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