Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Kingdom of Cordoba

In the Kingdom of Cordoba, the Umayyad prince Abd-ar-Rahman called together a conference of Jews, of Christians, and of Muslims to agree on the fundamental values shared by all three faiths. This seemed to the prince the best way to avoid the effusion of blood among his subjects.

The wisest scholars of these faiths, paragons of learning, tolerant and good-natured, as men are disinclined to be, sat in friendship together in the courtyard framed by nine colonnades. But when the time came to ratify their agreement and to embrace as brothers, the Jews said:

“We cannot deny our shared principles, and we stand together as friends. Yet we stand apart on the question of Jesus and Muhammad. We must reject their ministries for Jesus was not what we were promised and Muhammad was not promised at all, and the Most High has not fulfilled His obligation to us.”

The Christians were much offended at this and declared, “God, the Father, has indeed fulfilled His promise to you, for Jesus was surely the promised messiah, the son of the living God, and your deliverer. Yet you rejected him and shamefully put him to death! You come to this conference affirming his sacred teachings, but rejecting his sacred station. By rejecting Jesus, you have abjured the faith of Moses! You must wait with us for Jesus to return, and he will judge between us and cast you and your wives and your children into Hell, but the signs have not yet been fulfilled.”

The Muslims then declared, “O Christians, you renounce the Jews and condemn them for the crimes for which you yourselves are guilty. Muhammad, upon whom be peace, is the paragon of the virtues we share and the Seal of the Prophets, after whom God is not permitted to send a Messenger. The Jews and Christians shall wait forever, but perdition is their reward. Let God strike down those among us who speak falsely!”

At these words, the members of the gathering fell upon one another with stones and daggers until not one among them drew breath. When the prince saw this, he bit the back of the hand of consternation. But his vizier said, “It is likelier that the dead shall be quickened from their tombs than a religion shall come to overthrow the nature of men to quarrel, and the wise have said:

If the Way rose like the sun,
They would reject it.
"We await the moon!"
If it were water,
They would renounce it.
"We prefer the sand!"
The dove alights on the tree of paradise,
Denounced by those expecting the owl.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Houris of the Court

I saw an old friend sitting forlorn beside the arched entrance of the market, tears flowing across his bearded face like a flooded wilderness. His eyes were burning red, and his body bent like crumpled paper. His hair, tinged with white, was wild as though he among the angels had fallen fastest from the realm of the Most High. He made no sound, but his body trembled as he wept inconsolably. Because he was my friend, I was mortified that he would expose his shameful state so publicly. I berated him as follows:

"Why are you weeping at the gate of the bazaar? Do you cherish being an object of scorn and mockery? Consider your enemies; how they must rejoice at this sight. And your friends; how ashamed they are even to know you. Take your tears home or wipe your face and stand up, for I know your cares are not so great. Tears are an adornment on women and children. On a man they are a disgrace. Such sadness is best concealed."

He answered, without a trace of shame in his voice. "My tears are the mingled waters of joy and sorrow. What does he know of dazzling light except that he knows also of midnight's pitch? Let these tears run from my soul's fountain, as blood one day must run from my broken body. Let my passionate heart, divided from itself, be burnt and the smoke of its fire, so soon extinguished, reach the heavens, a perfume on the breasts of the houris of the Court. No other sacrifice I've made has merit, but the prayers of burning hearts are heard."

When he said this, I saw that his state was more exalted than mine.