Wednesday, 10 January 2018

God says : "
He it is Who gathereth you at night and knoweth that which ye commit by day. Then He raiseth you again to life therein, that the term appointed (for you) may be accomplished. And afterward unto Him is your return. Then He will proclaim unto you what ye used to do." (6 : 60) If I am a good believer that warning should be enough to remind me that God "is the Omnipotent over His slaves." (6 :61) and "Not an animal but He doth grasp it by the forelock!" (11 : 56 ). If that warning is not enough, if I don't really feel that God takes my life every night, well, here's another warning that appeals to me directly : God says : "and we made every living thing of water" (21 :30) I have experienced this firsthand. I was a student in a dorm where I could not have a shower for a whole month –simply because water was scarce that year. We could barely find water to drink. Water shortage kills. Drought causes huge fires. God says : "And have sent down from the rainy clouds abundant water, Thereby to produce grain and plant,  And gardens of thick foliage."  (98: 14-16) Up to this day man has been unable to solve the problem of drought. Engineers have bombed clouds but apparently that hasn't worked. It takes more than bombing a thousand clouds to fill a river or save a forest from an imminent blaze. And when it does rain there's the risk of floods and mud slides.

Also God says : "Lo! Allah graspeth the heavens and the earth that they deviate not, and if they were to deviate there is not one that could grasp them after Him. Lo! He is ever Clement, Forgiving." (35: 41) "He holdeth back the heaven from falling on the earth unless by His leave. Lo! Allah is, for mankind, Full of Pity, Merciful." (22 : 65) This might look highly unlikely for a non believer scientist but not entirely impossible for an ordinary believer like myself. All I know is that in February 2013 a thousand people were wounded after the fall of a meteorite in Russia, which has got an advanced space program. Yes, I concede that's rare and not so much dangerous, but should I wait for the sky to fall over on my head so as to believe? God also says : "and of all fruits He placed therein two spouses (male and female)." (13 : 3) I am not a scientist to check that out. So should I know or believe ? Scientific knowledge is not static. Many things that are now obvious were not known a century ago.

God also says : "Let man consider his food:  How We pour water in showers  Then split the earth in clefts   And cause the grain to grow therein   And grapes and green fodder And olive-trees and palm-trees  And garden-closes of thick foliage   And fruits and grasses:  Provision for you and your cattle." (80 : 23-32)  "Have ye seen that which ye cultivate?   Is it ye who foster it, or are We the Fosterer?" (56 : 63-64) What can I say about this ? Well, once again, I can only judge by what I notice. I have noticed that many farmers content themselves with sowing the seeds and working the land for a few days or weeks and then they go to sleep. One day the first green vegetation emerges from the ground. How did it emerge ? I don't know. Then bees come around and do their precious work, for free. Bees are the best volunteers in this world, aren’t they ? We humans take many things for granted. God says : "He it is Who hath made the earth subservient unto you, so Walk in the paths thereof and eat of His providence. And unto Him will be the resurrection (of the dead)." (67 : 15) We have seen how people move about in space. They can't walk as they do in the earth.

God says : "man is more than anything contentious." (18 : 54) It is easy to argue with God because God is not going to argue with you NOW. But God is not dead. "And trust thou in the Living One Who dieth not." (25 : 58) Speaking to God is not like speaking to a dead body. To God the real dead are those who want to argue with Him.  "Is he who was dead and We have raised him unto life, and set for him a light wherein he walketh among men, as him whose similitude is in utter darkness whence he cannot emerge? Thus is their conduct made fairseeming for the disbelievers." (6 : 122)  Just as God revives the land after its death so does He revive the souls of men who suddenly feel the light of wisdom.   "He it is Who sendeth down water from the sky, and therewith We bring forth buds of every kind; We bring forth the green blade from which We bring forth the thick-clustered grain; and from the date-palm, from the pollen thereof, spring pendant bunches; and (We bring forth) gardens of grapes, and the olive and the pomegranate, alike and unlike. Look upon the fruit thereof, when they bear fruit, and upon its ripening. Lo! herein verily are portents for a people who believe." (6 : 99)  "Portents (signs) for people who believe". I believe first, then I look for the signs.  "And in the Earth are neighbouring tracts, vineyards and ploughed lands, and date-palms, like and unlike, which are watered with one water. And we have made some of them to excel others in fruit. Lo! herein verily are portents for people who have sense." (13 : 4) How can I be one of the people who have sense  if I don't think about what's happening around me ? You know, temperatures in such beautiful Moroccan cities as Fez and Marrakech reach 40 to 45°C in the summer these last years. A recent joke says that if you want to marry a girl from one of these cities her father will demand a climatiser among her dowry ! God says : "Allah promiseth to the believers, men and women, Gardens underneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide - blessed dwellings in Gardens of Eden. And - greater (far)! - acceptance from Allah. That is the supreme triumph." (9 : 72)   Also about Heaven He says : "Reclining therein upon couches, they will find there neither (heat of) a sun nor bitter cold." (76 : 13)  How can I feel, as a believer, the importance of this last piece of description if I haven't felt the difference? Nor is the shadow equal with the sun's full heat; (35 : 21)  Is walking in the shade like walking in the baking sun ? A good believer knows that the shade is a great gift from God. A good believer would thank God for the mere sight or smell of a fruit, let alone eating it !  "None can inform you like Him Who is Aware." (35 : 14)  "Is he who knoweth that what is revealed unto thee from thy Lord is the truth like him who is blind? But only men of understanding heed." (13 : 19) "The erudite among His bondmen fear Allah alone. Lo! Allah is Mighty, Forgiving." (35 : 28) Those are the minority of the minority : those "who believe and do good works are the best of created beings. (…) Allah hath pleasure in them and they have pleasure in Him. This is (in store) for him who feareth his Lord." (98 : 7-8)

What can I understand from the verse which says : "Say (O Muhammad, unto the disbelievers): My Lord would not concern Himself with you but for your prayer." (25 : 77) ? As I said before, non-believers produce the good things for believers in this life. Most believers will only get a fraction of all that production, but even a king's stomach can't hold more than a few kilograms of food! In the Hereafter only believers will find the good things; nobody will produce such things for non-believers in Hell. God Himself says : "Few of My bondmen are thankful." (34 : 13)  God knows that people who really care about Him are few compared to the total number. And yet He makes these few suffer ! He deprives them of things they love. God says : "Lo! therein indeed are portents for every steadfast, grateful (heart)." (31 : 31)  And those are not very many. Why doesn't God "fear" to lose that minority of the minority ? Well, He knows that they love Him. He knows that they will be patient and, on top of that, GRATEFUL ! Because they have   "hearts wherewith to feel and ears wherewith to hear? For indeed it is not the eyes that grow blind, but it is the hearts, which are within the bosoms, that grow blind." (22 : 46) That's why He made general norms (to rule the world) for the sake of that specific population. People marry and enjoy themselves generation after generation and as they do so a few souls are born in every generation and stand out with their hearts so as to join the lucky club of "every steadfast, grateful (heart). Such as are steadfast and put their trust in Allah." (16 : 42)
God knows what He is doing. "Deemed ye then that We had created you for naught, and that ye would not be returned unto Us?" (23 : 115) "Thinketh man that he is to be left aimless? Was he not a drop of fluid which gushed forth? Then he became a clot; then (Allah) shaped and fashioned And made of him a pair, the male and female. Is not He (Who doeth so) able to bring the dead to life?" (75 : 36-40) How many people care ? God says : "See ye not how Allah hath made serviceable unto you whatsoever is in the skies and whatsoever is in the earth and hath loaded you with His favours both without and within?" (31 : 20) "And He giveth you of all ye ask of Him, and if ye would count the bounty of Allah ye cannot reckon it. Lo! man is verily a wrong-doer, an ingrate." (14 : 34) Did God do that just for us to enjoy ourselves in this world, just for us to play and sing and dance and make love ...? No, "And We created not the heaven and the earth and all that is between them in vain. That is the opinion of those who disbelieve."  (38 : 27)
Good believers "give that which they give with hearts afraid because they are about to return unto their Lord" (23 : 60)   because they hold God in high esteem. They know that  "The thunder hymneth His praise and (so do) the angels for awe of Him." (13 : 13) They know that   "if all the trees in the earth were pens, and the sea, with seven more seas to help it, (were ink), the words of Allah could not be exhausted." (31 : 27) "Allah, Lord of the Ascending Stairways (Whereby) the angels and the Spirit ascend unto Him in a Day whereof the span is fifty thousand years." (70 : 2-4) Those people know that  "all who are in the heavens and the earth praise [Allah], and the birds in their flight. Of each He knoweth verily its worship and its praise; and Allah is Aware of what they do." (24 : 41) "The seven heavens and the earth and all that is therein praise Him, and there is not a thing but hymneth His praise; but ye understand not their praise. Lo! He is ever Clement, Forgiving." (17 : 44)
God says : "Allah is He Who created the heavens and the earth, and causeth water to descend from the sky, thereby producing fruits as food for you, and maketh the ships to be of service unto you, that they may run upon the sea at His command, and hath made of service unto you the rivers; And maketh the sun and the moon, constant in their courses, to be of service unto you, and hath made of service unto you the night and the day. And He giveth you of all ye ask of Him, and if ye would count the bounty of Allah ye cannot reckon it. Lo! man is verily a wrong doer, an ingrate." (14 : 32-34) "See ye not how Allah hath made serviceable unto you whatsoever is in the skies and whatsoever is in the earth and hath loaded you with His favors both without and within?" (31 : 20) Why all this ? Just for us to play and sing and dance and make love? God says : "Their reckoning draweth nigh for mankind, while they turn away in heedlessness." (21 : 1) Disasters are warning me everyday. How can't I fear ? "If Allah took mankind to task by that which they deserve, He would not leave a living creature on the surface of the earth; but He reprieveth them unto an appointed term, and when their term cometh - then verily (they will know that) Allah is ever Seer of His slaves." (35 : 45)  "Verily We have brought them a Scripture which We expounded with knowledge, a guidance and a mercy for a people who believe." (7 : 52)  "And in truth We have made the Qur'an easy to remember; but is there any that remembereth?" (54 : 17)  "Will they then not meditate on the Qur'an, or are there locks on the hearts?" (47 : 24)  "O ye who believe! Remember Allah with much remembrance.  And glorify Him early and late.  He it is Who blesseth you, and His angels (bless you), that He may bring you forth from darkness unto light; and He is Merciful to the believers." (33 : 41-43) "God directeth the ordinance from the heaven unto the earth; then it ascendeth unto Him in a Day, whereof the measure is a thousand years of that ye reckon." (32 : 5) "All that are in the heavens and the earth entreat Him. Every day He exerciseth (universal) power." (55 : 29) "We shall dispose of you, O ye two dependents (man and jinn)." (55 : 31)

