Abu Talib - Murder and False Oaths
Kaan Ya Makaan, Fee Qadeem Al-Zamaan…
There was a Place, in Times of Old…
Called Mecca where a Qurashi man hired a Bani Hashim man to help him herd some camels to a faraway market. After they agreed on a price and destination, the two men set out into the trackless desert, easily driving the spindly-legged animals before them.
As they travelled, they came across another man from the Bani Hashim clan. This new traveler was very glad indeed to meet his fellow travelers. He eagerly explained to his clansman that the tie for his packs had given out and if he did not replace it he would lose his hard-earned goods along the way.
With an understanding smile, the hired man quietly removed a tether from one of the numerous camels he herded, and gave it to his distressed clansman. Deeply grateful, the newcomer took his leave from his chance companions and went lightheartedly away, his packs now securely tied to his surefooted camel.
Later that day, as the two travelers settled down for a few hours of rest, the owner of the animals noticed that one of his camels had not been tethered. He turned angrily to the hired man and demanded with a snarl, "Why have you not tethered that camel?!"
Surprised at the venom in his employer's voice, especially given the unlikelihood that the camel would wander far from its herd, the hired man replied in calm tones, "It has no tether."
"Where is its tether?!" the owner of the camels demanded hotly, brandishing the stick he used to herd the animals.
When the hired man did not reply, the owner of the camels lost his temper and struck out at the hired man with the stick he held. Unfortunately for the hired man, the stick was long and heavy and when it struck his head, it landed with all the weight of his employer's vicious temper behind it.
As the camels' owner blinked down at the bloodied, still form of his hired man his temper cooled. The Qurashi man was horrified by what he'd done. He hadn't meant to kill the man, certainly not over a camel's tether! His accursed temper had turned him into a murderer!
Nevertheless, he thought as he shook himself free of the paralyzing shock that had gripped his limbs, what was done, was done, and there was no changing it. The sooner he left, the sooner he could forget what he had done, and the less likely it would be for anyone to connect him to the anonymous form lying in the desert.
Without even stopping to bury his victim, the owner of the camels rounded up his herd and pressed on. He decided that when he returned to Mecca, he could make up any excuse he liked for the disappearance of the Bani Hashim man. There were no witnesses to what had occurred and with the distance he was putting between himself and his victim, there would be no witnesses tying him to the body of a man so clearly felled by violence.
As the day wore on, the Qurashi man congratulated himself on escaping so neatly from such an awkward situation.
Not long afterwards, a Yemeni man came across the prone form of the hired man. A cursory examination showed that the man was in fact still alive. The Yemeni man gently tried to revive the fatally injured man and succeeded in bringing him around.
The hired man opened his eyes and looked groggily up at the newcomer, he spoke feebly, "Will you be going for hajj (pilgrimage) this year?"
Surprised by the words of the dying man, the Yemeni man replied hesitantly, "I never have, but perhaps I will this year."
"Will you deliver a message for me?" the hired man said, struggling valiantly to keep his eyes open.
"Yes," the Yemeni man said, his voice soft with pity.
"If you attend the season of hajj, stand and call out 'O Quraish'. When the people of the Quraish tribe gather, call out 'O Bani Hashim'. When the people of the Bani Hashim clan gather, ask to speak to Abu Talib. When you speak with Abu Talib, tell him that so-and-so killed me...over a tether," the hired man finished sadly, confusion and sorrow clear in his fading voice.
A few minutes later, the hired man died quietly as the Yemeni man looked helplessly on. It could have just as easily been him lying injured and dying alone in the desert, he thought with a shudder. The very least he could do for this unfortunate man was to deliver his dying words to his clan elder. Perhaps then, his murderer could be held accountable for this dark deed.
Months later when the Qurashi man reached Mecca, Abu Talib immediately noted that the Bani Hashim man wasn't with him.
"What happened to my kinsman?" Abu Talib asked the man in as neutral a tone as he could manage.
"He fell ill," the owner of the camels said, feigning sadness, "I cared for him as best I could, but he died anyway, so I buried him along the way."
Since such deaths were common, Abu Talib, though grieved by the loss of his kinsman, accepted the other man's explanation.
During that year's pilgrimage season, the Yemeni man arrived in Mecca. Eager to fulfill his promise to the dying man, he stood in the middle of the bustling town and called out "O' Quraish".
The Qurashis gathered round and said, "We are here."
So the Yemeni called out, "O' Bani Hashim!"
"We are Bani Hashim," a group of men called as they moved forward through the crowd.
"Abu Talib?" the Yemeni man inquired as he examined the faces of the regal men standing before him.
"This is Abu Talib," the people murmured as they respectfully made way for him.
The Yemeni man glanced at the curious people gathered round him. Wishing to be discreet, he stepped forward and whispered quietly to Abu Talib, "Such-and-such a man asked me to deliver a message to you. He said that so-and-so killed him over a tether."
Abu Talib thanked the man and took him in as a guest of his clan. He then walked swiftly through Mecca, furious and seeking the man who had murdered his kinsman over a tether! Abu Talib knew that if he killed the craven murderer, then he too would be a murderer and he would also ignite a blood feud between the two clans that could wipe them both out. Yet, he could not, and would not, overlook this murder!
As soon as Abu Talib found the man, he told him in rumbling tones, "Pick one of these three: you give us one hundred camels because you murdered one of our sons, or you bring me fifty of your tribesmen to swear to me that you did not kill the man you hired, or...we kill you."
Badly frightened, the man returned to his clan and told them of the trouble he had gotten himself into. One hundred camels was an unimaginable fortune and his clansmen refused to pay so high a price to save his life. Instead, they decided to send fifty of their men to swear on their lives before Abu Talib that their kinsman had not killed his kinsman.
After the fifty men were chosen, the mother of one of the younger men, a lady of the Bani Hashim clan, went to see Abu Talib. She spoke pleadingly to her kinsman, "O' Abu Talib, my son is one of the fifty chosen to give you their oaths. Yet...I would like you to excuse my son from taking that oath."
Abu Talib readily excused his kinswoman's son from taking an oath they both knew to be false.
Not long after she left, Abu Talib was approached by a clansman of the murderer who spoke with shame and embarrassment clear in his countenance, "O' Abu Talib, you asked for fifty men to swear oaths in place of one hundred camels. Therefore every man and his oath is worth two camels. Here are two camels, please accept them in place of my oath."
Mollified by the man's apologetic tone and conciliatory actions, Abu Talib accepted the two camels and excused him from giving any oaths.
On the appointed day, forty-eight men arrived before the impassive Abu Talib. They all swore mighty oaths upon their very lives that their kinsman did not slay Abu Talib's kinsman. Abu Talib accepted their oaths with a face as expressionless and immovable as stone.
Exactly one year later, not a single one of those forty-eight men was among the living. Whether through accident, through sickness or through misfortune, more and more of them died as the year passed until not a one of those men was alive by year's end.
Many people would remember these events, and would think long and hard before swearing to something they knew to be false. Honesty, many of them felt, was a wonderful way for a man to keep his health, and his life.
*Written by Aisha Bilal © 2012. Care to read or leave Comments?
- Names, Translations and Aliases:
- Abu Talib: أبو طالب بن عبدالمطلب بن هاشم القرشي.
- Abu Talib: أبو طالب بن عبدالمطلب بن هاشم القرشي.