Hatim Al-Taaee - Legendary Generosity
Arabian Knights - Volume 1

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Kaan Ya Makaan, Fee Qadeem Al-Zamaan…
There was a Place, in Times of Old…

Where a man named Hatim Al-Taaee became a legend. He was a warrior, but he was not the best of warriors. He was a poet, but he was not the best of poets. He was a son, but he was not the best of sons. He was a husband, but he was not the best of husbands. He was a father, but he was not the best of fathers.

So what was he best at? What made him so great? What made him a legend? The answer is simple: He had the most generous and giving nature that anyone had ever heard of.

Arabs have long considered generosity to be the highest of virtues. In a land where everyone had so little - and they often had to fight to keep what little they had - the ability to give of one's precious resources was indeed a noteworthy virtue. All Arabs try diligently to gain and uphold a reputation as giving and generous hosts, and many a tale has been told of their successes and failures. But Hatim Al-Taaee was different; he surpassed them all with his inexhaustible, some might even say foolhardy, generosity.

To illustrate this, three of the most memorable stories of Hatim's legendary generosity will be mentioned here:

  1. One year, sandstorms came through the arid desert and scoured it clean of all of its hidden waters and scant grasses. The cattle grew thin and listless with hunger, as did the members of the T’ey tribe. During this time, on a cruelly cold night, Hatim's three children, Abdullah, Udai, and Saffana, wept piteously from hunger.

    Hatim and his wife, Nowarr, searched high and low but could find nothing to feed their small hungry children. So they each picked up a tired, weeping child and soothed them as best they could. Once the children they held fell asleep, they both soothed their third child until he, too, fell asleep.

    With the children settled for the night, Hatim and Nowarr exhaustedly lay down and sought refuge from their own hunger in the oblivion of sleep. Hatim tried to comfort his troubled wife with quiet promises of wild game he would hunt on the morrow. His wife realized that he was trying to soothe her too, so she humored Hatim and pretended to sleep.

    As the night wore on, Hatim finally grew tired and began to drift off to sleep. In contrast, Nowarr could not sleep for worrying. Game was scarce, there was no guarantee that Hatim would be successful in his hunt, and in the morning the children would be even more hungry and fretful than before. With all of these thoughts whirling through her mind, Nowarr simply couldn't sleep.

    As Hatim dozed and Nowarr worried, someone suddenly lifted up one of the sides of their tent. Hatim leapt up, a hand on his dagger, and said sternly, “Who is it?”

    A woman's voice answered, “It is your neighbor, O' Father of Udai. I could find no one to help me except for you. I come from where my sons wail and howl like wolves because of their hunger.”

    Hatim replied confidently, “Then bring them to me!”

    The woman left quickly, stepping lightly as though a great weight had been lifted off her tired, careworn shoulders.

    Nowarr called out to her husband with outrage in her voice, “What will you do?! By god, you could find nothing to feed your own weeping children, what could you find for her and her sons?!”

    Hatim replied quietly as he left the tent, “Be still. By god, I will feed you and all of them, too!”

    The neighbor-woman soon returned carrying two children, one in each arm, with four more walking beside her. Like an ostrich surrounded by her young, Nowarr thought resentfully.

    Hatim stepped up to his horse, which he would have used to go hunting the next day, and unhesitatingly plunged a spear into it, killing it instantly. He then lit a fire, pulled out his knife, cut the dead horse open, handed the knife to the neighbor-woman and said with a flourish in the horse’s direction, “After you.”

    As the woman and her children hungrily cooked and consumed the horseflesh, Hatim called to Nowarr to bring their children forward so that they, too, may eat. Once his wife and children were gathered round the ample bounty of horse meat, Hatim said, “It would be wrong to eat and not invite those who live around us.”

    He then headed off into the surrounding darkness and started inviting all his neighbors to come and eat some fresh horse meat. The people who heard him came eagerly to fill their painfully empty bellies and they brought their sleepy, ravenous children with them.

    While everyone gathered round the fire, which sizzled and popped as the fat from the cooking horsemeat dripped into it, Hatim wrapped himself up in his cloak and laid himself down nearby. He watched silently as everyone ate, never taking so much as a mouthful for himself despite the hunger that gnawed so mercilessly at his own belly.

    When morning came, so great had the people's hunger been that there was nothing left of Hatim's horse save for its bones and its hooves.

  2. * * * * * * * * * * * *
  3. Hatim once met Al-Numan bin Al-Munthir, a wealthy and famous king. Al-Numan had heard a great deal about Hatim and his ever-growing reputation for generosity. More than anything, Al-Numan wished to showcase his own generosity and become a part of the many stories told about Hatim. So the king praised Hatim for his giving ways and then grandly bestowed upon him two camels loaded down with gold and silver in addition to many other treasures.

