November 30, 2010

Views of May 26

November 26, 2010

On rainbows

Al-Khalil said: "The 'Bow of Quzah' is a band that comes together in the sky during the rainy season." "Do not call it 'Quzah's Bow,' " we are told in a hadith reported by Ibn 'Abbas, "for 'Quzah' is a demon's name. Call it instead the 'Bow of God,' be He Exalted and Magnified." But Abu Ruqaysh said: "Quzah are the bands contained within the rainbow, sg. quzaha. And al-taqzih is the branching of a tree or a plant such that it takes the shape of a dog's foot." Another hadith forbids praying behind a tree so formed. And in the verse of al-A'sha, "Quzah" is a man's name:

    "Huddled in a flock that had given up hope
        in the welcome appearance of Quzah's companions..."

[...] The rainbow is called al-dah ["The Gewgaw"], as in the proverbial expression: "He doesn't know al-mah from al-dah." Al-mah is an egg yolk, and al-dah is a name for the rainbow. Al-dah also names the celestial halo seen mostly at night, and less frequently during the rising and setting of the sun. All such halos are caused when the light of a heavenly body meets a large quantity of wet vapor in the air, and is bent and turned round in the air by that vapor. And that is how you come to see the halo effect.

It has been observed that rainbows are fleeting occurrences, seen mostly in late afternoon and early evening, and never in the morning. In the autumn they are most frequent, and in summer they do not occur. The double rainbow you might see is caused by the reflection of the sun's rays on a barrier of moist vapor, after the fashion of light in water, and its subsequent retroflection. And a rainbow may be seen at night (though rarely) when the light of the full moon is at its height.

The turbidity or clarity of the rainbow depends on the humidity of the air, which (prior to the air's turbidity or clarity) determines the clarity and brightness of its colors. This is analogous to the color of fire, which is red and turbid when the wood is damp, and clear yellow when the wood is dry. And so it is with the colors of the rainbow.

From The Book of Seasons and Places
by Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Marzuqi (d. 1030 AD), ch. 33.

November 20, 2010

News of Solomon's horses

The Prophet David was a passionate lover of horses. Never could he hear a horse praised for its pedigree or nobility, its beauty or its swiftness without commanding it be brought to him, until he had assembled 1,000 horses unmatched at that time by any others on the earth. When God took David to Himself, and Solomon had inherited his possessions and taken his father's seat, he said: "My father bequeathed nothing dearer to me than these horses," and saw to their care and feeding.

There are people of learning who say that God, be He exalted, produced 100 winged horses from the sea, and that these horses were called al-Khayr [his "Goods"], and that Solomon used to race them against each other, and that in his sight there was no greater marvel.

It is said that one day Solomon called for his horses, saying: "Show them to me, that I may know their markings, names and genealogies." The show commenced upon completion of his afternoon prayers. As the hour for evening prayers approached, a noble steed was in command of his attention, and horses kept him from his prayers until the sun was fully absent, having "disappeared behind the curtain" (38:32) - whereupon Solomon came to his senses. Reminded of his prayers, he begged God's pardon, saying: "There is no 'good' in wealth that distracts from prayer and remembrance of God!" Up to this point, 900 of his horses had been shown, with 100 still to go, but at Solomon's command the 900 were brought back and "he fell to striking their legs" (38:33) in atonement for letting the evening prayer slip past him. There remained 100 horses which had not been shown him, of which he said: "These hundred are dearer to me than the nine hundred that strayed me from remembrance of God." Thus does God say: "To David We gave Solomon, most excellent of worshipers. Staunch was he in his return [to Us]" (38:30). And Solomon's enthusiasm for horses did not cease until God took him to Himself.

[My father] Muhammad ibn al-Sa'ib al-Kalbi related on the authority of Abu Salih that Ibn 'Abbas said: "The Arabs first learned of these horses upon Solomon's marriage to Bilqis, Queen of Sheba, when a deputation of Azd came from Oman before the son of David. They questioned him about religious and mundane obligations until their curiosity was satisfied, and they were anxious to return home. 'O Prophet of God,' they said, 'our country is very far away, and we have exhausted our stock of provisions. Provision us with what will last us until we get there.' So Solomon gave them one of his horses, saying: 'This is your provision: when you set up camp, set a man on his back and give him a spear. You are to gather no wood and strike no fire unless he comes back with the spoils of the chase.' The Azdites did so, mounting a man on the horse and putting a spear in his hand every time they set up camp. But wood was always gathered and fire was struck, for it was never long before he came back with a gazelle or onager he had hunted. And for the whole length of their journey they had enough to sustain and satisfy them, and then some. The Azdites said: 'What shall we name our horse, if not Zad al-Rakib ["Provision of the Rider"]?' And that was the first that Solomon's horses were known to the Arabs."

