding that it will be returned intact.’

And so she obtained the camphor for him. The next morning, Ibn Butlan pulled off everything she had on her head, laced her hair with the camphor and returned all the wraps she had had on her head. All the while she was begging for relief from her cold. She then went to sleep for a short while and woke up complaining of the heat and the weight on her head. So Ibn Butlan began removing one piece after another from her head until only one veil was left. Then he shook that camphor from her hair and her cold left her. Afterwards, she would go about covered in one veil only.

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