بخش 09

کتاب: ملت عشق / فصل 9

بخش 09

توضیح مختصر

  • زمان مطالعه 17 دقیقه
  • سطح خیلی سخت

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متن انگلیسی فصل

The Master


Baghdad took no note of the arrival of Shams of Tabriz, but I will never forget the day he came to our modest dervish lodge. We had important guests that afternoon. The high judge had dropped by with a group of his men, and I suspected there was more than cordiality behind his visit. Renowned for his dislike of Sufism, the judge wanted to remind me that he kept an eye on us, just as he kept an eye on all the Sufis in the area.

The judge was an ambitious man. He had a broad face, a sagging belly, and short, stubby fingers, each with a precious ring. He had to stop eating so much, but I suspected that nobody had the courage to tell him, not even his doctor. Coming from a long line of religious scholars, he was one of the most influential men in the area. With one ruling he could send a man to the gallows, or he could just as easily pardon a convict’s crimes, lifting him up from the darkest dungeons. Always dressed in fur coats and expensive garments, he carried himself with the grandeur of someone who was sure of his authority. I did not approve of his big ego, but for the well-being of our lodge I did my best to remain on good terms with this man of influence.

“We live in the most magnificent city in the world,” the judge pronounced as he popped a fig into his mouth. “Today Baghdad overflows with refugees running away from the Mongol army. We provide them safe haven. This is the center of the world, don’t you think, Baba Zaman?” “This city is a gem, no doubt,” I said carefully. “But let us not forget that cities are like human beings. They are born, they go through childhood and adolescence, they grow old, and eventually they die. At this moment in time, Baghdad is in its late youth. We are not as wealthy as we used to be at the time of Caliph Harun ar-Rashid, though we can still take a measure of pride in being a center of trade, crafts, and poetry. But who knows what the city will look like a thousand years from now? Everything might be different.” “Such pessimism!” The judge shook his head as he reached out to another bowl and picked a date. “The Abbasid rule will prevail, and we will prosper. That is, of course, if the status quo is not disrupted by the traitors among us. There are those who call themselves Muslim, but their interpretation of Islam is far more dangerous than threats from infidels.” I chose to remain silent. It was no secret that the judge thought the mystics, with their individualistic and esoteric interpretations of Islam, were troublemakers. He accused us of paying no heed to the sharia and thus disrespecting the men of authority—men like him. Sometimes I had the feeling he would rather have all Sufis kicked out of Baghdad.

“Your brotherhood is harmless, but don’t you think some Sufis are beyond the pale?” the judge asked, stroking his beard.

I didn’t know how to respond to that. Thank God just then we heard a knock on the door. It was the ginger-haired novice. He made a beeline toward me and whispered in my ear that we had a visitor, a wandering dervish who insisted upon seeing me and refused to talk to anyone else.

Normally I would have asked the novice to take the newcomer to a quiet, welcoming room, give him warm food, and make him wait until the guests had left. But as the judge was giving me a hard time, it occurred to me that a wandering dervish could dispel the tension in the room by telling us colorful stories from faraway lands. So I asked the novice to bring the man in.

A few minutes later, the door opened and in walked a man dressed head to toe in black. Lank, gaunt, and of indeterminable age, he had a sharp nose, deeply set pitch-black eyes, and dark hair that fell over his eyes in thick curls. He wore a long, hooded cloak, a wool garment, and sheepskin boots. There were a number of charms around his neck. He held a wooden bowl in his hand of the sort that mendicant dervishes carry to overcome their personal vanity and hubris by accepting the charity of others. I realized that here was a man who did not pay much attention to the judgments of society. That people could confuse him with some vagrant, or even a beggar, didn’t seem to bother him in the least.

As soon as I saw him standing there, awaiting permission to introduce himself, I sensed he was different. It was in his eyes, in his elaborate gestures, written all over him. Like an acorn that might seem modest and vulnerable to ignorant eyes but already heralds the proud oak tree that it will turn out to be, he looked at me with those piercing black eyes and nodded silently.

“Welcome to our lodge, dervish,” I said as I motioned for him to take a seat on the cushions across from me.

After greeting everyone, the dervish sat down, inspecting the people in the room, taking in every detail. Finally his gaze stopped at the judge. The two men looked at each other for a full minute, without so much as a word, and I couldn’t help wondering what each thought of the other, as they seemed so very opposite.

