Books Features

How to be a medieval party-crasher

It might surprise modern readers that people in the Middle Ages could be party-crashers, but one book written in eleventh-century Baghdad shows that the practice has a long history.

The Book of Party-Crashing comes from Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (d.1071), a scholar best known for a book on the history of Baghdad and religious writings. In this work he takes on a more light-hearted subject, writing down anecdotes he heard from friends and fellow scholars.


Dr Emily Selove from the University of Manchester has translated this work in Selections from The Art of Party-Crashing in Medieval Iraq. The work ranges from recalling hadith’s from Prophet Muhammad related to party-crashing to jokes and satirical government documents from his own time.

“This book, which contains flirtation, profanity, and even a little drunkenness, is a lot of fun and offers a rather different perspective to the austere image Islam has from that period,” explains Dr. Selove. “The reality is that the Bagdad of 1000 years ago was actually rather Bohemian – it wasn’t perfect by any means – but not the violent and repressive society you might imagine it was. Such ignorance is probably down to the fact that so little of the huge body of literature produced at that time has been translated into English. There’s so much more to do.”


Here are some of the funniest anecdotes from the translation:

Once a man crashed another man’s party. “Who are you? the host asked him.
“I’m the one who saved you the trouble of sending an invitation!” he replied.

A party-crasher passed by a group who had decided to dedicate the day to drinking, and were sitting in the parlour for that purpose. He greeted them and said to himself, “Should I go in?”
He went in.
“Young men,” he said to them, “what are you sitting around for?”
“We sent someone to get us some meat,” they said
When the meat arrived, the cook asked them, “What would you like to be cooked?”
“Juniper’s kabab,” the party-crasher answered.
When he had eaten, he reclined and crossed his legs.
“Whose house is this?” he wondered.
Then he answered himself, thinking, “It’s yours, man, until someone says otherwise.”

Once a party-crasher walked in the house of a man who had invited a gathering of people. “Hey, you! the man said. “Did I say you could come?”
“Did you say I couldn’t come?” the party-crasher replied.

A party-crasher came to a wedding and was denied entry. He happened to know that bride’s brother was absent, so he left and got a piece of paper. He folded it up like a letter, and he sealed it (although there was nothing inside), and he addressed it “From the brother to the bride.”
He went back. “I have a note from the bride’s brother for her,” he said.
He received permission to go in and present the letter.
“We’ve never seen an address like this before,” everybody said. “It has no name on it!”
“What’s even stranger than that,” said the party-crasher, “is that there’s nothing inside – not one letter! That’s because he was in a big hurry when he wrote it.”
Everybody laughed. They knew it was a trick to get in, and they him get away with it.


There was a party-crashed named Waylon, and somebody asked him, “What do you do if they won’t let you into a wedding?”
He said, “I start wailin’ by the door until people get sick of it and invite me in.”

I hired Ibn Darraj, the party-crasher, to dictate thirty jokes and sayings to me for a dirham, but when he recited a tired joke, I wouldn’t credit it to his account.
“If you wanted the good jokes,” he said, “it’s ten for a dirham.”

How to be a party-crasher in the Middle Ages

Many of the tales in this book relate to a man named ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Uthman Bunan, who was originally from the city of Merv, but moved to Baghdad. Al-Khatib called him “the party-crasher of the farthest-reaching fame. And in terms of party-crashing – in terms of the extreme lengths to which he does, as well as his customary goings-on – Bunan’s got what no one else has.”


Bunan had eaten and eaten well, and someone said to him, “Slow down! You’ll kill yourself!”
“If it is time to die,” Bunan replied, “I want to go well fed and well watered, not parched and hungry.”

I heard Bunan saying, “I memorized the entire Qur’an, but I’ve forgotten all but four words: ‘Give us our lunch.'”

Someone said to Bunan, “What kind of food do you find tastiest?”
“Whatever makes its owner feel most generous!” he replied.

Someone told Bunan, “Someone who enters a meal uninvited enters a thief and leaves a looter!”
“I’ve never eaten anything that wasn’t allowed,” he replied.
“How’s that?” someone asked.
“Doesn’t the host of the banquet say to the cook, ‘Make too much of everything. If we want to serve a hundred, make enough for hundred and twenty, because we’ll get some guests we expected and some we didn’t’?
“Well, I’m one of those they didn’t expect,” said Bunan.


Selections from The Art of Party-Crashing in Medieval Iraq, translated by Emily Selove, was published by Syracuse University Press in 2012. Click here to visit the publisher’s website for more details.

You can also read The Hikayat Abu Al-qasim: A Literary Banquet, by Emily Selove

Top Image: Man and woman in conversation from a 13th century manuscript – British Library MS Or. 2784 f.103v