The Fisherman and The Jinni
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In the name of Allah, the Bountiful in Compassion, the Mighty in Wisdom!
Praise be to the wisdom of Allah, the beneficent king, the Creator of the Universe, Who created the vast cold desert of empty space, Who created the stars like grains of sand and spun them into the swirling dunes of the great galaxies, Who created our Earth as an oasis and filled it with life, Who created Man and Woman and granted them both, by ineffable grace, the capacity to understand Its works, Who gave to Humanity matters of fact and truth beyond matters of fact!
Now hear, by the Grace of Allah, one such truth beyond matters of fact, a tale of one who followed the road laid out for us by our lord Muhammad (May Allahís Blessings and Peace be upon him)! Hear now how wisdom comes to those who seek only to know Allahís will that they may fulfill it! May it ever be thus!
There is a faraway land, one blessed with deep silence, where men climb tall towers five times a day to call the faithful to prayer in the graceful sonorities of the Arabic language. It is a hard land that challenges its people in their endurance and their resourcefulness. It is a tough, compassionate people who have well met that challenge and who soften the harshness of the land with their kindnesses.
It is said (but Allah alone knows the full truth of the matter) that there was once in that land an old fisherman. He lived by the shore of a great sea and it was from the waters of that sea that he took the fish that provided support for him, his wife, and his three children. He was a poor man, but he was satisfied with life as it came to him. After all, as he would say, Allah knows best.
It was the fishermanís habit to cast his net into the sea four times each day and no more. One day he went to the shore at noon, as was his habit, taking his basket and his net. When he found what seemed to him to be a good place to cast his net, he set his basket down, tucked up his jellaba, and waded into the surf with his net. With a cry of "BismAllah!", he cast his net wide over the water and let it settle to the bottom of the sea.
After a time he gathered the cords and hauled on them, but he could not budge the net, which seemed to have gained a great weight. Thinking of all the fish that must be weighing down his net, he tied the cords to a stake, then he undressed and dove into the sea. Getting behind the bulging net, he pushed and shoved on it, working it up onto the shore. Once he got the net onto dry land, he put his clothes back on, then he opened his net and saw that the net held a dead donkey, whose hooves had torn the meshes of the net. In grief he cried out, "There is no Majesty, and there is no Might save in Allah, the Glorious, the Great!"
"This is a strange manner of daily bread," he added as he strove to remove the corpse from the net. He then worked to clean and repair the net and he cried out, "Alas, I struggle in vain, facing peril and pain as I seek to earn my living. I strive to catch the fish for which I will receive a mere pittance while some indolent lout sits on his pile of ill-gotten gold and eats the result of my labor! And now I canít even get the fish!" Then he said, "Thereís no help for it. Up and to it; I am sure of His beneficence, InshAllah!" As he wrung out his net and spread it he uttered a plaintive little prayer;
"When youíve been seized by evil Fate
and your soulís being put to the test,
complaint will do you little good,
for itís only Allah who knows best."
He gathered up the net and, with his jellaba tucked up, waded into the sea. With a cry of "BismAllah!", he cast his net wide over the water and let it settle to the bottom of the sea.
After a time he gathered the cords and hauled on them, but he could not budge the net, which seemed to have gained a great weight. Thinking of all the fish that must be weighing down his net, he tied the cords to a stake, then he undressed and dove into the sea. Getting behind the bulging net, he pushed and shoved on it, working it up onto the shore. Once he got the net onto dry land, he put his clothes back on, then he opened his net and saw that the net held a large earthen pitcher. He examined the pitcher, emptied it of its contents, and found it full of sand and mud. In grief he again cried out, "There is no Majesty, and there is no Might save in Allah, the Glorious, the Great!"
He threw away the pitcher and spread his net to clean it and as he did so he cried out, as if chiding the spirits of the sea, "What manner of jest is this? And why play it on a poor fisherman who seeks only to earn his daily bread? What a cruel world it is in which Fate enriches fools and immiserates the wise!" Then he prayed pardon of Allah, crying out, "Forbear my complaint All-Knowing One and pardon what you wonít forbear." Ready again, he wrung out and gathered up his net, and returned to the sea a third time to cast it. He gathered up the net and, with his jellaba tucked up, waded into the sea. With a cry of "BismAllah!", he cast his net wide over the water and let it settle to the bottom of the sea.