Shall I live in this world for ever? What would I do if I found out upon my death that I had only been wasting my life away? The Quran says :   "We warn them, but it increaseth them in naught save gross impiety." (17 :60) "Thou art but a warner unto him who feareth it." (79 : 45) I did not fall with the last rain. I know what's happening in this world. I know that people commit suicide in rich beautiful countries. People get depressed despite all their financial ease. People lose faith easily. People feel lonely in homes where everything is available. People use drugs to forget their unforgettable problems. People fear death.

We are all God's guests in this earth. Whether we like it or not, the earth belongs to God Alone, Who can act as He pleases. "Doer of what He will" (85 : 16) God was here before we were born and He will be here after we are gone. "He brought you forth from the earth and hath made you husband it" (11 : 61) according to certain rules. Suppose somebody put at my disposal his home and said make yourself at home, faites-vous plaisir, would that mean that this home will be mine ? I know that I only came after thousands and thousands of generations who all had quite the same dreams and desires and that I too will go one day. "Allah's is the heritage of the heavens and the earth." (3 : 180) "Is it not a guidance for them (to observe) how many generations We destroyed before them, amid whose dwelling places they do walk? Lo! therein verily are portents! Will they not then heed?" (32 : 26) But God also says : "Those are a people who have passed away. Theirs is that which they earned, and yours is that which ye earn. And ye will not be asked of what they used to do." (2 : 134) "Then We appointed you viceroys in the earth after them, that We might see how ye behave." (10 : 14)

The question is, where do I go from here ? The previous generations nous ont légué un patrimoine partly red partly green. France, for example, is due to ban fuel-engined cars by 2040. That's because everybody has been aware of the dangers of air pollution. One does not need to be an intellectual to notice that our prosperity has had side effects. We all know that each one of us is partly responsible for what has happened to our earth. Deforestation, over-exploitation of fisheries, corruption, and so on are the results of our own greed. Our leaders have understood that no single country, no single continent, can solve such problems alone. Hence all that quantity of world summits on this and that. Only now are we convinced that all Men are one. God was the first to address men as one.  "And He it is Who hath produced you from a single being, and (hath given you) a habitation and a repository. We have detailed Our revelations for a people who have understanding." (6 : 98) "O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women." (4 : 1)  "And We have not sent thee (O Muhammad) save as a bringer of good tidings and a warner unto all mankind; but most of mankind know not." (34 : 28)  "Unto Allah belong the East and the West, and whithersoever ye turn, there is Allah's Countenance. Lo! Allah is All-Embracing, All-Knowing." (2 : 115) What is amazing, though, is that man has acknowledged his "sin" perpetrated against this earth; he has acknowledged his weakness; he has acknowledged his responsibility towards future generations.. but how many men have acknowledged the role of God in our lives ? God says : "Corruption doth appear on land and sea because of (the evil) which men's hands have done, that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return." (30 : 41)  How many men are willing "to return" ? How many men are willing to listen to God ? "Lo! Allah is a Lord of Kindness to mankind, but most of mankind give not thanks." (2 : 243)  Even those who, like me, pretend they listened to God, listen to what God says about them : "O ye who believe! Follow not the footsteps of the devil. Unto whomsoever followeth the footsteps of the devil, lo! he commandeth filthiness and wrong. Had it not been for the grace of Allah and His mercy unto you, not one of you would ever have grown pure. But Allah causeth whom He will to grow. And Allah is Hearer, Knower." (24 : 21) "And thus have We inspired in thee (Muhammad) a Spirit of Our command. Thou knewest not what the Scripture was, nor what the Faith. But We have made it a light whereby We guide whom We will of Our bondmen. And lo! thou verily dost guide unto a right path." (42 : 52) "And if We willed We could withdraw that which We have revealed unto thee, then wouldst thou find no guardian for thee against Us in respect thereof. (It is naught) save mercy from thy Lord. Lo! His kindness unto thee was ever great." (17 : 86-87)

God said to the prophet (pbuh) :  "We sent thee not save as a mercy for the peoples." (21 : 107)  God wants mercy for us all. "And He it is Who sendeth down the saving rain after they have despaired, and spreadeth out His mercy. He is the Protecting Friend, the Praiseworthy." (42 : 28)  Our leaders can be good and well qualified, but they can't replace God. God says : "And the earth hath He appointed for (His) creatures." (55 : 10) That is, for mankind. Unfortunately, some of our leaders are erecting frontiers and borders and imposing visas. Why ? Well, every leader fears for his dear country. That's comprehensible
God doesn't "fear" for His Kingdom. "Unto Him belongeth all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. Lo! Allah, He verily is the Absolute, the Owner of Praise. (22 : 64) Unto Him belongeth whosoever is in the heavens and the earth. All are obedient unto Him." (30 : 26) The problem is that some of our leaders give us the impression that they can give us everything we want. Well, that's questionable. God says : "Or do they own the treasures of thy Lord? Or have they been given charge (thereof)?" (52 : 37)  "Or are theirs the treasures of the mercy of thy Lord, the Mighty, the Bestower?" (38 : 9) He even says : "those unto whom ye pray instead of Him own not so much as the white spot on a date-stone." (35 : 13) And that's true. If leaders in the past owned "so much as the white spot on a date-stone", no empire would have fallen, no economic crisis would have torn societies apart. "Blessed is He in Whose hand is the Sovereignty, and, He is Able to do all things." (67 : 1) If I don't believe that, God says : "Call upon those whom ye set up beside Allah! They possess not an atom's weight either in the heavens or the earth, nor have they any share in either, nor hath He an auxiliary among them." (34 : 22) "Unto Allah belongeth the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth and whatsoever is therein, and He is Able to do all things." (5 : 120)  "Say: O Allah! Owner of Sovereignty! Thou givest sovereignty unto whom Thou wilt, and Thou withdrawest sovereignty from whom Thou wilt. Thou exaltest whom Thou wilt and Thou abasest whom Thou wilt. In Thy hand is the good. Lo! Thou art Able to do all things. Thou causest the night to pass into the day, and Thou causest the day to pass into the night. And Thou bringest forth the living from the dead, and Thou bringest forth the dead from the living. And Thou givest sustenance to whom Thou choosest, without stint."   (3 : 26-27)

When I realize the greatness of God, when I realize the grace of God, I can only feel rest in my heart. Even when I feel the fear of God my fear is immediately followed by rest in my heart. God says : "Allah hath (now) revealed the fairest of statements, a Scripture consistent, (wherein promises of reward are) paired (with threats of punishment), whereat doth creep the flesh of those who fear their Lord, so that their flesh and their hearts soften to Allah's reminder. Such is Allah's guidance, wherewith He guideth whom He will. And him whom Allah sendeth astray, for him there is no guide." (39 : 23) "Those who believe and obscure not their belief by wrongdoing, theirs is safety; and they are rightly guided." (6 : 82) "Lo! verily the friends of Allah are (those) on whom fear (cometh) not, nor do they grieve." (10 : 62)  Even on the day of resurrection, as the prophet (pbuh) said, "Allah will give them protection with His Shade on the Day when there will be no shade except His Shade."

