The valuable sufi mantle

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Once upon a time shaykh Nasiruddin Chishti went on a journey. He appointed a young man as his caliph. Several of the other disciples were disappointed. One of the older disciples, a very learned man, was very jealous of the young man, but he had to accept the decision of the shaykh.

When shaykh Nasiruddin Chishti had appointed the young man as his caliph he had clothed him in his own robe, surely a great blessing! This created an even stronger jealousy among several of the disciples. One day a dervish passed by and approached the young man for alms. As the young man had no possessions but his Sufi robe the only thing he could give to the dervish was this very mantle. Many of the jealous disciples became extremely angry as this object of great blessings, had been given away to a wandering dervish. We however will not deal with them anymore, nor with the young man, but the story continues by relating what happens to the Sufi mantle.

The dervish who had received the mantle met a stranger on the road. He did not know that this stranger was the immortal Khizr and behaved towards him as he always behaved himself, i.e. he was kind towards the stranger. Khizr then returned the kindness by saying some words because of which the Sufi robe turned into a very valuable one. The dervish then saw, that he now possessed a magnificent golden mantle, which was embroidered with precious gems. Wherever he went, he always put on the same light-giving garment; and, since his circle of wandering was actually quite small, soon he was known far and wide, to the people he met, as the dervish with the valuable Sufi mantle.

One day, while traveling along the highroad, singing a little song to himself in praise of the Beloved, he encountered a band of robbers. “Oho!” they cried. “If the life of holy poverty is indeed such a free life, let us make baste to liberate this servant of Allah from his valuable Sufi mantle.” “Stand back!” warned the dervish. “This cloak is a gift of God, and those who steal God’s gifts will surely incur His wrath.” “We’ll take that chance,” laughed the robbers, and after raining on him a storm of kicks and blows for his trouble, stripped him of valuable robe, and rode off.

Bruised and crestfallen, the dervish continued on his way down the highroad, none too sure – if the truth be known – that God’s Wrath would necessarily fall upon his adversaries any time soon; after all, He was the one with all the bruises, wasn’t he? Still, he commended himself to Allah, and walked on. Imagine his surprise, then, when he turned a corner of the road, and saw before him the robbers who had just waylaid him, lying dead in a pool of their own blood.

At first he could not understand what had happened; but then he looked up, and saw the precious robe hung on a tree of thorns, beneath which lay the corpses of the robbers; slowly it dawned upon him that the robbers had in fact killed one another. They had been fighting for possession of the cloak, which, they realized, would lose half its value if they divided it.

“Praise be to Allah!” cried the dervish. “This goes to prove how generous He is, and how just in His dealings with His servants. He has simply been testing me, that much is certain.” Then the delighted dervish wrapped himself anew in his cloak, which – if the truth be known – he’d been certain he would never see again. “How great is Allah! He bas punished my enemies and returned to me what is rightfully mine, however undeserved.” And the dervish continued on his journey with a light heart.

A few days later, the dervish crossed over into a kingdom and down into a valley which was being invaded by an enemy king. Galloping knights, thronging cavalry, and the stout and clash of battle were everywhere. In the course of the battle, the dervish was taken prisoner by the soldiers of the invading king, and within a few short days found himself incarcerated in the king’s fortress. However, he was kept in decent quarters, and even allowed audiences with the king, who respected dervishes even while keeping them prisoner. He even allowed the dervish to keep his cloak, “for,” said the king, “I am a rich man, and it would not be appropriate for me to possess the cloak of one of God’s poor, no matter how valuable it appears.”

The dervish thought himself lucky, all in all. His host was certainly more gracious than he, a prisoner, had a right to expect. Still, he was not happy. He began to experience great loneliness, and pined for his family and friends. Eventually, the king noticed his distress. “Why are you so sad, my friend?” said the king. “Is my court not to your liking? Is there something else you desire in life than to be my servant, which is my desire?” “O King,” said Mo’in -for that was the dervish’s name-“your bounty and generosity are without flaw; still, I cannot be happy as a prisoner in your court. I long to see my wife and family; who knows what is happening to them without me?”

