Archive for the ‘Tales of Wisdom’ Category

The Food of Paradise

November 1st, 2010 5 comments

YUNUS, the son of Adam, decided one day not only to cast his life in the balance of fate, but to seek the means and reason of the provision of goods for man.
‘I am’, he said to himself, ‘a man. As such I get a portion of the world’s goods, every day. This portion comes to me by my own efforts, coupled with the efforts of others. By simplifying this process, I shall find the means whereby sustenance comes to mankind, and learn something about how and why.

I shall therefore adopt the religious way, which exhorts man to rely upon almighty God for his sustenance. Rather than live in the world of confusion, where food and other things come apparently through society, I shall throw myself upon the direct support of the Power which rules over all. The beggar depends upon intermediaries: charitable men and women, who are subject to secondary impulses. They give goods or money because they have been trained to do so. I shall accept no such indirect contributions.’

So saying, he walked into the countryside, throwing himself upon the support of invisible forces with the same resolution with which he had accepted the support of visible ones, when he had been a teacher in a school.

He fell asleep, certain that Allah would take complete care of his interests, just as the birds and beasts were catered for in their own realm.

At dawn the bird chorus awakened him, and the son of Adam lay still at first, waiting for his sustenance to appear. In spite of his reliance upon the invisible force and his confidence that he would
be able to understand it when it started its operations in the field into which he had thrown himself, he soon realized that speculative thinking alone would not greatly help him in this unusual field.

He was lying at the riverside, and spent the whole day observing nature, peering at the fish in the waters, saying his prayers. From time to time rich and powerful men passed by, accompanied by glitteringly accoutred outriders on the finest horses, harness-bells jingling imperiously to signal their absolute right of way, who merely shouted a salutation at the sight of his venerable turban. Parties of pilgrims paused and chewed dry bread and dried cheese, serving only to sharpen his appetite for the humblest food.

‘It is but a test, and all will soon be well,’ thought Yunus, as he said his fifth prayer of the day and wrapped himself in contemplation after the manner taught him by a dervish of great perceptive attainments. Another night passed.

As Yunus sat staring at the sun’s broken lights reflected in the mighty Tigris, five hours after dawn on the second day, something bobbing in the reeds caught his eye. This was a packet, enclosed in
leaves and bound around with palm-fibre. Yunus, the son of Adam, waded into the river and possessed himself of the unfamiliar cargo. It weighed about three-quarters of a pound. As he unwound the
fibre a delicious smell assailed his nostrils. He was the owner of a quantity of the halwa of Baghdad. This halwa, composed of almond paste, rosewater, honey and nuts and other precious elements, was both prized for its taste and esteemed as a health-giving food.

Harem beauties nibbled it because of its flavour; warriors carried it on campaigns because of its sustaining power. It was used to treat a hundred ailments.

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Story of the Leper, the Bald Man and the Blind Man

July 11th, 2010 3 comments

Allah willed to test three who were a leper, a blind man and a bald-headed man.

So, he sent them an angel who came to the leper and said, “What thing do you like most?” He replied, “Good color and good skin, for the people have a strong aversion to me.” The angel touched him and his illness was cured, and he was given a good color and beautiful skin. The angel asked him, “What kind of property do you like best?” He replied, “Camels (or cows).” (The narrator is in doubt, for either the leper or the bald-headed man demanded camels and the other demanded cows.) So he (i.e. the leper) was given a pregnant she-camel, and the angel said (to him), “May Allah bless you in it.”

The angel then went to the bald-headed man and said, “What thing do you like most?” He said, “I like good hair and wish to be cured of this disease, for the
people feel repulsion for me.” The angel touched him and his illness was cured, and he was given good hair. The angel asked (him), “What kind of property do you like best?” He replied, “Cows.” The angel gave him a pregnant cow and said, “May Allah bless you in it.”

The angel went to the blind man and asked, ‘What thing do you like best?’ He said, “(I like) that Allah may restore my eye-sight to me so that I may see the people.” The angel touched his eyes and Allah gave him back his eye-sight. The angel asked him, “What kind of property do you like best?” He replied, “Sheep.” The angel gave him a pregnant sheep.