I offered the dervish warm goat milk, sweetened figs, and filled dates, all of which he politely refused. When asked his name, he introduced himself as Shams of Tabriz and said he was a wandering dervish searching for God high and low.

“And were you able to find Him?” I inquired.

A shadow crossed his face as the dervish nodded and said, “Indeed, He was with me all along.”

The judge interjected with a smirk he didn’t bother to hide, “I never understand why you dervishes make life so complicated. If God was with you all along, why did you rummage around this whole time in search of Him?” Shams of Tabriz bowed his head pensively and remained silent for a moment. When he looked up again, his face was calm, his voice measured. “Because although it is a fact that He cannot be found by seeking, only those who seek can find Him.” “Such wordplay,” the judge scoffed. “Are you trying to tell us that we cannot find God if we stay in the same place all our lives? That’s nonsense. Not everyone needs to dress in tatters and hit the road like you!” There followed a ripple of laughter as the men in the room were eager to show their agreement with the judge—high-pitched, unconfident, and unhappy laughs from people used to toadying to superiors. I felt uneasy. Obviously it hadn’t been a good idea to bring the judge and the dervish together.

“Perhaps I was misunderstood. I didn’t mean to say one could not find God if he stayed in his hometown. That is certainly possible,” conceded the dervish. “There are people who have never traveled anywhere and yet have seen the world.” “Exactly!” The judge grinned triumphantly—a grin that vanished upon hearing what the dervish uttered next.

“What I meant to say, Judge, was that one could not find God if he stayed in the fur coat, silk garment, and pricey jewelry that you are wearing today.”

A stunned silence descended upon the room, the sounds and sighs around us dissolving down to dust. We all held our breath, as if expecting something bigger to happen, though what could have been more shocking, I didn’t know.

“Your tongue is too sharp for a dervish,” the judge said.

“When something needs to be said, I’ll say it even if the whole world grabs me by the neck and tells me to keep quiet.”

This was met with a frown from the judge, but then he shrugged dismissively. “Well, whatever,” he said. “In any case, you are the man we need. We were just talking about the splendor of our city. You must have seen many places. Is there a place more charming than Baghdad?” Softly, his gaze moving from one man to another, Shams explained, “There is no question Baghdad is a remarkable city, but no beauty on earth lasts forever. Cities are erected on spiritual columns. Like giant mirrors, they reflect the hearts of their residents. If those hearts darken and lose faith, cities will lose their glamour. It happens, and it happens all the time.” I couldn’t help but nod. Shams of Tabriz turned to me, momentarily distracted from his thoughts, with a friendly flicker in his eyes. I felt them on me like the heat of a sweltering sun. That was when I clearly saw how he merited his name. This man was radiating vigor and vitality and burning within, like a ball of fire. He was indeed Shams, “the sun.” But the judge was of a different mind. “You Sufis make everything too complicated. The same with philosophers and poets! Why the need for so many words? Human beings are simple creatures with simple needs. It falls upon the leaders to see to their needs and make sure they do not go astray. That requires applying the sharia to perfection.” “The sharia is like a candle,” said Shams of Tabriz. “It provides us with much valuable light. But let us not forget that a candle helps us to go from one place to another in the dark. If we forget where we are headed and instead concentrate on the candle, what good is it?” The judge grimaced, his face closing up. I felt a wave of anxiety wash over me. Entering into a discussion about the significance of the sharia with a man whose job was to judge, and often punish, people according to the sharia was swimming in dangerous waters. Didn’t Shams know that?

Just as I was looking for an appropriate excuse to take the dervish out of the room, I heard him say, “There is a rule that applies to this situation.”

“What rule?” asked the judge suspiciously.

Shams of Tabriz straightened up, his gaze fixed as if reading from an invisible book, and he pronounced:

“Each and every reader comprehends the Holy Qur’an on a different level in tandem with the depth of his understanding. There are four levels of insight. The first level is the outer meaning and it is the one that the majority of the people are content with. Next is the Batm—the inner level. Third, there is the inner of the inner. And the fourth level is so deep it cannot be put into words and is therefore bound to remain indescribable.” With glinting eyes Shams continued. “Scholars who focus on the sharia know the outer meaning. Sufis know the inner meaning. Saints know the inner of the inner. And as for the fourth level, that is known only by prophets and those closest to God.” “Are you telling me that an ordinary Sufi has a deeper grasp of the Qur’an than a sharia scholar?” the judge asked as he tapped his fingers on the bowl.

