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January 2013 Issue [Readings]

Operation Dessert Storm


From source material quoted by al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, an eleventh-century scholar, in his humorous survey of Islamic scholarship concerning uninvited guests. Selections from the Art of Party-Crashing in Medieval Iraq, abridged and translated from the Arabic by Emily Selove, was recently published by Syracuse University Press.

The tufayli enters a party uninvited. The word is derived from the root tafala, which refers to the encroaching darkness of nighttime on the day.

Someone called a tufayli goes to banquets uninvited. They are named after Tufayl, a man from Kufa of the Banu Ghatafan, who was called “Tufayl of the grooms and brides.”

Once a man crashed another man’s party. “Who are you?” the host asked him. “I’m the one who saved you the trouble of sending an invitation!” he replied.

A party crasher couldn’t get into a wedding, so he took one of his shoes and hid it in his sleeve and hung the other from his arm, and then he got a toothpick and borrowed a dirty dish from the perfumer. He dipped the toothpick in the dish and stuck it in his teeth, then went running back to the gatekeeper as if in a big hurry. He said to him, “I ate with the first table at the banquet because I had to leave early for work, and in my hurry I took one of my shoes and forgot the other. Could you please bring it out to me?” The gatekeeper said, “I’m too busy. Go in and get it yourself.” So the party crasher went in and ate, and then he left again.

Once a party crasher walked into the house of a man who had invited a gathering of people. “Hey you!” the man said. “Did I say you could come?” “Did you say I couldn’t come?” the party crasher replied.

I heard Isa ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Khalid ask Ibn Darraj, whose head was narrow, “Why is your head so narrow?” “From doing battle with gates,” he said, by which he meant that his head had been pressed between a wall and a gate.

The people who most deserve to be slapped are those who come to eat without being invited, and the people who most deserve to be slapped twice are those who, when the host of the party says, “Sit here,” reply, “No! I’m going to sit over there!” And the people who most deserve to be slapped three times are those who, when invited to eat, say to the owner of the house, “Call your wife in here to eat with us!”

Once al-Ma’mun heard of ten heretics among the people of Basra and commanded that they be brought to him. They were being gathered together when a party crasher caught sight of the group and said, “What could they possibly be gathered for except a feast!” He slipped into their midst, and the guards herded them along to the prison boat. “A pleasure cruise!” the party crasher said, and got on the boat with the rest. It wasn’t a moment before they were all in shackles, the party crasher included. “Look what my party crashing has amounted to!” he said. “Shackles!”

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January 2013

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