from Lament Over the Fall of the City of Kairouan


Ibn Rashiq al-Qayrawani
1000 – 1064


Many great men dwelt in that city
their faces shone with pure faith
they worked together to promote religion
and belief in Allah in overt and covert ways.
Many were renowned for their virtue and generosity,
and jealously preserved their respectability.

And when darkness fell, you would see them
deep in prayer like chaste monks
in the garden of Eden, that honorable place
among the beautiful houris and boys.

Thanks to its tribunes, Kairouan
was ranked among the world’s greatest.
She outranked Egypt—that was fair enough—
and left Baghdad well behind.
When the city greatly prospered
and attracted ambitious pioneers,
as she became a place for all virtues,
as well as safety and faith,
time looked at her with envious eyes
and kept many sorrows in store
—till destiny had decided to unleash the unavoidable:
troubles caused by various clans
that belonged to the Banu Hilal.
They massacred the Prophet’s nation
and defied Allah’s punishment during Ramadan.
They violated former treaties and those
under Allah’s protection without keeping their word.
They preferred to deceive their neighbors
and take their women as prisoners of war.
They tortured them in the cruelest manner
and let rancor show through their hearts.
The Muslims were divided and humiliated
at the hands of these unfaithful:
some were tortured or could do nothing,
others were killed or put in prison.
They called for help but no help came,
and when they couldn’t yell or cry anymore,
they gathered all their belongings
and valuables, whether gold, silver,
pearls, rare ornaments, or crockery.
They went out on bare feet, begging Allah
to protect them and overcome their fear.
They fled with their infants, their children,
their widows, and their spouses.
They kept their virgins safe like gazelles
lest their beauty drive the enemy mad—
chaste beauties covered with shawls
like moons shining on willow trees.

Sorrow will never disappear after such calamity
just as the eternal cycle of night and day will never end.
If Mount Thahlan had suffered the tenth of it,
its highest peaks would have crumbled!
All the cities of Iraq mourned her,
as did the villages of Syria, Egypt, and Khorasan.
Affliction and sorrow even reached
the farthest countries of the Sind and Hind,
and the land turned into a desert
from al=Andalus to Halwan.
I saw the stars rise but they did not shine,
nor did sun or moon.
I saw mountains deeply afflicted,
as were all humans and jinns.
Even Earth, because of this heavy burden,
has now a definite lean.
Will the nights, after they had separated us,
bring us together again?
Will they restore the land of Kairouan
and bring the city back to life again
after time had stolen its beauty
and caused bloodshed among rival clans?
It stands now as if it had never known riches
nor ever been a sacred land.
Time has duped its people
and cut off the ties that used to bind them.
Now they are scattered, like Saba’s peoples,
and err about the lands.

Translation by Abdelfetah Chenni

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