Saturday, 14 November 2015

Black Holes in the Heart

It’s really fascinating to think about Man’s fascination for sorrow. In his book The  Ring of the Dove, (translated by AJ ARBERRY, LITT.D, F.B.A.) Ibn Hazam says: “Among my acquaintances I once knew a youth who was bogged down in love and stuck fast in its toils, passion had grievously affected him, sickness had worn him out. Yet his soul found no comfort in praying to Almighty God to remove his afflictions; his tongue was not loosed in any petition for deliverance. His only prayer was to be united with and to be possessed of the one he loved, despite the enormity of his sufferings and the long protraction of his cares. (What is one to think of the sick man who desires not to be rid of his sickness?). One day I was seated with him, and felt so distressed at the visible evidence of his miserable condition, his head cast down, his staring eyes, that I said to him (among other things), "May Allah grant you relief!" I at once observed in his face the marks of strong displeasure with what I had said (…)  Love (…) is a delightful malady, a most desirable sickness. Whoever is free of it likes not to be immune, and whoever is struck down by it yearns not to recover. (…)  this is the love, which passes not away save with death. You will find a man far advanced in years, who swears that he has forgotten love entirely; yet when you remind him of it, he calls that love back to mind, and is rejoiced; he is filled with youthful desire; his old emotion returns to him; his yearning is mightily stirred. (…) It can happen that a man sincerely affected by love will start to eat his meal with an excellent appetite; yet the instant the recollection of his loved one is excited, the food sticks in his throat and chokes his gullet. It is the same if he is drinking, or talking, he begins to converse with you gaily enough, and then all at once he is invaded by a chance thought of his dear one. You will notice the change in his manner of speaking, the instantaneous failure of his conversational powers.”  One may say that that kind of thing happened in the past. No, it still happens in the present, and it happens to lovers too. It is not easy, especially for a woman, to show, with acts or with words, that she loves a man whom she turned back in the past. “If I show him that I went back on my word, he would think I’m weak and that I can’t live without him. I should continue to show him that I don’t want him, thus he will make all the concessions I want; and my friends will know that it’s him who loves me, it’s him who wants me; it’s him who made concessions to me; it’s him who… it’s him who… I am the stronger. I am worth something. I am totally sane. I only make the right decisions. I have lost nothing…” And the monologue continues. The (kind, brave) man shows some interest, even love sometimes, but does not go any further. Time goes by. Opportunities are missed, one by one. The story ends, an unhappy ending. The man gets fed up and goes away, the woman breaks down. Hey, good woman! Why didn’t you take that very, very small step towards compromise and reconciliation when the man still held out his hand to you? Why did you torment yourself while he was offering you love and happiness? No, I’m not going to blame you. Suffice it that your life is left in tatters. Maybe you found some kind of pleasure when your friends were very interested in your story: they always asked you the latest, they always made suggestions that you never heeded, they were always excited and caught by surprise when your man sent you an SMS message or befriended you on one of those Facebook pages you created with pseudonyms to lure him into contacting you again and again. Maybe that was a fascinating game for you and your friends. Unfortunately, that game is over. No, good woman, I'm not blaming you. I'm only laughing at our (at Man's) fascination for sorrow, for torment. We make wars because some of our leaders have that kind of (sick) way of thinking. We hide behind alibis, behind vague concepts of self-esteem, dignity, reject any kind of compromise. We would prefer living in the worst misery in the world to taking a very small step towards compromise and reconciliation. If that happens to States, to governments, leading them to bloody wars and loss of lives and wealth, how about a poor individual with psychological complexes? How about a poor individual who loves self-victimization and passionate complaining?

Is compromise always possible, though? Of course not. But we can know who loves us and who hates us, who wants peace and who wants war. We can know who we should defy and who we should befriend. We can know that, we can feel that, but our psychological complexes beautify to us defiance to and undervaluing people who show us some kind of interest, some kind of good will, some kind of ‘weakness’. We get the feeling that by only defying such people (such good, well-intentioned people) we can defeat them, we can push them to make all the concessions we want. We assume that we know all about those people we are defying, we can predict their moves, we can know how to react to whatever they do. Our psychological complexes blind us with mad illusions, and when we are disillusioned, when the truth is out, it’s too late... We break down, we lose everything. We lose the love we were after, we lose the peace we craved for, we lose a lot, a lot of our precious time. Regrets, remorse, disappointments. We are left with black holes in the heart, holes that won’t be closed with anything, anytime.