Afterwards, all the three pregnant animals gave birth to young ones, and multiplied and brought forth so much that one of the (three) men had a herd of camels filling a valley, and one had a herd of cows filling a valley, and one had a flock of sheep filling a valley.

Then the angel, disguised in the shape and appearance of a leper, went to the leper and said, “I am a poor man, who has lost all means of livelihood while on a journey. So none will satisfy my need except Allah and then you. In the Name of Him Who has given you such nice color and beautiful skin, and so much property, I ask you to give me a camel so that I may reach my destination.” The man replied, “I have many obligations (so I cannot give you).” The angel said, “I think I know you; were you not a leper to whom the people had a strong aversion? Weren’t you a poor man, and then Allah gave you (all this property)?” He replied, “(This is all wrong), I got this property through inheritance from my fore-fathers.” The angel said, “If you are telling a lie, then let Allah make you as you were before.”

Then the angel, disguised in the shape and appearance of a bald man, went to the bald man and said to him the same as he told the first one, and he too
answered the same as the first one did. The angel said, “If you are telling a lie, then let Allah make you as you were before.”

The angel, disguised in the shape of a blind man, went to the blind man and said, “I am a poor man and a traveler, whose means of livelihood have been exhausted while on a journey. I have nobody to help me except Allah, and after Him, you yourself. I ask you in the Name of Him Who has given you back your eye-sight to give me a sheep, so that with its help, I may complete my journey.” The man said, “No doubt, I was blind and Allah gave me back my eye-sight; I was poor and Allah made me rich; so take anything you wish from my property. By Allah, I will not stop you for taking anything (you need) of my property which you may take for Allah’s sake.” The angel replied, “Keep your property with you. You (i.e., the three men) have been tested and Allah is pleased with you and is angry with your two companions.”

[Sahih Bukhari: Volume 4, Book 56 Virtues and Merits of the Prophet (pbuh) and his Companions Number 670]

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The Islanders

June 5th, 2010 No comments

By Idries shah

Once upon a time there lived an ideal community in a far-off land. Its members had no fears as we now know them. Instead of uncertainty and vacillation, they had a purposefulness and a fuller means of expressing themselves.

Although there were none of its stresses and tensions which mankind now considers essential to its progress, their lives were richer, because other, better elements replaced these things.

Theirs, therefore, was a slightly different mode of existence. We could almost say that our present perceptions are a crude, makeshift version of the real ones that this community possessed.

They had real lives, not semi-lives.

They had a leader, who discovered that their country was to become uninhabitable for a period of, shall we say, 20,000 years. He planned their escape, realizing that their descendants would be able to return home successfully, only after many trials.

He found for them a place of refuge, an island whose features were only roughly similar to those of the original homeland.

Because of the difference in climate and situation, the immigrants had to undergo a transformation.

This made them more physically and mentally adapted to the new circumstances: coarse perceptions, for instance, were substituted for finer ones, as when the manual laborer becomes toughened in response to the needs of his calling.

In order to reduce the pain which a comparison between the old and new states would bring, they were made to forget the past almost entirely.

Only the most shadowy recollection of it remained, yet it was sufficient to be awakened when the time came.

The system was very complicated, but well arranged. The organs by means of which the people survived on the island were also made the organs of enjoyment, physical and mental. The organs which were really constructive in the old homeland were placed in a special form of abeyance, and linked with the shadowy memory, in preparation for its eventual activation.

Slowly and painfully the immigrants settled down, adjusting themselves to the local conditions. The resources of the island were such that, coupled with effort and a certain form of guidance, people would be able to escape to a further island on the way back to their original home. This was the first of a succession of islands upon which gradual acclimatization took place.

The responsibility of this “evolution” was vested in those individuals who could sustain it. These were necessarily only a few, because for the mass of the people the effort of keeping both sets of knowledge in their consciousness was virtually impossible. One of them seemed to conflict with the other. Certain specialists guarded the “special science.”

This “secret,” the method of effecting the transition, was nothing more or less than the knowledge of maritime skills and their application. The escape needed an instructor, raw materials, people, effort and understanding. Given these, people could learn to swim, and also to build ships.

