We shall here relate a story that will serve as an example to all. The Arabian chronicles tell how, at a time prior to the advent of Muhammad, Nu'man son of Mundhir the Lakhmite -- an Arab king in the Days of Ignorance, whose seat of government was the city of Hirih -- had one day returned so often to his wine-cup that his mind clouded over and his reason deserted him. In this drunken and insensible condition he gave orders that his two boon companions, his close and much-loved friends, Khalid son of Mudallil and Amr son of Mas'ud-Kaldih, should be put to death. When he wakened after his carousal, he inquired for the two friends and was given the grievous news. He was sick at heart, and because of his intense love and longing for them, he built two splendid monuments over their two graves and he named these the Smeared-With-Blood.
Then he set apart two days out of the year, in memory of the two companions, and he called one of them the Day of Evil and one the Day of Grace. Every year on these two appointed days he would issue forth with pomp and circumstance and sit between the monuments. If, on the Day of Evil, his eye fell on any soul, that person would be put to death; but on the Day of Grace, whoever passed would be overwhelmed with gifts and benefits. Such was his rule, sealed with a mighty oath and always rigidly observed.
One day the king mounted his horse, that was called Mahmud, and rode out into the plains to hunt. Suddenly in the distance he caught sight of a wild donkey. Nu'man urged on his horse to overtake it, and galloped away at such speed that he was cut off from his retinue. As night approached, the king was hopelessly lost. Then he made out a tent, far off in the desert, and he turned his horse and headed toward it. When he reached the entrance of the tent he asked, "Will you receive a guest?" The owner (who was Hanzala, son of Abi-Ghafray-i-Ta'i) replied, "Yea." He came forward and helped Nu'man to dismount. Then he went to his wife and told her, "There are clear signs of greatness in the bearing of this person. Do your best to show him hospitality, and make ready a feast." His wife said, "We have a ewe. Sacrifice it. And I have saved a little flour against such a day." Hanzala first milked the ewe and carried a bowl of milk to Nu'man, and then he slaughtered her and prepared a meal; and what with his friendliness and loving-kindness, Nu'man spent that night in peace and comfort. When dawn came, Nu'man made ready to leave, and he said to Hanzala: "You have shown me the utmost generosity, receiving and feasting me. I am Nu'man, son of Mundhir, and I shall eagerly await your arrival at my court."
Time passed, and famine fell on the land of Tayy. Hanzala was in dire need and for this reason he sought out the king. By a strange coincidence he arrived on the Day of Evil. Nu'man was greatly troubled in spirit. He began to reproach his friend, saying, "Why did you come to your friend on this day of all days? For this is the Day of Evil, that is, the Day of Wrath and the Day of Distress. This day, should my eyes alight on Qabus, my only son, he should not escape with his life. Now ask me whatever favor you will."
Hanzala said: "I knew nothing of your Day of Evil. As for the gifts of this life, they are meant for the living, and since I at this hour must drink of death, what can all the world's storehouses avail me now?"
Nu'man said, "There is no help for this."
Hanzala told him: "Respite me, then, that I may go back to my wife and make my testament. Next year I shall return, on the Day of Evil."
Nu'man then asked for a guarantor, so that, if Hanzala should break his word, this guarantor would be put to death instead. Hanzala, helpless and bewildered, looked about him. Then his gaze fell on one of Nu'man's retinue, Sharik, son of Amr, son of Qays of Shayban, and to him he recited these lines: "O my partner, O son of Amr! Is there any escape from death? O brother of every afflicted one! O brother of him who is brotherless! O brother of Nu'man, in thee today is a surety for the Shaykh. Where is Shayban the noble -- may the All-Merciful favor him!" But Sharik only answered, "O my brother, a man cannot gamble with his life." At this the victim could not tell where to turn. Then a man named Qarad, son of Adja' the Kalbite stood up and offered himself as a surety, agreeing that, should he fail on the next Day of Wrath to deliver up the victim, the king might do with him, Qarad, as he wished. Nu'man then bestowed five hundred camels on Hanzala, and sent him home.
In the following year on the Day of Evil, as soon as the true dawn broke in the sky, Nu'man as was his custom set out with pomp and pageantry and made for the two mausoleums called the Smeared-With-Blood. He brought Qarad along, to wreak his kingly wrath upon him. The pillars of the state then loosed their tongues and begged for mercy, imploring the king to respite Qarad until sundown, for they hoped that Hanzala might yet return; but the king's purpose was to spare the life of Hanzala, and to requite his hospitality by putting Qarad to death in his place. As the sun began to set, they stripped off the garments of Qarad, and made ready to sever his head. At that moment a rider appeared in the distance, galloping at top speed. Nu'man said to the swordsman, "Why delayest thou?" The ministers said, "Perchance it is Hanzala who comes." And when the rider drew near, they saw it was none other.
Nu'man was sorely displeased. He said, "Thou fool! Thou didst slip away once from the clutching fingers of death; must thou provoke him now a second time?"
And Hanzala answered, "Sweet in my mouth and pleasant on my tongue is the poison of death, at the thought of redeeming my pledge."
Nu'man asked, "What could be the reason for this trustworthiness, this regard for thine obligation and this concern for thine oath?" And Hanzala answered, "It is my faith in the one God and in the Books that have come down from heaven." Nu'man asked, "What Faith dost thou profess?" And Hanzala said, "It was the holy breaths of Jesus that brought me to life. I follow the straight pathway of Christ, the Spirit of God." Nu'man said, "Let me inhale these sweet aromas of the Spirit."
So it was that Hanzala drew out the white hand of guidance from the bosom of the love of God, and illumined the sight and the insight of the beholders with the Gospel light. After he had in bell-like accents recited some of the divine verses out of the Evangel, Nu'man and all his ministers sickened of their idols and their idol-worship and were confirmed in the Faith of God. And they said, "Alas, a thousand times alas, that up to now we were careless of this infinite mercy and veiled away therefrom, and were bereft of this rain from the clouds of the grace of God." Then straightway the king tore down the two monuments called the Smeared-With-Blood, and he repented of his tyranny and established justice in the land.
Observe how one individual, and he a man of the desert, to outward seeming unknown and of no station -- because he showed forth one of the qualities of the pure in heart, was able to deliver this proud sovereign and a great company of others from the dark night of unbelief and guide them into the morning of salvation; to save them from the perdition of idolatry and bring them to the shores of the oneness of God, and to put an end to practices of the sort which blight a whole society and reduce the peoples to barbarism. One must think deeply over this, and grasp its meaning.
[1 Cf. Qur'án 27:12, referring to Moses: "Put now thy hand into thy bosom: it shall come forth white ... one of nine signs to Pharaoh and his people...." Also Qur'án 7:105; 20:23;26:32; and 28:32. Also Exodus 4:6. See too Edward Fitzgerald's The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: Now the New Year reviving old Desires, The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires, Where the White Hand of Moses on the Bough Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires. The metaphors here refer to white blossoms and the perfumes of spring.]