The Twenty-Eighth Assembly of al-Hariri (Samarkand)
(Islamic literature, c. 1100)
Chapter 16

This short story is a masterpiece in Arabic. Al-Hariri shows his eloquence in the original language with double meanings and rhyme which are hard to appreciate in translation. The translation does, however, have something to offer western readers in its irony, its social satire, and its picture of Islamic culture during this era.

Al-Harith, son of Hammam, related: In one of my journeys I chose sugar-candy for a merchandise, making with the same for Samarcand in those days I was upright of build, brimful of sprightliness, . . . Now I reached her on a Friday morn, after I had endured hardship, and . . . I wended forthwith towards a bath, when I put from me the weariness of travel, and took to the washing of the congregation-day conformably to tradition. Then I hastened with the bearing of the humble to the cathedral mosque, so as to join those who near the prayer-leader, and offer [as it were] the fattened camel, and happily I was foremost in the race, and elected the central place for hearing the sermon. Meanwhile people ceased not to enter in troops into the faith of Allah, and to arrive singly and in pairs, until, when the mosque was crowded with its assembly, and a person had waxed equal with his shadow, the preacher sallied forth, swaggering in the wake of his acolyths, and straightway mounted the steps of the pulpit of the [divine] call, until he stood at its summit, when he gave blessing with a wave of his right hand, sitting down thereafter until the ritual of the cry to prayer was completed. Then he rose and spoke:

Note 1 "Praise be to Allah, the exalted of names, the praised for His bounties, the abundant in gifts, the called upon for the rescinding of calamity; king of the nations, restorer of rotten bones, honourer of the folks of forbearance and generosity, destroyer of 'Ad and Irem; whose cognizance comes up with every secret, whose compassion encompasses every obdurate in sin, whose munificence comprises all the world, whose power breaks down every revolter. I praise Him with the praise of one who proclaims [God's] unity and professes Islam, I pray to Him with the prayer of the hopeful, the trusting, for He is the God, there is no God but He, the unique, the one, the just, the eternal, there is none begotten to Him, and no begetter, no companion with Him and no helpmate. He sent forth Mohammed to spread about Islam, to consolidate religion, to confirm the guidance of the apostles, to straighten the black-hued and the red. He united womb-connections, he taught the fundamentals of truth, he set a stamp on the lawful and the forbidden, he regulated [laid down the rules for] the doffing and the donning of the pilgrim-cloak. May Allah exalt his place, and perfect the blessing and benediction upon him, may He have compassion on his race, the worthy, and on his progeny, the uterine, as long as the pile-cloud pours, as long as the dove coos, as long as the cattle graze, as long as the sword assaults. Work ye, may Allah have mercy upon you, the work of the pious, exert yourselves towards your return [on the resurrection day with the exertion of the sound, curb your lusts with the curbing of enemies, make ready for your departure with the readiness of the blissful. Put ye on the robes of abstinence, and put away the ailings of greed, make straight the crookedness of your dealings, and resist the whisperings of hope. Portray ye to your imaginings the vicissitudes of circumstances, and the alighting of terrors, and the attacks of sickness, and the cutting off from pelf and kin: Bethink yourselves of death, and the agony of its throwing-place, of the tomb and the awfulness of that which is sighted there, of the grave-niche and the loneliness of the one deposed in it, of the angel and the frightfulness of his questioning and of his advent. Look ye at fortune and the baseness of its onslaught, and the evil of its deceit and cunning: . . , how many a host has it scattered, how many an honoured king has it overthrown. Its striving is to strike deaf the ears, to make flow the tear-founts, to baffle desires, to destroy the songster and the listener to the song. Its decree is the same for kings and subjects, for the lord and the henchman, for the envied and the envier, for serpents and for lions. It enriches not, but to turn away, and reverse hopes; it bestows not, but to outrage and cut into the limbs; it gladdens not, but to sadden, and revile, and injure; it grants no health, but to engender disease and frighten friends. Fear ye Allah! fear ye Allah! May Allah keep you! How long this persistency in levity this perseverance in thoughtlessness, this stubbornness in sin, this loading yourselves with crime, this rejection of the word of the wise, this rebellion against the God of heaven', Is not the hour [of resurrection] your tryst, and the plain or hell your goal? Are not the terrors of doomsday laid in ambush for you? Is not the abode of transgressors Al-Hutamah, the firmly [safely] locked? Their warder Malik, their comeliness raven blackness, their food poison, their breathing-air the scorching blast! No wealth prospers them no offspring; no numbers protect them, and no equipments. But lo, Allah has mercy upon the man who rules his passion, and who treads the paths of his guidance; who makes firm his obedience towards his Lord, and strives for the restfulness of his place of refuge; who works while life lasts obedient, and fortune at truce with him, and health perfect and welfare at hand; Lest he be overtaken by the frustration of his wish, by the faltering of speech, by the alighting of afflictions, by the fulfillment of fate, by the blunting of senses, by the remedy of the sepulchres. Alack on them for a misery whose woefulness is assured, whose term is infinite! He who is remedied thereby is wretched, his distractedness has none to allay it, his regret none to pity it; there is no one to ward off that which befalls him. May then Allah inspire you with the praiseworthiest of inspirations! May He robe you with the robe of glory! May He cause you to alight in the abode of peace! Of Him I ask mercy upon you and on the people of the religion of Islam, for He is the most forgiving of the generous, the saviour, and peace be with you."