A non-believer would say : why should I fear God if, as he says, "Unto Allah belongeth whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth. He forgiveth whom He will, and punisheth whom He will." (3 : 129) ? That's a good question. But why do I look at "punisheth whom He will" and don't I look at "forgiveth whom He will ?" The full verse is : "Unto Allah belongeth whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth. He forgiveth whom He will, and punisheth whom He will. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." (3 : 129) Why don't I try to do good and avoid evil as much as I can and then hope to be one of those whom God will forgive, since He is "Forgiving, Merciful" ? But, at the same time, if I make a silly mistake, I don’t deem myself "secure from Allah's scheme" because "None deemeth himself secure from Allah's scheme save folk that perish." (7 : 99) God says : "Allah is Mighty, Able to Requite (the wrong)." (14 : 47) As I said in a previous chapter, God wants to scare me in order to save me. He says : "With this doth Allah appal His bondmen. O My bondmen, therefor fear Me!" (39 : 16)  "And Allah summoneth to the abode of peace, and leadeth whom He will to a straight path." (10 : 25) He also says : "And vie one with another for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a paradise as wide as are the heavens and the earth, prepared for those who ward off (evil)." (3 : 133) Wouldn't I be stupid if I missed such a golden opportunity ? If there's so much space in Heaven, why don't I hope to be one of the lucky dwellers of that beautiful world ?

God says : "Therefore keep your duty unto Me, O men of understanding." (2 : 197) God is speaking to "men of understanding." Who are "men of understanding"? In the Quran we read : "Therefor give good tidings (O Muhammad) to My bondmen Who hear advice and follow the best thereof. Such are those whom Allah guideth, and such are men of understanding." (39 : 17-18) The mosques we pray in are built by the rich, not the poor. Can't those people make better use of their money ? Don't they have minds to think ?  "But only men of understanding heed; Such as keep the pact of Allah, and break not the covenant; Such as unite that which Allah hath commandeth should be joined, and fear their Lord, and dread a woeful reckoning; Such as persevere in seeking their Lord's Countenance and are regular in prayer and spend of that which We bestow upon them secretly and openly, and overcome evil with good. Theirs will be the sequel of the (heavenly) Home, Gardens of Eden which they enter, along with all who do right of their fathers and their halpmeets and their seed. The angels enter unto them from every gate, (Saying): Peace be unto you because ye persevered. Ah, passing sweet will be the sequel of the (heavenly) Home. (…) Allah enlargeth livelihood for whom He will, and straiteneth (it for whom He will); and they rejoice in the life of the world, whereas the life of the world is but brief comfort as compared with the Hereafter." (13 : 19-26)  That's the best investment, isn't it ?

Why do angels say to Heaven dwellers "because ye persevered" ? Well, the prophet (pbuh) said : "Paradise is surrounded by hardships and the Fire is surrounded by desires." An Olympic gold medal is not Heaven, but can anybody be an Olympic champion without making sacrifices? Can you get a high university degree without making sacrifices? The right question is, is Heaven worth such sacrifices? No doubt our world is beautiful, otherwise there wouldn't be any such thing as tourism, with the myriad sumptuous hotels and resorts and campsites ... But there are also tragedies. "A similitude of the Garden which is promised unto those who keep their duty (to Allah): Underneath it rivers flow; its food is everlasting, and its shade." (13 : 35)  There's no "toil nor weariness" (38 : 35)  in Heaven. There are no problems in Heaven. So to get a chance to go there I have to endure some kind of suffering in this world.

Some people commit suicide because they can't have a lasting feeling of happiness. I too have suffered, but I have also had a lot of happy days. I should be grateful to God for that. If I am patient and grateful in this world God will make my life better in this world and hopefully grant me a place in Heaven. "For those who do good in this world there is a good (reward) and the home of the Hereafter will be better. Pleasant indeed will be the home of those who ward off (evil)." (16: 30)

Do I really need to be in Heaven after my death? Well, Ibrahim (pbuh) "was a people obedient to Allah, by nature upright, and he was not of the idolaters." (16: 120) and "Allah (Himself) chose Abraham for friend." (4: 125)  And yet he said: "And place me among the inheritors of the Garden of Delight." (26: 85)  God says: "See how We prefer one of them above another, and verily the Hereafter will be greater in degrees and greater in preferment." (17: 21)  How can't I pray to God to grant me a place in Heaven too? The prophet (pbuh) said: "If you ask of Allah, ask Him for al-Firdaws" (the highest part of Paradise). You know those kinds of radio shows where you are invited to send answers in SMS text messages. They give an easy question so that a large number of people send in a large number of text messages. Well, for you personally, to increase your chances of winning you send as many text messages as you can afford. Why don't I do the same when it comes to Heaven? An ordinary Muslim who keeps his duty to God is entitled to Heaven, but to avoid "bad surprises" I should try to do better than a mere Muslim. Why don't I try to be a moomin (a believer), that's a higher grade? I should try to secure a place in Heaven first, then try to philosophize the whole thing. In the first chapter of this book I talked of "my safety first".

Now, how do I understand the story of Heaven? God could have stayed ‘alone’ and not bothered to make anything. He was God, magnanimous and magnificent, free and self-sufficient. But He was too beautiful not to be known. He was too generous not to share His beauty. But with whom? He was God and nothing could be like Him. Nothing could match up to Him. Nor did He need anything or anybody. It’s by the grace of Him that He made the world to share not only His beauty but also His bounty. He made Heaven, beautiful in every sense of the word. He made it not for Himself. (He didn’t need it.) He made it for us.  Whether God made the earth before or after Heaven and Hell, that’s not a really big question. But it’s interesting to notice that God made part of the earth look like Heaven and part of it look like Hell, as a reminder for the future dwellers of this planet, for us. God describes the Quran as a reminder. Now that we are here we should ask ourselves questions. God says: "I created the jinn and humankind only that they might worship Me. I seek no livelihood from them, nor do I ask that they should feed Me. Lo! Allah! He it is that giveth livelihood, the Lord of unbreakable might." (51 : (56-58) I can't over-interpret these verses. They are clear. God wants man to worship Him.  Does this mean, though, that God needs man to worship Him? God Himself answers this question. He says: "And Moses said: Though ye and all who are in the earth prove thankless, lo! Allah verily is Absolute, Owner of Praise." (14: 8) If God needed to be adored He would have spared at least those who adored Him in the best way in the past, but we all know that even prophets and saints died. Would God be interested in the number of worshippers or in the quality of worshippers or in the quantity of worship? Again, "Allah verily is Absolute, Owner of Praise." (14: 8) Suppose God was interested in the number of worshippers or in the quantity of worship, how much would "my worshipping" weigh in all that? Would I deserve eternal happiness in Heaven for this little worshipping I do in my short life? This doesn't make sense. The prophet (pbuh) said: "Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately and know that your deeds will not make you enter Paradise, and that the most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular and constant even if it were little." And yet God doesn't want us to go to Hell. God says: "Shall We utterly ignore you because ye are a wanton folk?" (43: 5) "Ah, the anguish for the bondmen! Never came there unto them a messenger but they did mock him!" (36: 30) The question is, why does man want to go to Hell? True, "It is not for any soul to believe save by the permission of Allah." (10 : 100) But you and I know what man is like. Many men love defiance. Many men are reckless. Even many smart men make silly mistakes. Think of AIDS, drugs, bad food habits, etc. So it’s easy to generate question after question. Some people ask questions so as to understand, others just to argue for the sake of arguing. Those who ask questions so as to understand can understand that God made Heaven to show how great He is, how merciful He is, how gentle He is, how grateful He is, how lovely He is. God made Heaven to share with believers His beauty and bounty. Therefore He is worth worshipping. Not because He has got a Fire “in His back garden”, not because He "is strong in punishment." (13 : 6) ( He is also "rich in pardon for mankind despite their wrong" (13 : 6) )  , but because He is "Merciful, Loving." (11 : 90)  These people will understand that God would be worth worshipping even if there were neither Heaven nor Hell. But there must be Heaven and Hell. There must be a way to differentiate between the grateful and the ingrate. God will not accept to be worshipped for free. "Now Allah be Exalted, the True King! There is no God save Him, the Lord of the Throne of Grace." (23 : 116) God will guide me, if I am willing to listen, and pay me for the slightest thought of Him.  "And whoso doeth good an atom's weight will see it then." (99 : 7) He will pay me even in the life of the world. But there’s something more precious than Heaven. Can you guess ? It’s "Allah's pleasure". (2 : 265) That’s why "of mankind is he who would sell himself, seeking the pleasure of Allah; and Allah hath compassion on (His) bondmen." (2 : 207)  And because God is not just anybody, His "pleasure"  is hard to obtain. Hard but not impossible. It requires sacrifices.