    When Hatim returned to his tribe weighted down by the Al-Numan’s many gifts, he was met by his tribesman who looked upon his new acquisitions covetously and said in wheedling tones, “Hatim, you have come from the king with great wealth, and we have come from our homes with great poverty.”

    Hatim replied with an amused grin, “Then come, take what I have brought ,and divide it among yourselves.”

    Rejoicing, the people rushed forward and began to unload and divide the glimmering cargo that the sturdy camels had so patiently carried across the shifting desert sands.

    A woman from Hatim's household, Turaifa, saw what was happening so she anxiously called out to Hatim, “Ya Hatim, keep something for yourself! They will not leave you so much as a dirham or a donkey!”

    Hatim placidly replied with a few lines of poetry to the effect that what he had was given to him by god, and god was simply using him to redistribute it; and that when his dirhams gathered themselves together, they would then race away from him towards those who needed them more.

    By the time Hatim reached his family's home, he had nothing left of the numerous riches Al-Numan had bestowed upon him, not even the camels. What's more, Hatim was perfectly satisfied with how events had unfolded and he arrived home lighthearted and empty handed.

  4. * * * * * * * * * * * *
  5. Hatim was once asked, “Is there any Arab more generous than you?”

    Hatim replied, “All of the Arabs are more generous than me.” Then he told this story:

    I once stopped for the night as the guest of a boy who was an orphan. This boy's livelihood consisted of one hundred goats. On that night, he slaughtered one of his goats and prepared it for me for dinner.

    Along with the goat's meat, he also served me its brain as a delicacy. Not wishing to seem ungrateful, I tried it, and to my surprise, I found it delicious, and I told the boy so. Politely, the boy brought me more of it, and he kept bringing me more until I declared that I couldn't eat another bite. It wasn't until the next morning that I realized he had slain all one hundred of his goats in order to keep me supplied with the delicacy of goat brain that I had so lavishly praised.

    The people listening to this story asked Hatim eagerly, “So what did you do? How did you thank him?”

    Hatim replied with a shrug, “What could I do? How could I thank him for such generosity? It just wasn't possible. To show him my gratitude though, I gave him one hundred camels from the best of my stock.”

  6. * * * * * * * * * * * *

Many people often wonder where Hatim learned his habit of open-handed generosity. The answer apparently is that Hatim learned generosity from his mother Ghania bint Amr. She often gave away everything she owned because she simply couldn’t ignore anyone’s plea for help.

Once they became aware of her behavior, Ghania’s brothers decided to teach her a lesson. They locked her up in her house for a year, only giving her enough food to prevent her from starving to death. When the year was up, they freed her and thought that after such deprivation, she had surely learnt her lesson.

When they finally gave her a portion of her property, they told her to do with it whatever she wished. Not long afterwards, a woman from the Hawazin tribe came to her and wept as she told Ghania her troubles and asked pitifully for help.

Ghania didn’t hesitate for a moment as she gave the Hawazin woman all the money and valuables that she had. In caring, understanding tones she told the woman, “This property is less important than you are. By god I have tasted such hunger that I will never turn away someone in need again, regardless of what they ask for.”

Growing up with such a generous-hearted woman for a mother no doubt left a lasting impression on Hatim Al-Taaee. Decades later, Hatim and his generous heart also left a lasting impression on his children. So it often is that such a good example runs through the generations like a cool healing breeze through the hot burning desert.

*Written by © 2011. Care to read or leave Comments?

Notes:
  1. Names, Translations and Aliases:
    • Abdullah bin Hatim Al-Taaee: عبدالله بن حاتم الطائي.
    • Al-Numan bin Al-Munthir: النعمان بن المنذر.
    • Ghania bint Amr: غنية بنت عمرو
    • Hatim Al-Taa'ee: حاتم الطائي
    • No'warr: نوار
    • Saf'fana bin Hatim Al-Taa'ee: سفانة بن حاتم الطائي
    • Turaifa: طريفة
    • Udai bin Hatim Al-Taa'ee: عدي بن حاتم الطائي

Sources:
  1. Al-Taaee, Abi Saleh Yahya. (1997 AD, 1417 H). ديوان حاتم الطائي [The (Poetry) Collection of Hatim Al-Taaee]. 2nd Edition. Beirut: Dar Al-Kutub Al-Arabi. Page 8-9, 151.
  2. Al-Dimishqi, A. (2009 AD, 1430 H). البداية و النهاية [The Beginning and the End]. Beirut: Al-Maktaba Al-Assrya Publishing and Distributing. Volume 1. Book 2. Page 109-114.

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