After a time he gathered the cords and hauled on them, but he could not budge the net, which seemed to have gained a great weight. Thinking of all the fish that must be weighing down his net, he tied the cords to a stake, then he undressed and dove into the sea. Getting behind the bulging net, he pushed and shoved on it, working it up onto the shore. Once he got the net onto dry land, he put his clothes back on, then he opened his net and saw that the net held a collection of potsherds and broken glass. In grief he again cried out, "There is no Majesty, and there is no Might save in Allah, the Glorious, the Great!"
He spread his net so that he could remove the potsherds and broken glass. He discarded the fragments and cleaned his net as best he could. Again he cried out to the wind, "It is by Allahís gracious leave that Fate allots the full daily bread to one and none to another. Would that Fate could see, but, no, blind Fate allows the laziest slobs to enjoy wealth and comfort while the hard-working and great of soul are ground down into poverty. O Death, take me now! For truly life in this world is not worth another breath."
Then, with his net cleaned and wrung out, he called on Heaven: "Ya, Allah, verily You know that I cast my net each day four times and no more; the third is done and as yet You have granted me nothing. So this time, Oh my God, deign give me my daily bread." He gathered up the net and, with his jellaba tucked up, waded into the sea. With a cry of "BismAllah!", he cast his net wide over the water and let it settle to the bottom of the sea.
After a time he gathered the cords and hauled on them, but he could not budge the net, which seemed to have gained a great weight. Thinking of all the fish that must be weighing down his net, he tied the cords to a stake, then he undressed and dove into the sea. Getting behind the bulging net, he pushed and shoved on it, working it up onto the shore. Once he got the net onto dry land, he put his clothes back on, then he went to his net. Before he opened the net he could see that it contained no fish. He cried out in his vexation, "There is no Majesty, and there is no Might save in Allah, the Glorious, the Great!"
Kneeling on the sand, he began to weep. "Shame on this callous world," he cried out. "In spite of my labor, it seems that I and my family must starve this night. This day seemed gladsome at the dawn, but I see that I must be crushed by grief and misery before the coming of nightís dark."
He opened his net then and found lying within its skeins a jar, as long as his arm, in the shape of a cucumber. The jar was made of brass and it was closed at one end with a lead cap stamped with the seal of our Lord Sulayman, Son of David (may Allah bless them both!). Seeing the jar, he immediately repented his vexation and gave thanks to Allah for this gift.
"Granted, itís not what I sought," he said. "But if I sell it in the brass-bazaar, I can get ten golden dinars for it, InshAllah." Though the jar was a bit heavy, he picked it up and shook it, but he heard no sound testifying to the nature of its contents. He turned the jar over in his hands, but saw no markings that would tell what the jar contained, what held such importance that Lord Sulayman, Son of David (Allah bless both of them!) would stamp the cap with his own seal. Well, he saw a simple way to find out what all had come into his net.
Taking care not to cut or to tear the seal, he used his knife to pry the lead away from the jarís lip. Once the cap came loose, he laid it on the ground and looked inside the brass cucumber. With the sunís rays shining straight into the jar, the fisherman saw that it was empty. Puzzled, he set the jar down on the sand and watched in astonishment as black smoke emerged from the opening that he had just then unsealed. Thick and roiling, the smoke swirled upward and the fisherman saw orange flames flickering within the growing cloud. As it grew, the cloud took on the shape of a human form and then pulled in on itself to become a jinni as tall as a minaret.
When the fisherman saw the jinni he felt a jolt shudder his spine. His sides quaked, his legs became weak, his teeth chattered, his mouth dried up, and all ideas about what he might do fled from his mind. The jinniís head was as big as the crown of a palm tree and his hands were big enough to grasp a donkey as the fisherman might grasp a cat. The jinniís legs were as long as masts and his mouth as big as a cave, in which his teeth were like large stones. His eyes blazed like ovens and his look was fierce and glowering. His voice was as the thunder and his Arabic carried an archaic accent.
"There is no god but Allah, and Sulayman (may Allah bless him forever!) is the prophet of Allah," the jinni boomed. Then he added, "O Apostle of Allah, I beg your mercy, that you will not slay me. Never again will I defy you in word nor sin against you in deed."
