Folk-lore of the Holy Land, Moslem, Christian and Jewish, by J. E. Hanauer , at sacred-texts.com
ON the mountain-top above a Mohammedan village stood a wely or saint's tomb, of which the guardian was one Sheykh Abdullah, a genial old man and well-beloved in the neighbourhood. Accompanied by orphan boy named Ali, his disciple, and mounted on an ass which he had brought up ever since it was a foal, he used to ride from village to village, prescribing for the sick, and selling amulets and charms written by himself, which were warranted to preserve their wearers from the evil eye and other strange adversities. He would also draw up horoscopes, and discover secrets in the magic mirror of ink or by the sand table.
When Ali was grown up, the old man said to him: "My son, I have taught you all I know. There are few khatìbs 1 with half your learning. All you have now to do is to become a Haji by pilgrimage to the Holy Places. Then, in sh’Allah, you will find it easy to obtain a post, like mine, of honourable ease. As a derwìsh, you need no money. Take my old abâyeh, this mahajaneh, and the ass to ride on; start to-morrow with the other pilgrims.
Ali, though reluctant to leave his adopted father, followed the sheykh's advice, and, having obtained his blessing, set out next day. By the mercy of Allah he journeyed in safety for many months,
till on a day he found himself in a barren plain, with a hot wind blowing, far from any well or human habitation. He was walking to save his donkey's failing strength, when suddenly the poor beast stopped, rubbed its nose against his arm, and died. He could not bear to leave the body of so old a friend to the vultures and hyænas, so he set to work to dig a grave. This was no easy task, yet he performed it before sunset, and prepared to sleep beside the mound thus raised. All at once he heard the sound of horses galloping, and looking up beheld a troop of riders. He could hear their leader call to his companions, "Look! There is a holy derwìsh mourning on a newly made grave. Death has overtaken the companion of his travels, and he has piously buried him in this lonely spot. How sad to die in so forlorn a place, where one cannot find even water to wash a corpse! I must go and speak to him." So saying, he galloped up, and, saluting, asked the name of the departed. "’Eyr," replied Ali, using a poetical and uncommon word for "ass." "Ah! poor Sheykh ’Eyr,'" sighed the tender-hearted chief. "The ways of Allah are most mysterious. Do not, however, let this death deject you. His memory at least shall live. To-morrow morning I shall send men to build a splendid shrine over his grave "; and, ere Ali had time to explain matters, the impulsive nobleman galloped off with his men.
Ali could not sleep that night for thinking on his strange predicament. Next morning, soon after sunrise, he descried moving dots on the horizon,
which presently resolved themselves into camels laden with lime and donkeys carrying cut stone, driven by a company of masons and labourers. Coming to where the derwìsh stood, the men saluted him with reverence, and informed him that they came from the Emìr with orders to build at once the makâm of Sheykh ’Eyr. Things had gone too far for explanation. Ali could only watch the work which was begun without delay. First of all they built a cenotaph over the grave and enclosed it in a room of the right shape and size. Then they made an open hall 1 with a prayer-niche, 2 to mark the kibleh. On the side of the hall opposite the tomb-chamber, a second room was erected for the accommodation of the guardian of the shrine. Last of all, they built a little minaret, dug a well, and surrounded the whole with an enclosure-wall, thus forming a large courtyard with cloisters along its four sides. All this work took time, but Ali, having heard from the Emìr that he was to be sheykh of the shrine with a good stipend, patiently watched its completion, and entered with content upon his new duties.
Placed at a convenient halting-place for travellers who had to cross the desert, the new shrine soon grew famous, and was visited by hordes of pilgrims yearly. Presents were showered upon its sheykh, who began to show his wealth in dress and bearing.
News of this new popular shrine came at last to the ears of old Sheykh Abdullah, who had visited most holy places in his youthful travels, but could
not remember even to have heard of this one. Out of curiosity, he determined to make the pilgrimage to Sheykh ’Eyr and find out for himself its origin and history. On the last day of its season of pilgrimage, 1 he reached the makâm, and was astonished at the endless crowd of pilgrims. In the guardian of the shrine he was still more surprised to recognise his pupil Ali. The pair embraced one another with cries of joy, and went into Ali's house to feast together. After supper Sheykh Abdullah fixed his gaze on Ali and said solemnly, "My son, I adjure you by the saints, the prophets, and all we Muslimìn consider holy, to hide nothing from me. What is it that is buried in this place?" The young man told his story without reserve, and, when it was finished, said, "Now, father, tell me what saint lies buried at your shrine at home?" The old man looked down shamefacedly, but, pressed by Ali, whispered, "Well, if you must know, he is the father of your donkey."
There once lived at Jerusalem a pious old widow named Hannah, who belonged to the Orthodox Eastern Church. She was poor, yet dispensed wide charity, and she had the love of all who knew her. There was only one person in the world for whose faults she could see no excuses, and that was the patriarch, an exemplary if somewhat humorous prelate. Years ago she had been nurse in the family, where he, an only child, lively and spoilt, had made her life a burden with his tricks; and she could
not be rid of the notion that he played tricks still. In his childhood she had had no doubt but that he would come to grief; but at school, instead of being punished and expelled, as she expected him to be, he acquired some fame for diligence, and was a favourite both with boys and masters. "Ah," she thought to herself, "some day they will find out their mistake."