What is more fascinating than that is that black holes in the heart are to be found on the ‘victors’’ side too! You are sitting with others round a coffee table, sipping your coffee in silence and trying your best to quell a sigh. The people you’re sitting with (family or friends) are all chatting and laughing merrily, as though nothing ever happened. But you can’t help remembering those black days when you were poor, needing help all the time. Now you are alright: you don’t need anybody anymore. You have a good income, you’re married, you have a lovely son. You don’t have any real problems. But you have black holes in the heart. Black holes widened by black memories. You remember how you were let down by some of those you’re sitting with; you remember the humiliation you suffered at their hands; you remember how some of them provided you with some of the things you needed in that remote past (food or a few coins from time to time), you remember that they gave you all that grudgingly, you remember they too said hurting words to or about you… You remember all that and you feel your heart about to explode with so much hot sighs, but you’re striving to stifle all those sighs. You don’t want to hurt anybody. In the end, you rise from the coffee table and go somewhere else to forget all those dark memories… But you can’t. Why did they do that to me? Why didn’t they give me that little help that they gave me with a smile, not with frowns or a humiliating look or hurting words?.... Your questions will remain unanswered. You only have to laugh, if you can, each time those memories come back to you. At least, you are ‘the victor’: they are the losers. They were better off than you in the past, now you are much better off than all of them. Maybe they were laughing in front of you only to save their face. You don’t know what’s in their hearts. Maybe they were embarrassed, but didn’t want to show it. Maybe you too made some kind of mistake in the past, in the remote past, that left a black hole in your heart. Maybe you feel ashamed of yourself each time you recall that sin, that gaffe, that bad thing you did to somebody who didn’t harm you. Would you go to that person and say sorry? It’s not that easy. That’s not always safe. In America a man wrote to a woman saying sorry for raping her. He apologized to her for something he did many years before. She replied to his letters until he believed she forgave him. She did not forgive him. She only wanted to set a trap for him. She sent him to prison. You too fear such a bad surprise, but you wish you could apologize and make amends to that person you wronged. The mere fact that you sigh when you remember your sin, the mere fact that you feel embarrassed within yourself –that is a sign that you are a human, that you have a live heart, a healthy soul. So you could find something to blame yourself for when you remember the wrong done to you by family or friends in that remote past. Maybe those persons behaved in that bad manner because you would ask “too much” or “too often”. The Moroccan proverb goes: “katrat ateeni matkhalli had yabgheeni” (The more I say to people “give me” the more I make myself hateful to them.) Suppose your father- or brother-in-law said to you “give me” once a week, or once a month, what would be your reaction? You should consider yourself a hero for the mere fact that you didn’t break with everybody who wronged you in the past. What would you feel if you had no relatives (good or bad), no friends (good or bad), no colleagues, no neighbours, no acquaintances? You could give up all your close friends (and you should if they are tormenting you), you could give up one relative or two, one neighbour or two, but you can’t be a Robinson Crusoe in a city full of people with different aspirations and different disappointments. At least you will have to smile at and exchange a few words with the grocer, the hairdresser, the nurse, the taxi-driver or the postman, if you still have one. If you keep on complaining about everybody around you, can you live alone?

Life has always been full of disappointments and broken dreams. Even within a tiny community, a small hamlet of less than a hundred people in the heart of a forest or a desert, you would find somebody who is jealous of somebody else, somebody who hates somebody else… Each of the young lads in that community would dream to marry the most beautiful girl in the hamlet, but only one man will marry her, and that man may not be the one who loves her or the one whom she loves. You certainly know the story of Cain and Abel. Well, that story repeats itself in various forms. Up to this day, many people live with black holes in their hearts because they failed to marry that particular person  they loved so much or who loved them so much, because they failed to get that particular diploma or degree, because they failed to get that particular job (which could have revolutionized their lives), because their father/mother did not attend their wedding, because they found out (when it was too late) that their partner loved somebody  else and had never loved them, because they want a particular person (an old friend they no longer speak to, or an old neighbour, or a distant family member, or an old colleague…) –they want that particular person to recognize their success, but they’re not so sure.

These feelings that ache many of us date back to old school days or to previous family life. The way we were educated at school, with unending grading, examinations, year after year, would only make us feel jealous of our classmates when they got better marks, when they graduated before us, when they got better jobs… Competition was not only in school, it was –for many of us– at home as well.

Some parents tend to favour this son or this daughter, for one reason or another, and this can only create a sense of competition, a sense of jealousy, a sense of hatred. Injustice in the home, especially for materialistic reasons, does leave very, very black holes in the heart. But what to do? You can’t help turning a blind eye or a deaf ear to that gloomy past. You can’t help giving some kind of importance to those people who were unkind to you: even if you become very successful in your life, you will always wish that those people recognized your success. Even if your father/mother died a long time ago, you would wish he/she attended your wedding or saw your first child…

We, human beings, may be strong in many ways, physically and morally, but for how long? Strong people become old, healthy people become ill. We are sensitive to the heat, to the cold, to hunger, to thirst, to physical love… Our minds can help us manage our strengths and weaknesses, but there are things that our minds can’t fix. We need Faith, besides our minds. Our logic, however genius we are, can’t always help us understand other people’s behaviour towards us –because we assume that people (should) behave in a certain logical way. Well, that is not always the case. It’s not big thinking that drives people crazy, it’s very small, trivial things that defy all logic, all rational thinking. If your younger brother/sister is always robbing your underpants, and, on top of that, always denying that he/she is robbing your underpants, that may drive you mad literally! If your mother knows your salary and yet she’s always asking you to give her more and more, more than you earn, that may drive you mad. Because you are “thinking” with your mind only. In my previous article, I talked about a strong psyche. One should develop such a strong psyche as early as possible, because nobody knows what the future holds for us. If you have a strong psyche you may fly into a temper occasionally, but you wouldn’t go mad for the reasons I mentioned above. You would break, for a short or long period of time, with that person who is trying to turn your life into hell –even if it’s a sibling or a parent, and then you’ll deal with the problem ‘in cold blood’. You will ‘restore order’ in your feelings. Such a strong psyche would be a wonderful tool to ‘manage’ (as a manager would) our feelings, our black holes. If a black hole in our heart costs us an occasional sigh or two, that’s a good thing. The problem is when that black hole turns into an obsession.

