THE MUSLIM CHAMPION AND THE CHRISTIAN DAMSEL.

The Khalif Omar ben el Khettab (whom God accept) once levied an army of Muslims, to encounter the enemy before Damascus, and they laid strait siege to one of the Christians' strengths. Now there were among the Muslims two men, brothers, whom God had gifted with valour and daring against the foe, so that the commander of the besieged fortress said to his captains and champions, 'Were but yonder two taken or slain, I would warrant you against the rest of the Muslims.' Wherefore they set for them all manner of snares and ambushes and ceased not to lie in wait for them, till, at last, they took one of them prisoner and slew the other, who died a martyr. They carried the prisoner to their general, who looked at him and said, 'To kill this man were pity; but his return to the Muslims would be a calamity. Would he might be brought to embrace the Christian Faith and be to us an aid and a support!' 'O Amir,' answered one of his knights, 'I will bring him to abjure his faith, and on this wise. We know that the Arabs are passionately fond of women, and I have a daughter of surpassing beauty and grace, whom when he sees, he will be ravished by her.' Quoth the general, 'I give him into thy charge: take him.'

So he carried him to his house and set food before him. Moreover, he clad his daughter in raiment, such as added to her beauty and grace, and made her stand before the Muslim, as she were a handmaid obedient to her lord and awaiting his commandment, that she might fulfil it. When the prisoner saw the snare that was set for him, he commended himself to God the Most High for protection and closing his eyes, applied himself to prayer and reciting the Koran. Now he had a mellow voice and a penetrating wit; and the young lady fell passionately in love with him and said in herself, 'Would God he would consent to admit me into the Faith of Islam! And the tongue of her case recited the following verses:

      Wilt turn away, from me whose soul is thrall to thee, thy face, From me whose life thy ransom is, whose heart thy dwelling-place?
      Indeed, my people I will well to leave and leave a faith Other than that of the sharp sword; yea, Islam I embrace
      And testify that there's no Lord save God and God alone; For constant is the proof thereof and doubt can find no place.
      Union, mayhap, will He decree with one that is averse And ease a heart distressed for love and longing, of His grace.
      For oft-times doors are open thrown, that erst were shut, and he Is granted his desires, whom woe hath brought to sorry case.

She abode thus seven days, till her patience failed her and her breast was straitened and she threw herself at his feet, saying, 'I conjure thee by thy faith, give ear unto my words!' 'What are they?' asked he; and she said, 'Expound unto me Islam.' So he expounded to her the tenets of the Faith, and she became a Muslim, after which she purified herself and he taught her to pray. Then said she to him, 'Know, O my brother, that I did but embrace Islam for thy sake and to win thy favour.' Quoth he, 'The law of Islam forbids sexual commerce between man and woman, save after a marriage before two legal witnesses, and a dowry and next friend [for the woman] are also requisite. Now I know not where to find witnesses or next friend or dowry; but, if thou canst make shift to bring us out of this place, I hope to win to the land of Islam, and I vow to thee that none other in Islam shall be wife to me than thou.' 'I will contrive this,' answered she and calling her father and mother, said to them, 'This Muslim's heart is softened and he inclineth to enter our faith, so I will grant him that which he desireth of me; but he says, "It were not fitting for me to do this in a town where my brother was slain. Could I but come without it, my heart would be diverted [from the thought of him] and I would do that which is required of me.'' Now there is no harm in letting me go forth with him to another place, and I will be warrant to you and to the Amir for that which ye require of him.'

So her father went to their chief and told him of this, whereat he rejoiced with an exceeding joy and bade carry them forth the town to a village that she named. So they went out to the village, where they abode the rest of that day, and at nightfall, they made ready to set out and fare upon their way, even as saith the poet:

      "The time of departure," quoth they, "draweth nigh:" And "How oft will ye threat me with parting?" I cry.
      No business have I but to traverse the earth, Mile by mile and o'er deserts forever to hie.
      If the loved ones prick forth tow'rds a land, for their sake, Once again of the sons of the road (14) become I.
      On my longing, to guide me to them, I rely, And it shows me the way nor directs me awry.