I do things out of love of God, out of respect of God, not out of kindness. God does not need my kindness. God wants me, as a believer, to love Him and to know why I should love Him. I love God because He is beautiful, bountiful, merciful, forgiving, loving. I love Him for His intricate qualities. I love Him because that’s the natural course. I would love a human for much, much less virtues and qualities than that. Likewise, just as I would love to see a wonderful resort created on earth by a human like myself, I would love to see Paradise which was designed and prepared by God Himself for the faithful. I believe in God and I don’t know what He is like. I believe in Heaven and I don’t know what it really is like. I can’t even imagine it. Now I believe in the invisible as the only way –decided by God– to pay for a ticket to Paradise. In other words, I don’t only think of Heaven from a religious perspective, but also from an intellectual perspective. For this idea to be clearer, take one person. Imagine a man by the name of Juan Toledo Iglesias, a 22-year-old teacher in Lima, Peru. This man comes across a Muslim couple in his city. These Muslim man and woman are not Arabs. They are Peruvian. The teacher, accustomed to Western lifestyle, asks himself questions. He does some research on the Web. He reads books, then travels to an Arab country. On his arrival, he is shocked to see that many people in this Arab Muslim country do not really give him the impression that this is Islam. So what does he do ? Does he go back home and say why should Islam be good to me while these Muslim people do not practise true Islam in their own country ? Or does he say «I don’t care of the people. I came here to discover more about the religion» ? Suppose he ignored the people and focused on the Faith as such, what could happen to him ? Well, many people went through a similar process and ended up becoming cleriks and imams who preach Arabs and non-Arabs on true Islam ! Imagine the happiness of such cleriks and imams.

God says : "Lo! this is an Admonishment, that whosoever will may choose a way unto his Lord. Yet ye will not, unless Allah willeth. Lo! Allah is Knower, Wise." (76 : 29-30)  "Such is Allah's guidance, wherewith He guideth whom He will." (39 : 23) Should I take this as an excuse and say if God wants me to be a good believer He would make me a good believer ? Well, that’s like staying at home and waiting for God to bring me what I want to eat, etc. That’s like giving birth to twelve children that I can’t feed.

As I said before, the Quran speaks to "men of understanding" who "hear advice and follow the best thereof. Such are those whom Allah guideth." (39 : 17-18) That’s means, I use my own mind, my own personal experience to know the truth, and when I know the truth I have to heed it. Even good believers –who are already believers, (that is, (only men of understanding)– say :  "Our Lord! Cause not our hearts to stray after Thou hast guided us, and bestow upon us mercy from Thy Presence. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Bestower." (3 : 8)   They always say : "Show us the straight path." (1 : 6) If I use my mind I can only strengthen my faith. "Those who have been given knowledge see that what is revealed unto thee from thy Lord is the truth and leadeth unto the path of the Mighty, the Owner of Praise." (34 : 6) "And that those who have been given knowledge may know that it is the truth from thy Lord, so that they may believe therein and their hearts may submit humbly unto Him. Lo! Allah verily is guiding those who believe unto a right path." (22 : 54)

Here’s an innocent question : why do ill people and pregnant women fast Ramadan ? Sometimes the holy month of Ramadan comes in the hot season and yet many men insist that they should fast it although they are ill and many women insist that they should fast although they are pregnant ! God says : "And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, (let him fast the same) number of other days. Allah desireth for you ease; He desireth not hardship for you." (2 : 185) "Allah would not place a burden on you, but He would purify you and would perfect His grace upon you, that ye may give thanks." (5 : 6)  "But (as for) those who believe and do good works –We  tax not any soul beyond its scope–" (7 : 42) "This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour unto you, and have chosen for you as religion AL-ISLAM. Whoso is forced by hunger, not by will, to sin: (for him) lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." (5 : 3)

It’s not Islam that is pushing ill men or pregnant women to fast Ramadan or these hungry people not to eat from a meat that is normally forbidden. It’s these people’s hearts that push them to do so. It’s their love of God that is making them to behave in that way. It’s for such people that God made Heaven. The prophet (pbuh) said : "One amongst the denizens of Hell who had led a life of ease and plenty amongst the people of the world would be made to dip in Fire only once on the Day of Resurrection and then it would be said to him: O, son of Adam, did you find any comfort, did you happen to get any material blessing? He would say: By Allah, no, O my Lord. And then a person from amongst the persons of the world who had led the most miserable life (in the world) from amongst the inmates of Paradise would be brought and he would be made to dip once in Paradise and it would be said to him. 0, son of Adam, did you face any hardship? Or had any distress fallen to your lot? And he would say: By Allah, no, 0 my Lord, never did I face any hardship or experience any distress."

Now compare these two groups :

Group A :

"There is no sin on those who believe and perform good deeds for what they might have eaten (in the past) if they fear and come to faith and do good things and are conscious (of God) and believe, and still fear and do good, for God loves those who do good." (5 : 93)

Group B :

"Lo! those who believe, then disbelieve and then (again) believe, then disbelieve, and then increase in disbelief..." (4 : 137)

Just think of two people you made friends with. One is increasingly good to you, the other is increasingly nasty. If  you had a little heaven and a little hell, what would you do with these two friends ?

From my spiritual blog  Heart Flowers

Monday, 27 June 2016

The Poet : Chapter Twenty Two

The woods ran in a half-circle a little way round the hamlet Kafr-Hanoon –and beyond was the lake. Several people had their cattle, sheep or goats pasture there. These people sent either their little boys or girls, or the elderly, to look after the herds. Sufian had made the Poet’s flesh creep with stories about wolves eating people’s stray sheep around the woods. But this first day there rolled by peacefully. The Poet returned with no sheep or lamb missing. Little by little, he grew accustomed to this piece of work. And right from the start he chose not to mingle with the herd-boys or -girls or even the elderly. He would keep his herd away from those and sit somewhere on a small rock or nestle against the trunk of a tree and read a book.

      At sunset the Poet would herd the animals back to their shed, and after dinner he would recline in bed and read for some time before sleeping. And days went on in this way until one night when he could not sleep because of the thought of Sultana. He thought and wept all through the night. And as dawn came he decided to repent of his past sins. He determined to say his daily prayers regularly and, simultaneously, make up for all those prayers he had missed. So instead of five it would be ten prayers daily. He started this at dawn. And after breakfast he led the herd to the woods. He spent much of the next five nights in worship and penitence. And he read religious books and the Quran more than anything else. Soon he gave up reading in the woods. Instead, he fashioned out a flute and began a habit of playing on it while he was with the herd. This habit soon drove him far away from books and nightly prayers. It made him think of women more than anything else. And the ‘woman’ who had just attracted him now was but a girl of twelve…the daughter of Boutros. This girl pastured her father’s sheep in the woods, not far from the Poet..

      The Poet did not know the girl’s name. But he named her, though, ‘Hasnaa’, Arabic for ‘beautiful’. Sufian was not at Kafr-Hanoon these days, and the Poet only wished Sufian had been there. For had it been the case, the Poet would have used him as a messenger. Sufian spoke Coptic, the language which Hasnaa spoke. The Poet understood little, and evidently could not reply in Coptic. But lovers –all lovers– do not always need –at least at the beginning– to speak the language of the beloved…
      So the Poet did not wait for Sufian’s return from his father’s home. He decided to make his first endeavours. He began by bringing his herd closer and closer to Hasnaa’s, but without approaching her in person. Each day, he himself got closer. And now he began to eye the girl up. And sometimes he fastened his eyes on hers. She did not react, though. But her looks purported that she was well aware of the Poet’s satanic endeavours. Sufian’s absence lasted more than the Poet could bear. He could no longer read. By day he played on the flute in the woods. By night he thought of Hasnaa, and sometimes of Yamna. Even when he prayed he could not concentrate on his prayers…

      One day he resolved to go into action. He waved to the girl from a short distance. She stared at him. He smiled. She did not smile. He babbled out words. She did not reply. He rose to his feet and took steps towards her, smiling. She too rose, uttered a low cry and scurried away. “I’ve done it!” the Poet muttered, his heart throbbing. And he started to count the hours to the trial…

      At sunset he hurried the herd back to the shed and returned to his tent. His apprehension had now reached its peak. He knew he had exposed himself to the full fury of Assem. At dusk he prayed with tears in the eyes and a fire in the heart. Immediately afterwards two well-set young men darted into the tent and each gripped the Poet by an arm and they dragged him out. The Poet did not protest. He only whimpered. Assem was waiting beside a wooden cross. Without awaiting a signal from him, the two men stripped the Poet to his trousers and tied him up to the cross. “You can go now,” said Assem to the two men. “And come back to me early in the  morning.” The two men saluted and moved away. When they had gone out of sight, Assem turned to the Poet and slapped him twice in the face. The Poet burst into bitter tears.
      “Now you have done this to my friend’s daughter,” Assem growled, his eyes blazing with rage, “next time you’ll do it to my maid or –who knows?– to my grand-son!”
      As the Poet began to beg for mercy, making mad excuses, Assem slapped him once again, harder than the first time, and glared at him contemptuously, and turned round to go back to his compound.

