Owes bin Haritha - Gifts and Insults
Arabian Knights - Volume 1

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

Where the king of Al-Heira, Al-Numan bin Al-Munthir, was holding court. Attending his court that day were several important members of various Arabian tribes. As each of these men arrived, they cast admiring glances at what Al-Numan bin Al-Munthir was wearing that day: a robe completely covered in softly glowing pearls.

One by one, the men sat down and remarked upon the king's gleaming garment to one another. Each pearl was worth a fortune, some said. All of the pearls together were worth a dozen king’s ransoms, others replied. The like of such an extravagant item of clothing had never existed, they all agreed, nodding sagely.

In contrast, one man arrived and sat down without so much as glancing at the pearl encrusted robe. The man, Owes bin Haritha, also didn't make a single remark to anyone about the shining robe, or the great value of such a garment. Instead he sat silently, seemingly oblivious to the king’s newest and most expensive article of clothing.

Piqued, Al-Numan bin Al-Munthir reproachfully addressed Owes bin Haritha, “Every man who came in has admired this robe, and spoken of his admiration to those around him, except you. You didn't seem to admire, or even notice it.”

Owes replied suavely, “May god keep the king! A robe covered in pearls is beautiful and eye-catching in the hands of a merchant. When a king wears it, the luster of the king's face dulls the luster of the robe, and so my eyes saw only the king, not the robe.”

Al-Numan felt very flattered by Owes' ready answer, so he smiled his approval and let the matter drop.

Later, when the men who had attended Al-Numan's court were leaving, Al-Numan announced grandly, “Come to me again tomorrow, that I may give this robe to the Master of the Arabs who have attended me on this day.”

As they left, the men could barely contain their excitement at the prospect of owning the king’s unique robe. They spoke eagerly of the renown and wealth they would gain by being presented with such a robe and each man boasted to his neighbor that he would surely be wearing that priceless robe home the next day. In contrast, Owes bin Haritha said not a word to anyone; he just quietly made his way back to his encampment.

The next morning, the men who had attended Al-Numan's court the previous day took extra care in preparing themselves. They all wore the fanciest clothes they could find, carried the best swords they owned, and they all arrived riding the most beautiful horses they had. All except for Owes bin Haritha, who had no intention of attending Al-Numan's court that day.

Owes' companions had urged him to attend Al-Numan's court that morning to see if the pearl covered robe would be his, but he steadfastly refused. Sagely, Owes explained his decision to his baffled companions, “I may be the master of my people, but I am not the Master of the Arabs. I fear that if I attend and am not given the robe, then I will leave a lesser man. If I do not attend and the robe is to be mine, then they know where to find me and I will have lost nothing.”

Convinced by his argument, his friends and companions bowed to his wisdom and left Owes in peace. Meanwhile, Al-Numan carefully looked over the men who had arrived at his court that morning but try as he might, he did not see Owes bin Haritha among them. Disappointed, he summoned one of his attendants and ordered him to go and find Owes and see why he had not attended Al-Numan’s court as instructed.

The attendant hurried to where Owes and his people were staying and spoke to some of Owes' companions who eagerly told him why Owes had refrained from going to court. The attendant returned to Al-Numan and faithfully told him what he had been told. Al-Numan then sent his attendant back again with instructions to speak to Owes and say, “Come, you are safe from that which you fear.”

When Owes arrived before Al-Numan, he wore the same clothes he had worn the day before. Amused, Al-Numan said to him, “It appears you have not changed your clothes since yesterday. Take this robe to use as your finery.”

Al-Numan then took off the glimmering pearl-robe he had been wearing and threw it round Owes' shoulders. The other men attending Al-Numan's court grew both angry and envious when they saw that. They quietly decided that the only way for them to avenge themselves on Owes bin Haritha, and to strip him of what they considered an undue honor, was to encourage the poets to write scathing poetry about him. That way this honor the king had bestowed on Owes would be forgotten and he would be publicly ridiculed for generations to come.

To this end, the slighted men pooled their resources and gathered together five hundred camels. They then offered the camels as payment to anyone who would write a poem demeaning and ridiculing Owes. After some debate, they approached a well-known poet called Jarwal, who was famous for his ability to write highly insulting, and very popular, poetry.

After listening politely, Jarwal refused the men's proposal and said apologetically, “O' People, how can I insult a man whose name and honor is unassailable, who is generous without limits, who is unarguably wise, who is brave without cowardice, and who is giving to the point where I see nothing in my own home that he did not give me?!”

Jarwal's refusal was good news for a poet named Bishir bin Abi Khazim. He had heard rumors of the rich reward, and he let his greed get the better of his good sense. Eagerly, he contacted the jealous men, accepted their offer of five hundred camels and composed a long poem insulting Owes bin Haritha and his mother, Suada.

