Stories

A DINNER OF SMELLS

Nasrudin the Mullah (or teacher) is a well-known and much-loved folk hero throughout the Muslim world. Sometimes he seems foolish, but really he is wise. Stories like this one are told from China to Africa, and beyond.

Once, long ago, a very fine and expensive restaurant stood on a busy street in a bustling market town. One day, a poor man passed by this restaurant. He was tired and hungry, for he had had nothing to eat all day. His nostrils caught the smell of the delicious food being cooked inside. He stopped and sniffed, smiled sadly, and began to walk away.

But he did not get far. The owner of the restaurant came storming out into the street. “Come here!” he bellowed. “I saw that! You took the smell of my food, and you’ll have to pay for it! ” The poor man did not know what to do. “I cannot pay!” he stammered. “I have no money!” “No money!” shouted the restaurant owner. “We’ll see about that! You’re coming with me to the Qadi!

A Qadi is a judge in a Muslim court. Naturally, he is very powerful, and the poor man was frightened. “Hmm,” said the Qadi, when he had heard the story. “Well, this is an unusual case. Let me think. Come back tomorrow, and I’ll pronounce the sentence.”

What could the poor man do? He knew whatever sum the Qadi demanded, ayment would be impossible. All night long he tossed and turned, unable to sleep for worry. When dawn came he said his prayers and, tired and dejected, made his way to the Qadi’s court. As he passed the mosque he spotted a familiar figure — Nasrudin the mullah.

Suddenly, his heart lifted. For he knew that Nasrudin was a clever man, who was sure to be able to think of a way round the problem. He poured out his story, and Nasrudin agreed to come to the court and speak for him. The rich restaurant owner was already at the court, chatting with the Qadi. The poor man saw that they were friends, and feared the judgment would go against him. He was right. The Qadi began heaping insults upon the poor man as soon as he saw him, and ordered him to pay a very large sum of money.

At once, Nasrudin stepped forward. “My lord,” he said to the Qadi. “This man is my brother. Allow me to pay in his place.”

Then the mullah took a small bag of coins from his belt an held it next to the rich man’s ear. He shook the bag, so that the coins jingled.

“Can you hear that?” asked Nasrudin.

“Of course,” the man replied, impatiently.

“Well, that is your payment,” said the mullah. “My brother has smelled your food, and you have heard his money. The debt is paid.”

And, in the face of such argument, the case was settled and the poor man went free.

——

The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths – Jorge Luis Borges

It is said by men worthy of belief (though Allah’s knowledge is greater) that in the first days there was a king of the isles of Babylonia who called together his architects and his priests and bade them build him a labyrinth so confused and so subtle that the most prudent men would not venture to enter it, and those who did would lose their way. Most unseemly was the edifice that resulted, for it is the prerogative of God, not man, to strike confusion and inspire wonder. In time there came to the court a king of Arabs, and the king of Babylonia (to muck the simplicity of his guest) bade him enter the labyrinth, where the king of Arabs wandered, humiliated and confused, until the coming of the evening, when he implored God’s aid and found the door. His lips offered no complaint, though he said to the king of Babylonia that in his land he had another labyrinth, and Allah willing, he would see that someday the king of Babylonia made its acquaintance. Then he returned to Arabia with his captains and his wardens and he wreaked such havoc upon kingdoms of Babylonia, and with such great blessing by fortune, that he brought low his castles, crushed his people, and took the king of Babylonia himself captive. He tied him atop a swift-footed camel and led him into the desert. Three days they rode, and then he said to him, “O king of time and substance and cipher of the century! In Babylonia didst thou attempt to make me lose my way in a labyrinth of brass with many stairways, doors, and walls; now the Powerful One has seen fit to allow me to show thee mine, which has no stairways to climb, nor walls to impede thy passage.”

Then he untied the bonds of the king of Babylonia and abandoned him in the middle of the desert, where he died of hunger and thirst. Glory to him who does not die.