Feeling more like a squeaking mouse, the fisherman called up to the jinni, "Did you say Sulayman the Apostle of Allah(may Allahís blessings be ever upon him!)? He has been dead now for one thousand years and eight hundred more. We are now in the days counted from the Hijra of Muhammad, the Seal of the Prophets (may peace and the blessings of Allah be ever upon him!). What is your story, and what is your account of yourself, and what is the cause of your entering into this jar?"
The jinni loomed over the fisherman and said, "One thousand years and eight hundred more, you say! And Sulayman (may Allahís blessings be upon him!) has been dead for that many? Well, then, give thanks to Allah, O Fisherman, if you are free from evil!"
What a strange suggestion that was! "Why must I give thanks to Allah if I am free of evil?" the fisherman asked.
"Because you are going to die an ill death in this very hour," the jinni replied.
The fisherman felt his stomach quiver and he shook all over. "May Allah withdraw Heavenís protection from you for such a foul thing!" he said with as much indignation as he could muster. "For what possible reason should you kill me? I freed you from yon jar, and saved you from the depths of the sea, and brought you up onto the dry land. What have I done to deserve death?"
"Do not beg for mercy," the jinni said. "Only tell me by what mode of death you will die and by what manner of slaughter I shall slay you."
"I need no mercy," the fisherman said. "I require only justice. If you are to kill me, then tell me what is my crime and why it should entail such horrible retribution."
"Very well," the jinni growled. "Hear my story, O Fisherman! I am one among the heretical Jann. I joined with Shaitan in refusing to look with admiration upon the pathetic Man-thing that Allah had made from clay. We hoped that Allah would repent His error and restore those of us made of subtle fire to pride of place in His creation. Like Shaitan, I resolved to hasten Allahís repentance of His creation of Man by leading the clay beings into evil, thereby showing their flawed nature. Once, in acting on that resolve, I sinned against Sulayman, David-son (may Allah grant eternal peace to them both!). That Prophet sent his minister, Asaf son of Barkhiya, to seize me. This Wazir, by Allahís gracious leave, brought me against my will and led me in bonds to the prophet. I was made to stand before him like a supplicant. When Sulayman (may Allahís blessings be ever upon him!) saw me, he took refuge with Allah, he called on me to embrace fully the True Faith as Allah has seen fit to reveal it to Man, and he bade me swear to obey his commands; but I refused. Thus he sent for yon brass jar and he compelled me to enter it, whereupon he capped the opening with lead, upon which he impressed the Most High Name to prevent my escape. He then commanded the Jann who carried me off to cast me out into the deepest part of the ocean."
"What a horrible fate," the fisherman commented.
"You know nothing of it," the jinni snarled. "On the bottom of the sea the jar rested one hundred years and during that time I said in my heart, ĎWhoso shall release me, him I will enrich forever and ever.í But the full century of years went by and no one came to set me free. I entered the second century under the sea saying in my heart, ĎWhoso shall release me, for him I will open the treasure hoards of the earth.í A full four hundred years passed and still no one came to set me free. So eager was I to greet my rescuer that I said in my heart, ĎWhoso shall release me, for him I will grant the fulfillment of three wishes.í And still no one set me free. As time passed I became angry with a hot rage and I said in my heart, ĎWhoso shall release me from this time forth, him I will slay and I will be generous only in giving him his choice of what death he will die.í Now, as you have released me, I give you full choice of deaths. How shall I kill you?"
"Ya Allah!" the fisherman cried out. "Had it been my choice, you would have been free long ago, but the will of Allah cannot be denied. Spare my life, so that Allah will spare yours and slay me not, lest Allah send someone to slay you."
"There is no help for it," the jinni said. "I have made my decision, so you must die. Tell me now what manner of death you will die."
"You thought in your heart to be generous," the fisherman said, "so forgo killing me and count it as a generous reward for having freed you."
"I would not kill you," the jinni said, "but for the choice of rewards that I made. I will be generous only in allowing you to choose how you shall die."
"What a shame this is!" the fisherman cried out. "I do you good and you requite me with evil! How true the old proverb is when it says:
We treat them well, they treat us ill;
by my life!, spite is every bad manís labor:
Woe to the man who benefits the unworthy lout
who then turns against his neighbor.