As a child you dreamt to become an engineer (or a doctor). You did everything you possibly could at school, but failed to be an engineer (or a doctor). That left a very dark hole in your heart. Now that you are a parent you want your child to become what you failed to be. Now that your child is at school, the only thing you think about is his marks in scientific subjects, his progress throughout the school year, you count the years he still has to go before becoming an engineer (or a doctor). You don’t care about his feelings: the pressure you’re putting on him. You don’t care if he feels he’s only worth the marks (grades) he gets at school, no more than that. You don’t care if you turn him into a learning machine. Suppose he became an engineer (or a doctor), couldn’t he be faced, one day, with social or emotional problems? How would he cope with those problems? Suppose you want him to grow up and marry and beget children for you to see before you die, and then, one day, you discover that your boy, your successful son, is not straight. What would be your reaction? Suppose your son, who grew up deprived of your real love, fell in love with a star that he saw only on TV, and then his love, his impossible love, caused him incurable trauma or even pushed him to suicide. What would be your reaction? Yes, these are extreme examples, but they do happen. For some people a black hole may become an obsession and that obsession may lead to disaster. Show your child how to behave in society, how to be a good person, how to respect himself, how to improve his personal talents/capabilities. Show him the importance of universal virtues: courage, truthfulness, faithfulness, altruism, hard work, patience… Tell him about your dream, but don’t impose it on him. If you feel he is interested, then help him go on that road. If you feel he has got another dream, don’t spoil his life with your own obsessions. Don’t make him feel life is all about material success. You know some children can’t live with their parents when they grow old. They put them away in infirmaries. Would it be OK for you if you dear, lovely sonny put you in an infirmary and went to live with a beautiful young woman engineer?

Once a Moroccan man called a Moroccan radio station to tell his story: “I was an immigrant in Sweden until I retired at age 60. While I worked there, I would send money to my wife to build for us a home here in Morocco. We got a daughter. I would come to see them during the Summer break. When I retired and decided to come back to Morocco for good, my wife and daughter closed the door in my face. They said to me: ‘Go away! We don’t know you!’ Now I’m just living with a distant relative. I have nowhere else to live. (He started weeping.) I don’t know what to do. I can’t understand why my wife broke with me in this way. I’m sure it’s her who turned my daughter against me… Can you please help me?”

Imagine the black hole left in that man’s heart. Imagine he didn’t have a strong psyche. Imagine he never, never imagined that this could happen to him. If you can imagine that, you can imagine the importance of FAITH, the importance of our hearts.

“I’d rather be at market and have my heart at mosque, than be at mosque and have my heart at market.” Moroccan saying.

Meaning: I’d rather do my work (at the office, the market…) without forgetting God, than spend all my time at mosque while thinking about worldly things…


Monday, 2 November 2015


Different people have different defintions of happiness or unhappiness. Generally speaking, unhappiness is linked to sadness, misery, anger, depression... Scientists say depression is rather a neuro-biological problem. No matter: no two bucks would ever fight over whether a depressed person is un unhappy person. The key question is, what makes us unhappy? Two of the most common sources of our unhappiness are what we North Africans call 'hogra' (bitter feeling of injustice) and ingratitude. But, as we'll see later, there's sometimes a third source of trouble: overkindness on our part. We'll see all that in a moment, but let's start with ingratitude. 

God made us to serve one another: you and I will never be able to return the favour to our parents, not only the tenth of it –nor our children will be able to return the favour to us even if they look after us in our old age better than the best nurse in the world. We all pay the favour forward. Couldn't that be possible with just anybody else? Why should we always expect thanks for what we do? Yes, it is painful to be treated unkindly by someone we gave so much kindness, especially if that person is a family member or a close friend. The pain varies according to each person's faith in oneself, but it can be devastating. Aperson with a strong psyche can more easily overcome the pain of being treated ungratefully, because experience taught him/her that somebody else, to whom he/she had never done any kindness, did 'compensate' him/her subsequently with an unexpected kindness. Whether you believe or not in God, He will send you, one day or another, somebody that will give you that unexpected kindness. Because "Allah loves not the perfidious and the ungrateful". (22:38) 

How does one develop a strong psyche? Through self-analysis. If you are a liar, why do you complain about other people lying to or about you? If you are selfish, ungrateful, why do you expect others to be grateful to you? If you are dishonest, why do you want others to be honest with you? If you are a cheater, why shouldn't other people do the same? If you were unkind to somebody at one point in the remote past, do you think he/she will forget as you tried to forget and overlook all his/her past faults? Maybe he/she didn't go through the process (experience) that turned you into such a good, forgiving person.

As I said elsewhere, most people will either envy you if you are better off, or look down upon you if they are better off. You will rarely find people who will 'respect' you in all situations. If your superior/boss bullies or harasses you, that's because he believes he is 'better off', he believes that it's you who needs  him and cannot do without him. He believes you are too weak to give up the job in such a time of crisis. Put yourself into that person's shoes and ask yourself whether you wouldn't do just the same! See if there's not something wrong with your own character (vis-à-vis other people). Cleanse your soul first, before complaining about others. Your soul is like your shoes. They may be clean before you leave home, but they may be less clean when you return home and you may have to clean (and shine) them again. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said:  
"Every Son of Adam is a Sinner, and the Best of Sinners are those who Repent".