“Very well,” said the king, I can certainly understand your great attachment to your loved ones. But I cannot simply let you go; I took you in war, and you are fair spoil. However, you may ransom yourself if you can. Have you no friends willing to pay your price, no property you can turn into ready cash? Why not this cloak of yours? The price of it in silver would be more than enough to buy your freedom.” Mo’in pondered the king’s offer, and-after a struggle with his conscience-he offered to send the c1oak to his family with one of the king’s messengers, with instructions to sell it, and ransom him with the proceeds.

That night the messenger departed, and as dawn was breaking, he arrived at the house of Mo’in’s wife and family. When his cousins saw the valuable cloak, and heard from the messenger the tale of Mo’in’s captivity and the king’s demand for ransom, they hurried to the marker, and sold the cloak for (they feared) considerably less than it was worth. But it was enough and more than enough to meet the king’s demand, and that night the messenger who had brought the cloak set out with an ass-load of silver toward the king’s fortress. He arrived at dawn.

When the king saw the ransom paid, he summoned the dervish and dismissed him with blessngs, but also with regret. “I am sorry that you found our court not to your liking,” he said. “Still, I hope you will remember your stay here with us, and sometimes think of us; certainly we will remember you.” Promising to remember, Mo’in bowed, and left the court of the king.

So the dervish started off on his long way home. He traveled slowly, with many stops and detours, in great weariness; even the prospect of being reunited with his family could not overcome his feeling of desolation. The truth was, he felt out of place, meaningless and vulnerable, to be traveling through the world without his valuable cloak. “I have not yet encountered one person on this journey who bas greeted me by name; no one recognizes me without my precious robe. If the truth be known, I hardly recognize myself.”

At last he came to the outskirts of the town where his family lived; slowly he made his way through the streets to the door of his home-but when he tried to enter, the inmates raised a cry. “Who are you, insolent beggar, to be breaking into honest people’s houses? Be off with you before we call the constable!” “Don’t you recognize me?” cried the dervish. “I am your cousin Mo’in.” “Mo’in!” they retorted. “Mo’in bas been rotting in prison for years now, and You are not he! Your face is unfamiliar to us. Be off!” Sadly, Mo’in turned back the way he had come. So it was true! Not even his own family recognized him without his valuable cloak.

From that day forward, Mo’in became a homeless wanderer, through a world which no longer recognized him, and which was unfamiliar to him as well. No glad voices hailed him. He wandered from land to land, without prospects, without identity, with neither goal nor hope of attaining it. Years went by.

One night, in a far country, Mo’in found himself sitting beside a meager fire of dry thorn bushes, at a wayside camping spot by the highroad. As he sat and shivered, he heard the sound of travellers approaching, accompanied by piercing wails of anguish. Startled, Mo’in concealed himself behind some bushes, and watched. Soon, into the circle of firelight, a funeral procession emerged, with bearers carrying the corpse on a screened litter. As they stopped and lay down their burden by the fire, a woman- obviously the bereaved widow-threw herself to the ground in a paroxysm of grief. Mo’in was perplexed, and uncertain how to respond. Years of lonely travel had made him wary, and the sight of the husky bearers and attendants reminded him only too clearly of past beatings. But, as the woman continued to moan, his heart softened.

So he rose from his hiding-place and timidly approached. “I could not help being touched by your great grief,” he said to the widow. “Is there anything I can do to lighten your burden?” “Anything you can do!” cried the bereaved wife. “As if you, or anyone, could do anything for me now! If you had only known my husband you would not have made such an offer, kindly meant as it was. He was the kindest, most wonderful man I have ever known.” And with that the woman launched into a long rambling tale, broken with sobs-the tale of her grief, of her life, of her love for her husband, and the circumstances of his death. Mo’in listened with a feeling of helplessness. How could someone bowed down with his own sorrows do anything to lighten the sorrow of another? She wept and sang the praises of her husband; and then, as if to bring her grief to an even higher pitch, she tore the coverings off the litter and exposed the corpse to the night air, weeping and wailing. Falteringly, and knowing how trite and ineffectual his words must sound, Mo’in tried to tell her that somewhere, even in her great grief, at least one particle of the Mercy of God must be bidden, when suddenly his eyes fell upon the exposed corpse. He gave a great start, and his tongue failed him: The corpse of the husband was wearing the valuable Sufi cloak!