      The Poet spent that night on the cross, weeping and cursing himself and praying to God to deliver him from this ordeal. Early in the morning the two young men came back with whips in their hands. Assem stayed aloof and watched as the two men set to thrash the Poet. When the Poet’s voice had gone hoarse from crying, Assem walked over to the two men and made them a sign to withdraw and go away. When they had gone, Assem turned to the Poet and said:
      “From the cross you’ll go straight to the grave!”
      The Poet was already breathless. His head hung on his chest. The naked part of his body clearly bore the red marks of the whip. Assem moved away and did not return until the sun was most painful on the body. He did not come alone. Boutros and the girl were with him. The Poet had glanced at them all, without moving his head. Boutros and his daughter stood a little way to the Poet’s left and Assem on the right. Now the Poet raised his eyes and nearly went mad at the sight of a knife in Assem’s right hand. Tears gushed from his eyes, and he  trembled all over. Assem laid his left hand on the Poet’s right shoulder and turned his eyes toward Boutros, waving the knife.
      “Shall I cut off his head?” he asked Boutros.
      The Poet was terrified out of his wits. And he begged breathlessly for mercy. Boutros gazed at him for a while then he answered firmly:
      And as  Assem  raised  the  knife  to   fulfill   his  friend’s   wish   the
girl cried, “No! No! No!”, and buried her face in her father’s gown. Boutros signed to his friend to wait. Assem moved the knife away from the Poet’s throat and turned toward the girl. In the meantime the Poet went on beseeching pardon. The girl uncovered her face and glanced at the Poet, then flung herself again at her father, blubbering, “No, dad, don’t kill him!” Boutros cast an affectionate look at her and turned to Assem and said, “That’s enough! Set him free!” Assem glanced at the Poet and turned his steps toward Boutros and said:
      “Boutros, I’m sorry for what’s happened. Let’s go!”
      And the three moved away, leaving the Poet on the cross.

      In the afternoon the Poet was in bed, alone. It was not until the next morning that a physician came to see him. And all the while he whimpered and moaned. But three days later, he got much better, and he began to yearn to return to the pastures to see his beloved –Hasnaa. She was such a charming girl; and it simply was hard to resist her. The next evening Assem came into the tent and sat quietly by the Poet on the mattress.
      “How are you?” Assem asked, displaying some sympathy. 
      “Quite well, Sir.”         
      After a momentary silence Assem said, looking away from the Poet:
      “Whom do you blame for this?”
      “None but myself. I avow my guilt.”
      “I nearly thought you’d got a heart quite attuned to worship. But –alas!– you’ve disappointed me. Why did you do it? And with such a young girl –a child even? What has happened to you, Salman?”
      The Poet’s eyes filled with tears. Assem looked at him.
      “I want to repent,” the Poet burst out.    
      “That’s enough,” replied Assem, after a pause.
      “No. I want to heal the wound in the girl’s heart. I still have to make amends to her.”
      “How?” Assem smiled.            
      The Poet hesitated for a moment, and then replied in a shaky voice:
      “I want to give her the lamb you gave me.”
      Assem roared with laughter. And after a moment’s reflection he said:
      “Tomorrow I shall take you there to give her the lamb. Right?”
      “Thank you, Sir.”

      Assem and the Poet were well received by Boutros. Hasnaa accepted the gift with what looked like avidity. She was indeed surprised and happy. She was even happier when she learned that Assem would give her father three sheep in compensation for the loss of three of Boutros’ sheep when she had scurried away home.

      That same day Assem told the Poet to put the animals out to pasture. And the Poet was happy with this. For he would be able to see his beloved from time to time. But his happiness ended the week after. It was utterly dark outside when Assem sailed into the tent with a lamp in one hand and a basket, a sword and a knife in the other.
      “Get up!” he said as he entered.
      The Poet sprang from his bed and gaped.
      “Take,” said Assem, as he laid on the carpet what he was carrying  in his hands. “I want you to go to the woods now and bring me, in this basket, the head of the wolf who ate Boutros’ sheep. You know I’ve paid three of mine for that! Now get up and be quick!”
      The Poet stared at the master, then at the materials on the carpet, and then vacantly into space, before he looked up at Assem and said:
      “Are you sure there’s going to be only one wolf in the woods? This very night?”
      “Yes! Now get up! At once! What are you waiting for?”
      For the Poet this meant the end, the end of him. But he stood up, picked up the basket and the weapons and put on his shoes and left the tent. The farther he went from the tent the weaker he felt at the knees. And he thought… What to do now?  Go away? Where? How? Go to the woods?… to kill the wolf and bring its head– how? Him kill a wolf? But that’s madness! Utter madness! In the desert around Lehreem he had always shirked going where he suspected there to be a wolf or a lion. And on the Poet trudged, looking left and right. The nearer he drew to the woods the faster his heart beat. He stopped a few yards away from the woods to take breath. So far, he could not believe that Assem had actually meant what he said…It was very cold now. And the Poet shivered with cold and terror. Although Assem’s wolf was nowhere to be seen the Poet could not yet venture to enter the woods. The first thing he thought suitable to do was to have a walk round the woods. And he set off at a slow trot, looking in every direction and holding the sword at the ready. And suddenly he was totally aware of what he was doing. He awoke to his opportunities. He now took Assem seriously. And consequently he had to chase the wolf and kill it and bring its head in the basket. Hadn’t he, the Poet, said that he should avail himself of every opportunity to acquire a manly heart? This was the best of all opportunities. All people had stigmatized him as a coward. Now, he had to avenge this insult… And while the Poet was busy steeling his heart, a wolf, somewhere on the other side of the woods, howled. The Poet nearly wetted his pants. He was immediately gripped by an impulse to run away. But where? How? He stood rooted to the spot, and tried to overcome his terror. And he thought all the while… Assem had meant what he said. There was now a wolf. Maybe it was this very wolf that had eaten Boutros’ sheep… But what to do? Chase the wolf? The Poet’s heart throbbed fit to burst. The wolf –or the wolves– howled again. The Poet plucked up courage and raised his eyes up to the sky and jabbered out prayers, and then moved off hesitantly…in the direction of the howl. He went along the edge of the woods, being still unable to go through the trees. Soon his sham courage faded away. And yet he plodded on his way, looking in every direction with a sharp eye and listening with a sharp ear. And now and then he stopped to get his breath back. The wolves –now the Poet was sure there was a herd of them– howled again and again. The Poet slowed down and almost went on tiptoe…And now he stopped. He could move no farther. He had already reached quite the middle of the second side of the woods. He was panting and, despite the cold, he was in a sweat. He faced the trees, but every moment he turned this way and that to make sure he had not trapped himself. His hands trembled, the sword now felt heavier. His eyes were rolling. “Where are they now?” he thought. “Here we are!” the wolves seemed to reply at once. For they now howled just a little way from him. Startled out of his wits, the Poet just raised his eyes to the sky and mumbled prayers. He waved his unwieldy sword and strained his eyes to see what was coming towards him. A wolf appeared between the trees and glared at him. The Poet nearly went mad at the grisly spectacle. He ran even farther backward while he kept facing the wolf’s eyes and teeth. And here was the dreadful moment at last! The wolf gave a short jump and slowly headed straight at the Poet. Another wolf appeared behind, and a third. And the Poet was nearer and nearer to madness. And no sooner had the first wolf given the first real jump in the direction of the Poet than a long arrow shot through its sides. The two other wolves let out a mad howl and flew away through the trees. The one which was hit lay on the ground growling and moaning and wriggling in convulsions, just a few yards from the Poet. The Poet’s terror had not abated, though. And while he stood gazing at the dying creature on the ground, a thin, short arrow zipped just a few inches past his nose. Aghast, he turned quickly toward where the shot had come from. He could descry nobody, and real terror gripped  him. He stood there petrified until a human voice broke this jungle silence. The Poet recognized the voice at once. It was Assem. The Poet could not believe his ears, nor his eyes, when he saw Assem coming towards him from the place where the wolves had first appeared to him.
      “You’re still a babe, poor boy!” Assem said smilingly as he rested his hand on the Poet’s shoulder. With the other hand alone he carried a sword, a bow and arrows. The Poet could not speak. He felt ashamed.
      “This is another step on a long way you have to go,” said Assem softly. “Shall we walk back home?”
      The Poet turned his steps to the compound. Assem wound his arm round the Poet’s back and they moved off unhurriedly.
      “Tell me, Master,” said the Poet suddenly. “How did you know that the wolves would be in the woods this very night? When I saw Mr Boutros home I heard them howl only three or four times?”
      “I wasn’t quite sure of that, but I had made up my mind to send you tonight. Now, just forget all about this, and think of the future. What about your readings?  It seems the girl has absorbed all your attention, eh?”

      “No, no, Sir. I’ll be reading more and more.” 

THE TAILOR : Chapter One

It was noon of the third Tuesday of Ramadan when the Qadi fetched up at the southern bank of the wadi.  All five young men flocked round him as he slowly made his way towards the terebinth-tree. The tree gave little shade at this time of day, but the young men seemed so filled with concern they would not shy away from sitting on a brazier.