Now, if you are over-kind (be it natural, voluntary or compulsive), within or without the work sphere, most people will take that for a weakness or a sign of stupidity (another meaning of hogra); you will lose a lot, suffer a lot; but with resolve, sincerity and a clear purpose in your life, you will certainly prevail. You have to have kind of moral superiority. Once a man came to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and said: "O Messenger of Allah, tell me something about Islam which I cannot ask anyone else besides you." He said:  "Say you believe in God then be upright (be steadfast upon that)."  The meaning is, do everything you probably can to be a good person, don’t harm anybody who didn’t harm you, and then don’t care about what others will say about you or how they will react to your kindness.

Hogra may sometimes come from somebody who was very kind to you in the past. This somebody is teasing you now because he/she gave you so much kindness/help in the past, when he/she thought you might become something in the future and he/she would therefore get some kind of reward for the good he/she did to you in the past... but now that he/she is seeing you, year after year, without any real improvement in your life, he/she is playing tricks on you, beguiling you with false promises, teasing you, saying bad things on you... and you are in a hell because of him/her. You don't want to break with him/her and thus end a longtime friendship, always bearing in mind the kindness he/she gave you in the past. You strive to be faithful and grateful... But he/she doesn't care twopence about your 'friendship'... You too may have been harsh to him/her in the past, in the remote past, and he/she didn't react then and preferred patience and silence because he/she still feared you might become something/somebody important in the future.... Now that you are a 'failed' person in his/her sight, he/she is ‘punishing' you for all those small and big mistakes. If you go on dealing with such a vindictive person, you will only kill yourself.

There are people who have psychological problems that they may not be aware of or that they do not want to recognize. You deal with them in good faith, as if they are normal people, taking pains in enduring their arrogance, their lies, their fake love... You try to 'save' them, to help them in every possible way, assuming that they too can change for the better.... But in the sight of such people you are only a sucker, a naive person unable to see what's in their minds. Well, there's but rubbish in their minds, I tell you; there's but illness in their hearts. Run away from them lest they should kill you piecemeal!

Another source of unhappiness is our fear of other people’s opinion about us. People will always comment your looks, the clothes you put on, the house you live in, the things you eat, the place where you eat, the music you listen to, the kind of work you do… If you are jobless, that’s horror ! Especially if you are married and a parent. If you are unmarried, that’s hell. This will fill your heart with jealousy and a Satanic wish to harm those you are jealous of, those you believe are better or luckier than you, those who are bullying or harassing you. The jealousy may destroy your heart from within as a fire would destroy a home from within… What’s the solution, then ? I’m not a psychic, but I am confident that the first step to do is what Muhammad (the protagonist) does in my novel (THE PHILOSOPHER): accept within yourself the fact that you are exactly what people are saying about you, then say: So what ? I am jobless, that’s my problem. You’re not going to help me. I’m unmarried, that’s my problem. I didn’t ask you to find me a partner. I’m a failed person on all counts, BUT I AM FREE. I won’t do what you –society– want me to do. I will go downtown wearing rubber sandals, that’s none of your business. I will go to work on foot or by bus, that’s none of your business. This car of mine that is not good in your eyes, I will  sell it off and buy a bicycle instead. It’s not you who pays gasoline for me. You don’t like the colour of my suit (of my bag, of my shirt…) because it’s not in line with the fashion of the moment ? Well, I will not wear anything else until the end of the season ! You are bullying/harassing me because you think I can’t find work elsewhere ? Well, I’m not leaving now. I won’t give you the chance to revel in my misfortune. I’ll wait until I get a better job and I’ll leave without regret… That’s how you can start liberating yourself from all the shackles people want to put on you. You will continue for some length of time to feel the hogra and the pain of ingratitude, but they won’t be as painful as before. Your moral superiority, your being true to yourself (as long as you stick to it) will impress those who until recently made you feel ashamed of yourself for the mere reason that you are not like the rest of the livestock. Your indifference to their opinion about you will kill their evil.

However, don’t think that ‘moral superiority’ necessarily means attaining sainthood. Be realistic. You can’t pretend you wouldn’t love to have a steady job for life. What more than a government could give lifetime jobs and financial security ? The problem is, government employees are partly paid by money coming from brothels, casinos, alcohol, cigarettes, potentially dangerous cosmetics, banks that strangle destitute helpless people, companies in which working conditions push employees to suicide, depression or cancer; factories that pollute whole regions, farmers that ‘poison’ underground water, big companies that enslave people with pitiless marketing campains…

If you are a State employee yourself or one of your parents, what would you say to that poor girl who works in a sex shop in order to pay for her studies ? What would you say to that person who spends most of his salary in casinos ? What would you say to that depressed person who spends a quarter of his salary on alcohol and another quarter on healthcare ? What would you say to that husband who kills himself, his wife and children with active and passive smoking ? What would you say to that young woman who develops cancer because of cosmetics or unbearable working conditions ? etc, etc, etc. Well, part of those unfortunate people’s money ends up in your pocket. And if you or any of your parents is not paid by the State, maybe you were educated in State schools which used that kind of money, or treated in a hospital which used that kind of money, etc, etc, etc.