May Allah bless the man who takes from his strength
and gives to him who needs it,
and help not the one who, like the rabid dog,
bites the hand that feeds it."
"No more of this talk," the jinni said. "I must kill you now."
The fisherman said in his heart then, This is a jinni and I am a man to whom Allah has given a passably cunning wit. I will now take counsel with my contrivance and my intelligence, even as he has taken counsel only with his malice and his spite, and we shall see who is counseled the better. To the jinni he said, "Have you indeed resolved to kill me?"
"Indeed, I have," the jinni said. "How shall I kill you?"
The fisherman held up a hand. "I must know something first," he said. "In the Most Great Name, graven on the seal-ring of Sulayman, the Son of David (may Allah bestow peace upon that holy pair!), if I question you on a certain matter, will you give me a true answer?"
"Yes," the jinni said. But upon hearing mention of the Most Great Name, his wits were troubled and he said with a trembling voice, "Ask and be brief."
"Tell me," the fisherman said, "tell me the true cause of your resolve to murder me."
"I have made it plain," the jinni said.
"No," the fisherman replied. "You have given me a false cause. Tell me truly now, for I know that you were never in yon jar. Tell me the true cause of your desire to dishonor your family with my blood."
"I have told you," the jinni said, grinding his teeth and making a sound like millstones scraping upon each other. "Your blood is to be payed out for the one thousand years and eight hundred more that I payed out in that jar. You saw for yourself how I came from the jar."
"No," the fisherman said, "I saw you emerge from a cloud of smoke, but whence that came I could not say. But, with Allah as my witness, I say now that I fully believe that you could not have been in that jar. Such a thing is impossible."
"Nothing is impossible to a jinni," the jinni said.
"Some things are," the fisherman said, "and your being in that jar is one of them. Your hand could not fit into that jar. Indeed the tip of your little finger could not fit. You certainly could not. So tell me truly whence you came to kill me."
"What!" the jinni said indignantly. "You do not believe that I was all in there?"
"No," the fisherman said. "I could never believe such a thing unless I had seen it with my own eyes. Now I say again...."
"Raaahr!" the jinni thundered. "Believe this!"
The jinni trembled all over and thick black smoke oozed out of every part of him until he was enveloped by a dark cloud. Orange flames flickered within the cloud as one part of it elongated toward the brass jar and entered it. The rest of the cloud followed, seemingly being sucked into the jar, until all of the smoke was in the jar. In hot haste the fisherman picked up the leaden cap with the seal imprinted upon it, placed it over the mouth of the jar, and pounded it into place with the butt of his fist. Working quickly, he crimped the lead over the lip around the jarís mouth to prevent the cap from coming off.
"Stop!" the jinni cried out. "Donít do that!"
But it was too late. The jar was sealed. The jinni tried to escape, but the fisherman was right: there are things a jinni cannot do. The jinni was unable to leave the jar. He was trapped by the power in the seal of Sulayman (May Allahís blessings be ever upon him!).
"I bid you farewell now, evil jinni," the fisherman said as he lifted the jar. "By Allahís leave, I am now returning you to the sea before us and here, on this very spot, I will build me a lodge. I will dwell here and whosoever comes hither I will warn him against fishing here and will say to him, ĎIn these waters dwells an evil jinni who gives as last favor a choice of deaths and fashion of slaughter to the man who saves himí."
Now when the jinni heard this from the fisherman and saw himself in limbo, he made his voice small and submissive and humbly said, "I was merely making a jest with you."
"I would be a fool to believe that, now wouldnít I?" the fisherman said. "No, it will be far better for me to throw you back into the sea where you have been housed and homed for a thousand years and eight hundred more. And now you will have to stay therein until Judgement Day. Did I not say to you: Ė spare me so that Allah shall spare you and slay me not lest Allah slay you? Yet you spurned my supplication and had no intention but to deal ungraciously with me. And now it seems that Allah has thrown you into my hands and given me leave to protect myself from your treachery. Shall I now disparage Allahís gracious gift?"
"Truly I sought only to frighten you a little bit before granting you great wealth. Surely you do not believe that I would harm one who had done me no harm," the jinni said. "Open the jar and set me free that I may make you rich."
"You frightened one who had given you no cause to feel fright," the fisherman said. "I believe that you would also harm one who had done you no hurt. If you had spared me, I would have spared you, but nothing would satisfy you but my death. But now that I have jailed you in this jar I will protect my life by hurling you into this sea before us."