     Within moments of their sitting there, the Qadi looked up at one of the young men. Innocent as his look was, it only sparked envy, suspicion and anxiety. But that man the Qadi had looked at just now exuded a charm which would captivate even cats and dogs, let alone a thoughtful, sixty-year-old Qadi. Besides, at that very moment, that very young man had just winked a tear back.
      “You look sad,” said the Qadi to that young man, grinning at the other four.
      “We are all sad, Qadi,” protested one of those  rather quaveringly.
      “I know. I know,” said the Qadi, looking as if he had made a blunder. “I know. That’s why I am here. I want to help you. I don’t want you to be sad. I want you to be happy. But, you know, it’s hard –if not impossible–to make you happy all of you. Because you all want the same thing. You all want the same woman, but only one of you can marry her. Each of you says he loves her. Each of you says he deserves her. No one of you is prepared to choose another woman. You said you’d lay down your lives if you don’t get her. Her father has threatened to marry her off on the same day as all the other village girls, and that day is only months away. I have thought and thought about your problem. I have spoken to so many sensible people and they all repeat that I should not have agreed to help you. I agreed and I’m not sorry I did so, but please help me to help you.”
      “How can we help you?” said one of the young men ungraciously.
      “You can help me by being a little bit more sensible. I’m going to make a suggestion, right? Think about it. If you agree to it, we’ll go ahead. Otherwise, I shall not be able to help.”
      Nobody spoke, but all eyes were on the Qadi’s lips.
      “My suggestion,” said the Qadi, stroking his white beard, “is this. I will give the woman you all covet to the one amongst you who resembles her most  in her goodness or wickedness. If she is a good woman she will get a good man; if she is a wicked woman she will get a wicked man.”
      There was a chuckle, after which one of the young men asked, raising his eyebrows:
      “Who would decide who of us is good and who’s wicked?”
      “I’ll find four men who’ll be spying on you,” said the Qadi gravely. “They’ll be watching each of you without your knowledge. And they’ll be monitoring the woman at the same time. It’s they who’ll decide who should marry the woman. They’ll make their decision within the next few months. Now let me hear from you. What do you say to that?”
      “And what about our weekly meetings with the girls down the valley?” said the charming man. “Shall we be allowed to meet up with Zina during that period of time?”
      The Qadi could not help sighing as he turned to that man, and said with a knowing smile:
      “You can see her, no problem. But, remember, Tahar, only one man will marry that woman.”
      “And that man might not be me,” said Tahar in a muffled voice. “I’ve got it!”
      “So let me leave you now,” said the Qadi, rising to his feet. “See you soon!”  
      The five young men looked at one another. Each seemed to use the other’s eyes as a mirror to find out whether he was “good” or “wicked”.
      Suddenly, Tahar turned his gaze to the opposite bank. He sighed. Then he looked down and moved away.
      “Where are you going?” said one of the other four.
      “I’m going home,” said Tahar simply.

      At home, Tahar’s mother was preparing a  tajeen, and a little way from her, on the right side of the courtyard, her twenty-year-old daughter-in-law was baking bread in an earthen oven. Between them stood a huge tree that shaded the whole place. The mud hut that served as a kitchen in the rainy season stood further away and no smoke was coming from it now. So the chickens roaming about the house could pop in and out of the kitchen without fear of being scared away. The only nuisance to the chickens, though, was Tahar’s three-year-old nephew, who was after the hen with chicks. So Tahar, who was sitting on a wooden stool on the other side of the courtyard, hailed him gently and the little boy ran to him and swung round and stood between his knees.
      “What were you doing?” said Tahar, throwing his voice.
      “I was playing with the chicks,” said the little boy.
      “No, Salem, don’t do that! You are a kid, not a chick. And kids play with kids, and chicks play with chicks…”

     Tahar talked on and on, first with his nephew, then with his elder brother, then with his father, and at foutour, with everybody. But only his tongue was talking with all those. His true talk was with himself, and it was in silence.

      His heart was full of questions and his mind could not afford answers, or rather answers that would quench the fire that was raging in his heart.
      “Am I good?” the questions went on endlessly. “How much of a good man am I? Am I wicked? How much of a wicked man am I? I have not put these questions before. But now I must know. The problem is that I don’t know what I should know. Should I go around and ask people what they think of me? Please tell me: Am I good? Please tell me: Am I wicked? Or should I sit back and count all the good deeds and misdeeds I did in the past? I might count the good deeds, but the misdeeds– there’s no counting them! I don’t say my prayers, to begin with. From time to time I drink with the boys. I spend hours and hours playing on my utar, and I keep on playing on it even when I hear the muezzin call for prayer.
      “But is Zina any different? I don’t think she drinks, but I don’t think she says her prayers, either. I can’t say she’s a woman of easy virtue, but I can’t say she’s any more pious than her mates, either.
      “But, Tahar, why are you thinking of Zina now? No, no, no. I love Zina. I can’t bear seeing her go to someone else. I was the first to talk to her, and she liked me so much– although she’s never told me she loves me. But I could see it in her eyes, on her lips, on her shivering hands. All those boys came down us simply because they were jealous of me. They know that Zina is the most beautiful girl. They just don’t want me to marry her, and that’s it!... But now, Tahar, just tell me: suppose Zina is a wicked woman, would you–No, no, no. I can’t–I can’t think of that. I love Zina. Stop this folly! Get out of here!...”

      It was dark when Tahar left the house. He did not go to the berraka, where the village boys would meet up to have tea and play cards or listen to the utar. He went to the riverbank instead. He sat down under the terebinth-tree and went on musing until it was time for souhour.

      Two days after Ramadan two strange men came up to Tahar while he was working on his family  fields.
      “Hi, kid!” said one of the strangers.
     Surprised at the sudden warmth of the greeting, Tahar dropped the sickle, and mumbled:
      All three men shook hands and bandied words, then, all of a sudden, the strangers introduced themselves:
      “I am Issa. This is Mussa. We want a word with you about Zina.”
      “Zina?” Tahar muttered, his eyes sparkling suddenly.
      “Yes,” Issa hastened to add. “But not here and not now. We don’t want anybody else to know.”
      “If not here, where? If not now, when?”
      “Look here,” said Mussa, clutching Tahar’s hands, “we’ll be waiting for you at the Sidi Ali Crossroads just after dawn tomorrow. Don’t tell anybody. Now, goodbye!”

     The next dawn found Tahar at the Sidi Ali Crossroads. Issa and Mussa joined him presently. They took him into a nearby vineyard and served him dates and boiled eggs.
      “Now, what’s the matter?” said Tahar eagerly.
      Issa and Mussa exchanged glances as if both waited for the other to speak first. Tahar was about to repeat his question when Mussa said:
      “Calm down, man! And listen well. Qadi Allal (You know him?)– well, he has asked us to be his eyes and ears. Now, I think you know the rest of the story. What you don’t know, however, is that this meeting might prove very decisive indeed, and we hope earnestly you’ll not miss out on this golden opportunity.”
      “Am I to understand that I should do something or other so that you’ll be saying something in my favour?”
      “You’ve guessed it!” said Issa enthusiastically.
      “Something such as what, I wonder?” said Tahar, whose face was beginning to tense up.
      Once again Issa and Mussa looked at one another, before the latter said with a little smile:
      “Well, we know you love Zina, but we also know that love alone is not enough. Yet, we can help you. But first you have to pay us.”
      “Pay you? Pay you what?”
      “Yes, you must pay us. Give us a yearling calf or three sheep or seven goats. It’s up to you to choose!”
      Tahar sprang to his feet and shouted, tossing away the egg he had been peeling:
      “You brought me over here to bribe you!”
      “Shhh! Calm down! Lower your voice! Shut up! Get out of here!...”
      But Tahar gave free rein to his anger so that the two men had to use a big stick to chase him out of the vineyard.

     On his way back home, Tahar was more confused than angry.

      “Was this part of a scheme?” he thought perplexedly. “Or were they actually trying to swindle money out of me? What should I do now? Should I go and tell the Qadi? Would the Qadi believe me if he trusted these men? And what would be the result? Would he give me Zina? What about the other boys, then? No. I should wait. I must wait and see how they’ll behave in the coming days.
      “And what if those men were genuine? What if I had to bribe them in order to get Zina? Bribe them? I, bribe somebody? And especially those two men? Should I bribe them in order to get Zina? And what about the love that has kindled my heart? Should I love her and, on top of that, bribe people in order to marry her? If her father asked me for a big dowry, I wouldn’t hesitate to sell everything I have to please him. But bribe, no! No, no, this would be a humiliation. I love Zina and I want to marry her. But if– No, no, no. I can’t think of this. Please stop this. Wait! Wait!...”

      Wednesday came and the boys and girls from both villages met again, after five weeks of separation, because of Ramadan. Now they were down there humming, shrieking with laughter, clapping their hands, singing. There was no kissing, no necking– never. Nonetheless, some parents and coltish young men and women, who had not yet met partners from the opposite village–all were there, sitting on the higher parts of the slopes. They were up there sitting and watching in silence. Tahar, too, remained seated under the terebinth-tree, just a few yards from the southern bank. And from there he could see Zina and the other four lovers.