The people who were originally in charge of the escape operation made it clear to everyone that a certain preparation was necessary before anyone could learn to swim or even take part in building a ship. For a time the process continued satisfactorily.

Then a man who had been found, for the time being, lacking in the necessary qualities rebelled against this order and managed to develop a masterly idea. He had observed that the effort to escape placed a heavy and often seemingly unwelcome burden upon the people. At the same time they were disposed to believe things which they were told about the escape operation. He realized that he could acquire power, and also revenge himself upon those who had undervalued him, as he though, by a simple exploitation of these two sets of facts.

He would merely offer to take away the burden, by affirming that there was no burden.

He made his announcement: “There is no need for man to integrate his mind and train it in the way which has been described to you. The human mind is already a stable and continuous, consistent thing. You have been told that you have to become a craftsman in order to build a ship. I say, not only do you not need to be a craftsman – you do not need a ship at all!

“An islander needs only to observe a few simple rules to survive and remain integrated into society. By the exercise of common sense, born into everyone, he can attain anything upon this island, our home, the common property and heritage of all.”

The tonguester, having gained a great deal of interest among the people, now “proved his message by saying: “If there is any reality in ships and swimming, show us ships which have made the journey, and swimmers who have come back!”

This was a challenge to the instructors which they could not meet. It was based upon an assumption of which the bemused herd could not now see the fallacy. You see, ships never returned from the other land. Swimmers, when they did come back, had undergone a fresh adaptation which made them invisible to the crowd.

The mob pressed for demonstrative proof.

“Shipbuilding,” said the escapers, in an attempt to reason with the revolt, “is an art and a craft. The learning and the exercise of this lore depends upon special techniques. These together make up a total activity, which cannot be examined piecemeal, as you demand. This activity has an impalpable element, called ‘baraka,’ from which the work ‘barque’ – a ship – is derived. This word means ‘the Subtlety,’ and cannot be shown to you.”

“Art, craft, total, baraka, nonsense!” shouted the revolutionaries.

And so they hanged as many shipbuilding craftsmen as they could find.

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May 21st, 2010 No comments

Once upon a time, there was a selfish man. He liked everything to be his own. He could not share his belongings with anyone, not even his friends or the poor.

One day, the man lost thirty gold coins. He went to his friend’s house and told him how he lost his gold coins. His friend was a kind man. As his friend’s daughter was coming from an errand she found thirty gold coins, when she arrived home, she told her father what she had found. The girl’s father told her that the gold coins belong to his friend and he sent for him. When the selfish man arrived, he told him how his daughter had found his thirty gold coins and handed then to him.

After counting the gold coins the man said that ten of them was missing and had been taken by the girl as he had forty gold coins. He further commented that he will recover the remaining amount from him. But the girl’s father refused. The man left the gold coins and went to the court and informed the judge there about what had taken place between him and the girl’s father.

The judge sent for the girl and her father, and when they arrived asked the girl how many gold coins did she find. She replied thirty gold coins. The Judge that asked the selfish man how many gold coins did he lose and he answered forty gold coins.

The judge then told the man that the gold coins did not belong to him because the girl found thirty and not forty as he claimed to have lost and then told the girl to take the gold coins and that if anybodyis looking for them he will send for the girl.

The judge told the man that if anybody reports that they have found forty gold coins he will sendfor him. It was then that the man confessed that he lied and that he lost thirty gold coins but the judge did not listen to him.

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The Chicken

April 22nd, 2010 No comments

There was a woman who had a hen and she did not have anything else other than this hen. She lived on the eggs laid by the hen. One day a thief stole it.

The woman did not imprecate him and she sought refuge and help from Allāh.

The thief slaughtered the hen and began to pluck the feathers, when suddenly all these feathers grew upon his face. He tried hard to have them removed but nobody could help him get rid of the plumes.

Finally, he went to an ascetic of Banu Isrāyīl who said: ‘I don’t know of any cure for your malady except if the woman you stole from invokes evil upon you.’

The thief sent someone to the woman who began by asking: ‘Where is your hen?’