Putting such questions to yourself, in the process of self-analysis, will not increase your feeling of guilt, though; but will only help you realize that nobody is entirely innocent. Allah says in the Koran :And if Allah were to enlarge the provision for His slaves they would surely rebel in the earth, but He sendeth down by measure as He willeth. Lo! He is Informed, a Seer of His bondmen. ( 42.27)     

The English proverb goes: "People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones." The Moroccan proverb says: "A camel only sees his borther’s hump." Just as a camel doesn't see its own hump, we only see other people's defects, not ours.  

If government morality is not as pure as the pre-Industrial Revoltution Era rain, then expect that morality in business can’t be more pure than our era’s rivers. Then, why be more Catholic than the Pope ? Part of our problem when we are wronged emotionally (I’m not talking here of rape, etc.) is we are quick to complain: all the evil is from somebody else. I am clean, I am pure, I am good. Tears. Sleepless nights. Psychics. Sex. Drugs. And you go closer and closer to the precipice. The father of Muhammad (THE PHILOSOPHER) says to him:

“… You lost so many years on nothing, my son. You wasted your youth on nothing. You’ve been leading a wasted life. Now you are almost forty, with no home, no wife, no children, no lands, no money, with nothing. How long will you live on, my son? When will you start your life? Were you happy the other day when the village men made fun of you? They were right in asking what you had brought with you after all these years of absence. Is it reasonable what you did?”        
      “Father, I want to say something.”
      His father said nothing, but listened expectantly.        
      “I want to marry Itto. That’s what I wanted to say.”     
     “What! Do you want me to become the village idiot? Listen and listen well! I warn you! Don’t say that name again! Or else go back where you came from!”

His sister says to him :

    “Here I am! What was it you wanted to talk to me about?”      
      “Is Itto married?”       
      “Itto? Why?”       
      “Is she married?”       
      “She isn’t. But why are you asking me about her?”       
      “I want to marry her– that’s why.”       
      “What! Are you crazy? Maybe you don’t know that Itto is the most beautiful girl anyone has ever seen anywhere. Men have come from miles and miles away and offered her father gold and silver and pearls and camels and all sorts of wealth and yet he has refused to give her to any of them. Maybe you don’t know that any man from this village who dared to voice his wish for her hand would immediately be turned into the village idiot. Itto is a woman only a fool would dream of. And tell me, suppose her father were willing to give her to you, what would you give her as a dowry?”      
      “My mule, that’s all I have!”    
      Yezza broke into derisive laughter. Then she said, rising to go:      
      “I thought you were serious. Have a nice breakfast!”     

You too can develop such a strong faith in yourself, a faith that makes you believe you can reach what is impossible in other people’s eyes. The first step, as I said, is to admit voluntarily and unregretfully that you are just as failed as people are saying about you. Then say: So what ? You think I’m a failed person/writer/businessman/parent, SO BE IT ! Get off my back, right ?... Your self-analysis will help you take that first step. (Find examples of self-analysis in THE TAILOR Chapter One and THE PHILOSOPHER Chapter Four). Regard admitting to failure as a strategy, not as a fait accompli... Remember that some people have gone from prison or hideouts into the top positions in their States, and vice-versa. Remember the has-beens: those former stars and megastars, those over-mediatized politicians, who suddenly fell into oblivion. Remember those talented people who didn’t benefit from their talents in their lifetime, people such as Edgar Alan Poe, Rudolph Diesel (whose name is in oil-stations all over the world)… Remember those people who were once living in their homes with their wives and children and are now helpless, homeless people, or refugees, waiting for others to help them.

Life is fascinating, it’s dazzling. We’re all tempted by the big-strong-and-fast kind of life. The funny thing is, whatever we do, however genius we are, there’s always somebody one step ahead of us, with something a little bigger, stronger or faster than we have. It’s a Tom-and-Jerry game! What a shame! Focus on your soul: the gold is in there, the peace is in there, the happiness is in there. And few people will beat you on that front! If you’re not hungry, why rush to that trendy restaurant?  Just to impress somebody (who doesn’t have your financial problems)?

Think about that…and about this: Assem, the Poet’s Egyptian master. I would describe him as a strange, informal psyche. As he explains, in the story (Chapters 19 through 26), Assem fails in his upbringing of his own son, Hassan. Well, according to our standards, Hassan is quite a successful man –unlike Muhammad, the Philosopher, at the beginning of the story. But his father is not happy with him because he gives much more importance to the material world. Assem considers this as a personal failure to which he admits voluntarily. And he does not stop here. ‘To repent’, to make up for this colossal loss, Assem decides to ‘bring up’ other men, all slaves, in the way he dreamt of. Note that the story is set in the Ottoman times. Before the Ottomans, Egypt was ruled by the Mamluks, formerly slaves from Central Asia who took power in the wake of a coup and rules not only Egypt, but also present-day Palestine and Syria from 1250 until 1517. See, those great rulers were slaves, initially! So when the Poet, originally from Morocco, North Africa, arrives in Egypt as a slave, it’s Hassan who buys him for his father. And then Assem starts on his dream upbringing process. At first, the Poet does not understand anything. But in the end, he is not only free again (he was born free and stayed so for 30 years), but he is also free of his biggest nightmare, the source of all his misfortunes: cowardice. Before meeting Assem, the Poet was a coward, a man with a womanly heart (but desired by women for his bedroom prowess). He always wished to get rid of his cowardice. Through really strange techniques, Assem succeeds in helping the Poet overcome his cowardice and become a normal man, a better man than Assem’s own son.

