Folk-lore of the Holy Land, Moslem, Christian and Jewish, by J. E. Hanauer , at sacred-texts.com
WHEN out riding one day, the Caliph Harûn er Rashid noticed a very venerable looking old fellah planting a fig tree. Accosting him, the Commander of the Faithful asked why he was taking the trouble to plant a tree, of the fruit of which he could hardly hope to taste.
"O Emìr el Mûmenìn," replied the greybeard. "Inshallah, I may be spared to taste the fruit of this tree, but if not, my sons will do so, even as I have eaten the fruit of trees planted by my father and great-grandfather." "How old are you?" asked the monarch. "One hundred and seven," replied the husbandman. "A hundred and seven!" exclaimed the Caliph in astonishment, and added, "Well, in case you really do live to eat fruit from this tree, be sure and let me know."
Several years passed, and Harûn had quite forgotten the incident when one day he was told that an aged peasant desired an audience, saying that by the Caliph's own command he had brought him a basket of figs. Having ordered the man to be admitted, Harûn was surprised to find that it was the same fellâh he had once seen planting a fig tree, who now brought him some choice fruit from that very tree. The Commander of the Faithful received the gift most graciously, making the old man sit beside him on the diwân, and commanding
a robe of honour to be put on him; he gave him a gold dinâr for each fig, and then dismissed him with all honour.
When the old fellâh had left the Presence, the Caliph's son El Mamûn, asked his father why such grace had been shown to an illiterate peasant. "My son," replied Harûn, "Allah Himself had honoured him so I was bound to do the same."
The old fellâh returned to his village in high glee, and there extolled the liberality and condescension of the Prince of Believers. Now next door to him lived a jealous and avaricious woman, who, envious of her old neighbour's good fortune, resolved to outdo him, and therefore worried her husband till,, for peace, he filled a large basket with figs and presented himself with them at the door of the Khalìfeh's palace. When asked what he wanted, he answered that as the Commander of the Faithful was famed for his impartiality, and had so richly rewarded his neighbour for a few figs, he had also brought some and hoped to receive a similar reward. On hearing this reply the guards reported the case to Harûn, by whose orders the foolish man was pelted with his own fruit. Angry and hurt, he went home and divorced the wife whose folly had exposed him to such shame. 1
A certain Sultan was one day struck with the
difference between the cries of two beggars in the street near his palace. One of them was shouting, "O Allah, Thou Bountiful One!" whilst the other bawled, "O Allah! give victory to the Sultàn!" The monarch, flattered by the interest which the latter showed in his welfare, called his wazìr and said, "See to it that that beggar who keeps praying for me gets a roast fowl stuffed with gold pieces; but to the other give a fowl cooked in the usual way."
The wazìr obeyed, and the man who had called Allah bountiful was gratefully turning away to carry the fowl to his wife when the other said to him, "Buy this fowl from me. I have neither wife nor children. What I want is money, and not rich food." "I have only a bishlik," 1 was the reply, "and that is nothing like the value of a roast fowl." "You shall have it for that," said the other; and so it happened that the beggar who praised Allah got not only a good dinner but also a small fortune.
This man now gave up begging, and opened a little shop. His companion, however, having spent his bishlik, returned to the palace gate and cried, "O Allah! give victory to our Sultan." The monarch commanded a second fowl stuffed with gold to be given to him. On receiving it he hurried to his former comrade and offered it for another bishlik, which was promptly paid.
When the cry, "O Allah! give the Sultan victory!" was again heard near the palace the Sultan cried, " What is this? I have made that fellow rich twice over and he still must beg. Bring him in to
me." When the beggar was brought in, the Sultan, frowning on him, asked, "Why do you go on begging when I have made you rich?" "Alas, O Sultan of the Age," answered the beggar, "all that I have received at your Highness's gate were two fowls, which I sold to another beggar who used to cry, 'O Allah! O Thou Bountiful One!' but who has since grown rich and taken a shop." The Sultan was amazed and cried, "Wallahi! Allah has shown that it is better to praise His bounty than to pray for my prosperity."
A certain Sultan once had a dispute with his wazìr as to what constitutes true kindness. He said that it might be found among the poorest of the people, while the wazìr maintained that it was impossible to show kindness, or to feel it, unless one were well-to-do. When the Sultan thought enough had been said, he summoned the sheykh el Islâm, and ordered a record of the debate and of the arguments on both sides to be made and deposited in the public archives.
