The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan
In that delightful Province of the Sun, The first of Persian lands he shines upon. Where all the loveliest children of his beam, Flowerets and fruits, blush over every stream, ...
Of millions raised him, sat the Prophet-Chief, The Great Mokanna. O'er his features hung
The Veil, the Silver Veil, which he had flung In mercy there, to hide from mortal sight His dazzling brow, till man could bear its light.
For, far less luminous, his votaries said, Were even the gleams, miraculously shed O'er Moussa's cheek, when down the Mount he trod All glowing from the presence of his God!
But he is not a God. He is a legend. A tale mothers tell their boys to encourage bravery amidst the dark and bleak world of the Middle Ages; a star-strung figure that every woman expects their men to be. This is the story of Ibn-e Hashim, the Al Muqanna.
The Man Before the Veil
The man that would be known as Al-Muqanna was born to Hakim, a Balkh captain of the Khorasani army serving under Al-Mansur. This information, however, is debated amongst historians as the original text used a Persian antecedent of the pronoun 'he' which may have, in this context, also referred to Hashim himself. There is also reason to believe that the latter had a brother named Qyrm.
Regardless, the man himself would grow up in the Balkh region of what is modern-day Afghanistan. Hashim studied in relatively fine and prominent schools of the day - comparable to modern-day Ivy League schools, which was quite a probable cause to his strong-willed and non-flinching belief in the arts, religion, and science. He had quite a lot of knowledge about alchemy, mathematics, and also studied both Zoroastrianism and Islam during his early days.
Hashim, at one point - like Albert Einstein, the man that he is, took to work in Patent Clerk office as a lowly patent reviewer - became a lowly clothes pleater; one who cleanses cloth to remove impurities such as oils and dirt, and to make the cloth fuller.
It is difficult, nearly impossible even, to compare the legendary figure of Al-Muqanna from the man that was Hashim. If you'll account the amazing feats of ingenuity and alchemical magic he pulled off almost a thousand years before Galileo even improved upon the telescope, he would definitely seem like the god that he claimed to be.
To understand this man more, we must travel back in time to experience the scientific, religious, and political climate was Central Asia, Iran, and modern-day Arabic regions of Afghanistan.
There Is Turmoil A'brewing
Hashim lived during a period of time which we in the modern age refer to as the Dark Ages or the Middle Ages. It is common knowledge that the Dark ages were a time when the entire world was covered in a veil of sorrow, grief, and disease. It was a time when the world was awash with the black plague which killed 1/3 of Europe's population and 1/5 of the world's population at the time, but that was much later.
The Middle Ages happened between 476 AD to 1,500 AD, which enveloped over 20% of mankind's recorded history. Imagine this: over 1,000 years of man in the dark versus mankind recording his own story - from 3,100 BCE to today, 2020 AD.
This, however, was mostly true in Europe where, in 476 AD, the barbarian ruler Odoacer conquered ancient Rome and brought about the start of the Dark Ages, but had absolutely no impact the world outside. In this case, the Islamic religion was just budding, with Mohammed the Prophet of Allah born in 571 AD, things in the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Empire was just getting started.
Fast forward to after Mohammed's death, and during the rule of the next three Caliphs, Central Asia was in turmoil. To put it in historical context Afghanistan, Iran - even up to Uzbekistan to the northeast, and stretching to Spain going through North Africa - were all living through a cultural upheaval.
With the Abbasid Empire soundly defeating and ending the reign of the Umayyads in 750 AD with the death of Marwa the 2nd and the subsequent massacre of his entire family.
It is interesting to note, however, that a survivor by the name of Ibd Al-Rahman flew to the Iberian Peninsula and founded the Umayyad Emirate of Cordoba - which is now Spain, Yes; Spain was, for nearly 400 years, an Islamic country.
While all of these were happening, the hero of our story - a young Hashim - living in Merw in what is now Turkmenistan (refer to our article about The Ancient City Buried in the Sands of Time), was busy building himself up within the ranks of the Abassid Empire.
He served under the Persian General Vehzādān Pour Vandād Hormozd - and because his name is impossible to pronounce without making it a tongue twister let's just call him what the Arabs call him - Abu Muslim, until 755 AD when the latter was murdered by his own countrymen.
After Abu Muslim's death, Hisham served two other governors of Merw and was eventually disillusioned by the Abassids whom he so faithfully served, and became instrumental to the formation of a number of large armies led by Pāpak Khorram-Din, the Khorrām-Dīnān, a Persian revolutionary army that with the help of Hisham - now Al Muqanna - believes the spirit of God resided within Mohammed the Prophet, and then to Ali his cousin, then to Abu Muslim, and finally to Al Muqanna himself.
