They left Muhammad’s family home and made for Itto’s. Itto’s father was standing in the doorway of his home. As Hassan, Ismaïl and Abdelaziz were approaching him, he unleashed his dog and set it on them.
“I know what you came for!” Itto’s father thundered, ablaze with rage, while his dog growled at the students, who were backing away. “But I warn you for the last time: keep away from me or else I’ll drive you away from these lands! Go! Get the hell out of here!”
The students had already moved away, led by Muhammad. They stood in the middle of the village. All the men and the children crowded round them. Then Muhammad stood on a rock and began a speech:
“I am Muhammad Bin H’mad Amgoon, as you all know. I was absent for many years, and when I came back I saw Itto, my aunt’s daughter. And I loved her without her knowing. And I wanted to marry her. I knew I had no money, but now I have some money. These men around me are my students. They have come over to me because they know I am not a fool. And today they came over with me to Itto’s home because they knew I was not a fool. Itto’s father has refused to receive us. We don’t blame him for that. We respect him. And I love him just as much as my father. I respect him just as much as my father. Now let the story end here! Let us respect one another! I don’t want anybody speaking ill of Itto or of her father or of my father or of me. There is no disgrace for a man in loving a woman. There is no disgrace for a man in being denied a woman he loves. There is no disgrace for a man in refusing to give his daughter to a man he doesn’t like. Love is not a disgrace. And I am not ashamed of what I have done. And my students are not ashamed of coming with me today. That's all I had to say. God bless Azlu!"
Everyone said, "Amen!"
Muhammad descended from the rock and led his students out to the shacks.
As they arrived there, Muhammad faced all the students and said:
"I am sorry for the trouble I made for you today. As I once told my brother Hassan, when he first came to me, lovers sometimes make crazy mistakes, and some go crazy altogether. I am sure I haven't gone crazy, but I'm not quite sure whether what I did today was a crazy mistake or not. I was not going to ask for anything from you. But some of you said I should have got married. And I told them that I couldn't get married as long as the woman I loved was not married. This is not only a question of choice. This is not only a question of love. It's a question of faith. This is something that has to do with hope and despair. If you believe that a good Muslim should not despair, then why should I despair as long as I can hope? I love Itto, and I hope to marry her. I know she is beautiful. I know her father dreams of a better husband for her. But why should I despair while there is still room for hope? As the Quran has it, only the infidel give up hope. So if I lose hope, then this means that I don't trust God; it means that I don't believe that God can grant my wish. Now, please, let's forget all about this. And let me hope and dream in peace! This will not affect me as a teacher. And let me once again welcome the new comers. I am happy you came to join us. Now, you can have a rest. We'll meet again immediately after mid-afternoon prayers. God bless you!"
Two weeks later, Muhammad was lecturing to his students on hope versus despair when water suddenly began to pour through the roof. Some of the students started to their feet. Muhammad too stood up and took slow steps towards the door. His heart throbbed as he saw the rain bucketing down. He was at a loss for words. Suddenly, Hassan walked up to him and whispered:
"Don't worry, teacher! I'll see how to handle this!"
“What are you going to do?” said Muhammad in a mumble.
“We’ll move from here, if need be.”
Muhammad turned to the bewildered students, and said:
“I don’t think we could stay here any longer. We have to move to a safe place. Our brother Hassan will handle this.”
All the students looked at Hassan, who raised a smile, then said:
“Just say, ‘Khalaqany, razaqany, âllamany; hadany' and everything’s going to be alright, insha Allah!”
Muhammad stepped outside, saying:
“Khalaqany, razaqany, âllamany; hadany…”
And all the others followed close on his heels, while the rain went on drumming on their heads.
A month went peacefully by, and then, one day, there was a thud. Muhammad’s heart went pitapat. A woman’s shriek made him prick up his ears. He then started to his feet and hurried to the road.
“What’s going on?” he asked the first passer-by.
“You don’t know?” gasped the other, struggling to rein in his horse. “Ait Mimoon are on the way to invading us. Rumour has it that they’ll be here within nine to twelve days! May God help us!”
The passer-by urged his horse on and Muhammad collapsed to his knees and held his head in his hands.
A moment later, he struggled to his feet and trudged on. The road reeled before his eyes. “What shall I tell the students when they come back from market?” he thought gloomily. “What shall I tell Hassan, who is from Ait Mimoon? Now Itto is gone! Hassan, too, is gone. All Azlu is gone. What can I do? Oh, my God!” He sighed. Then, all of a sudden, he broke into a run. He flew into the reed-mosque and burst into prayer. A little later, he heard a hubbub around the mosque. He wiped his eyes and dressed his jellaba and went out. The students rushed to him, their faces sunk in gloom.