Some time afterwards the Sultan, one afternoon sent secretly for the sheykh, and the two disguised themselves as derwìshes and went out to settle the question. In the city they found much to interest them, but nothing bearing on the problem which they wished to solve. By the time they reached the outskirts of the town the sun was setting, and as they advanced into the country it grew dark apace. They were glad to behold a light shining
in a field beside the road, and went towards it. It came from a little mud-roofed hut, the abode of a poor goatherd. The man himself was out at work, but his wife and mother bade the strangers welcome in his absence. A few minutes later he came home, bringing with him four goats which were all his substance. The children, running out, told him guests had arrived, and he at once came in and saluted them. Having assured them that his house was theirs, he asked to be excused for a minute, and going to the owners of the flock he tended, begged two loaves of wheaten bread, as he could not set coarse dhurrah 1 bread before his guests. The two loaves with some eggs, curds, 2 and olives, made a tempting meal. "But pardon us," said the Sultan, "we are under a vow not to eat anything but bread and kidneys for a year and a day." Without a word, the host went out, killed his four goats, and broiled their kidneys. But the Sultan, when they were set before him, said, "We have a vow to eat nothing until after midnight. We will take this with us, and eat it when our vow has expired. And now, I grieve to say, we must be going." The goatherd and his family begged them to stay till morning, but in vain.
When the masqueraders were once more alone on the highway, the Sultan said, "Now let us try the wazìr!" They reached his house, from which streamed light and music; he was entertaining. The humble request of two derwìshes for food and lodging was promptly refused; and when
they still persisted, the wazìr was heard shouting, "Drive away those dogs, and thrash them soundly. That will teach them to plague their betters." The order was so well obeyed that the twain escaped with their bare lives. Bruised and bleeding they reached the palace about midnight. When they had put off their disguise, the Sultan sent privately for a dumb physician to tend their wounds. He then called together his council of ministers, and, having described the whereabouts of the goatherd's dwelling, told them all to go and stand near it, but without disturbing the inmates. "When the lord of that house comes out in the morning," greet him with the utmost respect, and say that I request the favour of a visit from him. Escort him hither honourably and, between you, bring the bodies of four goats which you will find near his door."
The goatherd feared for his life, in the morning, when he found his hut the centre of a crowd of courtiers and soldiers. Nor was his alarm diminished by the respectfulness of their manner towards him as they invited him to the Sultan's palace, nor by their inexplicable conduct in picking up the dead goats and carrying them as honoured corpses.
When the procession reached the palace, the Sultan made the goatherd sit beside him and ordered the record of his dispute with the wazìr to be read aloud for all to hear. The recital ended, the Sultan told the story of his adventures on the previous evening. Then turning to the wazìr, he said, "You have betrayed your own cause! No one in this
realm is in a better position than you to show kindness to his fellowmen! Yet you show nothing but cruelty! You are no longer my wazìr, and your wealth shall be confiscated. But this goatherd who begged better bread than he himself could afford to eat, for the greediest and most ill-mannered guests that ever came to man's house, and who sacrificed his whole substance rather than disappoint them--he shall be my friend and sit beside me." Thus was kindness rewarded, and churlishness dishonoured.
There once lived in Jerusalem twin brothers who, even after they were grown up, lived and worked together, sharing the produce of their fields.
One night after threshing their corn and dividing it, as was their custom, into two equal heaps, they slept out on the threshing-floor to prevent theft. In the night one of them awoke and thought to himself: "My brother is a married man with children to look after, whereas I--praise to Allah--am single. It is not right that I should receive a share equal to his from the produce of our toil."
So thinking he rose, and noiselessly took seven measures from his heap and put them on his brother's; then went back to sleep. A short while afterwards his brother woke and, as he lay blinking at the stars, said within himself, "I, by the blessing of the Highest, have a good wife and four lovely children. I know joys to which my brother is a stranger. It is not right that I should receive
a share equal to his from the produce of our toil." Thereupon he crept to his heap and transferred seven measures thence to his brother's portion; then went back to sleep. In the morning each was amazed to find the heaps still equal; till Allah sent a prophet who informed them that their unselfish love was pleasing to the Almighty; and that threshing-floor 1 was blessed for evermore.
The Kâdi "‘Abdallah el Mustakìm," some whose descendants are said to reside at Jaffa at the present day, lived at Baghdad, during the reign of El Mansûr, one of the Caliphs of the dynasty of "Abbâs"; and is alleged to have obtained his honourable surname, which means "the honest or upright One" from the strict impartiality with which he administered justice. The following story is told of him:--
As the upright Judge was leaving his house one morning he was met by a woman of the lower classes, who, accompanied by a boy, her son, was driving a donkey and weeping bitterly. On beholding her distress the Kâdi, who was as kind-hearted to the poor and afflicted as he was stern to wrongdoers, stopped her and asked the reason of her sorrow. "Alas! my lord," said the woman,
[paragraph continues] "have I not cause to weep? My husband died a few months since, after making me swear on his deathbed not to sell the small piece of land by the cultivation of which we had supported ourselves, but take care of it for our son, this boy, and teach him to till it as his ancestors had done for generations. But the Caliph sent one of his servants and offered to buy the land from me, because it adjoins an estate belonging to him, on which he intends building a palace. He says that he must have my piece of ground in order to carry out his plans. I refused to sell, for the reason which I have told you, and after thrice pressing me to dispose of it and being refused, he, this morning, had me and my son driven away from our lawful possession, inherited from our forefathers, and told us that as I would not sell the land, it should be taken from me without a recompense. We have thus lost everything, except each other and this ass with an empty sack on its back, and know not to whom to look for help, seeing that there is none greater than the Khalìfeh." "Where is your land situated?" asked El Mustakìm. "In such and such a place." "And you say that you have just come from thence, and that the Commander of the Faithful was there when you left?" "Yes, my lord." "Very well, you remain here in my house till I return, and in the meantime let me have your donkey and its empty sack for a few hours. Inshallah, as I am somewhat known to the Emìr el Mûmenìn, 1 I shall succeed in persuading
him to alter his plans, and restore your property."