     Zina was smiling to everybody. Tahar sighed again and again. Zina was listening to the boys, who were speaking all at a time. Tahar watched in silence. Suddenly, there was a cough and then a shadow. Tahar turned round in surprise and was on his feet.
      “Oh, what a surprise, Qadi!” he yelled with a fetching smile.
      The Qadi smiled too, and said in a kindly voice:
      “You look sad, my son! Why all this gloom? Take it easy! Don’t worry!”
      “What! Do you mean–”
      “I just said don’t worry,” said the Qadi, moving away.
      “Where are you going, Qadi?” Tahar panted out.
      “I’m going down,” said the Qadi without glancing back. “Won’t you come along?”
      “No, sir, I’ll stay here.”
      And there he stayed, sitting under the terebinth-tree and watching in silence.      

      In the evening he was with the boys at the berraka. He had not brought with him his own utar, but someone served him a cup of tea and egged on him to play on the utar that was lying on the mat. Tahar put the cup of tea aside and picked up the utar and began to play on it. And while he played he now and then stole glances at his four rivals, those who vied with him for Zina’s heart.

      Surprisingly enough, all those looked at him with gleaming eyes. They all broke into song and clapped their hands and rocked, and encored the utar player. But the utar player, having seen how gleeful his rivals were, was now beginning to feel a pang of anguish. He began to lose his grip on the utar. And before tears gathered in his eyes he dropped the instrument suddenly and left the berraka.
      "Oh, my God!" he cried, flinging his arms up in exasperation. Above him was a sky studded with stars, in front of him a dark, winding pathway.
      "What's the matter, Tahar?" asked an unseen passer-by.
      Tahar composed himself, and said:
      "There's nothing the matter with me!"
      "But I heard you say 'Oh, my God!'?" said the voice, which turned out to be that of a close neighbour of Tahar's.
      "Yes, that's right!" Tahar conceded with an embarrassed smile. "You know, we all go mad sometimes! Where were you going?"
      "I was going to the berraka."
      "Alright. See you! Good night!"
      "Good night!"

      That night was long, long, and horrendous. "Why, why didn't I agree to bribe them?" Tahar thought ruefully. "All those guys were cheerful tonight. At least one of them must have done it. Maybe they all gave generous gifts. And perhaps each thought he had paid the biggest price for Zina. Zina, my love. But how can she be your love when you were mean to her? Instead of jettisoning just one principle just one time, what you did was chuck out your love. It's too late now! It's a caddish thing to do what you did, my poor Tahar! Yes, sigh again and again, and weep! Your sighs and tears won't help you now…"
      It was prize-day now. Tahar and his four rivals sat in a half circle in front of the Qadi under the terebinth-tree. All eyes were on the Qadi's lips. The Qadi spoke for some length of time of friendship and brotherhood, of fate, and of marriage. Then, he said:
      "I am sorry to say that at this stage, at this point in time, one of you is going to be weeded out. The other four will have to be subjected to more tests."
      Then the Qadi dropped his eyes and fell silent. Tahar's heart throbbed. But no one dared speak to the Qadi now. The silence was unbearably long. And then there was a murmur. Tahar's rivals were looking to their right. Dumbfounded, they looked at a flock of camels, cattle, sheep, and goats– all led by four men, two of whom were easily recognizable to Tahar. They were the ones that had called themselves Issa and Mussa.

      When the cortège came to a halt just a few feet from where the uncomprehending young men were sitting, the Qadi looked up at Tahar, and said:
      "Tahar, you gave us nothing, so you'll get nothing. Your time is up!"
       Tahar cast a puzzled look at his hitherto rivals and at the cortège and took his leave. His legs took him down the valley, through which flowed a brook unsteadily as it sometimes would at this time of year. He trudged along the pebbly edge of the brook. "…So I'm not going to marry Zina," he went on speaking to himself like a madman. "Zina's going to marry one of the bunch… one of the wicked." (He burst into laughter.) "So Zina is a wicked woman? All those are wicked men? So I was the only good man? If Zina is a wicked woman, who is a good woman and where could I find her?" (Suddenly, Tahar went berserk.) "No! I must go back and tell the Qadi that I am just as wicked as those, and that only I and nobody else love Zina, and that I must marry Zina, otherwise I will actually kill someone or kill myself…"
      Just at that moment a voice called out to him:
      "Tahar! Tahar! Wait!"
      Tahar turned round. His pulse began to beat quicker.
      "Wait!" Issa panted out. "The Qadi has sent me to you. He wants to speak to you."
      Tahar just looked on speechless while Issa pointed at a palm-tree up the southern back of the wadi.
      "Qadi Allal will be there in a moment," Issa said. "Go and await him there!"

      Both Tahar and the Qadi were panting when they sat down under the palm-tree. It was the Qadi who spoke first.

      "I thought you were a good man," he said. "I knew you were really hooked on that girl. But I had a feeling that you were good, though. Now, I am disillusioned."
      "What more do you want of me now after having torn my love from me?"
      "Would you marry a woman who loves someone else?"
      "What do you mean?"
      "Well, Zina liked your good looks, but she loved another man, I'm afraid."
      "What do you mean?"
      "Zina hated shy men."
      "That's no news to me! I know I am a shy person, but why don't you want to tell me her lover's name?"
      "Tahar, you were not her man, and she was not your woman."
      "But my heart is full of her!"
      "She did not deserve you. She does not deserve you."
      "Who then deserves me? Just tell me!"
      "How old are you, Tahar?"
      Tahar sighed and cooled down a bit, then mumbled:
      "I'm twenty-one years old. Why?"
      "Well, you asked me a question, didn't you? You said: who deserves me? So–"
      "So what?"
      Their eyes met. The Qadi smiled. Tahar shivered.
      "Tahar," said the Qadi suddenly, "there's a woman who, I think, deserves to be your wife."
      "Where is she?"
      "There!" The Qadi pointed towards the opposite village.
      "Are you mocking at me?"
      "So who is she?"
      "I can't tell you who she is."
      "Qadi, you know I got such a shock when you weeded me out, and now you're yet tormenting me–"
      The Qadi laughed, then said:
      "Listen, Tahar. I am not mocking at you. There's actually a woman who, I think, deserves to be your wife. She lives in that village. I'm afraid I can't tell you who she is. But if you know some religious songs, do sing them and the woman who deserves your love will come into view!"
      "But where will this woman spring from?"
      "I said just come here and sit down and sing religious songs and your true love will spring into view! This time I am in earnest."
      "But I know all the girls, all the young women who live in that village. I saw them all, and I never lost my heart but to the one you've snatched from me with your ruling!"
      "That's right," said the Qadi. "You know them all but one!"
      "Are you sure this one lives in that village?"
      "Yes! Sing religious songs and she'll spring into view and you'll see her with your own eyes!"
      "Alright!" said Tahar. "We will see. I don't know religious songs right now, but I'll go and learn some and I'll come back to sing them."
      "That's good!" said the Qadi, tapping Tahar on the shoulder. "But if you want your love to hear you, come to this tree and sing. But, tell me, Tahar, where are you going to learn religious songs?"
      "I don't know, really. Do you have any idea?"
      "Yes, go to Marrakesh. There is a man in Djemaâ-el-Fna called Saeed El-Bahi. He keeps a bookstore there…"

      A week later, Saeed El-Bahi was unraveling to Tahar the mysteries of Marrakesh. Their trip started at Djemaâ-el-Fna, where they roamed amongst snake charmers, monkey masters, story-tellers, musicians, acrobat dancers. And from there they went to the Koutoubia Mosque.
      "Do you pray?" said El Bahi suddenly.
      "Yes, sometimes."
      But Tahar knew that he was quite new to this world. He had never performed a prayer in a mosque.

      The prayers were over, and El Bahi said they had yet more to see of the city. They went down Agnaou Street, they had a look at Bab-Agnaou, then went on south to Kasba Street, which took them to the Agdal Garden. And there Tahar lost his tongue for a moment. At a glance he could see olive-trees, fig-trees, pear-trees, pomegranate-trees, apple-trees, vines; and other trees he saw for the first time in his life. Never before had he seen orange-trees or peach-trees. Now he saw them, and burst out:
      "This is Heaven, isn't it?"
      "No, my son," said El Bahi. "This is a beautiful garden. But Heaven is quite another matter. Now, come! Let's move on!"
      "Let's move on to another garden!"
      That other garden was a long way away. "Now, we're going to see the Menara," said El Bahi on the way. "But tell me, what led you to Marrakesh?"

      "I think I told you," said Tahar in surprise.
      "Oh, yes, you told me. I'm sorry. You said you wanted to learn some religious songs. Is that right?"
      "Yes, that's right."
      "Are you a singer?"
      "No, I'm not. But I like singing."
      "What kind of songs do you sing?"
      "Well, you know, I sing of love– that sort of thing."
      "And now you want to sing religious songs. I'm not going to ask you why, but tell me: do you know something of the Koran?"
      "Very little, to be honest."
      "Can you recite what you know of the Koran?"
      "No, not really."
      "Then, I'm afraid, I can't teach you any religious songs or lyrics unless you have learned by heart some Suras of the Koran."
      "I wish I could! But I can't read and write, you know."
      "That's not a problem. I'll teach you how to read and write. And I'll teach you Suras and songs, right?"
      "Thank you! That's why I came to you. But I'm here only for two weeks, no more."
      "You're welcome. Look, now we're heading straight to the Menara. I think you'll like it…"

      When he went to bed that night, Tahar did not think of the Agdal Garden or the Menara or the Koutoubia mosque, but of the young women who, from behind their veils, had devoured him with their eyes.  