“What’s the matter?” he said, forcing a smile.
“A misfortune is about to befall us, teacher!” said one voice.
“Ait Mimoon tribes are said to be on the way to Tensift, teacher!” said another.
“Where’s Hassan?” said Muhammad, striving to look calm and composed.
“We left him back at the market together with three other students,” said Ismaïl rather soberly. “They’re all from Ait Mimoon, you know, and they are fearing for their lives.”
“They are right,” said Muhammad, looking down. “This is what I feared,” he thought. Then, he looked up and said:
“Now you are looking to me for help, aren’t you? I am sorry to say I can’t help you. Let’s pray to God to help us!”
“But, teacher,” interrupted one of the students, “time is running out! We have to do something to save ourselves!”
“If you are worried about your own life, then you’ll not be saved!” said Muhammad, fixing the speaker with an angry glare. Then, he turned round and said in a subdued voice, “Those who want the Hereafter follow me!” And he set off, chanting: “Khalaqany, razaqany, âllamany; hadany…”
And as he went along he felt that there was only one man following him. And that was Ismaïl, who suddenly interrupted him, “Shall I go and call Hassan back?” Muhammad turned and favoured him with a smile, and said, “No, please! Leave him alone!” Then he looked up. The other students were coming at a trot towards him. And so he had a lovely smile on his face when all the students crowded round him, and said, “Take us wherever you want, teacher! We shall go with you!”
“Then, let’s go in God’s name!” said Muhammad. And he set off again, with the students following right behind him, and chanting: “Khalaqany, razaqany, âllamany; hadany…”
And there, in the middle of the village, Muhammad stood on the rock, and said:
“O Students! “Now is the hour of truth. Ait Mimoon tribes are on the way to you. They are not coming to teach or preach you, but to take your lives if they can. At best, they’ll take your money and you’ll be reduced to begging. You’ll say you have no money? Alright! But you have knowledge, a lot of knowledge. That knowledge may end here, if you are killed. But if one –at least one of you– managed to escape, then he’ll be able to carry that knowledge to other people; he’ll be able to light the way for others. So now you have to choose for yourselves. As to me, I have made my choice. I shall cross the wadi. The wadi we call Igri and you call Tensift. I shall cross it together with those who are willing and ready to go; otherwise, I’ll go it alone! God Save Azlu!”
As he stepped down, Ismaïl shouted:
“We shall go with you, teacher! We shall cross the wadi with you!”
Then another student shouted, “Allahu Akbar!” (God is Great!), and all the others echoed his words, then started chanting: “Khalaqany, razaqany, âllamany; hadany…”
At that moment, an old man tottered towards Muhammad and said:
“Do you really mean to cross Igri?”
“Yes!” said Muhammad.
“Oh, how funny! Last time I believed you when you said you were not a fool because you loved Itto. Now I believe you are crazy! You want to cross Igri at this time of year? Go!”
The old man’s words raised a roar of laughter from other village men. Muhammad cast a last glance at them and turned his steps to the wadi, while the students filled the air with their chants. Soon Muhammad began to hear children’s voices: they too joined in the chanting.
Once they had reached the wadi, Muhammad faced the students and said:
“Last time you cut down the reed to build your shacks. Now cut them down to make boats. Those who know will show those who don’t. And let me remind you that God helps those who never tire of invoking His help. God Help You!”
Then he turned to the children and said:
“And you, dear children!
“If you want to cross with us, please fetch us as many saws and knives and ropes as you can! I’m waiting for you!”
The children nodded respectfully and skipped up towards their homes.
Within less than an hour, the students were busy cutting down the reed, the doum and palm-branches.
At midday, the children lined up for prayer behind the students. And while in prayer, Muhammad heard hurried footsteps. When the prayers were over, he looked up to his right, wondering whether he was in a dream. A dozen teenage boys were standing up patiently and looking at him with almost pleading eyes. Among them was seventeen-year-old Sêed, Itto’s brother. Muhammad struggled to his feet and shuffled up to them.
“Are you going to join us?” he said, his voice shaking with emotion.
“Yes, if we can be of assistance,” said Sêed in a rather confident voice.
“We’d be very grateful to you then,” replied Muhammad, looking tenderly at Sêed.
“What shall we do?” said Sêed eagerly.
“Well, we need reeds, doum, palm-branches and ropes to make boats. We’ll use these boats to cross the wadi. I know this operation entails a risk. But we have no other choice.”
“Alright!” said Sêed, glancing at the other boys.
“We also need some food and water,” said Muhammad.
“No problem!” said Sêed, beckoning the boys to follow him. Muhammad watched them with glistening eyes as they trotted away towards the other end of the village.