Said Al-Harith, son of Hammam: Now,when I saw that the sermon was a choice thing without a flaw, and a bride without a spot, the wonderment at its admirable strain urged me on to look at the preacher's face, scan it narrowly, and to let my glance range over him, carefully, when it became clear to me by the truth of tokens, that it was our Shaykh the author of the Assemblies. There was, however, no help from keeping silent for the time being; so I withheld until he had left off praying, and "the dispersing on the earth" had come.

Then I turned towards him, and hastened to meet him, and when he spied me he quickened his pace, and was profuse in doing me honour, bidding me to accompany him to his abode and snaking me a confidant of the particulars of his intimate affairs: Now, when the wing of darkness had spread, and the time for sleep had come, he brought forth wineflasks secured with plug, whereupon I said to him: "Dost thou quaff it before sleep, and thou the prayerleader of the people?" But he : "Hush! I by day am preacher, but by night make merry." Said I: "By Allah, I know not whether to wonder more at thy unconcernedness as to thy kinsfolk and thy birthplace, or at thy preacher-office with thy foul habits, and the rotation of thy winecup." Thereupon he turned his face in disgust from me, and presently he said: Listen to me:

"Weep not for a friend that is distant, nor for an abode, but turn thyself about with fortune as it turns about.
Reckon thou all mankind thy dwelling-place, and fancy all the earth thy home.
Forbear with the ways of him with whom thou dealest, and humour him, for it is the wise that humours.
Miss thou no chance of enjoyment, for thou knowest not if thou live a day, or if an age.
Know thou that death is going round, and the moon-haloes circle above all created beings.
Swearing, that they will not cease chasing them, as long as morn and even turn and return.
How then mayest thou hope to escape from a net from which neither Kisra escaped, nor Dara."

Said he [the narrator]: And when the cups went between us from hand to hand, and the vital spirits waxed geeful, he dragged from me the oath that allows no exception, that I would screen his repute [secret]. So I complied with his wish, and kept faith with him, and ranked him before the great in the rank of Al Fuzail, and let down the skirt over the turpitudes of night; and this continued to be his wont and my wont, until the time for my return came, when I took leave from him, while he persisted in hypocrisy and in secretly quaffing old wine.

F. Steingass, The Assemblies of al-Hariri, Oriental Translation Fund, New Series, 3, (London, Royal Asiatic Society, 1898), pp.8-14.


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