His school days ended, he was ordained deacon; at which Hannah shook her head more solemnly, and said in her heart, "Alas! our pastors must have been struck with spiritual blindness to admit that scamp into holy orders." Her astonishment and horror grew when, as time passed, he became a priest, an archimandrite, a bishop, and at last ascended the patriarchal throne. She felt bitterly the humiliation, when she met him in the street, of having to bend and kiss his hand, although she could see in his eye that mischievous twinkle which she had learnt to associate with his tricks. However, she said to herself, "Here on earth, naturally, mistakes are made, but in heaven they will be corrected."
Hannah died in the odour of sanctity, and her soul was wafted to the gate of heaven, where Mar Bûtrus 1 sits with the keys to admit the worthy. She timidly knocked for admission. "Who is there?" said Mar Bûtrus, looking out of the machicolated window above the gate. "Ah! Another redeemed soul! Your name, my daughter?" "Your servant, Hannah," was the meek rejoinder.
[paragraph continues] Mar Bûtrus opened the door at once and bade her welcome, assigning to her a place among the heavenly choirs. Here she was secure at last, and for ever, from her aversion, the Patriarch.
Suddenly, three great knocks at heaven's gate startled the happy songsters. Mar Bûtrus jumped up and ran to the window to see who it was. He gave one look and then, in wild excitement, sent attendants hurrying in all directions. Presently regiments of cherubs and seraphs marched down to the gate and formed up on either side of the street leading from it. Two of the archangels came and stood by while Mar Bûtrus, with unusual ceremony, slipped back the bolt. All the blessed stood agog to see who it was that had deserved this grand reception. To Hannah's chagrin and dismay, it was the patriarch. He strode in amid loud acclamations, and his eyes meeting hers for a twinkling-space, she could see that he was still at his tricks. He was led up to a high seat near the throne, while his old nurse burst into a flood of tears.
Now, tears are not allowed in heaven. When, therefore, the other saints beheld her weeping, they thought she was one of the damned who had got in by mistake, and drew away from her. She was thus left quite alone in a circle of the blessed, all huddled together like scared sheep and neglecting their parts in the heavenly choir. Mar Bûtrus noticed the interruption, and came to see what was the matter. Seeing a saint in tears, he said severely, "Who are you?" "Your servant, Hannah," was the reply, and he looked up the name in his
register. "It seems all right," he said to himself; and, turning once more to Hannah: "Don't you know that tears are forbidden here? Tell me why you are crying in this happy place." Then Hannah sobbed out her story: how the patriarch as a child had pinched and teased her, objecting to be washed and dressed, and so forth, until she felt quite sure that he would come to grief; how he had afterwards deceived his schoolfellows and masters, and the authorities of the Church, and how Mar Bûtrus himself had now destroyed her sense of justice by giving the rogue a triumphal entry into heaven. Mar Bûtrus burst out laughing, and patted her on the back, saying: "There, my daughter! go back and take your part in the singing. He's not so bad as you think him. And as for the triumphal entry, why, there are hundreds of saints like you, thank God, admitted every day, but only once in a thousand years do we get a Patriarch."
There was once a young priest, who, besides committing to memory the regular liturgies, learned to read a chapter of the Bible in Arabic, which he was fond of reciting to his congregation. It began, "Then the Lord said unto Moses."
The first time he read it the people were delighted and astonished at his learning; but they soon wearied of hearing the same lesson Sunday after Sunday, and one morning, before service, one of them went into the church and moved the bookmark. When the priest came to that point in the service where he usually introduced his lesson, he
opened the book and began with confidence, "Then the Lord said to Moses."
But presently, needing to refresh his memory, he looked at the page before him. It was strange to him. Then he realised that his mark had been moved, and began to turn the leaves frantically, hoping to light upon his own chapter. More than once, thinking he had found it, he began, "Then the Lord said unto Moses," but could go no further. At last an old man in the congregation, puzzled by the repetition of this phrase, inquired, "Father, what did the Lord say unto Moses? " To which the priest replied angrily, "May Allah destroy the house of the man who moved my book-mark!"
A certain priest had learned by heart the list of fasts and festivals of the Orthodox Church, with the number of intervening days. To keep a tally of the days as they passed, that he might give due notice of the fasts preceding certain festivals, he put in one of his pockets a number of peas equal to the number of days he wished to remember, and every morning transferred one of them to another pocket. Thus, by counting the peas still in the first pocket, he could always tell how many days remained.
This priest had a wife, 1 who did not know of this arrangement. One day, when tidying his clothes, she found pease in his pockets, and concluded that
he was fond of them. So, for love, she filled all his pockets with peas. Soon after, the priest was seen in distress of spirit, beating his forehead and exclaiming: "According to the peas there will be no feast."