She replied: ‘It was stolen.’

The man said: ‘Whoever stole it has caused you deep grievance.’

She said: ‘Well, it is so..’

The agent kept asking her and provoking her until she lost her temper and cursed the thief for stealing her hen.

Immediately, feathers fell off the thief’s face and people came to the ascetic asking how did he know about this.

The ascetic said: ‘When her hen was stolen, she did not imprecate him and left the matter to Allāh táālā; so He avenged her. But when she imprecated him, she sought revenge for her own self and so the feathers fell [and the punishment and revenge of Allāh ceased].’

Laţāyif al-Minan, Ibn Áţā-Allāh as-Sakandari

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What has knowledge done for you?

March 1st, 2010 2 comments

al Hasan, the son of ‘Ali, may Allah be pleased with them, mentioned the following story:

A man died, leaving his wife, son, and a servant. Before passing, he implored his servant to take good care of his son. The servant did, raising him to be a good person, and, when he was of age, he helped him to get married. Then the son wanted to seek knowledge, so he asked the servant to help him in that regard. The servant prepared a mount and got him ready, and he went off.

He found a scholar, whom he questioned about knowledge. The scholar told him: “When it is time for you to leave, then tell me – I will teach you all that you need to know.”

A short while later, the man said to the scholar: “The time has come for my departure, so teach me.”

“Be mindful of Allah, have patience, and do not rush.” said the scholar.

– and in these three things there is the sum total of goodness, said al Hasan –

The man set off to return home, unable to forget what the scholar told him – how could he, when they were only three things? – when he got back, he came down off of his mount and walked into the house.

His wife was lying asleep, and beside her there was another man, also sleeping. “What should I be patient for here?” thought the man, and he rushed to his horse to get his sword. But when he was about to take up his blade, he said to himself “Be mindful of Allah, and have patience, and do not rush.” So he walked back to the house.

When he went inside and saw them still sleeping, as before, he said “No! There’s nothing to wait for here!” And he rushed back to his sword. Then he said to himself: “Be mindful of Allah, and have patience, and do not rush”. So he went back.

But when he saw them the third time, he said “There’s nothing to wait for!” and he went back. Then he said: “Be mindful of Allah, and have patience, and do not rush”. So he returned.

When he went in, the man woke up, and rushed to him, hugging him and kissing him and congratulating him on his return. “What have you learned after leaving us?” (The man was his son, i believe… travel took a long time back then.)

“By Allah!,” said the man, “I have learned great things – I have walked back and forth between your head and my sword three times this night, wanting to kill you, and it was only what knowledge I learned that prevented me.”

(Narrated by al Bukhari in al Adab al Mufrad).

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True Value

February 16th, 2010 1 comment

A king once got separated from his kinsmen while chasing a deer. He
wandered alone in the forest. As dusk fell, he knocked at the door of
a tiny cottage in the jungle. It was opened by a poor woodcutter who
gave the ’stranger’ a warm welcome. He offered him his own bed to
sleep along with some simple but tasty food.

In the morning, while taking leave of the wood cutter, the king
disclosed his real identity and asked him, what he could give in
return for his hospitality. The wood cutter being a simpleton
asked, “Can you give me a place where I can cut trees and sell them?”
The king took him far away to the edge of another jungle and
said, “This is yours from today. Do what you like with it.”

The wood cutter would cut trees and burn them to make coal, because
they were too heavy for him to carry to the market place. Several
months passed. The woodcutter was very happy.

When the monsoon season started, there was heavy rainfall and the
wood became wet. The ground was full of slush, so it was impossible
to burn the wood to make coal. He had no choice but to carry the wet
logs of wood to the market to sell it. When he showed the wood to the
buyer, the buyer offered a sum that was a hundred times more than he
was paying earlier.

The wood cutter was confused! Earlier he was supplying coal whereas
now it was wood and that too, wet wood! Where was the catch? The
buyer told him that the wood that he had brought was no ordinary
wood, it was real Sandalwood! The wood cutter realized what a fool he
had been. He had cut and burnt hundreds of Sandalwood trees to make
coal, little realizing the value of this precious wood. Had he known,
by now he could have been a very, very rich man.

