For 1500 years, the paragon of faithfulness among the Arabs was a Jew from Banu Harith named Samaw'al ibn ‘Adiya. That is, until the present melange of Islamic and European anti-Semitism left nothing but cinders in the wake of its scorched earth campaign to malign and demonize everything Jewish.
Samaw'al, the Arabian rendition of Shmuel, (السموأل بن عاديا - Hebrew שמואל בן עדיה) lived in the first half of the 5th century CE in Tayma, in northern Arabia. His multi-colored mud brick castle, al-Ablaq, was a stopping point on the trade route to and from Syria. It is said that one day, the prince-poet of Hira, Imri-ul-Qais took refuge there from a feud. Before departing for Constantinople, he stashed away a quantity of valuable armor with Samaw’al for safekeeping. The prince, who was also one of the greatest pre-Islamic poets, never returned to retrieve his stash: he was reputedly poisoned soon afterwards by the emperor Justinian in a palace intrigue.
Within months, the enemies of the dead prince came to claim the valuable armor from Samaw’al, who refused to hand it over. It didn’t matter to him that the owner was gone forever, or that he had no stake in the feud. It was a question of principle. The notion of honor was paramount, for Samaw’al and for the society in which he lived. And a defining quality of honor was keeping one’s word, even to a dead man.
The claimants then laid siege to Samaw’al’s castle and took his son, who was returning from the hunt, hostage. It was either the treasure or the life of the captive. It is fabled that Samaw’al retorted that his son had brothers, but his honor did not. If his honor was lost, he meant to say, nothing would replace it. The besiegers killed the son in view of the father and left. For centuries afterwards, “more faithful than Samaw’al - AWFA MIN AS-SAMAW’AL” was the ultimate accolade of trustworthiness for the Arabic speaking world.
Jews had a long and fabled history in Arabia, dating from the First Temple period. In 5th century Yemen, the royal court was Jewish. Farther north, the cultural and economic clout of the Jews of Medina made them an intolerable threat to the founder of Islam. Mohammed obsessed over their history, their traditions , their literacy, and resented their spiritual independence. In the Qur’an the Jews as a group are mentioned, addressed, praised, and cursed more often than all other groups combined, including Mohammed’s own followers.
Once Mohammed despaired of forcing the neighboring Jews to submit to his doctrinal authority, he destroyed them. Under one pretext or another, he systematically and brutally exiled, killed, and enslaved Banu Nadir, Banu Qainuqa and Banu Qurayza, the three largest tribes living in Khybar and around Medina. In our time, this is referred to as ethnic cleansing.
The combination of their minority status and their social cohesion made the Jews of the diaspora both highly visible and vulnerable. This was true also in Arabia, and Samaw’al was aware of that fact. In one of his more famous lines, he makes a qualitative virtue out of the quantitative deficiency. He answers a woman who chides him with not having a large tribe:
تُعَيِّرُنا أَنّا قَليلٌ عَديدُنا فَقُلتُ لَها إِنَّ الكِرامَ قَليلُ
She upbraided us that we are few in number, but I said to her, 'noble men are few'
Two lines down in the same poem, we find a couplet that leaps across the span of 15 centuries to describe perfectly the formidable yet understated power of the state of Israel and its IDF:
وَما ضَرَّنا أَنّا قَليلٌ وَجارُنا عَزيزٌ وَجارُ الأَكثَرينَ ذَليلُ
It is of no consequence that we are few, seeing that our kinsman is protected, whereas the kinsman of the many is abased.
What can one say but "Indeed!"