The young Muslim mounted a swift horse and took the girl up behind him, and they set out and fared on all that night till morning, when he turned aside with her from the highway and alighting, they made the ablution and prayed the morning prayer. As they were thus engaged, they heard the clank of arms and ring of bridles and men's voices and tramp of horse; whereupon he said to her, 'O such an one, the Christians are upon us! What shall we do? For the horse is jaded, so that he cannot go another step.' 'Out on thee!' exclaimed she. 'Art thou then afraid?' 'Yes,' answered he; and she said, 'What didst thou tell me of the power of thy Lord and His readiness to succour those who cry to Him? Come, let us make supplication to Him and beseech Him: surely, He will vouchsafe us His succour and visit us with His grace, glorified and exalted be He!' 'By Allah,' rejoined he, 'thou sayst well!' So they betook themselves to prayer and supplication to God the Most High, and he recited these verses:

      Indeed, I stand in need of Thee all seasons, foul or fair, What though with diadem and crown my brows encompassed were.
      Thou art the chiefest of my wants, and could my hand but win This its desire, no other want were left to me whate'er.
      Nought that Thou hast withholdest Thou; the outflow of Thy grace Is as a torrent or a shower, that's lavished everywhere.
      By my transgression am I shut therefrom, yet is the light Of Thy compassion, Clement One, resplendent past compare.
      O Care-Dispeller, that, wherewith I stricken am, dispel; For there is none save Thou alone can do away this care.

Whilst he was praying and she saying, 'Amen,' and the tramp of horse nearing them the while, behold, he heard the voice of his dead brother, the martyr, speaking and saying, 'O my brother, fear not, but be of good cheer; for these thou hearest are the host of God and His angels, whom He hath sent to serve as witnesses to your marriage. Verily, the angels of God the Most High are emulous of you, and He bestoweth on you the recompense of the blessed and the martyrs and hath rolled up the earth for you [as it were a carpet], so that, by morning, you will be in the mountains of Medina. And thou [O man], whenas thou foregatherest with Omar ben el Khettab, (of whom God accept,) give him my salutation and say to him, "May God abundantly requite thee for Islam, for thou hast dealt faithfully and striven diligently."' Thereupon the angels lifted up their voices in salutation to him and his wife, saying, 'Verily, God the Most High appointed her in marriage to thee two thousand years before your father Adam (on whom be peace) was created.' Then joy and gladness and peace and cheer overcame the twain; assurance was confirmed and stablished was the vocation of the God-fearing pair. So they prayed the fore-dawn prayer and fared forward; and when the day broke and the light appeared to them, they saw [in the distance] the standards of Medina and the Khalif and a company of Muslims issuing forth to meet them.

Now it was Omar's wont to rise for morning-prayer in the darkness before dawn, and bytimes he would proceed to the mosque, followed by two men, and standing in the prayer-niche, begin by reciting the chapter of the Cattle (15) or that of Women; (16) whereupon the sleeper awoke and he who was in act to make the ablution accomplished it and he who was afar came to prayer; nor had he made an end of [the prayers of] the first inclination, before the mosque was full of people; then would he pray his second inclination, repeating a short chapter in haste. But, on the morning in question, he hurried over his devotions, both first and second inclinations, repeating in each a short chapter; then, turning to his companions, said to them, 'Come, let us go out to meet the bride and bridegroom;' at which they wondered, understanding not his words; but he went out and they followed him, till they came to the gate of the city, where they met the young Muslim and his bride coming towards them and saluted them. Omar carried the bride and bridegroom into Medina and bade make a marriage-feast; and the Muslims came and ate. Then the young Muslim went in to his bride, and God the Most High vouchsafed him children by her, who fought in His way and preserved their genealogies, for they gloried therein. And how excellent is what is said on the subject:

      I saw thee weeping at the gates and moaning passing sore, Whilst all, except the curious, to answer thee forbore.
      Hath evil eye ensorcelled thee or hath misfortune fall'n On thee and doth a barrier keep thee from the loved one's door?
      Awake, O wretch, devote thyself this day to God His praise; Repent and turn thee to the Lord, as men have turned of yore.
      The rains of the Forgiving One, belike, shall wash away The past and on the sinner's head the grace of God shall pour;
      Ay, and the captive, shackled though he be, shall yet escape, And in the prison of God's wrath the slave shall pine no more.

And they ceased not to be in all delight and solace of life, till there came to them the Destroyer of Delights and the Sunderer of Companies.




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