Historical Tales and Anecdotes of the Time of the Early Khalifahs/'Amr-ibn-Maady-Karib's Story

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In the tenth year of the Hijrah, many of the pagan tribes of Arabs sent deputies to Muhammad tendering their submission. Amongst these deputies was 'Amr-ibn-Ma4dy-Kdrib, chief of the ez-Zabidin. But considering himself to have been slighted by the Prophet, he joined himself the following year to el-Aswad,one of three false prophets who arose simultaneously against Muhammad. For some time he was successful in his rebellion ; but during the reign of Abu-Bekr was taken prisoner and brought before the Khalifah, who, however, on receiving his oath of allegiance; pardoned and released him. From henceforth he fought nobly for el-Isldm, and is celebrated in history as one of the bravest of warriors, his worth in battle being, according to the figure of speech used by the Arabs, equal to a thousand men. When the Kalifah 'Omar sent him and another to join S4ad-ibn-Abi-Wakkis, in 'Irik, he wrote to Siad, saying, " I send to thee two thousand men, Tulaiha-ibn-Khuwailid and 'Amr-ibn-Ma4dy Kdrib." He died of paralysis during the reign of 'Omar, at a very advanced age — according to some historians more than a hundred years.

IT is said that upon one occasion when 'Amr-ibn-^ Maidy-Kdrib, ez-Zabidy, was visiting 'Omar-ibn-d-Khattab, the latter said to him, "Tell me of the most cowardly man you have ever met with; and of the most crafty ; and of the most courageous." To this 'Amr replied, "Willingly, O Commander of the Faithful !" and began as follows :

" I went out once in quest of spoil ; and as I journeyed, lo ! I came upon a horse fully caparisoned, and a spear planted in the earth. And behold ! a man, girt about with belts for bearing his sword, and looking like the mightiest of men, was sitting on the ground dose by. So I cried to him, ' Beware ! for I am about to slay thee;' upon which he inquired,

  • And who art thou ? ' 'I am 'Amr-ibn-Maady-Karib, ez-Zabtdy,' I replied. Then he sobbed one

sob and died. And he, O Commander of the Faithful ! was the most cowardly man I have ever seen.

" And I went out once again, until I arrived at a certain place, when lo ! I found a horse caparisoned, and a spear planted ia the ground. And behold ! the master of the horse was in a hollow hard by. So I cried out to him, 'Beware ! for I am going taslay thee.' Then he asked, *And who art thou V so I informed him concerning myself. And he said, O father of a Bull,[1] thou actest unjustly towards me ! Thou art upon horseback, and I upon the ground. Give me thy word that thou wilt not kill me until I shall have mounted my horse.' So I gave him my word. Then he came forth from the place where he was, and accoutred himself with his sword-belts, and sat down on the ground. Upon which I exclaimed, ' What is this Y And he said, ' I am not mounted on my horse, and I will not fight with thee ; and if thou breakest thy plighted word, thou knowest what happens to the man who breaks his faith.' So I left him, and passed on. And he, O Commander of the Faithful ! was the most crafty man I have ever seen.

" And I went out yet once again, until I came to a place about the roads of which I lay in wait to rob. But I saw no one. So I galloped my horse right and left, and lo ! I perceived a horseman. And when he came near to me, behold ! he was a comely youth. The hair on his cheeks grew in greater beauty than I had ever seen among even the handsomest of young men. And verily he came from the direction of el- Yemimah.* And as he approached he saluted me, and I returned his salutation, and asked, * Who art

  • Two or three days' journey south-east of cd-Diriyyah, the

present Wahhl^by capital


■ ' ■ ■• T — "^

thou, young man ? ' He replied, ' Hirith the son of S4ad, a horseman of Shabhd/ Then I cried, ' Beware ! for verily I am about to slay thee/ But he retorted, ' Woe be to thee ! And who art thou ?' I said, ' 'Amr-ibn-Maddy-Kdrib, ez-Zabtdy/ ' The despicable ! the vile ! ' he exclaimed, ' by AU&h ! only thy contemptible estate prevents my killing thee !'