"Allahís blessings upon you, fisherman!" the jinni cried out. "Donít leave me to await Judgement Day alone! Spare me and pardon my ill-mannered jest. As I have been tyrannous, so be generous and I will make you as wealthy as you please."
"Enough of this tongue-wagging," the fisherman said as he hefted the jar. "There is no help for me but that you be thrown back into the sea. What wealth do I need? I would have rejoiced in your freedom and counted that reward enough. Have you not heard it said that he who frees the oppressed is twice blessed?"
"My freedom would have brought gladness into your heart?" the jinni said in a quavering voice. "How could you have gained happiness from freeing me from this jar?" He began to weep.
"In matters of the heart all gain what they give," the fisherman said. "As the farmer reaps what he sows, so all fill their own hearts with what they have put into anotherís. Freeing you was a small matter that should have brought nothing but gladness into my heart and gladdened Allah as well."
The jinni begged and pleaded. "Open the jar," he said, "and give me my freedom and I promise that I will satisfy your fondest desire."
"O, treacherous one," the fisherman replied, "I would be a fool to trust you and I would deserve to lose my life. I know that you will not fail to treat me in the same manner as a certain Grecian king treated the physician Douban."
"I do not know the story of those men," the jinni said.
"Then before I cast you back into the sea," the fisherman said, "I will tell it to you. Listen well."
The Greek king and the physician Douban:
A long time ago a certain king of Greece suffered from leprosy. His physicians had endeavored to cure the disease and had failed. Then a very able physician, named Douban, arrived at his court.
Douban was a learned man and well experienced as a natural philosopher; thus, he fully understood the good and bad qualities of various plants and drugs. He quickly learned of the disease that afflicted the king and that the kingís other physicians had given up on curing the disease. Douban believed that he could do better, so he found the means to present himself before the king. "I know," he said, after the usual ceremonials had been observed, "that your majestyís physicians have not been able to cure the leprosy that afflicts you. If you will accept my service, I will engage to heal you without the use of strange potions or external applications."
"If you are able to fulfil your promise," the king replied, "I will enrich you and your posterity. You may proceed with the cure."
Douban then returned to his quarters and made his preparations. He made a mace with a hollow handle, into which he put certain drugs. He also made a ball that suited his purpose. The next morning he presented himself before the king and said, "Let your majesty exercise yourself with this mace. Strike the ball until you find that your hands and body are perspiring. When the medicine I have put in the handle of the mace receives heat from your hand, the essence of it will penetrate your whole body. The medicine will have had its effect as soon as you perspire, so you may end the exercise then. As soon as you return to your palace bathe yourself thoroughly and then go to bed. When you arise tomorrow morning you will find yourself cured."
That afternoon, in the heat of the day, the king took the mace and the ball and, accompanied by several officers of his guard, went to the playing field. There he struck the ball and his officers caught it and returned it to him. He played so long and so vigorously that his hands and his whole body were in a sweat and the medicine packed into the handle of the mace operated as Douban had said. When this happened the king left off play and returned to his palace, bathing himself and taking to his bed exactly as Douban had prescribed.
The next morning the king rose from his bed and perceived with equal wonder and joy that his leprosy was cured. He saw that his body had become as clean as if it had never been affected by the disease. He dressed quickly and came into the hall of audience. There he ascended his throne and showed himself to his courtiers, who expressed great joy at seeing their king perfectly cured. The physician Douban entered the hall and bowed before the throne. The king commanded him to sit down by his side, presented him to the assembled courtiers, and gave him all the commendation he deserved. But his majesty did not stop there: every day he showered upon Douban marks of his esteem.
Among the officers of the court this king had a vizier, an avaricious and envious little man who had a talent for committing every kind of mischief. He grew sick with envy when he saw the presents that were given to the physician, so he resolved in his heart to diminish Douban in the kingís esteem. "Sire," he said to the king, "is it wise to allow about your person a man who, for all you know of him, may have been sent here by your enemies to kill you?"
