Abbasid Commonwealth

A 10th-century Geography

Muqaddasi, a 10th-century geographer, lived in Jerusalem and wrote in Arabic. Here, he starts his book by explaining some of the ways “the regions of Islam” are diverse.

Source, pp. 1-2.

10th-century Poems

Mutanabbi was a poet who grew up in Qarmati territory, then went to work at the Hamdanid court. He left in a fit of jealousy to serve the Ikhshidid ruler Kafur before heading to the Buyids. He composed poetry for each of these emirs.

A Panegyric to Sayf al-Dawla

(1) Whither do you intend, great prince? We are the herbs of the hills, and you are the clouds;

(2) we are the ones time has been miserly towards respecting you, and the days cheated of your presence.

(3) Whether at war or at peace, you aim at the heights, whether you tarry or hasten.

(4) Would that we were your steeds when you ride forth, and your tents when you alight!

(5) Every day you load up afresh, and journey to glory, there to dwell;

(6) and when souls are mighty, the bodies are wearied in their quest.

(7) Even so the moons rise over us, and even so the great seas are unquiet;

(8) and our wont is comely patience, were it with anything but your absence that we were tried.

(9) Every life you do not grace is death; every sun that you are not is darkness.

(10) End the desolation that we suffer, you in whom the numerous army finds joy,

(11) you who are present in the war quiet of heart, as though the battling were a compact,

(12) you who smite the squadrons until the neck-bones and the feet meet one another;

(13) and when you halt for a space in any place, to injure it is prohibited to time,

(14) and the herbs produced by the lands is joy, and the rains shed by the clouds is wine.

(15) Whenever it is said, ‘He has reached the end,’ he shows us such bounty as the bountiful have never been guided to,

(16) and battling before which the foemen cower, and brisk beneficence at which men are amazed.

(17) The awe inspired in the hearts by Sayf al-Dawla the king, the object of our hopes, is itself a sword;

(18) so it is much for the brave to shun him, and it is much for the eloquent to speak a greeting.

Source, pp. 54-6.

To Sayf al-Dawla on his recovery from an illness

(1) Glory and nobility were preserved when you were preserved, and the pain passed from you to your enemies;

(2) the raids were healed with your healing, the noble exploits therewith rejoiced, and the steady showers cascaded,

(3) and light which had left the sun, as thought the loss of light were a sickness in its body, returned to it,

(4) and your lightning shone forth for me from the cheeks of a king such that the rain never falls, save when he smiles.

(5) He is named the Sword, but not because of any resemblance, for how should master and servant resemble each other?

(6) The Arabs are unique in the world in being of his race, and the non-Arabs share with the Arabs in enjoying his beneficience.

(7) God has reserved His succor exclusively for Islam, even though all nations partake in His blessings.

(8) I do not single out you alone for felicitation on recovery; when you are safe and sound, all men are safe and sound.

Source, p. 76.

A Panegyric for Kafur

(13) But in al-Fustat there is a sea I have brought to visit my life, my good will, my passion, and my rhymes,

(14) as also short-haired steeds, between whose ears we stretched out spears, and they passed the night briskly following the lance-heads,

(15) marching on feet which, whenever they reached the stones, engraved there unshod the breasts of falcons,

(16) and perceiving with true dark eyes in the darkness, beholding distant shapes as they really are,

(17) and pricking up ears to the hidden whisper, as if responding to the call of the secret conversation of a man’s heart,

(18) tugging at the reins against the riders of the dawn, as though the reins on their necks were snakes;

(19) spurred by a resolution, as though the body in the saddle were outriding the saddle, and the heart in the body were moving on feet,

(20) seeking Kafur, quitting all others; and he who seeks the sea makes little streamlets.

(21) They brought us to the pupil of the eye of his time, and left behind them whiteness and inner angles,

(22) we passing upon them from the benefactors to one whose beneficence and bounties we see them enjoy–

(23) a noble youth we did not journey on the backs of our forefathers to his age, save hoping to encounter him.

(24) His worth is too lofty to need well-tried deeds of nobility, so he performs only virgin actions,

(25) destroying the enmities of aggressors by his gentility, and if they do not perish from them, he destroys the enemies.

(26) Father of musk, that is the face for which I was yearning, and this is the moment for which I was hoping;

(27) I have encountered broad deserts and mountain-tops ere reaching it, travelling through the noon heat which left the water athirst.

(28) Father of every perfume, not of musk only, and every cloud (I do not single out the morning clouds),

(29) every man of glory boasts of only one quality, whereas the All-Merciful has combined in you all qualities.

Source, p. 91-2.

Satire on Kafur

TW: anti-Black language

(25) The lackey slept oblivious of our night; and he had before that slept in blindness, not slumber,

(26) and despite our propinquity there stretched between us deserts consisting of his ignorance and blindness.

(27) Before I knew the eunuch, I had supposed that the head was the seat of reason,

(28) but when I looked at his intelligence, I saw that reason was wholly in the testicles.

(29) What laughable things are in Egypt! But this is a case of laughter being like weeping;

(30) there a Nabataean of the people of the black soil teaches the genealogies of the people of the desert,

(31) and a Black man who is one half lip, and men say to him, ‘You are the full moon of the dark night.’

(32) Many a poem I have composed in praise of that rhinoceros, half verse and half incantation,

(33) and that was not a panegyric to him so much as a satire on mankind.

Source, p. 120.

A Panegyric to ‘Adud al-Dawla

(1) The abodes of the Valley in respect of delightfulness are, in relation to all other abodes, as spring among all other times,

(2) but the Arab lad amidst them is a stranger in face, hand and tongue.

(3) They are places of jinns to play in–if Solomon had journeyed in them, he would have journeyed with an interpreter;

(17) My steed says at the Valley of Bauwan, ‘Must we proceed from this place to thrusting at the foe?

(18) Your father Adam laid down for you disobedience and taught you to depart from Paradise.’

(19) I replied, ‘When I saw Abu Shuja’ I forgot the rest of mankind, and this place;

(20) for men, and this world, are a road leading to him who has no second among men.’

(21) I had taught myself to speak concerning them as jousting is learned without spear-points.

(22) Through ‘Adud al-Dawla the State is impregnable and mighty, and none has hands who lacks a fore-arm

(23) nor any grip on the cutting of swords, nor any enjoyment of the supple lances.

(24) The State calls him the refuge of its members on a day of war, whether virgin or oft repeated;

(25) and none names any like Fannakhusru, and none nicknames any like Fannakhusru.

Source, p. 134-8.