A subtle, sardonic smile curved the dervish’s mouth, but he didn’t answer.

“Be careful, my friend,” the judge said. “There is a thin line between where you stand and sheer blasphemy.”

If there was a threat in these words, the dervish seemed not to have noticed it. “What exactly is ‘sheer blasphemy’?” he asked, and then with a sharp intake of breath he added, “Allow me to tell you a story.” And here is what he told us:

One day Moses was walking in the mountains on his own when he saw a shepherd in the distance. The man was on his knees with his hands spread out to the sky, praying. Moses was delighted. But when he got closer, he was equally stunned to hear the shepherd’s prayer.

“Oh, my beloved God, I love Thee more than Thou can know. I will do anything for Thee, just say the word. Even if Thou asked me to slaughter the fattest sheep in my flock in Thy name, I would do so without hesitation. Thou would roast it and put its tail fat in Thy rice to make it more tasty.” Moses inched toward the shepherd, listening attentively.

“Afterward I would wash Thy feet and clean Thine ears and pick Thy lice for Thee. That is how much I love Thee.”

Having heard enough, Moses interrupted the shepherd, yelling, “Stop, you ignorant man! What do you think you are doing? Do you think God eats rice? Do you think God has feet for you to wash? This is not prayer. It is sheer blasphemy.” Dazed and ashamed, the shepherd apologized repeatedly and promised to pray as decent people did. Moses taught him several prayers that afternoon. Then he went on his way, utterly pleased with himself.

But that night Moses heard a voice. It was God’s.

“Oh, Moses, what have you done? You scolded that poor shepherd and failed to realize how dear he was to Me. He might not be saying the right things in the right way, but he was sincere. His heart was pure and his intentions good. I was pleased with him. His words might have been blasphemy to your ears, but to Me they were sweet blasphemy.” Moses immediately understood his mistake. The next day, early in the morning, he went back to the mountains to see the shepherd. He found him praying again, except this time he was praying in the way he had been instructed. In his determination to get the prayer right, he was stammering, bereft of the excitement and passion of his earlier prayer. Regretting what he had done to him, Moses patted the shepherd’s back and said: “My friend, I was wrong. Please forgive me. Keep praying in your own way. That is more precious in God’s eyes.” The shepherd was astonished to hear this, but even deeper was his relief. Nevertheless, he did not want to go back to his old prayers. Neither did he abide by the formal prayers that Moses had taught him. He had now found a new way of communicating with God. Though satisfied and blessed in his naïve devotion, he was now past that stage—beyond his sweet blasphemy.

“So you see, don’t judge the way other people connect to God,” concluded Shams. “To each his own way and his own prayer. God does not take us at our word. He looks deep into our hearts. It is not the ceremonies or rituals that make a difference, but whether our hearts are sufficiently pure or not.” I checked the judge’s face. I could see beneath his mask of absolute confidence and composure that he was clearly annoyed. Yet at the same time, being the astute man that he was, he had detected a tricky situation. If he reacted to Shams’s story, he would have to take the next step and punish him for his insolence, in which case things would get serious and everybody would hear that a simple dervish had dared to confront the high judge. It was therefore better for him to pretend there was nothing to be upset about and leave it there.

Outside, the sun was setting, painting the sky a dozen shades of crimson, punctuated now and again by dark gray clouds. In a little while, the judge rose to his feet, saying he had some important business to attend to. After giving me a slight nod and Shams of Tabriz a cold stare, he strode off. His men followed wordlessly.

“I am afraid the judge didn’t like you much,” I said when everyone had left.

Shams of Tabriz brushed his hair from his face, smiling. “Oh, that is quite all right. I am used to people not liking me much.”

I couldn’t help feeling excited. I had been the master of this lodge long enough to know that it was not often such a visitor came.

“Tell me, dervish,” I said, “what brings someone like you to Baghdad?”

I was eager to hear his answer but also strangely fearful of it.

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