riyada in arabic means "training" or "discipline". It was used by the arabs in relation to horse taming. Sufis refer to their discipline as "riyadat an-nafs": disciplining the soul / training the ego. Today, the word riyada has come to mean "sports". There is an Arabic proverb that says: "The purpose of sports (riyada) is not to win cups, but to discipline the soul". This blog is here to help me discipline my soul and train my body.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Looking back at History

I love history. Sometimes I'm just gonna post ancient writings here, just for fun. Today, for example, I'm gonna post some writings with one theme: how different civilizations saw each other a long time ago.

First: The Armenian History attributed to Sebeos, written in the middle of the 7th century, and providing the only substantial non-Muslim account of the initial period of Muslim expansion. This is how the Armenians saw the Muslim expansion (you can see how Sebeos is combining the Islamic conquests, which came after the death of the Prophet, with the message of the Prophet, which is not entirely true):

At that time a certain man from among those same sons of Ismael whose name was Mahmet, a merchant, as if by God's command appeared to them as a preacher [and] the path of truth. He taught them to recognize the God of Abraham, especially because he was learned and informed in the history of Moses. Now because the command was from on high, at a single order they all came together in unity of religion. Abandoning their vain cults, they turned to the living God who had appeared to their father Abraham. So Mahmet legislated for them: not to eat carrion, not to drink wine, not to speak falsely, and not to engage in fornication. He said, "With an oath God promised this land to Abraham and his seed after him for ever. And he brought about as he promised during that time while he loved Israel. But now you are the sons of Abraham, and God is accomplishing his promise to Abraham and his seed for you. Love sincerely only the God of Abraham, and go and seize your land which God gave to your father Abraham. No one will be able to resist you in battle, because God is with you."

The Franks and Their Marital Jealousy, an excerpt from the celebrated autobiography of the amir of Shaizar, Usama bin Munqidh, whose life spanned almost the whole first century of the crusades.

The Franks are without any vestige of a sense of honour and jealousy. If one of them goes along the street with his wife and meets a friend, this man will take the woman's hand and lead her aside to talk, while the husband stands by waiting until she has finished her conversation. If she takes too long about it, he leaves her with the other man and goes on his way. Here is an example of this from my personal experience: while I was in Nablus I stayed with a man called Mu'izz, whose house served as an inn for Muslim travellers. Its windows overlooked the street. On the other side of the road lived a Frank who sold wine for the merchants; he would take a bottle of wine from one of them and publicize it, announcing that such-and-such a merchant had just opened a hogshead of it, and could be found at such-and-such a place by anyone wishing to buy some; '...and I will give him the first right to the wine in this bottle'.

Now this man returned home one day and found a man in bed with his wife. 'What are you doing here with my wife?' he demanded. 'I was tired,' replied the man, 'and so I came in to rest.' 'And how do you come to be in my bed?' 'I found the bed made up, and lay down to sleep.' 'And this woman slept with you, I suppose?' 'The bed,' he replied, 'is hers. How could I prevent her getting into her own bed?' 'I swear if you do it again I shall take you to court!' - and this was his only reaction, the height of his outburst of jealousy!

I heard a similar case from a bath attendant called Salim from Ma'arra, who worked in one of my father's bath-houses. This is his tale: I earned my living in Ma'arra by opening a bath-house. One day a Frankish knight came in. They do not follow our custom of wearing a cloth round their waist while they are at the baths, and this fellow put out his hand, snatched off my loin-cloth, and threw it away. He saw at once that I had just recently shaved my pubic hair. [For those who don't know, Muslim men and women usually shave their armpit and pubic hair every 30-40 days for cleanliness, upon the recommendation of the Prophet]. 'Salim!' he exclaimed. I came toward him and he pointed to that part of me. 'Salim! It's magnificent! You shall certainly do the same for me!' And he lay down flat on his back. His hair there was as long as his beard. I shaved him, and when he had felt the place with his hand and found it agreeably smooth he said: 'Salim, you must certainly do the same for my Dama.' In their language Dama means lady, or wife. He sent his valet to fetch his wife, and when they arrived and the valet had brought her in, she lay down on her back, and he said to me: 'Do to her what you did to me.' so I shaved her pubic hair, while her husband stood by watching me. Then he thanked me and paid me for my services.

