THE KHALIF OMAR BEN KHETTAB AND THE YOUNG BEDOUIN
The sheriff (126) Hussein ben Reyyan relates that the Khalif Omar ben Khettab was sitting one day, attended by his chief counsellors, judging the folk and doing justice between his subjects, when there came up to him two handsome young men, haling by the collar a third youth, perfectly handsome and well dressed, whom they set before him. Omar looked at him and bade them loose him; then, calling him near to himself, said to them, 'What is your case with him?' 'O Commander of the Faithful,' answered they, 'we are two brothers by one mother and known as followers of the truth. We had a father, a very old man of good counsel, held in honour of the tribes, pure of basenesses and renowned for virtues, who reared us tenderly, whilst we were little, and loaded us with favours, when we grew up; in fine, a man abounding in noble and illustrious qualities, worthy of the poet's words:"Is Abou es Sekr of Sheiban (127)?" they questioned of me; and "No," I answered, "my life upon it! But Sheiban's of him, I trow.
He went forth this day to his garden, to take his pleasure amongst its trees and pluck the ripe fruits, when this young man slew him and swerved from the road of righteousness; wherefore we demand of thee the retribution of his crime and call upon thee to pass judgment upon him, according to the commandment of God.'
The Khalif cast a terrible look at the accused youth and said to him, 'Thou hearest the complaint of these young men; what hast thou to say in reply?' Now he was stout of heart and ready of speech, having doffed the wede of faint-heartedness and put off the apparel of affright; so he smiled and after paying the usual ceremonial compliment to the Khalif, in the most eloquent and elegant words, said, 'O Commander of the Faithful, I have given ear to their complaint, and they have said sooth in that which they avouch, so far as they have set out what befell; and the commandment of God is a decreed decree. (129) But I will state my case before thee, and thine be it to decide thereon.
Know then, O Commander of the Faithful, that I am a very Arab of the Arabs, the noblest of those that are beneath the skies. I grew up in the dwellings of the desert, till evil and hostile times fell upon my tribe, when I came to the utterward of this town, with my children and good and household. As I went along one of the paths between the gardens, with my she-camels, high in esteem with me and precious to me, and midst them a stallion of noble race and goodly shape, a plenteous getter, by whom the females bore abundantly and who walked among them, as he were a crowned king,--behold, one of the she-camels broke away and running to the garden of these young men's father, began to crop the branches that showed above the wall. I ran to her, to drive her away, when there appeared, at a breach of the wall, an old man, whose eyes sparkled with anger, holding a stone in his right hand and swaying to and fro, like a lion preparing for a spring. He cast the stone at my stallion, and it struck him in a vital part and killed him. When I saw the stallion drop dead beside me, live coals of anger were kindled in my heart; so I took up the stone and throwing it at the old man, it was the cause of his end: thus his own wrongful act returned against him and the man was slain of that wherewith he slew. When the stone struck him, he cried out with a terrible great cry, and I hastened from the spot; but these young men hurried after me and laying hands on me, carried me before thee.'
Quoth Omar, (may God the Most High accept of him), 'Thou hast confessed thy crime and acquittal is impossible; for [the law of] retaliation is imperative and there is no time of escape.' (130) 'I hear and obey the judgment of the Imam,' answered the Bedouin, 'and am content to submit me to the requirement of the law of Islam; but I have a young brother, whose old father, before his death, appointed to him great store of wealth and much gold and committed his affair to me, saying, "I give this into thy hand for thy brother; keep it for him with thy might." So I took the money and buried it; nor doth any know of it but I. Now, if thou adjudge me to die forthright, the money will be lost and thou wilt be the cause of its loss; wherefore the little one will sue thee for his due on the day when God shall judge His creatures. But, if thou wilt grant me three days' delay, I will appoint one to undertake the boy's affair, in my stead, and return to answer my debt; and I have one who will be my surety for this my word.'
The Khalif bowed his head awhile, then raised it and looking round upon those present, said, 'Who will be surety to me for his return?' The Bedouin looked at the faces of those who were in company and pointing to Abou Dherr, (131) said, 'This man will answer for me and be my surety.' 'O Abou Dherr,' said Omar, 'dost thou hear what this youth says and wilt thou be surety to me for his return?' 'Yes, O Commander of the Faithful,' answered Abou Dherr, 'I will be surety for him three days.' So the Khalif accepted his guarantee and let the young man go.
Now, at the appointed time, when the days of grace were nearly or quite at end and still the Bedouin came not, the Khalif sat in his council, with the Companions (132) surrounding him, like the stars about the moon, Abou Dherr and the plaintiffs being also present; and the latter said, 'O Abou Dherr, where is the defendant and how shall he return, having once escaped? But we will not stir hence, till thou bring him to us, that we may take our wreak of him.' 'As the All-Wise King liveth,' replied Abou Dherr, 'if the days of grace expire and the young man return not, I will fulfil my warranty and surrender myself to the Imam.' 'By Allah,' rejoined Omar, 'if the young man tarry, I will assuredly execute on Abou Dherr that which is prescribed by the law of Islam!' Thereupon the eyes of the bystanders ran over with tears; those who looked on raised groans, and great was the clamour. Then the chiefs of the Companions were instant with the plaintiffs to accept the bloodwit and win the thanks of the folk, but they refused and would nothing but the talion. However, as the folk were swaying to and fro and clamorously bemoaning Abou Dherr, up came the young Bedouin, with face beaded with sweat and shining like the new moon, and standing before the Imam, saluted him right fairly and said to him, 'I have given the boy in charge to his mother's brothers and have made them acquainted with all that pertains to his affairs and let them into the secret of his good; after which I braved the heats of midday and am come to redeem the promise of a free-born man.'
The folk marvelled at his good faith and loyalty and his intrepid offering himself to death; and one said to him, 'How noble a youth art thou and how loyal to thy promise and thy duty!' 'Are ye not certified,' rejoined he, 'that when death presenteth itself none can escape from it? And indeed I have kept faith, that it be not said, "Loyalty is gone from among men."' 'By Allah, O Commander of the Faithful,' said Abou Dherr, 'I became warrant for this young man, without knowing to what tribe he belonged, nor had I seen him before that day; but when he turned away from all else who were present and singled me out, saying, "This man will answer for me and be my surety," I thought ill to refuse him, and humanity forbade to baulk his expectation, there being no harm in compliance with his desire, that it be not said, "Benevolence is gone from among men."' Then said the two young men, 'O Commander of the Faithful, we forgive this youth our father's blood,--seeing that [by his noble behaviour] he hath changed desolation into cheer,--that it be not said, "Humanity is gone from among men."'
The Khalif rejoiced in the acquittance of the young Bedouin and his truth and good faith; moreover, he extolled the humanity of Abou Dherr, over all his companions, and approved the benevolent resolve of the two young men, giving them grateful praise and applying to their case the saying of the poet:He who doth good among the folk shall be repaid again; For works of Good are never lost betwixten God and men.
Then he offered to pay them, from the Treasury, the bloodwit for their father; but they refused, saying, 'We forgave him but of our desire unto God the Bountiful, the Exalted; and he who is thus minded followeth not his benefits with reproach neither mischief.'