An Arab king who was notorious for his cruelty came on a pilgrimage to the cathedral mosque of Damascus, where he offered the following prayer, clearly seeking God’s assistance in a matter of some urgency:
“The darvish, poor, owning nothing, the man
whose money buys him anything he wants,
here, on this floor, enslaved, we are equals.
Nonetheless, the man who has the most
comes before You bearing the greater need.”
When the king was done praying, he noticed me immersed in my own prayers at the head of the prophet John the Baptist’s tomb. The monarch turned to me, “I know that God favors you darvishes because you are passionate in your worship and honest in the way you live your lives. I fear a powerful enemy, but if you add your prayers to mine, I am sure that God will protect me for your sake.”
“Have mercy on the weak among your own people,” I replied, “and no one will be able to defeat you.”
To break each of a poor man’s ten fingers
just because you have the strength offends God.
Show compassion to those who fall before you,
and others will extend their hands when you are down.
The man who plants bad seed hallucinates
if he expects sweet fruit at harvest time.
Take the cotton from your ears! Give
your people justice before justice finds you.
All men and women are to each other
the limbs of a single body, each of us drawn
from life’s shimmering essence, God’s perfect pearl;
and when this life we share wounds one of us,
all share the hurt as if it were our own.
You, who will not feel another’s pain,
no longer deserve to be called human.
In response to the praise being heaped upon him by the people he was with, the great man raised his head and said, “ I am as I know myself to be.”
You who list my virtues one by one,
please stop, you’re hurting me: The traits you name
are those that all can see. You do not know
the others lying hidden in my heart.
When people look at me, they perceive a man
who does what’s right, and so I please their eyes,
but underneath that surface I am evil,
and ashamed, and I walk with my head held low.
I am like the peacock, praised for the colors
of his tail, but ashamed of his ugly feet.
Two Khorasani darvishes were traveling together. One of them, because he fasted for two days at a time, was weak. The other ate three meals a day and was correspondingly strong. They came to a town where they were arrested at the gates on suspicion of spying. Their captors threw them into separate cells, and sealed the doors with mud bricks. Two weeks later, the darvishes’ innocence was proven, and when the doors of the cells were opened, the stronger man was discovered to have died, while the weaker of the two had survived.
The townspeople were surprised, but a wise man among them pointed out that the opposite circumstance would have been even more surprising. The one who’d eaten three meals a day died be- cause he lacked the wherewithal to withstand the hunger his captivity forced upon him. The weaker darvish survived because his habit of fasting prepared him for that hunger.
A man whose appetite is very small
will not be overwhelmed by any hardship,
but a man who thinks that eating signifies
his wealth—if hardship overtakes him, he’ll die.
I overheard a rich man’s son and a poor man’s son arguing as they stood near the grave of the wealthier boy’s father. “My father’s coffin,” the rich boy was saying, “has a marble gravestone decorated with a mosaic of turquoise-like gems, and his epitaph has been carved in the most elegant script. Your father’s grave, on the other hand, is nothing more than two bricks pushed together with two handfuls of mud thrown over them.”
The poor son listened quietly. Then he said, “By the time your father gets out from under that heavy stone, mine will already be in paradise.”
An ass walks lightly with a light burden.
Just so, a darvish who carries on his back
nothing but his own poverty will arrive
at death’s gate at ease with the life he’s lived
and with his fate; but a wealthy man, whose life
lacked nothing, will find it hard to die,
for death means leaving luxury behind.
In the end, the prisoner who escapes
with nothing will be happier than a prince
whose wealth lies just beyond the bars of his cage.
Everyone thinks his own thinking is perfect and that his child is the most beautiful.
I watched a Muslim and a Jew debate
and shook with laughter at their childishness.
The Muslim swore, “If what I’ve done is wrong,
may God cause me to die a Jew.” The Jew
swore as well, “If what I’ve said is false,
I swear by the holy Torah that I will die
a Muslim, like you.” If tomorrow the earth
fell suddenly void of all wisdom
no one would admit that it was gone.