"No, no, vizier," the king replied. "I am certain that this physician, whom you suspect of treachery, is one of the best and most virtuous of men. You know he cured me of my leprosy. If he had come to kill me, then why did he save me? He needed to do no more than to have left me to my disease. I believe that his virtue has raised your envy. But, no, I will not be unjustly prejudiced against him. I will tell you what happened in a similar case. When King Sinbad had resolved, at one time, to put his son, the prince, to death, the kingís vizier advised that the king ought to hesitate to do a thing which was founded on the suggestion of another. And he told the following story:"
The Husband and the Parrot:
There was once a certain good man who had a beautiful wife. He loved her so dearly that he could not bear to have her out of his sight. One day an urgent matter obliged him to leave home, so he went to a shop that sold all sorts of birds. There bought a parrot, a bird that not only spoke well but could also provide a clear description of everything that was done in its presence. Having brought the parrot in its cage to his house, he asked his wife to put it in her chamber and take care of it during his absence. Then he departed.
When he returned he took the parrot into his own bedchamber and questioned the bird concerning what had happened while he was away. The bird told him some things that aroused in him a jealous rage and caused him to berate his wife. Stung by her husbandís anger, the woman formed the belief that some of her slaves had betrayed her. But all of the slaves, vouching for each other, swore that they had been faithful. The wife then discerned that it was the parrot that must have been the telltale.
With this thought in mind, the wife devised a plan that would remove her husbandís jealousy and at the same time gain her revenge upon the parrot. When her husband had gone on another journey and left the parrot with her again, she commanded three slaves to come to her chamber in the night. One slave was to turn a hand-mill under the parrotís cage; another she commanded to sprinkle water lightly over the cage; and she commanded a third to move a mirror back and forth in front of a candle before the parrot. The slaves spent the greater part of the night doing what their mistress had commanded and showed great skill in creating the illusion of a thunderstorm.
The next afternoon the husband returned home and again he examined the parrot about what had happened in his absence. The bird answered, "Good master, the lightning, thunder, and rain so disturbed me all night that I cannot tell what else may have happened in that chamber." The husband knew that there had been no thunderstorm in the night, so he formed the belief that the parrot, not having spoken the truth in this instance, might also have lied the other time. In a rage, he took the parrot from its cage and threw it to the floor with so much force that he killed it. Yet some time afterwards, upon talking to his neighbors, he came to understand that the poor parrot had not deceived him in what it had stated of his wifeís base conduct. Thus, he repented killing the bird.
"And you, vizier," said the king, "you hate the physician, Douban, who never did you any injury. Because of that hatred you would have me cut him off. But, no, I will beware lest I should repent, as the husband did after killing his parrot."
"Sire," the vizier replied, "the death of the parrot was a mere trifle. I truly believe that his master did not mourn him for long. So why should your fear of wronging an innocent, but insignificant man prevent you from putting this physician to death? No, it is not envy which misleads me and makes me his enemy; for if I have accused him falsely, then I deserve to be punished in the same manner as a certain vizier of whom I will tell you, if it will please you to hear me:"
The Vizier who was Punished:
There once was a king whose son loved hunting. The king allowed the prince to go hunting often, but he also gave orders to his grand vizier that he must always remain close to the prince. On one hunt the beaters roused a deer and the prince pursued it. Believing that the vizier followed him, the prince pursued the deer with single-minded intent. Eventually he lost sight of the deer in the forest and he found that he had become separated from the rest of the hunting party. He also noticed that he had lost his way, so he stopped and sought to return to the vizier. But he did not know this part of the country, so he wandered farther afield.
As he was riding about, trying to find his way back to familiar territory, he met a handsome lady, who was sitting by the trail and weeping bitterly. When the prince asked the cause of her grief, she answered that she had fallen from her horse, which had run away. The young prince, as princes are wont to do, decided to rescue the lady from her fate. He told her to get up behind him on his horse and when she had done so he rode on up the trail.
They had not gone far when they came to the crudely patched-up ruins of a house. The lady expressed a desire to enter the house, so the prince stopped and let her down from his horse. He then dismounted himself and went to the building, leading his horse after him. Imagine his surprise when he heard the lady say, "Be glad, my children! I have brought you a young man for your repast" And he heard other voices, which answered immediately, say, "Where is he? We are very hungry."
