The Story of the Harmala Plant (Syrian Rue)
According to legend, Hamda was a virtuous girl who lived with her brother and his wife long ago when all creatures had the power of speech. Hamda herded the family's small flock of sheep, and such was her virtue that she gave away most of her food to orphans. Then she assuaged her pangs of hunger by tying rolls of woven wool to her stomach, which caused her figure to bulge.

    The wicked sister in law pointed out to her husband Hamda's protruding belly, telling him that his sister had become pregnant by some shepherd boy, thus bringing shame upon the family, which could be washed away by shedding Hamda's blood. The brother refused to believe this story, but his wife insisted, adding that Hamda had been acting strangely, moving restlessly from the sun to the shade and back, which, the wife claimed, was a sure sign of pregnancy. Finally, the brother agreed to put the matter to the test.

    That afternoon, he lay in the sun and asked Hamda to pick the fleas from his hair. But the wicked sister in law had secretly put a poison in Hamda's food, which made her restless. After some moments Hamda asked her brother to move to the shade; then, a few moments later she asked to move back into the sun. The brother then believed his wife's lie. That night they plotted together to kill the unfortunate Hamda.

    The following morning he took Hamda on his camel to a dried well. There he secretly spread a blanket on the mouth of the well to hide it, and he invited his unsuspecting sister to sit on the blanket and continue to de-flea him. She did, and fell into the well, whereupon the brother threw dried brush and wood on top of her and set it on fire so Hamda would burn to death. He then rode home to break the news to his wife.

    But Hamda was saved from the fire by her virtue. From the poison in her belly erupted snakes that pushed the flames away. The flames themselves were magically transformed into a paradise. But poor Hamda missed her brother, so she made a necklace of beads for him and she asked a crow that flew overhead to take the gift to her sibling.

    When the brother saw the necklace, he knew that Hamda was alive, and that he had treated her unjustly. Without telling his wife of his purpose, he asked her to pack some dates and dried food, so that she would not poison it, and he went back to the well. But the wife was suspicious and poisoned the dates by rolling them in camel dung and then in ashes to conceal the revealing smell.

    When the brother reached the well Hamda told him her tale, but she refused to come out of her pit for fear that he might try to finish the task which he had started; he assured her of his good will and she let herself be rescued. The brother then offered her the dates to eat, but when they saw the ashes they realised that the food had been poisoned, and the brother realised his wife's wickedness.

    When the wife saw her husband riding back with Hamda behind him, she realised that her evil deeds had failed. She cried out a spell to save herself, but her magic failed again, and instead, the earth opened and swallowed her up to her neck. Her husband grabbed her by the hair and cut off her head with his sword, crying out for her to become a bush so repulsive that even donkeys could not eat more than one mouthful of it. So the wicked wife was transformed into the bush of the ''Harmala plant'' with its dark bitter seeds.

    *Written by Rami Sajdi, Copyright © Rami Sajdi 1997 All Rights Reserved