You will observe a strange contradiction in their character: they are without jealousy or a sense of honour, and yet at the same time they have the courage that as a rule springs only from the sense of honour and a readiness to take offence.

In the year 1260, Hulegu Khan sent a letter with his envoys to the Mamluks in Egypt. The Mongols back then had Persian viziers with whom they most likely consulted when writing the letter, and so they, despite not being Muslims, quoted two Qur'anic verses in their letter. In the end, the Mamluks refused to surrender, and the great wali of Allah, the Sultan of the Scholars, al-Izz bin Abd al-Salam, told Qutuz that he guaranteed them their victory if they marched against the Mongols. This comforted the Mamluks who knew of the many barakas with which this great aalim was blessed, and they marched out against the Mongols. They won, and it was the first time the Mongols ever lost a battle. Remember, Hulegu was NOT a Muslim and does not believe in the Supreme King and divine guidance or that he was sent by God to punish the sinners..

Here is the Letter from Hulagu to the Mamluks:

From the King of Kings in the East and the West, the mighty Khan:

In your name, O God, You who laid out the earth and raised the skies.

Let al-Malik al-Muzaffar Qutuz, who is of the race of mamluks who fled before our swords into this country, who enjoyed its comforts and then killed its rulers, let al-Malik al-Muzaffar Qutuz know, as well as the amirs of his state and the people of his realms, in Egypt and in the adjoining countries, that we are the army of God on His earth. He created us from His wrath and urged us against those who incurred His anger. In all lands there are examples to admonish you and to deter you from challenging our resolve. Be warned by the fate of others and hand over your power to us before the veil is torn and you are sorry and your errors rebound upon you. For we do not pity those who weep, nor are we tender to those who complain. You have heard that we have conquered the lands and cleansed the earth of corruption and killed most of the people. Yours to flee; ours to pursue. And what land will shelter you, what road save you; what country protect you? You have no deliverance from our swords, no escape from the terror of our arms. Our horses are swift in pursuit, our arrows piercing, our swords like thunderbolts, our hearts like rocks, our numbers like sand. Fortresses cannot withstand us; armies are of no avail in fighting us. Your prayers against us will not be heard, for you have eaten forbidden things and your speech is foul, you betray oaths and promises, and disobedience and fractiousness prevail among you. Be informed that your lot will be shame and humiliation. "Today you are recompensed with the punishment of humiliation, because you were so proud on earth without right and for your wrongdoing" [Qur'an 46:20]. "Those who have done wrong will know to what end they will revert" [Qur'an 26:227]. Those who make war against us are sorry; those who seek our protection are safe. If you submit to our orders and conditions, then your rights and your duties are the same as ours. If you resist you will be destroyed. Do not, therefore, destroy yourselves with your own hands. He who is warned should be convinced that you are evil-doers. God, who determines all, has urged us against you. Before us, your many are few and your mighty ones are lowly, and your kings have no way to us but that of shame. Do not debate long, and hasten to give us an answer before the fires of war flare up and throw their sparks upon you. Then you will find no dignity, no comfort, no protector, no sanctuary. You will suffer at our hands the most fearful calamity, and your land will be empty of you. By writing to you we have dealt equitably with you and have awakened you by warning you. Now we have no other purpose but you. Peace be with us, with you, and with all those who follow the divine guidance, who fear the consequences of evil, and who obey the Supreme King.

Say to Egypt, Hulegu has come,
with swords unsheathed and sharp.
The mightiest of her people will become humble,
he will send their children to join the aged.


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