Post-classical history

IN THE SERVICE OF NUR AL-DIN

§ Usama’s Family Delivered. The Franks Seize his Property

[34] I then entered the service of Nur al-Din105 (may God have mercy upon him). He corresponded with Ibn Ruzzik about transporting my household and sons who had been left behind in Egypt, and who, I might add, had been treated very well. But Ibn Ruzzik sent the messenger back and begged off, claiming that he feared for their safety because of the Franks. He wrote to me, saying, ‘Come back to Egypt: you know what our relationship is like. If you are expecting any ill-will from the palace staff, then you can go to Mecca where I will send you a document granting you the city of Aswan,106 and I will send you all the reinforcements you need to combat the Abyssinians (for Aswan is one of the frontier-fortresses of the Muslims). Then I will let your household and sons come to join you.’

So I consulted with Nur al-Din, seeking his advice on the matter. He said, ‘You are not seriously considering, having just left behind Egypt and all her troubles, going back there! Life is too short for that! I’ll send a messenger to the king of the Franks107 to obtain safe-passage for your household, and I’ll also send someone along to conduct them here.’ And so he (may God have mercy upon him) sent a messenger and obtained the safe-passage from the king, with his cross right on it,108good for both land- and sea-travel.

So I sent along the safe-passage with a servant of mine, as well as a letter from Nur al-Din and my own letter for Ibn Ruzzik. Ibn Ruzzik then sent my family on to Damietta in one of his own personal launches, along with all the provisions and cash they would need, and his own letter of protection. From Damietta, they sailed in a Frankish ship. As they approached Acre, where the king was (may God not [35] have mercy upon him), the king sent out a group of men in a small boat to sink the ship with axes, as my own companions looked on. The king rode out on his horse, stopped at the shore and took as pillage everything that was in the ship.

A servant of mine swam across to him, holding the safepassage document, and said to him, ‘My lord king, is this not your document of safe-passage?’

‘Indeed it is,’ he said. ‘But this is the procedure among the Muslims: if one of their ships is wrecked off one of their towns, then the inhabitants of that town get to pillage it.’

My servant then asked, ‘So you are going to take us prisoner?’ ‘No,’ the king replied, and he had my family (may God curse him) brought to a building, where he had the women searched and took everything they had with them. In the ship there had been jewellery that had been entrusted to the women, along with cloth and gems, swords and other weapons, and gold and silver amounting to something like thirty thousand dinars. The Franks took it all and then sent my household five hundred dinars, saying, ‘You can get to your country on this,’ even though the party totalled some fifty men and women.

As for me, I was at that very moment with Nur al-Din in the land of the king Mas’ud, in the region of Ra’ban and Kaysun.109The news that my children and my brother’s children and our women were safe made it easier to take the news about all the wealth that was lost. Except for my books: they totalled four thousand bound volumes of the most precious tomes. Their loss was for me a heartache that lasted all my life.

§ Conclusion

These, then, are the kinds of calamities that can the tallest mountain shake, and the most precious fortune cruelly break. But God (glory be to Him) recompenses us in His mercy and concludes all things in His kindness and forgiveness. These were the great events that I witnessed, in addition to the calamities that I endured, but out of which I emerged safely, according to the timing as Fate wishes, though I was ruined by the loss of my riches.

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