AL FARIS - International Horseback Archery Competition - Jordan




Knighthood in human consciousness and cognition was, at a symbolic and actual level, rooted in the values of truth, goodness and beauty. In reality, knighthood is a fusion of the authentic pedigree and noble lineage of the horseman and the horse, due to the fact that it is originally a tradition emanating from human nature, which is inclined to admire the forelocks of horses. Indeed, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: ''Goodness is fastened onto the forelocks of horses until the Day of Resurrection''. In terms of human action, it represents riding horses and possessing mastery over them in the totality of historical, social and psychological circumstances of the individual and society.

The majority of nations have known knighthood as one of their most important cultural traditions, and as one of the most prominent physical and spiritual activities. Hence, knighthood and horsemanship occupied a pride of place that no other sport occupied among those nations, the majority of whom, equally in the East and West, regard horsemanship as the (sport of the nobility) insofar as their authentic affiliation, in the splendor of their genius, in the transcendence of their educational values, in their sublime ethical conduct, and in the superiority of their graceful performance.

The Arab personality is rooted in the pure tribal primordial nature which embodies chivalry as the essence of the symbolic system which was known as futuwwa (youthful prowess and knighthood). Al-futuwwa denotes, as a manifestation of the totality of the ethical and social values and virtues: honor, forbearance, soundness and glory, and patience, courage, generosity, and altruism, in addition to youthfulness, strength, alacrity and renewal, not to mention other heroic traits which ordinarily characterize those humans endowed with perfection: authentic pedigree and noble lineage whom the Arabs assigned the title of (al-fatiy ar.- chivalrous person), and at times, (fata al-fityan- the most chivalrous of youth). Islam reaffirmed knighthood and nurtured it in both the individual and society. In this regard, the Prophet (pbuh) said: ''I was sent as a Messenger by God to consummate sublime morals''. Actually, the Prophet (pbuh) encouraged competition among his companions (God be pleased with them) in chivalrous actions and traits, and gave some of them this Arab Islamic title (fatiy). Moreover, he gave them a sword named (dhul fiqqar ar.). Among the most notable companions to whom the Prophet (pbuh) gave the sword was Abu Dujana at the Batttle of Uhud, and Ali Bin Abi Taleb at the Battle of Khaybar. Sayedna Ali Bin Abi Taleb was known as the first chivalrous youth of Islam, and thus became the symbol of Arab Islamic chivalry and knighthood. It has been said of him: ''The chivalrous one is but Ali, and the foremost sword is that of Dhul Fiqqar'', a verse attributed to the noble companion and poet Hassan Bin Thabit (God be pleased with him).

Actually, Islam blessed and consecrated Arab knighthood and elevated its standing in Muslim societies. It is related that the Prophet (pbuh) said: ''Ride horses for they are the legacy of your ancestor Ishmael)''. An interpretation of this Prophetic tradition indicates that the Prophet Ishmael (pbuh) was the first to devote attention to horsemanship and the rearing of noble horses which God gave His Prophet Ishmael, and it is for this reason that they were given the appellation of (al-'irab). It is worthy of mention, in this context, the tradition which holds that the origin of Arab horses of dhat al-rakeb lineage is the horse of the Prophet David (pbuh), which is affiliated to those noble horses named (al-'irab). The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) greatly loved horses and "would rub the face of his horse with his garment." He had five racing horses, namely: Lizar, Layhaf, Al-Murtajaz, Al-Sakab, Al-Ya`coub, Al-Adham which won a particular race- a victory which gratified the Prophet (pbuh), whereupon he commented "it is a sea" and "it is a winning horse." In fact, the Prophet (pbuh) used to engage in races using them, where the winner would be given many prizes and gifts.

Furthermore, it is an established fact that the Prophet (pbuh) practiced numerous kinds of horsemanship and knighthood arts, and encouraged his companions to emulate him in this regard, for he organized horse and camel races, marksmanship and swimming, fencing and spear lancing, and other kinds of horsemanship, where the Prophet (pbuh) became the exemplary model in the history of Islamic horsemanship.

Abu Bakr Al-Dimashqi mentions that Islamic horsemanship is riding horses and galloping, while affirming that the pillar of horsemanship is four elements: first, riding with a horse, second, shooting with a bow, third, stabbing with a lance and fourth is cutting with a sword. Those four elements were uniquely practiced by Muslim knights. There exist other activities that are a subset of horsemanship: the pin (dabbous ar.) game, using the bow and arrow while riding a horse, bearing a sword, and carrying an arrow, and using a shield on foot and on a horse, and other activities underscoring the inordinate interest of Muslims in horsemanship and its various arts. In fact, horse races were officially organized through what was termed (al-sabaqa ar.).

For each sabaqa a special manager would be chosen to supervise the race track which would ordinarily have two lines, the first of which indicating the starting point and the other the ending point. The manager would indicate the start of the race through three chants of God is Greater. At the endpoint of the race tracks would stand two referees, where two sides of a thread would be between their two thumbs, so that when the horses passed by the two referees they were able to determine the winner with precision. And if the two horsemen finished the race at exactly the same time they would share the prize equally. Some historical sources contained a detailed description of the racetrack and its distance, where the racetrack was lined by a straight line and had a perimeter of bricks which only eight horsemen are permitted to enter, and within this perimeter seven spears were planted in the ground, each of which bore the prize allocated for of each of the seven winners. The starting off of the horses in this race was called (al-irsal), and the Arabs in their races used to have ten horses, and names were held for their positions in the race. The winning horses in the race were called (al-sawabiq), which were ten in number, the first of which was called al-sabiq, the second, al-mussalli, the third, al-musalli, the fourth, al-tali, the fifth, al-murtah, the sixth, al-'atif, the seventh, al-hadhei, the eighth, al-mu`ammil, the ninth, al-latim, the tenth, al-thakeet. The following were among the rules of the races:
1- It is impermissible to have races except between the horses that are of a single class.
2- The distance of the race should be specified.
3- Specifying the race winner would be by the necks of the horses, and if the necks should arrive simultaneously, then the winner would be by the head or shoulder, and if the two horsemen arrived together then the prize would be shared equally between them.

It would be possible to say, therefore, that horseracing was the dearest types of physical and spiritual sports to the caliphs and princes, governors and state officials. Actually, very often horsemanship events would be held in which the competitors would be given prizes. The princes each year kept horses, and the princes of thousands four horses which they kept, where a horse belonging to a prince had to win.

Perhaps among the most prominent and clear historical and cultural features of Arab Islamic knighthood is the presence of horsewomen who were encouraged by the system of social values to learn the arts of horsemanship and knighthood, and to practice some of its arts which were suitable for the nature of a women. The many historical references to the role of Muslim women in wartime during the age of the Prophet (pbuh) underscore that they learned the arts of knighthood and sword fencing.

And it would be possible to state that knighthood, and all that is connected to it in terms of values and virtues, or the actions and events, or the sport and races and others, are in combination a wide area of knowledge in the Arabic Islamic artistic and academic tradition, for there are numerous books written about the manners of knighthood and chivalry, dealing with their diverse arts, and the origins, names, and breeding of horses. It may be mentioned in this context that those manuscripts and others have been adorned by many knighthood portraits and paintings coupled with a portrayal of a knighthood's varied tools, to be illustrative material, to be added to the reservoir of Arab and Islamic knowledge in the field of knighthood, and likewise in the field of Islamic art.