      Now, he was back to his village. He told his family that he had learnt to write his name and read Souras from the Koran. Like a school-boy, he recited all the Suras he had learned by heart. And his mother served him a memorable tajeen.

      Then he went to mosque. He performed his prayers and had a chat with the Imam. Then he went back home, fetched his utar and made for the palm-tree by the river-bank.

      He sat down, facing towards the river. He tuned up his utar and soon the music stroke.

      Tahar went from tune to tune, now raising now lowering his voice. He looked as if he were singing to a spirit, hoping it would spring into view and fulfil his most cherished dream. But what he saw now blurred his eyes. It was beyond belief. The young woman the Qadi had told him about seemed to have been spirited out into the open. She seemed to have heard some spirited music throbbing in the distance. She seemed to have heard Tahar's stirring songs– songs that glorified the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). She was now sitting up there, on the trunk of a tree lying across the lane. Tahar could not see her face, because she was veiled. But he had seen her shape and graceful gait before she sat down. He felt like crying, "Oh, you sitting over there, come and stand by me!" But all he could do was sing more songs and raise his voice high enough for her to feel his heartbeat.

      But now she stood up and began to go away. Tahar was taken aback. He dropped the utar and struggled to his feet. The muezzin was calling for Dusk prayers. The birds were returning to their roosts. The young woman vanished behind a cluster of houses. Three young men came over, and one of them said:
      "Tahar, what's the matter?"
      Tahar gave no reply, so another voice said:
      "Is this another love-story?"
      "You could say that," said the third. "I saw him gazing at the young woman in white who had been sitting up there."
      "Is that right, Tahar?"
      "I don't know," said Tahar, looking down. "I'm sorry, I have to go."
      "No, not before you sing us something!" said one of the three.
      "Some other time!" said Tahar, picking up his utar. "I must go to mosque."
      Tahar did not wait to explain himself. He hurried up towards the mosque. He hung his utar on a tree on the way, and joined the few worshippers.

      Night fell, but, to Tahar, it was just a continuation of the day. The only difference was that he was now in bed in a dark room. Now again he was going to have a sleepless night. He could not sleep because he could not stop thinking. This had happened to him before. What was new –and hard to grasp– was that he now thought of a featureless woman.

      The next day Tahar did a whole day's work in just a few hours so that he could go in the mid-afternoon to the palm-tree and sing his new songs to spirit his new beloved out of her home. He went there and sang soulfully but his beloved did not seem to have heard him this time round. He came back at the same time the next day and the day after and belted out his best new songs, but the woman he was after did not turn up again.
      "So was the Qadi beguiling me with promises when he spoke to me about that ghost of a woman?" Tahar thought gloomily at the end of that day. "The Qadi himself has simply departed from our land! But when he comes back, I'll make it clear to him that I don't want this ghost of a woman anymore!..."

      When Tahar learned that the Qadi was somewhere around, he left everything behind and ran to him.
      "Oh, Tahar, how are you?" said the Qadi.
      "A lot you care!" said Tahar with a nasty look in his eye.
      "Oh, Tahar, is this the right way to speak to a Qadi? Last time I said nothing, but try to be a little more polite. Now then, what's the problem?"
      "The problem," said Tahar in a broken voice, "is that you beguiled me with vague promises."
      "You love her, then!" said the Qadi, rubbing his neck. "I expected that, and maybe she'll soon be all in all to you!"
      "I don't want her to be all in all to me."
      "Why not?"
      "Because I don't know her. I can't love a ghost."
      "So what do you want now?"
      "I want to see her and meet up with her every week as I used to do with Zina."
      "I don't think that would be possible," said the Qadi, shaking his head. "This young woman is not like Zina, nor like anyone you have seen before. But if you have something to say to her, I will be pleased to be your carrier pigeon. That's all I can do for you."
      Tahar mellowed suddenly.
      "Yes, Qadi," he said sheepishly. "I have something to say to her. If you, Qadi, think she deserves my love, then I want to marry her."
      "Alright," said the Qadi with a merry smile. "I shall tell her and bring you the news as soon as I can."
      "Thank you, Qadi!" said Tahar, leaning forward to kiss the Qadi's hand. "            

      Hours later, Tahar appeared to have come in from the cold. His beloved turned up again. She sat down in her usual place and listened patiently while Tahar sang to her with all his heart.

     At sunset the young woman returned home and Tahar went to mosque. The mystery remained whole. To unlock it, Tahar mounted his horse two days later and rode to the Qadi. He found him in a tearoom in a nearby market.
      "Qadi," he said coyly, "I am troubled about something. I didn't get a wink of sleep last night."
      "What's the problem?" said the Qadi, pouring tea in green cups beautifully arranged on a silver tray.
      "Qadi, before you tell me whether she agreed or not, I would like to know two things."
      "Well, I want to know her name."
      "And two?"
      "I also want to know whether she's beautiful, because, you know, it would be hard for me to marry a woman with a plain face."
      The Qadi sighed. Tahar's heart throbbed.
      "Tahar," said the Qadi suddenly, "by coming to me now you've relieved me of a burden, because, you know, I couldn't come to you. I'm sorry, but I only have depressing news for you."
      "What do you mean?"
      The Qadi sighed again, and said:
      "The woman is not going to marry you unless you meet certain demands."
      "Of course her father won't give her to me for free, but first answer my questions. Tell me her name."
      "I can't tell you her name."
      "Is she beautiful?"
      "I can't tell you that, either."
      "Why not?"
      "Well, I doubt whether you'll be able to meet her demands. In fact, I was going to ask you to forget all about her."
      Now Tahar had a wild look in his eyes. He swallowed hard.
      "You let me down last time," he muttered, "and now again–"
      The Qadi cut him short.
      "Can you satisfy her conditions?" he said defiantly.
      Tahar sobered down, then said in a mumble:
      "What on earth does she want?"
      "Well, she says to you: make me two dresses: a dfina and a tahtiya. Make them with your own hands and send them to me. I will try them on, and if they suit me beautifully, I will yet ask you to make me seven more dresses, so that I can have a dress to wear everyday of the week. If you do that, then that would be my dowry, and I'll marry you then."

      The Qadi's words had the effect of a spell on Tahar. His eyes now glittered. Having noticed that, the Qadi went on charming away Tahar's cares:
      "Let me tell you something, Tahar. You know, with all your goods and chattel, you will never marry this woman unless she believes that you are the right man for her!"
      For a moment, Tahar had his head in the clouds. Then, he came round, and said:
      "Why shan't I buy her as many good dresses as she would like? I could order for her the best dresses from the best tailors in the country! I am not a tailor, you know. It would take me years and years to become a dressmaker. Would she be willing and able to wait until I have learnt all about sewing and dressmaking?"
      "I'll put that question to her and bring you her answer," said the Qadi, lifting another cup of tea to his mouth.

      Tahar saw his beloved twice after that meeting with the Qadi, for she came to her usual place by the riverbank and listened patiently to his singing. But all Tahar could see of her was a white piece of cloth wrapped round a human body. She was still a featureless woman.
      "Would the Qadi choose her for me if she hadn't a pleasant face?" Tahar asked himself yet again when he was having dinner with his family at home that night. "But whatever her face is like, does she think of me? Does she think of me as much as I think of her now? I saw her yesterday and today. Does it mean that she cares?..."
      "Tahar," said the Qadi on his return to the village two days later, "I put your questions to your beloved."
      "Really?" said Tahar, sitting up in front of the Qadi in the shade of the terebinth-tree.
      "Well, she says to you: Make the first dresses as I told you. If you can't make a dfina and a tahtiya at this stage, then make me two dresses of your own choice, but then these must be ravishing dresses. I'll be waiting for you to finish them. I give you this pledge. The Qadi, who is a very special person to me, bears witness to this. As to my name, I am called Ezzahiya. I am only eighteen years old. So I can wait until you have made all the dresses. But don't try to look for me before then. If you do try to look for me before I send for you, then make sure you'll never see me again. That's what she said."
      Tahar bowed his head, lost in thought.
      "How does it sound to you?" said the Qadi suddenly.
      "Honestly," said Tahar, raising his eyes, "I am intrigued. I am bewitched."
      "What are you going to do?"
      "I don't know, really."
      "Tahar, you have no choice but to make dresses for your beloved. You see, she has already tried to help you by giving you a pledge. And she says if you can't make a dfina and a tahtiya, just make me good dresses of your own choice. What more could you expect of her?"
      "What if someone else came in my absence and asked for her hand from her father, would she resist?"
      "Look here, don't worry about that! As long as I live no one but you will marry her if you remain faithful to her and make all the dresses she's asked for."
      "I'll make them!" said Tahar, rising to his feet. "So help me God! Do say a prayer for me, Qadi!"

      The Qadi prayed for him, and both walked slowly along the riverbank, from the terebinth-tree to the palm-tree.