The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night

Al-Maamun and Zubaydah282

It is said that Al-Maamún283 came one day upon Zubaydah, mother of Al-Amín,284 and saw her moving her lips and muttering somewhat he understood not; so he said to her, “O mother mine, art thou cursing me because I slew thy son and spoiled him of his realm?” Said she, “Not so, by Allah, O Commander of the Faithful!” and quoth he, “What then was it thou saidest?” Quoth she, “Let the Prince of True Believers excuse me.” But he was urgent with her, saying, “There is no help but that thou tell it.” And she replied, “I said, Allah confound importunity!” He asked, “How so?” and she answered, “I played one day at chess with the Commander of the Faithful, Harun al-Rashid, and he imposed on me the condition of forfeits.285 He won and made me doff my dress and walk around the palace, stark naked; so I did this, and I felt incensed against him. Then we fell to playing and I won; whereat I made him go to the kitchen and lie with the foulest and fulsomest wench of the wenches thereof; but I found not a slave-girl fouler and filthier than they mother;286 so I so bade him tumble her. He did my bidding and she conceived by him of thee, and thus was I the cause of the slaying of my son and the spoiling of him of his realm.” When Al-Maamún heard this, he turned away, saying, “Allah curse the importunate!” that is, himself, who had importuned her till she acquainted him with that affair.

282 Bresl. Edit., vol. vii. pp. 261-2, Night dlxviii.

283 Seventh Abbaside, A.H. 198-227 = 813-842. See vol. iv. 109. He was a favourite with his father, who personally taught him tradition; but he offended the Faithful by asserting the creation of the Koran, by his leaning to Shi’ah doctrine, and by changing the black garments of the Banu Abbas into green. He died of a chill at Budandun, a day’s march from Tarsus, where he was buried: for this Podendon = πόδα τείνειν = stretch out thy feet, see Al-Siyuti, pp. 326-27.

284 Sixth Abbaside, A.D. 809-13. See vol. v. 93: 152. He was of pure Abbaside blood on the father’s side and his mother Zubaydah’s. But he was unhappy in his Wazir Al-Fazl bin Rabí, the intriguer against the Barmecides, who estranged him from his brothers Al-Kásim and Al-Maamún. At last he was slain by a party of Persians, “who struck him with their swords and cut him through the nape of his neck and went with his head to Tahir bin al-Husayn, general to Al-Maamún, who set it upon a garden-wall and made proclamation, This is the head of the deposed Mohammed (Al-Amín).” Al-Siyuti, pp. 306-311. It was remarked by Moslem annalists that every sixth Abbaside met with a violent death: the first was this Mohammed al-Amin surnamed Al-Makhlú’ = The Deposed; the second sixth was Al-Musta’ín; and the last was Al-Muktadí bi’lláh.

285 Lit. “Order and acceptance.” See the Tale of the Sandal-wood Merchant and the Sharpers: vol. vi. 202.

286 This is not noticed by Al-Siyuta (p. 318) who says that his mother was a slave-concubine named Marájil who died in giving him birth. The tale in the text appears to be a bit of Court scandal, probably suggested by the darkness of the Caliph’s complexion.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52