One day during a fast, 1 a monk who was strolling through the market came upon a peasant woman with some eggs for sale. Sick to death of eating nothing but vegetables, he bought a few of them, carried them secretly to his cell in the convent, and there hid them till late at night, when all the brethren had gone to bed. Then he got up and prepared to cook and eat them. Having nothing to boil them in, he took one of the eggs in a pair of tongs and held it over the flame of a candle till he judged it done. Presently, as he thus treated one after another, a smell of burning egg-shells spread through the monastery. It reached the cell of the Abbot, who at once arose and, candle in hand, repaired to the convent kitchen. It was empty. He then went up and down the passages, sniffing at door after door, till he reached the culprit's cell, where, peeping through the keyhole, he beheld the monk in the act of roasting the last of his eggs.
Still with his eye at the keyhole, he knocked at the door. The monk caught up the eggs, hid them under his pillow, blew out the light, and snored
loudly. The Abbot knocked again more loudly and called for admission. At last the snoring ceased and the brother sleepily asked, "Who's there?" "It is I, your Abbot!" The door was speedily opened.
Taking no notice of the monk's excuses, the Abbot accused him of cooking food in his cell. The charge was warmly denied, and the smell explained by the fact that the candle in the cell had burned longer than usual without being snuffed, because the monk had forgotten himself and it in his devotions.
The Abbot then went to the bed, and feeling under the pillow, produced the sooty eggs. Unable any longer to maintain his denial, the monk acknowledged his guilt, but begged for mercy because he had been tempted to sin by the devil himself. Now, the Father of Evil happened at that moment to be present in a corner of the cell, and on hearing the monk's excuse, he sprang forward, crying, "That is a foul lie! I never tempted this monk. There was no need. I spend my days, it is true, in tempting laymen, but at night I come to convents as a humble scholar."
A monk, one day in the market, saw two fowls for sale. It was not till after he had agreed upon a price with the woman to whom they belonged that it transpired that he was without ready money. The woman offered to keep the fowls for him while he went for his purse; but he objected, preferring to take one bird only, leaving the other with her as a hostage. The woman refused, pointing out that
she did not even know his name, in case she had to make complaint to his Abbot. "Oh," said the monk, "that is easily remedied. We all go by Scripture names in our convent. Mine is "’Ufû lina Khateyâna." 1 You have but to inquire for 'Ufû lina Khateyâna, and I should be called at once." "Ah, that's a beautiful name," said the woman, "but I have a better one: "La tadkhilna fi et-tajribat wa-lakin najì dajajâti min esh-sharìr." 2
There once lived at Damascus a rich man, Hâj Ahmad Izreyk by name, whose property consisted of great herds of camels, from which he supplied the caravans from that city.
When this man's time came to die, instead of quickly departing, he lay so long at the last gasp that his friends were sure he must have injured some one who had not forgiven him. They therefore summoned all his acquaintance to come and declare that they had no grudge against him. Even his enemies, moved by his prolonged agony, came to the bedside and begged Hâj Ahmad to forgive them as they forgave him any wrong he might have done them. But in vain. The gates of death remained closed to the dying man.
At last some one imagined that it might be some animal he had offended. As he had had most to do with camels, it was decided to ask his camels to forgive him. Camels are disobliging creatures, and
these flatly refused to come until a whole day's holiday had been given them in which to discuss the matter. This was granted, and the next day thousands of camels assembled on the plain beyond the gardens of the city. The grunting, groaning, gurgling, snuffing, puffing, wheezing made a volume of noise that was heard at Mazarìb. The debate was long and angry, but by dark they had come to a decision, which their sheykh was to communicate to Hâj Ahmad.
This sheykh of the camels was so huge that he looked like a mountain moving. Hair hung from his sides like the tassels from a pair of saddle-bags. At every step he raised a cloud of dust that darkened the air, and his foot left a print as large as a kneading-trough. 1 All who passed him exclaimed, "Mashallah! Praised be the Creator!" at the same time spitting to right and left against the evil eye.
When this beast arrived before the house of Hâj Ahmad, he proved too big for the doorway. He was asked to give his message through the window. But, as a deputation from the most noble of all animals, he was indignant at the suggestion, and threatened to go away again. The friends of Hâj Ahmad then besought him to have patience, while they pulled down one wall of the house. At last the camel came to the deathbed of his master, and, kneeling down, pronounced:--
"O Hâj Ahmad, be at rest, the camels forgive
you; but they have sent me to tell you why you need their forgiveness. It is not for our burdens nor for the blows we daily receive at your servants’ hands. Those are from Allah, and belong to our lot in life. But, after loading us heavily and stringing us together by the score like beads on a rosary, to oblige us to follow the lead of a wretched little donkey--this it is we find insufferable."
234:1 The khatìb is the Moslem village preacher and schoolmaster.
238:1 St Peter.
241:1 The Greek parish clergy are obliged to marry, and, if their wife dies, to retire to a monastery, as it is forbidden them to marry again.--ED.
242:1 The fast days of the Orthodox Eastern Church amount to more than a third of the whole year. Abstinence is enjoined from all animal food, including eggs, milk, and butter, and everything cooked with those ingredients.
244:1 Forgive us our trespasses.
244:2 Lead us not into temptation, but deliver my fowls from the Evil One.
245:1 Circular wooden dishes are used as kneading-troughs by the Syrian fellahìn.