Another source of our unhappiness is our anxiety about the future. How long will I keep my job in this time of crisis? What about my children? How will I be able to give them the appropriate education if I lose my job? Horrible nightmares. Childless people are anxious, too. Who will look after me when I grow old? I don’t have any social security, will I have anybody to feed me when I grow too old to work?

When you think about these fragile people we see on the street (beggars, homeless people, prostitutes…), you realize how weak Man can become after all his strength and power. Hence, the importance of FAITH. For some people Faith is the weapon of the weak, the treasure of the destitute, the refuge for the mentally ill, the easy solution for people with small minds… God is seen by some as the last resort, the very last to think of when we are stuck. Why not make Him the first to think of when we are alright so that He would think of us when we need Him most? Why don’t we listen to Him when He says: 2.152. Therefore remember Me, I will remember you." ? Why don’t we acknowledge that, whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not, God is always with us or against us. Take one example: the rain. The good rain after long droughts, it’s God. The terrible floods, it’s Him too. It’s Him who does that because of…our sins. Why don’t we just return to Him? Why do we always rush to psychics, to drugs, to I don’t know what? Anything but God is only an aspirin. Ask the thousands of religious millionaires in this and other Muslim and non-Muslim countries who would never save their money in interest-based banks, because they fear more for their relationship with God than for their money, which could go and come back their way. These religious millionaires are not fiction. They’re as real as you and me. Type ‘Islamic banks/finance’ in your search engine and you’ll learn more about them. Ask those millionaires, they’ll tell you: your belief in God will only strengthen your psyche and guide you to the right decisions. “64.11. No calamity befalleth save by Allah's leave. And whosoever believeth in Allah, He guideth his heart. And Allah is Knower of all things ."   But then you have to be serious. Why should you be so anxious about the future if you prepare for it right now? You can’t save money to prepare for the future? O.K. Why don’t you do good to others now so that God will send you the right people who will do you good at the time of need? If you are childless with no social security, why don’t you try out ‘informal adoption’ and do it, NOW, for the sake of God? You could take care of a poor child/a poor family, not necessarily helping them financially. You could only be a good, faithful friend who always has the right, soothing words. You could volunteer during your free time to help others in any informal way. If you do that for the sake of  God, this is what He says: We suffer not the reward of one whose work is goodly to be lost." (18.30)   So why be so anxious about the future if you believe that God is the God of the past, of the present and of the future? Why be so anxious if you believe in the Word of God? You know what, people who really believe in God, people  of knowledge, wouldn’t care whether they are employed or unemployed, rich or poor, married or unmarried, in good health or sickly; they believe that they won’t die and leave this world before they get all that God decreed for them; they believe they will get only the material things God decreed for them, no more no less; they believe they won’t live longer than God decreed for them; they believe that what happens to other people may happen to them too, but God will help them cope with the pain and misfortune when they befall them and give them a good reward for their patience… And yet these people (of knowledge) are just as ambitious, if not more, as anybody else, and far less anxious than many, many people. These people (of knowledge) are not afraid of illness or extreme poverty, because they are not ashamed to implore God for help, and when they get that help, after very, very hard work (or after long suffering), they thank God for it.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

The Poet : Chapter Nineteen

Cairo was sweltering in a summer heat wave when the Poet stood on a huge rectangular, wooden platform in a small slave-market. Other people –men and women and boys and girls– were displayed likewise for potential buyers to see. These people –the slaves– formed a motley crowd of different colours, shapes and moods. The Poet had grown quite used to such a scene, for he had been exposed at several other markets before. And up to now, apart from the slavers, no one had evinced any desire to buy him. These slavers had done all they could to give the Poet a more “appealing” look. For instance, they had shaved off his beard and moustache, and they had given him more or less smart clothes. And yet, no one –other than the slavers– had wasted a penny on him. At first the slavers had set the asking price at a level that the Poet thought somewhat consonant with what he really was worth. But from market to market that price had dropped lower and lower. And so the slavers grew more and more desperate about him. Some had even stigmatized him as a bad omen– for each time he had passed into the hands of a new slaver then this one would not sell a single slave (girl or boy, man or woman) until he got rid of the Poet– at the lowest price possible. And thus the Poet would serve for a time at his new master’s home until he was sold again. So far, he had been to Constantine, Bizerte, Tripoli, and here at last, he was in Cairo. Most of the time he had had to speak Arabic, but also his Turkish had improved a bit.