On hearing these words the poor widow at once consented to his proposal, and the Judge departed, driving the ass before him. He soon reached the place, and found the Khalìfeh on the spot, giving various orders to the architect who was to erect the new palace. On beholding the ruler of El Islamìyeh, 1 the Judge, prostrating himself before him with every reverence, begged for a private audience without delay. The Khalìfeh, who had a great respect for the Kâdi, granted his request, and Abdullah, acting as the widow's advocate, earnestly pleaded with his master on her behalf. Finding the monarch relentless, Abdullah said; "Well, O Prince of Believers, you are our ruler and may Allah prolong your rule, but, as your Highness has seized the widow's and orphan's property, I beg, in their name, to be allowed to take one sackful of this earth for them."
"Ten if you like," laughed the Khalìfeh, "though I fail to see what good it can do them."
The Kâdi seized a pickaxe that lay near, loosened the earth with it, and filled his sack. Then, turning to the Caliph, he said, "I now adjure your Highness, by all that we Muslimûn hold sacred, to help me to place it upon the back of this ass." "You funny man," replied the ruler, greatly amused, "why not call some of those slaves to lift it?" "O Commander of the Faithful," answered the Kâdi, "the earth in the sack would altogether lose its virtues were
your Highness to command others to lift it; and your Highness would be the greatest sufferer by the loss. "Well, so be it," said the Caliph, growing curious. With that he took hold of the sack, but could not move it. "I cannot," said he, "it is much too heavy." "In that case," said the upright Judge, "as your Majesty finds that the weight of one sack of earth, which you are willing to restore to its rightful owners, is more than you can bear, you will pardon me for asking how you will bear the weight of this whole piece of land which you have taken by violence from the widow and the fatherless, and how you will answer for your injustice at the Day of Judgment?"
This stern but faithful reproof provoked the Caliph; but on a minute's reflection, he said, "Praised be Allah, Who has given me so conscientious a servant. I restore the land to the widow and her son and, to compensate her for the tears she has shed through my fault, I remit all dues and taxes payable on this piece of land."
A herd of camels happened to be passing an orchard, the owner of which was seated upon the "sinsileh" or rough stone fence. One of the animals, a very fine male, caught hold of the overhanging bough of a fruit tree and broke it off with his teeth. Hereupon the owner of the orchard snatched up a stone and threw it at the camel. The aim was unexpectedly true, and the beast fell dead. Its owner, stung to fury by the loss of his
property, snatched up the same stone and threw it with as deadly accuracy at the owner of the orchard, who, struck on the temple, was instantly killed. Horror-struck at his rash act, and realising what the consequences would be, the frightened camel-herd leapt on to the swiftest of his beasts, and leaving the rest to shift for themselves, fled as fast as he could. He was, however, promptly followed by the sons of the slain man, and forced to return with them to the scene of the tragedy, which happened to be close to the camp of the Caliph Omar ibn el Khattâb. The sons of the dead orchard-owner demanded the life of the man who had slain their father, and, though the latter explained that he had not done the deed with malice aforethought, but under the impulse of sudden provocation, yet, as he had no witnesses to prove that he was speaking the truth, and as the sons of the dead man would not hear of a pecuniary compensation, the Caliph ordered the man-slayer to be beheaded. Now in those times it was customary for the execution of a criminal to take place almost immediately after he had been condemned to die. The mode of procedure was as follows: a skin or hide called "nuta ’a" was spread in the monarch's presence, and the person to be beheaded was made to kneel upon this hide with his hands bound behind him. The "jelâd" or executioner, standing behind him with a drawn sword, then cried aloud, "O Commander of the Faithful, is it indeed your decision that Fulân be caused to forsake this world?" If the Caliph answered, "yes," then the executioner
asked the same question the second time, and if it were answered in the affirmative, he asked it once again for the third and last time, and immediately afterwards, unless the potentate instantly revoked the fatal order, he struck off the prisoner's head. Now, on the occasion of which we are speaking, the condemned, finding that his life was irretrievably forfeited, earnestly besought the Caliph to grant him three days’ respite that he might go to his distant tent and arrange his family affairs. He swore that at the expiration of that term he would return and pay the penalty of the law. The Caliph told him that he must find a surety to die in his stead in case he should break his word. The poor man looked around him in despair upon the crowd of utter strangers. The "nuta ’a" was brought and the executioner advanced to bind his hands. In despair he cried out, "Has the race of the manly 1 perished? "Receiving no answer, he repeated the question with yet greater emphasis, whereupon the noble Abu Dhûr, who was one of the "Sohaba" or companions of the Prophet, stepped forward and asked the Caliph's permission to become his surety. The monarch granted his request, but warned him that his own life would be sacrificed in case the man did not return within the time stipulated. Abu Dhûr having agreed to this, the condemned was set free. He started off at a run and was soon out of sight.