We also need to understand the value of this precious human body
awarded to us by Supreme Lord. Without realizing its importance and
proper utility we are burning it at both ends in the fire of our
worldly desires. Most of our energies are burnt in doing futile
things that eventually have neither value nor meaning.

But, by the time we realize that we are wasting our lives, it is
perhaps too late. The whole life burnt in hoarding wealth, making
friends and getting material pleasures, brings us to a miserable
state at the end of life. At that time when nobody cares, we turn our
face towards God, but where is the energy to do any devotion

The sooner we realize the better chance we shall have. Let’s not
waste our precious human birth like that as foolish woodcutter.

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Mulla Nasrudin: Turkish Bath

February 14th, 2010 2 comments

Nasrudin went to a Turkish bath. As he was poorly dressed the attendants treated him in a casual manner, gave him only a scrap of soap and an old towel. When he left, Nasrudin gave the two men a gold coin each. He had not complained, and they could not understand it. Could it be, they wondered, that if he had been better treated he would have given an even larger tip?

The following week Nasrudin appeared again. This time, of course, he was looked after like a king. After being massaged, perfumed and treated with the utmost deference, he left the bath, handing each attendant the smallest possible copper coin.

“This,” said Nasrudin, “is for last time. The gold coins were for this week.”

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Saving a Tyrant

January 29th, 2010 No comments


Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf al-Thaqafi was a harsh and a ruthless tyrant. His famous debate with the great scholar and Mujahid Saeed Ibn Jubayr epitomises his rule as an unforgiving viceroy of Iraq who killed innocent and pious people. It is said that when he was on his deathbed, his prisons were filled with 50,000 men and 30,000 women –  of which 16,00 were stripped naked. Men and women were mixed together in the jail-houses and there was no shelter from the scorching summer’s heat or the heavy rains of winter.

Whether these reports are sound or not, he was known as a violent ruler and many scholars condemned his actions. Although he made some developments in agriculture and others, people made dua to God constantly for his demise.

I thought I’d share a funny, yet very telling story of the hatred many people had for Hajjaj:

One day, as Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf al-Thaqafi was bathing in the Persian Gulf he began to drown, but he was saved by a Muslim. When the man carried him (Hajjaj) to the shore, Hajjaj said to him: “Ask for anything you desire, and your request will be granted”.

Unfortunately the man did not know who he had just saved! So he asked: “And who are you to grant me anything I request?”

Hajjaj replied in a boastful voice: “I am Hajjaj al-Thaqafi”

The man realising who he had just pulled out of the water asked regrettably: “I ask you by Allah – my only request is that you do not inform anyone that I saved you!”


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The Shepherd

January 27th, 2010 No comments


Once upon a time, there lived in Basra an old man whose only occupation was caring for and loving his only son who was a handsome young man. The old man invested all his money on his son’s education. The young man went away for a few years and acquired an education at a well known university under the great scholars of that age.

The day had arrived for the son to return from his studies and the old man waited at the door for his son. When the son came and met his father, the old man looked into his eyes and felt great disappointment. “What have you learnt my son?” he asked, “I have learnt everything there was to be learnt, father”, he said. “But have you learnt what cannot be taught?” asked the father. “Go, my son and learn what cannot be taught”, said the old man.

The young man went back to his master and asked him to teach him what cannot be taught.
“Go away to the mountains with these four hundred sheep and come back when they are one thousand”, said the master.

The young man went to the mountains and became a shepherd. There for the first time he encountered a silence. He had no one to talk to. The sheep did not understand his language. In his desperation, he would talk to them but they would look back at him as if to say he was stupid. Slowly but surely he began to forget all his worldly knowledge, his ego, his pride and he became quiet like the sheep and great wisdom and humility came to him.

At the end of two years when the number of sheep had grown to one thousand, he returned to his master and fell on his feet. “Now you have learnt what cannot be taught,” said the master.

NB. It is interesting to note that the Nabis of Allah Taala (Alayhimus salaam) at some time in their lives, generally before Nubuwwat, tended to sheep, and other such animals.


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