      The slavers’ voices made a deafening noise and the horses and mules that roamed about filled the air with dust. The slavers spared no effort to draw potential buyers’ attention to the prominent figures set out on the platforms. The Poet was not much surprised that no one had lavished any kind of publicity upon him. He was now bare-headed, clean-shaven, dressed in a strong yellow, short gown. He thought of only one thing : who would buy him today ? He did not wait long to know. A man –about thirty-five of age, wearing sumptuous clothes and riding a golden horse– approached the spot where stood the Poet. The man looked first at the beautiful slave-girls, then at the handsome boys, and then he looked at the Poet. The Poet’s heart leapt. The slaver, who had noticed this, drew close to the Poet and said in a low voice :
      “This will  make you a good slave, sir. You wouldn’t regret   if you bought him, sir.” He grinned and then added, “He doesn’t cost a lot, sir. Only eight dinars, sir. What do you say, sir?”
      The man, who had been gazing all the time at the Poet, turned his eyes toward the slaver and said in a deep manly voice :
      “I shall take him.”
      The Poet’s heart throbbed with excitement. The man handed a few coins to the slaver, who smiled his thanks and ordered the Poet to descend.
      “What’s your name ?” the man asked the Poet in quite a loud voice as they went out of the slave-market and headed toward a  poor quarter of the city.
      “Salman, Sir,” replied the Poet expectantly.
      “And my name is Hassan.”
      “Happy to serve you, Sir.”
      “Hungry ?”
      “Quite, Sir.”
      Hassan took the Poet to a small, mean restaurant and waited outside for him to have a quick meal : cooked broad beans with oil, and bread. Hassan paid the waiter and led the Poet through narrow streets and open spaces toward a conspicuously handsome house not far from the Nile. The Poet glanced at the river and felt once again something  akin to happiness. Hassan alighted and entrusted his horse to a servant at the house entry door. Then he went into the house, beckoning the Poet to follow him. They met a forty-year-old man in the inner courtyard. He was a good-looking man dressed in plain clothes. Hassan exchanged greetings with that man and said, pointing at the Poet :
      “This is a servant I’ve just bought- for my father.”
      The Poet, being new to it, found Hassan’s vernacular quite hard to follow.
      “Right,” Hassan’s friend replied. “He looks a good one, doesn’t he ?”
      Both men looked toward the Poet, who was now looking at the floor.
      “Yes, Abu Khalid,” Hassan said. “I hope Father will be happy with him.”
      “I hope so.”
      “When are the vessels sailing ?”
      “We can send him tonight if you want !”
      “Bless you !”
      Abu Khalid clapped his hands and a black servant rushed to him and bowed.
      “This servant will sail south tonight,” said the master, glancing at Hassan. “Take him into your room and let him have a rest.”          
      Then Abu Khalid turned again to Hassan and asked in a whisper:
      “Is he hungry?”
      “No. He’s just eaten.”
      “So take him there and let him sleep,” said Abu Khalid to his servant.

      Abu Khalid’s servant ushered the Poet through several doors towards a small open space at the back of the house. The servant’s room was there. He pushed its door open and asked the Poet to go in. The Poet entered and sat on a mattress.
      “Now you can sleep,” the servant said cheerfully. “No one will wake  you up until the master wants you.”
      The servant closed the door and left. The Poet lay on the mattress and tried to sleep.

      The Poet could not sleep. He did not want to sleep, anyway– since he would sail at night. He was terribly weary and awfully sad now. When he had descended from the platform at the slave-market he had had almost to run so as to keep abreast of his master’s horse. But that was not the source of his sadness. Sultana’s abiding smile had restored its former strength and power. These memories of Sultana were powerful enough to ravage the realm that Yamna had established in his heart. It looked as if he had never loved anyone but Sultana– who, formally at least, was still his wife. And he dreamt fantastical dreams. He looked forward to an impalpable day when he would become free again, brave, strong, wealthy and capable of liberating his wife by force. He even said his thoughts aloud, describing his day-dream….It’s too long a time since we last saw each other. And, darling, to liberate you –you know– I must be a little braver, stronger and cleverer. To go back to Lehreem I need money– a lot of money…  

      The Poet’s mind travelled over all past events and tried to imagine the future. Ever since he had set foot on Egyptian soil he had felt mystified and deeply enthralled by the beauty of the country and the people. But this feeling was fading away the longer he thought of his wife. Indeed, it was the Poet’s feelings towards Sultana that were now growing more and more numinous. He could not understand why, but this brought him to think of God– again.

      At night the Poet was at a small harbour with a number of vessels. Two men had brought him there from Abou Khalid’s house. On the way to the harbour the Poet had looked more at the ground than at the various buildings on his right and left. One thing had attracted him, though: the incredible number of minarets he had seen in this mysterious city. At the harbour there were quite a lot of people. Most of them seemed to be travellers. The two men with the Poet talked amongst themselves, as if the Poet was not with them. When the hour came one of the two men ordered the Poet to step onto a medium-sized ship. So the Poet mounted and trudged sideways toward an isolated corner of the ship. A crewman had beckoned him to go there. And the Poet sank on the bare wood… It was more like a prison cell than a ‘ship-compartment’. Very soon after, the Poet felt dizzy. He held his head in his hands and stuffed his fingers into his ears and waited for the ship to pull out. The ship went on swaying…until, at long last, it started off. At this point the Poet was already giddy and had no desire but to sleep. But although he lay on his side on the bare wood he could not sleep.

      The journey was long and painful and the Poet was in no mood to indulge in what otherwise might be appreciated in such experiences. Also he had got a splitting headache that lasted almost throughout the journey. His thoughts too were cruel with him. The thought of Sultana and…of God…had plunged him into an agony of remorse. And the days were like the nights for him. Even when he ate he ate without appetite…Three times he vomited.  For a reason unknown to him, the only punishment was an avalanche of angry words each time he did it. And fortunately for him, he could go to the toilet whenever he wished. And that was the only time when he could see other people from the passengers– waiting  for a turn to relieve themselves…

      The harbour at which the Poet’s journey ended was far smaller than the one in Cairo. The two men who had led the Poet onto the ship there were the same who ushered him out of it here. The Poet was too worn-out to care of anything around him. He did not even show any surprise at finding Hassan waiting for him at the harbour. Hassan thanked the two men and pressed coins into their hands and let them go. Then he turned  to the Poet and ordered him to mount a mule that was standing next to his horse. The Poet looked as if to say that he was too tired to ride a mule. But he finally struggled to mount it, and turned to follow his master.

