The conversion of Hasan of Basra

The conversion of Hasan of Basra The conversion of Hasan of Basra1

The beginning of Hasan of Basra’s conversion was as follows. He was a jewel merchant and was called Hasan of the Pearls. He traded with Byzantium, and had to do with the generals and ministers of Caesar. On one occasion, going to Byzantium he called on the prime minister and conversed with him a while. “We will go to a certain place,” the minister told him, “if you are agreeable.” “It is for you to say,” Hasan replied. “I agree.” So the minister commanded a horse to be brought for Hasan. He mounted with the minister, and they set out. When they reached the desert Hasan perceived a tent of Byzantine brocade, fastened with ropes of silk and golden pegs, set firm in the ground. He stood to one side. Then a mighty army, all accoutred in the panoply of war, came out; they circled the tent, said a few words, and departed. Philosophers and scholars to the number of nigh four hundred arrived on the scene; they circled the tent, said a few words and departed. After that three hundred illumined elders with white beards approached the tent, circled it, said a few words, and departed. Thereafter more than two hundred moon-fair maidens, each bearing a Plate of gold and silver and precious stones, circled the tent, said a few words, and departed.

Hasan relates that, astonished and filled with wonder, he asked himself what this might be.

“When we alighted,” he went on, “I asked the minister. He said that the Caesar had a son of unsurpassable beauty, perfect in all the branches of learning and unrivalled in the arena of manly prowess. His father loved him with all his heart.”

Suddenly he fell ill-so Hasan related on the authority of the minister. All the skilled physicians proved powerless to cure him. Finally he died, and was buried in that tent. Once every year people come out to visit him. First an immense army circles the tent, and they say: “O prince, if this circumstance that has befallen thee had come about in war, we would have all sacrificed our lives for thee, to ransom thee back. But the circumstance that has befallen thee is at the hand of one against whom we cannot fight, whom we cannot challenge.” This they say, and then return. The philosophers and the scholars come forward, and say: “This circumstance has been brought about by one against whom we cannot do anything by means of learning and philosophy, science and sophistry. For all the philosophers of the world are powerless before him, and all the learned are ignorant beside his knowledge. Otherwise we would have contrived devices and spoken words which all in creation could not have withstood.” This they say, and then return. Next the venerable elders advance, and say: “O prince, if this circumstance that has befallen thee could have been set right by the intercession of elders we would all have interceded with humble petitions, and would not have abandoned thee there. But this circumstance has been brought upon thee by one against whom no mortal man’s intercession profits anything.” This they say, and depart. Now the moon-fair maidens with their plates of gold and precious stones advance, circle the tent, and say: “Son of Caesar, if this circumstance that has befallen thee could have been set right by wealth and beauty, we would have sacrificed ourselves and given great moneys, and would not have abandoned thee. But this circumstance has been brought upon thee by one on whom wealth and beauty have no effect.” This they say, and return. Then Caesar himself with his chief minister enters the tent, and says: “O eye and lamp of thy father, 0 fruit of the heart of thy father, 0 dearest beloved of thy father, what is in thy father’s hand to perform? Thy father brought a mighty army, he brought philosophers and scholars, intercessors and advisers, beautiful maidens, wealth and all manner of luxuries; and he came himself. If all this could have been of avail, thy father would have done all that lay in his power. But this circumstance has been brought about by one before whom thy father, with all this apparatus, this army and retinue, this luxury and wealth and treasure, is powerless. Peace be upon you, till next year” This he says, and returns. These words of the minister so affected Hasan that he was beside himself. At once he made arrangements to return. Coming to Basra, he took an oath never to laugh again in this world, till his ultimate destiny became clear to him. He flung himself into all manner of devotions and austerities, such that no man in his time could exceed that discipline.

Hasan of Basra and Abu Amr

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