Inevitably, Owes heard the poem and he was thoroughly enraged by its contents. It was one thing for Bishir to insult him in a poem, but to insult his mother was unforgivable. Spurred by his fury, Owes rode out immediately to find Bishir, promising that he would punish him dearly for his insolence. He also sent his men out far and wide to seek out any and all news concerning the poet’s whereabouts.

Word quickly reached Bishir that Owes was looking for him so he wisely decided to make himself scarce. It seemed that Bishir’s fear of Owes outweighed his greed after all because when he fled, he abandoned his newly-acquired five hundred camels.

Upon arriving at Bishir's home, Owes found the camels but not Bishir. Still angry about the insult to his mother, Owes confiscated Bishir’s camels and redoubled his efforts to find the fleeing poet.

In the meantime, Bishir was going from tribe to tribe looking for someone, anyone, with enough power to grant him sanctuary and defend him against Owes' wrath. But every man he talked to gave Bishir the same reply, “I will give you sanctuary and defend you against anyone…except Owes bin Haritha.”

Growing impatient, Owes placed a hefty bounty on Bishir's head which he promised to any man who could bring Bishir to him alive. Not long after the bounty was announced, Bishir was captured by eager bounty hunters and brought before Owes, tied hand and foot.

As soon as Bishir was unceremoniously dragged before him, Owes said in thunderous tones, “Now you'll pay! How dare you speak so of my mother, when there is not another woman anywhere who is her equal?!”

Frightened, Bishir replied, “Did I, O' Prince?”

Owes was further angered by Bishir's cowardice, “By god, I will kill you in such a way as to make Suada immortal!”

Then turning on his heel, Owes strode away to speak to his mother. When he stood before her, he said with pride, “I have brought you the poet that insulted you, and I have sworn to kill him in such a way as to make you immortal!”

Suada was not impressed. She replied to her son’s heated words in soft and patient tones, “My son, there is a better way to deal with him.”

“What way, Mother?” Owes said, a little nonplussed by his mother's reaction.

“My son, he could find no one to grant him sanctuary or to defend him against you. We are a people who find no shame in kindness. By your obligation to me as your mother, will you not release him? And return his camels to him, and give him the same from your herds, and the same again from mine as well? Then take him back to his family, for they have despaired of his safe return.”

After Suada had spoken, Owes was surprised to find that for the first time since he had heard that insulting poem, his anger had ebbed. His mother's words seemed to have washed away his rage and guided him to a road only the kind and the wise may travel: the high road.

Owes went out and stood before the bound and frightened Bishir. In a terrible voice he thundered, “What do you think I am going to do with you?”

“You will no doubt kill me,” Bishir said in a sad and defeated voice.

“Do you think you deserve to die?” Owes challenged him.

“Yes?” Bishir replied, unsure what the right thing to say was.

“Suada, the woman you insulted in your poem, has advised me to release you, return your camels to you, give you their equal from my herds and another five hundred from her herds,” Owes said, suddenly using gentler tones.

He then stepped forward and cut Bishir free. Smiling benevolently at the cowering poet before him, Owes told Bishir, “Go home to your family, and take with you what I have bestowed upon you!”

Bishir was thunderstruck. After the long pursuit, the terrifying capture and the frightening promise of a terrible death, he was to live after all and return home a rich man to boot?! How could this be?

At first, Bishir could not believe his ears, then he raised his hands skywards and called out, “God witness that I will never speak another word of poetry again except to praise Owes bin Haritha and his family!!!”

Owes laughed at Bishir's exuberant reaction. Then he took Bishir gently by the arm and led him away to gather his one thousand and five hundred camels. That same day, Owes and his men escorted Bishir safely home to his family, who greeted him with great relief and many tears.

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

Notes:
  1. Names, Translations and Aliases:
    • Al-Numan bin Al-Munthir: النعمان بن المنذر.
    • Bishir bin Abi Khazim: بشر بن أبي خازم
    • Jar'wal: جرول
    • Owes bin Haritha: أوس بن حارثة
    • Suada: سُعدى.

Sources:
  1. Ibn Al-Atheer, Iz Al-Deen Abu Al-Hassan bin Abd Al-Kareem Al-Jazri Al-Shaibani. (2009 AD, 1430 H). الكامل في التاريخ [The Complete History]. Beirut: Al-Maktaba Al-Assrya. Book 1. Page 225-226.
  2. Ibrahim, M., Al-Mowla, M., Al-Bajawi, A. (2011 AD, 1432 H). قصص العرب [Stories of the Arabs]. Beirut: Al-Maktaba Al-Assrya. Volume 1. Page 126-127.

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