The prince did not need to hear any more to convince him of his danger. He quickly mounted his horse and rode off with all possible haste. Soon he found his way and arrived safely at the court of his father. He then told his father the story of the hunt and of the danger he had been in through the vizierís neglect. Upon hearing this the king grew incensed against that minister. In his anger he ordered that the vizier be immediately strangled and rightly so.
"Sire," continued the Greek kingís vizier, "to return to the physician Douban. He seems to have cured you of the leprosy. But can anyone assure you of that? Who, among your other physicians, could know whether the medicine that he has given you may not, in time, have deadly effects?"
The king was flummoxed by the vizierís discourse; he could find no flaw in the vizierís reasoning. He suspected that the vizier had misadvised him, but he was not firm enough to persist in his original decision. "Vizier," he said, "I believe that you may be right. This physician may, indeed, have come for the purpose of taking away my life. And he may easily accomplish that goal with his medical art and his drugs." Then he called for one of his officers to go and bring Douban to him.
Shortly thereafter Douban arrived at the court and bowed to the king.
"Do you know why I sent for you?" said the king.
"No, sire," Douban answered. "I will wait until it pleases your majesty to inform me."
"I sent for you to come hither," the king said, "so that I may rid myself of you. In this very hour I shall deprive you of your life."
Douban was astounded when he heard these words and only a certain indignation enabled him to speak. "Sire," he said with trembling voice, "why does your majesty desire to deprive me of my life? What crime have I committed to deserve such a fate?"
"I have been informed," the king replied, "that you came to my court for the purpose of ending my life. But I will prevent you from achieving your goal by ending your life." The executioner was already present, so the king said to him, "Strike the blow and deliver me from this wretched assassin!"
Douban quickly inferred that the honors and presents that he had received from the king had aroused envy in certain men and made them his enemies. Clearly those evil ones had imposed their desires upon the weak prince. Douban now regretted curing the king of his leprosy. "Is this how you reward one who has restored your health to you?" asked the physician. "Sire," he cried out, "prolong my days so that Allah will prolong yours; do not bring me an early death, lest Allah treat you in the same manner."
"No," the king said. "No, I must end your tenure in this world; for if I do not, you may yet assassinate me with the same art that you used to cure me."
Douban saw that further pleading would be useless, so he prepared for death. The executioner approached with his scimitar, when the physician called out once more to the king. "Sire," he said, "I know that your majesty will not revoke the sentence of death, so I beg that, as one last favor, you grant me leave to return to my home that I may set my affairs in order and bequeath my books to those who are capable of making good use of them. I have one book in particular that I would present to your majesty that its knowledge not be lost. It is a very precious book, one that is most worthy of being laid up carefully in your treasury."
"And what makes this book so valuable?" the king asked.
"Sire," Douban said, "it possesses many strange and wonderful properties. Perhaps the most valuable of those properties will come clear if your majesty will open the book to the sixth leaf and read the third line of the left page. Thereupon, my head, after being cut off, will answer all the questions you ask it."
Such a strange statement aroused the kingís curiosity. Seeing no possible harm in granting Doubanís request, he deferred the physicianís death until the next day and sent him home under a strong guard.
During the time he had left to him, Douban put his affairs in order and prepared the promised book, wrapping it a cloth cover. The next day Douban, carrying the book, was brought back to the hall of audience, where he saw that the viziers, emirs, officers of the guard, and other officials had assembled that they might be witnesses of an unheard-of prodigy.
Advancing to the foot of the throne, the physician called for a basin. When he had the basin before him he laid upon it the cover in which the book was wrapped. Then he presented the book to the king. "Take this," he said. "After my head is cut off order that someone put it into the basin upon that cover. You will see that as soon as my head is placed there, the blood will stop flowing. Then open the book as I described yesterday and my head will answer your questions. But I implore your majesty once more to spare my life. I say to you again that I am innocent of any ill intent toward you."
"I will hear no more pleas from you," the king said. "It is my will that you die, if only to hear your head speak after your death." Then he took the book out of the physicianís hand and ordered the executioner to do his duty.
With one mighty swing of his scimitar the executioner sliced through Doubanís neck and his head then fell into the basin. As soon as it came to rest on the cover of the book, the blood stopped flowing and, to the astonishment of the king and all the spectators, the head opened its eyes and spoke. "Sire," the head said, "If it please your majesty, open the book."
