There is the tragic example of the Barmak family, a family that lived a life of opulence, comfort, and extravagance. Their end, however, has served as a lesson and example for all Arabs who came after them. Haroon al-Rasheed, the ruler during their period, ordered an unexpected attack on the Barmak family and on their possessions. GOD’S decree came to pass over them in the morning at the hands of the closest person to them, he destroyed their homes, took possession of their slaves, and shed their blood. Their loved ones and children wept at their disgrace. There is none worthy of worship except GOD; those who know the story should especially appreciate the transitory nature of power and wealth in this world. Only one hour before their downfall, they were strutting in silks, full of joy and complacency, feeling secure from harm, unaware of the vicissitudes of life.They swaggered in their life of play; however, sadly for them, they mistook the mirage for water and this life for eternal existence.They wrongly thought that justice would not overtake them and that vindication would not come about for the wronged.
They woke up that morning in a state of joy but by the time the night had fallen, they were in their graves. In a moment of anger and caprice, Haroon al-Rasheed unsheathed the sword of wrath upon them, killing Ja‘far ibn Yahya al-Barmaki, by hanging him on a cross and then burning his body. He imprisoned his father Yahya and his brother Al-Fadl. Their wealth was confiscated. Their plight was mourned over by many Arab poets.
One of them said:
“When I saw the sword mixed in Ja‘far,
And a caller announced the news of Yahya to the Khaleefah, I mourned over this world and I came to truly believe That in the near horizon is a day when a boy will depart from this world, It is nothing but one country and ruler supplanted by another, The event of misfortune follows the appointment of blessings. If this one dwells in the high mansions of a king, Then that one sinks to the lowest depths of misery.”
But as for the present, where is Haroon al-Rasheed and where is the Barmak family? Where is the murderer and where is the murdered? Where is the one who ordered the killing while he was lying down on a bed in his castle? And where is the one who was crucified? Yesterday and the actors of yesterday are both gone. But the Most Just will judge between them on a Day about which there is no doubt, a Day wherein there shall be neither wrongdoing nor injustice.
Yahya ibn Khalid al-Barmaki was asked concerning this calamity, “Do you know its cause?” He said, “Perhaps it was the supplication of someone whom we wronged, a prayer that traveled quickly through the night while we were unaware of it.”
‘Abdullah ibn Mu‘aawiyah ibn ‘Abdullah ibn Ja‘far said in jail about his imprisonment:
“We have departed from the world and we are still of its inhabitants, We are neither from the dead nor from the living, If the jail guard comes in for one reason or another, We are astonished and say: This one has come from the world, Overjoyed do we become after seeing a dream, because most of our talk, When we wake up is about the dreams we saw, If it was a good one, ever so slowly it comes to pass, And when it is bad, it waits not but comes with speed.”
There is a good deal of cynicism in the last two lines; after reading them, I am reminded of the words of Al-Jaahiz:
“When the mailman brings news to us, Concerning some evil event he loses no time and makes haste, Thus, when evil, it arrives after a day and a night, And when it is good, it takes its time and arrives after a week.”
A Persian king once imprisoned a wise man, who wrote to him saying, “Every hour that I pass in here, I come closer to ease and you to wrath. So I wait for better times. Meanwhile, you are promised a bitter humiliation.”
After reaching the summit of opulence and extravagance, Ibn ‘Abbaad, the Sultan of Andalusia, faced a crisis. At a time when frivolity and musical instruments and dancers became prevalent in his castle, the Romans attacked him, and so he sought aid from the Sultan of Morocco, Ibn Taashfeen. The latter crossed the ocean with his army and brought with him victory. Ibn ‘Abbaad treated him as an honored guest, allowing him to treat his castles and gardens as if they were his own. But Ibn Taashfeen was observing the situation like a lion, and he had other plans.
After only three days, Ibn Taashfeen and his army attacked the weakened kingdom of Andalusia. Ibn ‘Abbaad was taken captive and his properties were seized. His castles and gardens were destroyed and he was transported to his home province of Agmaat as a prisoner.
The dominion of Andalusia fell into the hands of Ibn Taashfeen, he claimed that the leadership was rightfully his, since it was the people of Andalusia who had summoned him from Morocco in the first place.
Much time passed, and then one day the daughters of Ibn ‘Abbaad managed to visit him in prison. They came barefoot, hungry, wan, and in tears. When he witnessed their pathetic situation, he cried out :
“In past days I would rejoice on special occasions,
But what a miserable occasion is it in Agmaat as a prisoner. You see your daughters emaciated and hungry,
They stitch for people and they own nothing.
They come to see you fearful and weak,
With sad eyes and broken hearts,
Traveling on mud barefoot,
As if those feet never trampled on precious perfume and roses.”