" Then, O Commander of the Faithful ! I appeared mean in my own eyes, and he who was before me appeared mighty. But I sajd to him, 'Leave off talking, and defend thyself, for I will fight thee, and by Allih ! but one of us shall quit this spot/ Then he cried, * Go ! may thy mother be bereft of thee ! Verily we are of a family of which a horseman has never deprived us of a member/ I replied, ' It will be he whom thou hearest/ Whereupon he said,

  • Choose for thyself whether thou shalt charge me, or

whether I shall charge thee/

" So I took advantage of him, and said to him, * Go thou to a distance from me/ And when he had this done, I bore down upon him, and thought to thrust my spear through his shoulders ; but lo ! he had bent himself down as were he the girth of his horse. Then he leant over towards me, and placed his spear as a

44 'ILAM-EN-NAs,

veil over my head, and cried, ' Take this to thyself as one, O ' Amr ! And but that I abhor the slaughter of such as thee, surely I had slain thee/

Then, O Commander of the Faithful ! I appeared despicable unto myself, and death was dearer to me than what I had experienced. And I cried to him, ' By Allih ! only one of us shall quit this spot/ And he repeated to me his former speech. So I said to him, ' Place thyself at a distance from me.' And he retired. Then I thought I had him in my power, and I pursued him until I imagined I had thrust my spear between his shoulders. But lo ! he had bent himself down like the breast-band of his horse, and then leant towards me, and again veiled my head with his spear, and cried, * Take this, the second, O 'Amr ! '

" So I despised m)rself exceedingly, and said, * By AUih ! only one of us shall quit this spot' Then he retired from me again, and I thought that I could thrust my spear between his shoulders. But he sprang from his horse, and 1© ! he was upon the ground, and I missed my aim. Then he vaulted on to his horse, and pursued me, until once more he veiled my head with his spear, and cried, ' Take this, the


third, O ' Amr ! And but for my abhorrence of killing such as thee, surely I had slain thee.*

"Then I said, *Slay me. I would rather die than that this should be reported amongst the Arab horsemen.' To which he replied, * O *Amr ! Pardon can only be granted three times. If I had thee in my power a fourth time, I should certainly kill thee.' And he recited, and said,

I affirm by the most solemn of faiths,

That hadst thou, O 'Amr ! returned to the combat,

Verily thou hadst felt the fire of the lance.

Or I am not of the sons of Shibin.'^

" Then I feared him with exceeding fear ; and I said to him, * Truly there is one thing I crave of thee.' He asked, * And what is that } ' I replied, * That I may become thy friend.' He said, *My friends ar^ not such as thee.' And that answer was even harder upon me, and more terrible to bear, than his victory over me. And I did not cease entreating for his friendship until at length he said, ' Unhappy man ! knowest thou whither I purpose?' I replied, *No,

  • Fehr, sumamed Kuraish, (see Note *, p. 79,) had three sons,

from one of whom, Muh^b, sprang the Benu-Muhirib, also palled Benu-Shtbin.

46 'ILAM'EN'NAs,

by Allah !' He said, ' I seek Red Death, its very self.'* To which I replied, * I desire death with thee/ So he said, * Go with us.* And we journeyed the whole of that day until night closed upon us. And half of it had passed when we arrived at an encampment of the encampments of the Arabs. And he said to me, 'Red Death is within this encampment, O *Amr! Wilt thou then hold my horse whilst I go, and return with what I want ; or wilt thou go whilst I hold thy horse, and bring me what I desire ?'

" So I replied, * It is well that thou shouldst go, for thou knowest better than I what thou wantest/ Then he flung to me his horse's bridle, and I was willing, by A114h ! O Commander of the Faithful, to beSiyisJ to him!

" Then he passed into a tent, and brought out of it

a damsel, than whom my eyes have never beheld one

  • excelling in beauty and gfrace. And he mounted her

♦ " Red Death," i.e,y which takes place through the shedding of blood. Amongst the mystics, the resistance of man to his passions. '* White Death," {>., natural death. Amongst the mystics, hunger. "Black Death," <>., death by strangulation. " Green Death," i.e.^ clothing oneself in rags or patched gar- ments, after the manner of dervishes.

X Siyis, groom or horsekeeper.


upon a camel, and said, ' Ho ! 'Amr.* I replied, * At your service.' He asked, * Wilt thou guard me whilst I lead the camel, or shall I guard thee whilst thou leadest her?' I replied, *No; I will lead her, and thou shalt defend me.'