The king opened the book and tried to turn the pages but found that the pages adhered to each other. In order to turn the pages with more ease, he touched his thumb and forefinger to his tongue to wet them. He did this until he came to the sixth page, but he found no writing on the place where Douban had told him to look for it. "Physician," the king said, "I see nothing written here."
"Did I say the sixth leaf?" Doubanís head said. "Perhaps it was the sixteenth leaf. Yes, it must have been the sixteenth. Seek it there."
The king continued turning the pages and each time he turned a page he put his thumb and forefinger to his tongue. Suddenly his eyes grew wide and he clapped his hand to his chest. He trembled all over and gave out a ghastly moan. His eyes bulged as he slid off his throne and he fell down to the floor, where he writhed in violent convulsions.
With an expression of distaste on his face, Doubanís head saw that the king had a very short time left to live. "Tyrant," it cried out, "see how easily I could have assassinated you had I wished to do so! But now that you have abused your authority and cut off an innocent man, you see, by Allahís grace, what treatment you deserve. It may come sooner or it may come later, but Allah punishes injustice and cruelty." As soon as the head spoke these words the king went limp as Death took his soul. Having served its purpose, the head itself closed its eyes as it lost what life it had.
The fisherman thus concluded his story of the Greek king and the physician Douban and he addressed the jinni. "If the king," he said, "had allowed the physician to live, Allah would have continued his life also. This case is the same, O jinni, and like Douban I must, in my turn, be equally hard-hearted to you."
"Ya Allah!" the jinni sobbed. "How far wrong I have gone! O kind fisherman, set me free. This is a noble occasion for generosity and I now make a covenant with you. In Allahís Most High Name I vow that never will I do you either hurt or harm. Surely you have heard that Allah has said: Ė perform your covenant fully and honorably; for your covenants shall be inquired into hereafter and Allah will not forgive the abuse of His Most High Name. Surely you know that, just as the seal of Sulayman (May Allahís blessings ever be upon him) kept me trapped in this jar for one thousand years and eight hundred more, so the Name of Allah will seal away my wrath so that it will do you neither hurt nor harm. Will you accept that as surety for my plight?"
"I have so heard," the fisherman said, "and I accept your pledge; for surely none, neither man nor jinni, wishes to face Allahís vengeant wrath over an abuse of His Most High Name." Trembling, he set the jar down on the sand and once again pried off the leaden cap. This time, though, he slipped the cap, bearing the seal of Sulayman (May Allahís blessings ever be upon him!), into a fold in his turban.
Gray smoke emerged from the mouth of the jar and the fisherman saw yellow flames flickering within it. The cloud grew to the size of a house before it took on the form of a man. With one swift movement the jinni kicked the brass jar and sent it flying into the sea.
"I could have gained ten golden dinars in the brass market from the sale of that jar," the fisherman said when he saw the jar splash into the water far from shore.
"Youíre no brass merchant," the jinni said with a laugh. "But you are a brave man. Come! Follow me!" He set off walking down the strand.
The fisherman folded his net and put it into his basket, then picked up the basket and hastened to follow the jinni. Hurrying along the shore, he saw that the jinni was leading him to a place where the brown hills came down to wash their feet in the sea. At one place a large rock jutted out into the surf and it was here that the jinni stopped.
"Here," the jinni said. "This is the place to which you must come if you wish to catch fish. Cast your net on the right side of yon rock. But on each day that you come here, cast your net no more than once." He shuddered and white smoke, within which blue flames flickered, emerged from every part of his form. "May Allah grant that we meet again," he said as he became a cloud and rose into the sky.
The fisherman laid out his net and then tucked up his jellaba. He gathered up the net and waded into the sea. With a wide fling he cast the net, crying out, "BismAllah!" and allowed the net to settle to the bottom of the water.
After a time he gathered the cords and hauled upon them to draw the net to shore. The net was heavy, but not as heavy as before. Slowly he worked the net toward the shore and soon he could see a multitude of fins fluttering and iridescent scales glittering in the sunís light. He brought the net up to the shoreline before he opened it and then he quickly filled his basket with the largest and best of the fish trapped in the net. After freeing the remainder of the fish to return to the sea and then rinsing and wringing out the net, he took his basket and his net and returned to town to sell the fish in the souk.
Thus it was that the fisherman was for the rest of his life able to provide for himself and his family.
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