From the Genealogies of Horses by Ibn al-Kalbi

November 12, 2010

News of Qalam

Muhammad ibn Mazid ibn Abi 'l-Azhar informed me that the singer Radhdhadh Abu 'l-Fadl (a courtier of al-Mutawakkil) was told by Ahmad ibn al-Husayn ibn Hisham:

"Qalam al-Salihiyya belonged to Salih ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, and was one of the most skilled and famous singers of her day. A poem of Muhammad ibn Kunasa that she had set to music was sung in front of al-Wathiq:

    'I am pervaded by cringing and shame, ever since
        I surrendered to my private nature
    in the company of noble, upstanding folk,
        and was shameless in saying the things I said.'

" 'Whose composition is this?' asked the caliph. 'It is by Qalam al-Salihiyya,' he was told , 'the slave of Salih ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab,' So he sent for [his vizier] Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Malik al-Zayyat, who soon appeared. 'Woe unto you,' the caliph said, '[if you can't tell me:] who is this Salih ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab?' Ibn al-Zayyat told him. 'Where is he?' said the caliph. 'Have him sent for, and his singing-girl along with him.' The two were brought before the caliph, and Qalam went into his chamber. At his command she sang for him, and the caliph was so pleased that he commanded she be sold to him. 'I will sell her," said Salih, for the governorship of Egypt plus 100,000 dinars.' Al-Wathiq waxed wroth at this, and returned a scathing answer.

"Some time later at al-Wathiq's court, Zurzur the Elder sang a song with lyrics by Salih's brother Ahmad ibn al-Wahhab, set to a tune by Qalam. It went like this:

    'The abode of lovers does not show itself clearly.
        A skeptical view is the truest you'll get.
    Whoever loves Layla is in for soul-rending:
        a predator's pounce, and no gratification.'

" 'Whose song is this?' asked al-Wathiq. 'It is by Qalam,' he was told, 'the slave of Salih.' So he commanded Ibn al-Zayyat to summon Salih and al-Qalam along with him. When they were brought before the caliph and Qalam had gone into his chamber, al-Wathiq ordered her to sing the song, which she did. 'This is your own composition?' he asked her. 'Yes, O Commander of the Faithful,' said Qalam. 'May God bless you and him who raised you,' said the caliph, and summoned Salih.

"Salih appeared and said: 'Since the Commander of the Faithful is struck with longing for her, it is unthinkable for me to retain possession of her. She is my gift to the Commander of the Faithful. My decision is to transfer her ownership to you, and may God bless you for it.' 'I accept,' said al-Wathiq, and ordered Ibn al-Zayyat to pay him 5,000 dinars. And he gave to Qalam ['Pen'] the name of Ihtiyat ['Prudence'].

"But Ibn al-Zayyat did not hand over the money, and forebore its payment. And Salih made this known to Qalam. So one day when al-Wathiq had greeted the morning with a drink, she regaled him with a song. 'May God bless you and him who raised you!' he said. She replied: 'Sire, he who raised me has received nothing for it but for weariness and loss on my account, and the result to him is zero.' 'Did I not order 5,000 dinars to be paid him?' the caliph asked. She said: 'But Ibn al-Zayyat has not given him anything.' So he called a trusted servant, and imposed on Ibn al-Zayyat the delivery of 5,000 dinars plus 5,000 more on top of that.

"Salih said: 'When I went to al-Zayyat with the servant and the message, he brought me close and said: "As for the first 5,000 dinars, here they are, take them. The other 5,000 I will pay you after Friday." So I left, and thereupon he pretended to forget he knew me. When I wrote to him of his debt, he sent me this message: "Write me out a receipt, and get the money from me after Friday." I was loath to do so as I had received none of it, and I declined to appear at my friend's house while he was there. When it dawned on him that I could not be found, Ibn al-Zayyat feared that I would complain of him to al-Wathiq. So he sent me the money in exchange for the receipt. Some after that the servant came to me and said: "The Commander of the Faithful commands me to ply you with this question: did you receive the money?" "Yes I did," I said. And with the money I bought an estate, and made it my haunt and home, and from that time forward I kept away from government work nor put myself in its way for any reason.' "

From the Book of Songs of Abu 'l-Faraj al-Iṣbahani

November 6, 2010

On the subject of handwriting

Among what poets have said on the subject of handwriting are the verses transmitted by Hisham ibn Muhammad ibn al-Sa'ib al-Kalbi, who said:

"In one of his poems, al-Muqanna' al-Kindi praised al-Walid ibn Yazid, saying [in kāmil meter]:

    Like letters in the books of a young scrivener, [his deeds are]
        precise and indelible, and with his pen he is unerring:
    a pen like a pigeon's downward-pointing beak,
        safe depositor of the sage’s knowledge,
    it marks the letters where he wishes to establish
        their clarity with diacritic strokes
    lifted from the blackened wick of ink,
        whose wool is tinted by the charcoal discharge.
    The nib is clipped closely, for it splits from much writing,
        like the clipping one trims from a fingernail’s edge,
    and the crack in its nib is repaired and made even,
        and watered with ink, which enhances its mending.
    It is silent, though eloquent in all that
        a tongue has to say, without speaking,
    for it has interpreters with tongues of their own
        whose translation into speech brings clarity.
    But his scribes do not write a single line
        that reveals what he wants to keep secret.
    To name him, the scrivener sets down a qaf, then a lam
        with mim hung from its bottom. [This spells 'pen.']