"So he threw me the camel's halter, and we journeyed until, behold ! day dawned upon us. Then he said again, * Ho ! 'Amr.' I replied, * What is thy will ?' He said, * Turn round and look whether thou seest any one.' So I turned round, and I saw some- thing like camels. And I said, * I see camels.' He said, ' Quicken thy pace.* Presently he added, * Ho !

  • Amr. Look again ; and if they are few, courage

and strength ! for it will be Red Death, but if they are many there is nothing td fear.'

" So I turned round, and said, * They are four or five.' Upon hearing which he said, ' Slacken thy pace.'. And I did so. Then he stopped and lis- tened, and heard the footfall of the horses* already near. And he said, 'Wait thou at the right-hand side of the road, O 'Amr! and turn the heads of our animals towards the road.' And I did so. And

  • In the dim light of early dawn, the mirage on the desert

horizon would allow of horses being easily mistaken for camels.

48 'ILAM-EN'NAs,

I stood on the right of the camel, and he stood on her left.

" And the people approached us, and behold ! they were three persons, two young men, and one very old man. And the latter was the father of the damsel, and the two young men were her brethren. And they saluted us, and we returned the salutation.

" Then said the old man, * Give up the girl, O son of my brother!' But Hirith replied, *I will not give her up ; nor was it for this that I took her away.'

" Then said the old man to one of his sons, * Do battle with him.' And he went out towards him dragging his spear. But H4rith bore down upon him, and said :

Ere gaining that thou seekest, shall be dyed the spear In blood from a horseman, visored, trained to combat. He belongs to Shibin, the noblest of the tribes of Wiil, And journeys not thitherwards in vain.

" Then with his spear he struck the old man's son a violent blow, which pierced his spine, and he fell dead.

"Then said the old man to his other son, 'Do battle with him, for there is no worth in life with ignominy.'


" But Hirith approached, and said :

Of a truth thou hast seen how struck my lance, And the blow was for a warrior mighty of prowess. Death is better than separation from my beloved, And my death this day, but not my disgrace.

"Then he struck the old man's son a mighty blow with his spear, and he fell from it, dead.

" Then said the old man to him, * Give up her who is seated on the camel, O son of my brother ! For I am not like these whom thou hast overcome.*

" But HArith said, * I will not give her up. Nor was it for this that I sought her.*

" Then said the old man, * O son of my brother ! choose for thyself. Wilt thou that I fight thee on foot, or that I charge thee on horseback V

" So the young man took advantage of the choice and dismounted. And the old man also dismounted, and recited this poem :

I will not quail at the end of my life ; I hold my ninety years as a single month ; Warriors have feared me through all time ; While the sword endures backs shall be cleft.

"Then Hirith approached, and he also recited, saying :

Distant has been my course, and lengthened my journey, Until I have conquered and rejoiced my bosom ; And death is better than the garment of perfidy And shame I present to the tribe of Bekr.[2]

"Then he approached. And the old man asked him, "O son of my brother ! wilt thou that I strike thee, and if I leave life in thee that thou return the blow ; or wilt thou that thou strikest me, and if thou leavest life in me that I return the blow?"

"So the young man seized the opportunity, and cried,"I will begin"

"Come on," said the old man.

" Then Hirith raised his hand holding his sword. And when the old man saw that he was certainly aiming it at his head, he thrust his spear into HArith's stomach, and his entrails protruded. And the young man's blow descending upon his uncle's head, they both fell down dead.

"And so I, O Commander of the Faithful ! seized upon the four horses and the four swords, and then approaching the camel, the girl said to me, 'Whither? O 'Amr ! For I am no friend of thine, and thou art no friend of mine ; nor am I like these whom thou has seen.' So I said to her, 'Calm thyself.' But she continued : ' If thou art my friend, give me a sword or a spear ; and if thou conquerest me I am thine ; but if I conquer thee I will slay thee/

" I replied, ' I will not give you either of them, for truly I was acquainted with thy family, and knew the bravery and courage of thy people.* And at these words she threw herself from her camel, and came forwards, and recited, saying :

After my father, and then after my brethren, Can pleasure or delight survive in my life ? Shall I consort with one who is not brave ? Shall not rather than that be my death ?

"Then she rushed towards a spear, and forced it out of my hand. And when I saw her do this, I feared that she might succeed in killing me, and so I killed her.

"And HArith, O Commander of the Faithful, was the most courageous man I have ever seen."

  1. The surname by which 'Amr was known amongst the Arabs.
  2. Probably the name of the old man's tribe.