Sa'id ibn Hawqal
Fictional Character
"Curse of the Three Demons"
Set in OTL
Type of Appearance: Direct POV
Nationality: Syria
Religion: Islam
Date of Birth: 13th century
Occupation: Trader

Sa'id ibn Hawqal was a trader from Damascus. He traveled throughout the Mongol Empire early in the reign of Kubilai.[1] When he arrived in the great city of Kaifeng, Honan province, he offered to sell his best goods to Bagadan, the wealthy governor of the city.[2]

While the two did reach an agreement, Bagadan decided to pay Sa'id in the Mongol paper currency that approximated silver rather than gold. When Sa'id demanded the more valuable currency, Bagadan ordered one of his guards to aim an arrow at Sa'id's back. Sa'id agreed to the payment, but then prayed that Allah would curse Bagadan. In response, Bagadan called down a curse of three demons: the kolcin, the eliye, and the ada. He then ordered Sa'id out of his palace with the promise that no Arab or Mongol would set Sa'id free.[3]

When he returned to the caravanserai, he began praying, but was immediately plagued by a kolcin. Even though Sa'id tried to pray it away, order it away, and even attack it with a knife, the kolcin remained. After taunting Sa'id that it was tasked only with giving the first hint of its master's wrath, the kolcin sank through floor and vanished.[4]

Sa'id went about his business for a few days before he encountered an eliye, which took the form of a bird. The bird yelled out an abrupt warning to Sa'id to watch his feet, causing Sa'id to land in a puddle. Sa'id pressed on to a meeting with a Chinese nobleman. When they'd reached an agreement over one of Sa'id's locks, the eliye said aloud that it was a pity that the lock had also gotten wet. The nobleman noticed, and refused to buy the lock.[5]

Desperate, Sa'id approached a pair of Mongol soldiers about his situation. While one, Etugen, was amused, the other, Kisaga, directed him to the shaman Sulde, who lived outside the city. While Sulde tried, the eliye announced that Sulde's goats had run away. When he confirmed this, Sulde admitted defeat. Guilty, Sa'id did pay Sulde for his goats, although he had little money left himself.[6]

As he returned to Kaifeng, Sa'id encountered the last demon, the ada, which looked like a twisted version of Bagadan himself. The ada promised its breath would bring Sa'id fever and a painful death. Desperate, Sa'id made his way through the city and, by chance, found a synagogue. At first he was surprised, and prepared to move on. However, he reasoned that, given the close relationship between Judaism and Islam, he might find comfort here, and went inside.[7]

Sa'id was amazed that everyone in the synagogue was Chinese, but spoke Hebrew throughout the prayer service. Afterward, he approached the rabbi, a Chinese man named Yen Hui, who explained that Kaifeng was tolerant of Jews. Nervously, Sa'id explained his curse, and expressed his hope that Yen Hui might know how to lift it. Yen Hui quoted both Hebrew Psalms and the words of Kung Fu-dze. While Sa'id was initially suspicious of how Chinese paganism might have influence Judaism here, he realized he had no room to criticize.[8]

As it was the Sabbath, Yen Hui could not help Sa'id then, but told him to come back after sunset the next day. Yen Hui warned Sa'id that he might not be able to help, only that he would try.[9] Sa'id returned to caravanserai, with the ada's fever doing its work. The owner of the caravanserai, Chao, gave Sa'id tea. He dutifully drank it, but spent the night and next day in a hallucinatory stupor. When the sun set, he made his way to the synagogue, where Yen Hui was waiting.[10]

Yen Hui bade Sa'id to sit. With his young assistant, Yen Hui uttered an incantation inside the Holy of Holies, and through the use of a magical symbol, successfully lifted the curse. Now that Sa'id felt better, Yen Hui informed him that the curse would fall on Bagadan. He also gave Sa'id a piece of paper with some runes on it, and told Sa'id to touch it with his right hand the next time he saw Bagadan; God willing, his debts would be repaid.[11]

When Sa'id did appear before Bagadan, the governor was dismayed to see that the curse had been lifted. As Sa'id touched the paper, Bagadan also admitted that his magic was no longer working, and asked what he needed to give Sa'id to end his spell. Realizing the paper was working, Sa'id extracted the price he'd initially agreed to in gold, with an additional two ounces. Bagadan paid it, and told Sa'id he never wanted to see him again. Sa'id left Kaifeng, paying the extra two ounces to the synagogue on his way out of town, all the while contemplating how similar Jews and Muslims really were in a land of pagans.[12]


  1. Arabesques 2, pgs. 49-51.
  2. Ibid., pg. 50.
  3. Ibid., pgs. 51-55.
  4. Ibid., pgs. 56-57.
  5. Ibid., pgs. 58-59.
  6. Ibid., pgs. 60-62.
  7. Ibid., pgs. 63-65.
  8. Ibid., pgs. 65-66.
  9. Ibid., pgs. 67.
  10. Ibid., pg. 68-69.
  11. Ibid., pgs. 70-73.
  12. Ibid., pgs. 73-75.