And So He Dons the Veil
There are many reasons put forth both by skeptics and protractors as to the reason for Al Muqanna's veil. Many believed that he has tinkered too much with the laws of the universe and his face has since then been contorted and damaged to a monstrous image which if seen immediately kills a spectator. Others and I would prefer this tale instead, believes that his veil is a way to protect those around him from seeing the nearly blinding light of the spirit of Allah awash on his face. Al Muqanna was a man of miracles, and true to the story, he did plenty.
In vain Mokanna, midst the general flight, Stands like the red moon on some stormy night Among the fugitive clouds that hurrying by Leave only her unshaken in the sky--
In vain he yells his desperate curses out, Deals death promiscuously to all about, To foes that charge and coward friends that fly, And seems of all the Great Archenemy.
The panic spreads--"A miracle!" throughout The Moslem ranks, "a miracle!" they shout, All gazing on that youth whose coming seems A light, a glory, such as breaks in dreams;
And every sword, true as o'er billows dim The needle tracks the lode-star, following him!
One such miracle was the Second Moon, also known as the Moon of Nakhshab. This handy little magic trick was what helped Al Muqanna convince an entire region in the Abassid Empire to revolt against the growing tumultuous tyranny of foreign rule.
It was a contraption that reflected the moon's glow with 2 sheets of liquid mercury, one posted above a hill near the Pit of Nakhshab and acted as a focal mirror to a reflector that directs the moon's rays into the pit where a second vat of liquid mercury spun forming a convex surface that amplifies the moon's ray upwards into the humid air of the desert which refracts the intense light showing - for two months - an amazing spectacle of science, alchemy, and magic.
This, however, was a science project doomed to fail as accounts state that one night the Moon of Nakhshab fell and shattered into a million pieces.
Al Muqanna would then, with the leadership of Pāpak Khorram-Din, start their revolt against the Abassid Empire. One day - when Al Muqanna's followers went a little overboard and plundered and pillaged the towns and mosques of other Muslims, Abassid generals would be sent to quash the rebellion.
Al Muqanna, in his majesty, refusing to surrender to Abassid tyranny decided to poison himself - as he flew from the soldiers that were burning his home to the ground. He would later arrive at a Persian Fort near Kesh, one of Central Asian's most ancient cities - now known as Shahrisabz - in Uzbekistan, where he would later die a martyr to the Khorrām-Dīnān's cause which will then outlive him up to the 12th century AD.
The Legend In Modern Culture
It is a little known fact that the yearly celebration of the Fair of St. Louis in St. Louis, Missouri, in the United States, derives its establishment from the Lalla Rookh, a poem written by the Irish poet Thomas Moore in the year 1817 which was then referenced by businessmen from St. Louis to found the Veiled Prophet Organization - which in turn started an annual fair and parade called the Veiled Prophet Fair - obviously an attempt to bring in tourists.
Thomas Moore, in writing the Lalla Rookh, immortalized Al Muqanna in the first of four romantic tales: "The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan" (loosely based upon the story of Al-Muqanna), "Paradise and the Peri", "The Fire-Worshippers", and "The Light of the Harem".
Master Masons would also co-op Al Muqanna's name and heritage in their founding of the Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm (founded 1889), often known as "the Grotto".
As Lovers Meet Their End
And so we end this historic tale, of the young Hisham who then became the legend, the man, Al Muqanna.
Time fleeted-- years on years had past away, And few of those who on that mournful day Had stood with pity in their eyes to see The maiden's death and the youth's agony, Were living still-- when, by a rustic grave,
Beside the swift Amoo's transparent wave, An aged man who had grown aged there By that lone grave, morning and night in prayer, For the last time knelt down-- and tho' the shade Of death hung darkening over him there played A gleam of rapture on his eye and cheek, That brightened even Death-- like the last streak Of intense glory on the horizon's brim,
When night o'er all the rest hangs chill and dim. His soul had seen a Vision while he slept; She for whose spirit he had prayed and wept
So many years had come to him all drest In angel smiles and told him she was blest! For this the old man breathed his thanks and died.-- And thereupon the banks of that loved tide, He and his ZELICA sleep side by side.
CentrAsia Tours: not only bringing your across the ancient, now modern, world of Central Asia but also accompanying you through time.