Post-classical history

§ Women’s Courage for the Sake of Honour: Usama’s Mother

On that same day, my mother (may God have mercy upon her) distributed my swords and kazaghand-armour. She came to a sister of mine, an older woman, and said, ‘Put on your shoes and covering.’

And so she got dressed and my mother took her to a balcony in my house that looked out over the river valley to the east, and made her sit [125] there while she took a seat at the entrance to the balcony.

God – glory be to Him – granted us victory over the enemy. But when I came to my house in search of some of my weapons, I found nothing except the scabbards of the swords and the sacks for the kazaghands. So I asked, ‘Mother, where are my weapons?’

‘My son,’ she replied, ‘I gave the weapons to whoever would use them to fight for us. I didn’t know if you were safe or not.’

I replied, ‘And my sister? What is she doing here?’

‘My son,’ my mother replied, ‘I made her sit here on the balcony while I took my seat just outside. That way, if I should see that the Batinis had reached us, I could push her off, throwing her down to the valley. For I would rather see her dead than see her a prisoner of peasants and wool-carders.’

I thanked her for that, and so did my sister, who prayed that God would reward my mother on her behalf. Their courage for the sake of honour is more intense than such courage among men.

§ Women’s Disdain for Danger

On the same day, an old woman named Funun, who had been a servant-girl of my grandfather Sadid al-Mulk ‘Ali (may God have mercy upon him), covered herself with her veil, took up a sword and went out into battle. And she kept at it until we were able to climb up and overpower the enemy. So no one can deny that noble women possess disdain for danger, courage for the sake of honour and sound judgment.

§ The Wisdom of Women: Usama’s Grandmother and the Lion

At some other time, I went out on the hunt with my father (may God have mercy upon him). Now, my father was really passionate about hunting, and he had a collection of goshawks, peregrines, sakers, cheetahs and zaghariya-hounds225 unlike anything anyone else had. He used to ride out at the head of forty horsemen who included his sons and his mamluks, each one of them experienced in the hunt, knowledgeable about the chase. He had at Shayzar two preferred hunting-grounds: one day he might ride to the marshes and streams to the west of town to hunt francolin, waterfowl, hare, gazelle, and to kill wild boar. On another day, he might ride to the hill south of town to hunt partridge and hare.

One day, when we were on the hill, the time came for the afternoon prayers. My father dismounted, so we all dismounted and prayed, each of us on our own. Suddenly, an attendant came galloping up and said, [126] ‘There’s a lion!’ I therefore finished my prayers before my father (may God have mercy upon him), so that he couldn’t prevent me from killing the lion. I mounted my horse with my spear by my side and charged at the lion. The lion faced me and let out a roar. My horse reared and my spear, because of its weight, fell out of my hand. The lion chased me for a good stretch, then turned back to the foot of the hill and stood there. It was one of the biggest lions I had ever seen, like the arch of a bridge, and ravenous. Every time we approached it, it would come down from the hill and chase after the horses, then return to its place. It never made a descent without leaving its mark on our comrades.

I saw it leap onto the haunches of the horse belonging to an attendant of my uncle called Bastakin Gharza, tearing the man’s clothing and leggings with its claws. Then it returned to the hill. There was thus no way of getting at the lion until I climbed above it on the slope of the hill and then rushed my horse down upon it and thrust my spear at it, piercing it. I left the spear sticking in its side. The lion then rolled over onto the slope of the hill with the spear still in it. The lion died and the spear was broken. My father (may God have mercy upon him) was just standing there watching us; with him were the sons of his brother Sultan, who were keeping an eye on what happened, and they were just boys.

We carried off the lion and entered the town as night approached. In the dark of night, my grandmother on my father’s side (may God have mercy upon them both) came to me, carrying a candle before her. She was a prodigiously old woman, nearly one hundred years of age. I had no doubt that she had come to congratulate me on my safety and to inform me of her joy at what I had done.

And so I met her and kissed her hand, but she said to me with annoyance and anger, ‘My boy, what in the world brings you to face these trials where you risk your life and your horse, you break your weapons and you simply add to the bad feelings and ill-will towards you in your uncle’s heart?’

‘My lady,’ I replied, ‘I have only endangered myself today and on similar occasions to bring me closer to my uncle’s heart.’

‘No!’ she said. ‘By God, this does not bring you closer to him, but rather increases his estrangement from you and encourages his bad feelings and ill-will towards you.’

I learned then that she (may God have mercy upon her) was giving me wise counsel with these words and speaking the truth. By my life, these are indeed the mothers of men!

And, moreover, this old woman (may God have mercy upon her) was one of the most upright Muslims in her immaculate approach to religion, her piety, fasting and prayer. Once, I was present on the night of [127] Nisf Sha’ban226 while she prayed in the home of my father. My father (may God have mercy upon him) was one of the finest chanters of the Book of God (may He be exalted), and he led his mother in prayer. My father was concerned for her and said, ‘Mother, if you take a seat, you can still pray from a seated position.’

‘My son,’ she replied, ‘are there enough days left in my life for me to live to see another night like this one? No, by God, I will not sit.’ By then my father had reached seventy years of age while she had approached one hundred (may God have mercy upon her).

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