From The Book of Contemplation. Born in 1095, the same year that Pope Urban II inaugurated the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont, Usama became one of the primary Muslim historians of the encounters between Christianity and Islam. He fought Frankish infidels as a young man and later in life joined the court of Sultan Saladin, who united Egypt with Syria and brought Jerusalem back under Muslim control. Usama died in 1188 at the age of ninety-three.
The Franks (may God confound them) unanimously agreed to march on Damascus and capture it. So they assembled a large host, and the lord of Edessa and Tell Bashir joined them, as did the lord of Antioch. The lord of Antioch encamped at Shayzar on his way to Damascus. When the lord of Antioch left for Damascus, all the Muslims of Syria assembled to march on Kafartab. They sent one of our comrades called Qunayb ibn Malik to spy on Kafartab for them during the night.
He spotted a large number of animals in the town’s fosse. When the Muslims defeated the Franks and killed them, he wanted to capture those animals, hoping to obtain the plunder all for himself. So he set off at full gallop to the fosse. But a Frankish soldier hurled a stone at him from the citadel and killed him.
He left with us his mother, an old woman, who was a public wailer at our funerals and who now wailed for her own son. When she would keen over her son Qunayb, her breasts would flow with milk, wetting her clothes. But when she stopped her keening, and her broken heart was quiet, her breasts became again like two pieces of skin without a drop of milk in them. Glory be to He who permeates our hearts with tenderness for our children!
One of the marvels that occurred during that battle with the Franks was the following. In the army of Hama, there were two Kurdish brothers, one of them named Badr and the other named ‘Annaz. Now, this ‘Annaz had bad eyesight. And when the Franks were defeated and killed, some of the men cut off their heads and hung them off their saddle straps. So ‘Annaz cut off a head and hung it from his saddle strap.
A group of men from the army of Hama saw him and said to him, “Hey ‘Annaz, what’s with that head you have with you?”
“Glory be to God,” he replied, “for what happened between this man and me—I killed him.”
“Oh man,” they told him, “that’s the head of your brother Badr!”
So he looked at the head, examining it. Sure enough, it was the head of his brother. And so in his shame before the men, he left Hama. We never knew where he set off for, nor did we ever hear any further news of him. But it was the Franks who killed his brother Badr during that battle, may God the Exalted confound them.
© 2008 by Paul M. Cobb. Used with permission of Penguin Group Ltd.