The three days had passed, and as the man-slayer
had not returned and nobody believed that he would do so, the Caliph, yielding to the dead man's relatives, gave orders that Abu Dhûr should pay the forfeit. The hide was brought and Abu Dhûr, his hands tied behind him, knelt upon it amid the lamentations and tears of his numerous friends and relatives. Twice, in a voice that was heard above the noise of the assembly, had the executioner asked the ruler of Islâm if it was indeed his will that the noble man should quit this world. Twice had the monarch grimly answered "yes" when, just as the fatal question was to be put for the third and last time, some one cried out, "For Allah's sake, stop! for here comes some one running!" At a sign from the Caliph the executioner remained silent, and, to every one's astonishment, the man who three days previously had been condemned to die ran up out of breath and, with the words, "Praise be to Allah" sank exhausted to the ground. "Fool," said the Caliph to him, "why didst thou return? Hadst thou stayed away, the surety would have died in thy stead and thou wouldst have been free." "I returned," replied the man, "in order to prove that not only the race of the virtuous has not yet died out but also that of the truthful." 1 "Then why didst thou go away at all?" asked the monarch. "In order," said the man, who was now kneeling with bound hands upon the hide from which Abu Dhûr had arisen, "in order to prove that the race of the trustworthy 2
has not yet perished." "Explain thyself," said the Commander of the Faithful. "Some time ago," said the man, "a poor widow came to me and entrusted some articles of value to my keeping. Having to leave our camp on business, I took the things into the desert and hid them under a great rock in a spot which no one but myself could find, and there they were when I was condemned to die. Had my life not been spared for a few days, I should have died with a heavy heart, as the knowledge of the hiding-place would have perished with me; the woman would have been irretrievably injured; and my children would have heard her curse my memory without being able to clear it. Now, however, that I have arranged my household affairs and have restored her property to the woman, I can die with a light heart." On hearing this Omar turned to Abu Dhûr and asked, "Is this man any friend or relative of thine?" "Wallahi!" replied Abu Dhûr, "I assure thee, O Emìr el Mûminin, that I never set eyes on him till three days since." "Then, why wast thou such a fool as to risk thy life in his stead, for had he not returned, I was determined that thou shouldst die in his place." "I did so in order to prove that the race of the manly and virtuous had not yet died out," replied Abu Dhûr. On receiving this answer the Caliph was silent for a while; then, turning to the kneeling man, he said, "I pardon thee, thou canst go." "Why so? O Commander of the Faithful!" asked an aged and privileged sheykh. "Because," answered Omar, "as it has been proved that the races of the
manly, the virtuous, the truthful, and the trustworthy have not yet perished; it only remains for me to demonstrate that the races of the clement 1 and the generous 2 are also still alive, and I therefore not only pardon the man, but shall pay the 'dìyeh' (blood money) out of my own private means."
162:1 Variants of this story are legion in Syria and Egypt, but the greater number could not fitly be ranged under the headline, "Moral Tales."--ED.
163:1 A coin worth a little less than sixpence.
165:1 Sorghum Annuum.
165:2 Ar. leben.
168:1 It was on the hill traditionally known in Zion--the rock-hewn base of a tower which once formed the south-west corner of the city wall. It is now part of the foundation of Bishop Gobal's school. My authority for alleging it to he the scene of the above incident is the sheykh Mahmûd of Debi Daûd, who used to tell this story of the twins in connection with it.
169:1 Prince of Believers, the phrase commonly translated, "Commander of the Faithful."--ED.
170:1 The whole region of El Islâm. Cf. Christendom.--ED.
173:1 Or "virtuous. "Ahl el merowah; lit. the family, or race, of manly virtue.
174:1 Ahl es sidk.
174:2 Ahl el amâny; lit. "the family of the pledge-acknowledging."
176:1 Ahl el ’afu; lit. "the race of pardon."
176:2 Ahl el kurrum.