The Aurès Mountains, AH 78/700 CE
The dispute had arisen over Scripture. And if prior experience was any indication of what was to come, the parties to the dispute would be hard pressed to prevent it from ending in bloodshed.
“Akad nakkanid anla attahlil!” the woman declared.
“We have our own Scripture!” said the interpreter, addressing himself in Arabic to the Muslim general’s envoy. The messenger sat crouched across from the imposing woman, looking as though he were watching for the chance either to lunge at her or to jump up and flee.
The woman studied her guest quizzically before adding in her lyrical tongue, “Attahlil kud yajmad ifassan nanagh. Ilmad sinnin iha awlawan nanagh!”
Following close on her heeds, the interpreter chanted, “Although we may no longer hold the Scripture in our hands, we have preserved it in our hearts!”
The guest scrutinized his hostess with an expression that betrayed an impatience ill befitting of his station as an envoy.
Meanwhile, the woman chanted, “Bashshan attahlil nanagh yazzar!”
Hastening to convey the message to the venerable courier, the interpreter intoned, “Besides, our Scripture preceded yours!”
The guest’s features trembled.
“That may be so,” he said after looking away momentarily. “However, the last word spoken by God dwells in the last religion to be revealed, which means that the last religion revealed abrogates what came before it.”
Speaking in his melodic gibberish, the interpreter conveyed the argument to the majestic woman, who leaned toward him lest she miss the slightest point in the troublesome messenger’s logic. After all, she was certain that, should they be misunderstood, his words had the potential to exacerbate this fateful conflict, an eventuality that would lead inevitably to bloodshed that might well sweep her people away as had happened in the days of yore with Jugurtha, or in the more recent past with Kusaila.
Her body garbed in black and her soul in mystery, the majestic woman retreated into a prolonged silence. Escaping the confines of the place, she roamed freely in the gracious open spaces that lay beyond the impregnable fortress walls. It was as though she were searching in the desert expanse for a prophecy. At length, she chanted as she was wont to do in her eerie-sounding gibberish, “Anhi nanagh yanna, ‘Awkasad itasammaskaland annamusnak sannamus hadn!’”
Rushing to convey the proclamation to the one who himself had come to deliver a proclamation, the interpreter intoned, “Our Scripture commands us, saying, ‘Beware of replacing one religion with another!’”
There ensued another long silence during which the interlocutors sat solemnly, wordlessly searching one another’s features for clarity.
Putting an end at last to the muffled contest of words, the guest queried, “What harm would it do Her Majesty to recite two confessions which, simple though they are, hold the power to spare both peoples the ravages of war?”
A smile of derision flickered across the stately woman’s features. From the lofty height of her throne, ensconced within her magnificent stronghold, she stalked the scattered remnants of a mirage still roaming the desert expanse.
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Excerpt from THE NIGHT WILL HAVE ITS SAY published by Hoopoe, an imprint of The American University in Cairo Press. Copyright © 2022 by Ibrahim Al-Koni.