      The small harbour stood on a plain, but the farther the Poet and Hassan rode the higher the ground rose. They went along mysterious paths, across now soft, now rocky ground, past dozens of hamlets and scattered cottages. It was quite hot for the morning. The Poet sensed that he was now heading toward something of a desert. And this made him feel very much at home.      

      Hassan put a few questions to the Poet –about his past– but he seemed uninterested in the answers. And the Poet did not care one way or the other. He was only longing to reach Hassan’s final destination as soon as possible.

      For hours on end Hassan’s horse had galloped at breakneck speed, and now, suddenly, it slowed to a walk. And, of course, so did the Poet’s mule.
      “Here we are at last!” said Hassan, glancing at the Poet.
      “Thank God,” the Poet replied, panting.
      The place was a hamlet, quite like the others on the way from the harbour. Only here it looked almost like an oasis. But Hassan did not alight from his horse until he reached the doorway of an isolated, small domed farmhouse. An old man  –in  his middle fifties– appeared at the door as Hassan’s horse neighed. Hassan walked to the old man and kissed his hand. The Poet did likewise. Then Hassan said to the old man, pointing at the Poet:
      “This is all I’ve found you, Father!”
      The old man smiled and turned his handsome, bluish eyes toward the Poet and said in a resounding voice:
      “Well, we shall see. What’s your name, man?”
      “My name is Salman, Master,” the Poet replied respectfully.
      “Salman, you’re welcome to Kafr-Hanoon. Come in!”
      The Poet made to go into the house, but waited until Hassan and his father had moved first. All three crossed the house’s small courtyard and went into a square room to the left of the entrance. The room was congruously furnished with Arabian tapestry on the walls, smooth multicoloured elevated seats on the four sides and a nice carpet in the middle. There was no table. The old man, who was the first to enter the room, sat on one of the elevated seats. And so did Hassan. The Poet, being aware that he was but a slave, sat on the carpet, close to an elevated seat. The old man chuckled and gave him a sign to move back and sit on the seat. Embarrassed, the Poet did as ordered. In the meantime he stole a glance at Hassan and sensed that he was not really welcome.
      “You look very tired,” said the old man to the Poet.
      “Yes Sir,” the Poet whispered with a blush.
      “Where are you from?”
      “I am from Marrakesh, Sir.”
      The Poet was tired, actually. But now he had a feeling he could not describe or know what. He felt –oh yes! – as if he had fallen in love with this old man! His voice, his words, his Oriental Arabic (which was close to the Quranic Arabic), his sobriety– The Poet could not know what –what–or why he had this strange feeling. Their eyes met. The old man smiled, but the Poet just gaped. (Hassan was looking at the floor). Suddenly, the old man left the room. The Poet turned his eyes toward Hassan. Hassan too raised his eyes and fastened them on the Poet, but said nothing. And, unexpectedly, he too left the room. The Poet remained alone, his heart throbbing. He was as in a dream.

      The old man returned with dates and milk. But the Poet was too hot to eat or drink anything. He could not understand why this old man had changed his gown. At first he had been wearing a light, white gown. Now, he was wearing a brown one. Why?
      “Drink your milk!” said the old man.
      The Poet began to drink. His hands trembled a little.
      “You are a Muslim, aren’t you?” asked the old man, suddenly.
      “Yes, of course,” replied the Poet lamely.
      “Then we’ll pray together.”

      The Poet was taken out to perform his ablutions. Then he joined the old man, and both performed their Noon Prayers together in a small room in the house. The prayers over, the Poet was allowed to take a rest in another room. And there he thought for a while before he succumbed to sleep.

      When he was woken by the old man it was already evening. He was conducted again into the guest-room. Hassan was not there. The old man made the Poet to sit face to face with him.
      “Now,” said the old man, “tell me something about you.”
      “You mean my life-story?”
      And the Poet began to recount his tale to the old man as would a grand-mother to her grand-son at bed-time. He gave him an unvarnished account of quite all that had happened to him thus far. The old man looked as if he was listening to wonders. When the Poet finished his story, the old man said, “Wait. I’m coming back.” And he left. Then he returned with a low, three-legged table and placed it between him and the Poet. A teenage boy came with him carrying a plate of food, which he then put on the table. The boy greeted the Poet and went out. He then brought bread and water. An amah came in afterwards and put on the table a small plate of fruits and left with the boy. But before they left, the old man had introduced them to the Poet.
      “This is Sufian,” (indicating the boy) “and this is Hind” (indicating the amah.)
      The Poet nodded shyly.

      The Poet began to eat in silence. He waited anxiously for the old man to comment on the tale he had narrated. That night the old man said nothing about it. After dinner he invited the Poet to join him for prayer. Then he led him into a small room and wished him good night.

      In bed the Poet thought for an hour or two and fell asleep.