"Then he said:

    A little gazelle said to her neighbor
        on glimpsing al-Muqanna' through his veil:
    'Fair was his face, but possessed of mixed aspect
        for paleness was countered by darkness of eye.'
    How many can boast of a herd of such camels
        - nimble-shanked Mahris one year past their teething -
    as al-Walid furnished with saddle and halter?
        Whose saddles and halters are equal to his?
    Whose colts just past teething are so battle-ready,
        their girth-straps filled out by mare's milk in abundance,
    as al-Walid furnished with saddle and rein?
        And whose reins and saddles are equal to his?
    To al-Walid, al-Muqanna' sends a poem
        like a sword honed on the blade of his own sword.
    His are the noblest of deeds of Quraysh,
        and so, on the death of Hisham, is the throne."

Al-Jahiz, The Book of Animals I 65-66.

November 3, 2010

A description of the locust

The locust has six legs, with two arms set in its chest, two legs in its middle and two at its rear. Both of its hind legs end in a saw. It is one of those animals that follow a leader, for it is organized in military fashion: after the first of them takes flight or makes a landing, all the others do the same. Its saliva acts on plants as a slow poison. Every plant it lands on is destroyed.

On the authority of Abu Hurayra, al-Bukhari relates that the Prophet, God's blessings and peace be upon him, said: "The prophet Job, God's blessings and peace be upon him, was bathing nude when he was showered by a flock of locusts all of gold, and began gathering them into his robe. Then God, be He exalted, called to him: 'Have I not kept you free of need for what you see?' 'Yes, my Lord,' said Job, 'and yet I still have need of your blessings.'" On this hadith, al-Shafi'i commented: "It is right that honest wealth should go to honest worshipers."

Al-Tabarani and al-Bayhaqi relate on the authority of Shu'ba that Abu Zuhayr al-Namiri said: "Do not kill locusts, for they are God's most numerous jund."* I say: If authentic, this hadith only applies when crops and the like are not exposed to ruin. Otherwise it is lawful to attack them. A jund is a "troop" (pl. ajnād and junūd), as in the hadith: "Souls are junūd mujannada," i.e. troops collected together, [a redoubled phrase] which is like ulūf mu'allafa ["thousands upon thousands"] or qanātir muqantara ["heaped-up riches"].

To Ibn 'Umar (may God be pleased with him and his father) is attributed the hadith in which a locust landed in the hands of the Prophet, God's blessings and peace be upon him. On its wings was an inscription in Hebrew, reading: "We are God's largest troop, laying 99 eggs, and if we were to lay 100 we would devour the whole world and everything in it." The Prophet, God's blessings and peace be upon him, said: "Dear God! destroy the locust. Kill the old ones, bring death to the little ones, and cause their eggs to miscarry. Avert their mouths from the crops and livelihoods of Muslims, You who hear my prayer." At this, Gabriel appeared and said: "Your prayer has been answered, but only in part." This hadith is also related by al-Hakim in The History of Nishapur.**

Al-Tabarani also relates that Hasan the son of 'Ali (may God be pleased with them both) said: "I was eating at a table with Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya and my cousins 'Abd Allah, Qatham and al-Fadl (the sons of my uncle 'Abbas), when a locust landed on the table. 'Abd Allah seized it and said: 'What is written on this creature?' I said: 'I asked the father of the Commander of the Faithful about that, and he said, "When I asked the Prophet about it, God's blessings and peace be upon him, he said: 'This is what is written on it: "I am God, there is no God but I: Lord of the locust and its provider. I send them to people as a provision and as a plague as it is My will." ' " ' " The commentary of Ibn 'Abbas: "This is hidden science."***

Editor's notes (by Ahmad 'Abd al-Basit Hamid):
*In his Assembly of Unique Narrations, al-Haythami says: "This hadith's chain of transmission includes Muhammad ibn Isma'il ibn 'Ayyash, who is a weak narrator."

**As related by al-Bayhaqi in The Branches of Faith, this hadith's chain of transmission includes one Muhammad ibn 'Uthman al-Qaysi. "This man is unknown," says al-Bayhaqi, "and the hadith is denied, though God knows best."

***This hadith appears in The Branches of Faith and in The Scattered Pearls of al-Suyuti, but in the three collections of al-Tabarani it cannot be found.

From Attainment of what is wished for in the field of locust lore
by 'Ali ibn Muhammad al-Mallah (ca. 1603 AD)