Seeing his astonishment, the widow stopped wailing. “What has struck you so?” she asked. “What have you seen?” Trembling, and hardly able to make himself understood, Mo’in told her the history of the Sufi cloak in which her husband was to be buried; he told her about his encounter with a Sufi who gave the robe to him, his meeting with Khizr, his encounter with the robbers, his imprisonment in the king’s fortress, his rejection by his family, and his years of aimless wandering. And slowly, as he spoke, the widow became calm, and wept no more. When his story was finished, the woman said: “Hearing this tale of your sorrow bas lifted a great burden from my heart; how can my few days of sorrow compare with your years of suffering and exile? I had forgotten that death is but the beginning of a journey; forgive me for my unseemly behavior.” Stammeringly, Mo’in replied that no forgiveness is required.

“Your story bas been to me like a miracle of Allah,” the widow said. “How can I ever repay you? Ah! I know just the thing. Nothing can satisfy me unless you will accept as a gift this very cloak, which is more yours than my husband’s. He already carries with him provisions for his journey, while you, poor homeless dervish, have nothing and no one in this world.” And so, humbly and with many protests, Mo’in accepted the valuable Sufi cloak. When dawn broke the next day the funeral procession passed on, and Mo’in made ready to follow them. But what of the mantle? How could he wear it now? His years of struggle and suffering had changed the heart in his breast. Yet how could he leave it behind? At last he tied the cloak in a bundle, placed it on his back, and resumed his aimless wandering. But though he was still unsure of this destination, somehow he felt, after his encounter with the widow, that a great burden had been lifted from his heart.

One day in early Spring, when the sun was bright and the rain had woven a thin carpet of green over the Earth, Mo’in, who had been traveling since before dawn, encountered on the road an old man of venerable aspect, wearing a worm and patched cloak. The old mendicant was reciting some poem:

I ask myself
Why would a limitless entity
Subject itself to the limits of time and space?

I ask myself
What is it that makes an entity an entity?
At a minimum a continuity of identity?

If time and space
Clothes an entity with a continuity of identity
Tell me, what is a limitless entity?

“Where are you traveling to, my son?”- the old man said, “and what is in that bundle you carry on your back?”

“Where I am traveling to God only knows, unc1e; I am without any path but the one I make with my own steps. As for this bundle on my back, it is the famous valuable Sufi Cloak.” “That cloak!” said the old man; “it must be worth 10,000 dinars. Tell me, what are you planning to do with it? Are you going to sell it for its value in gold coins?” “No,” replied Mo’in. “Then you must be planning to wear it.” “No,” replied Mo’in. “Ah yes, I see, very wise, undoubtedly you fear to attract thieves; but tell me – what ARE you going to do with it? Are you going to make a gift of it to someone?”

Mo’in was taken aback by the old man’s question, and pondered how to answer. He had done with wearing it, that much was certain. And he had already sold it once, and bought poverty with its price. Why in the name of Allah was he carrying it on his back? What, in fact, was there left for him to do but give it away? “I would rather answer with actions than words, my Master; take it, it is yours.” And Mo’in removed the bundle from his back, opened it, and handed the old man the precious mantle. “What a wonderful gift,” the old man said, “and believe me, I have a use for it. But here, you must take something of my own; I cannot allow you to do this thing without expressing my gratitude.” And so saying, the old man removed his worn, patched c1oak, and handed it to Mo’in. Immediately a change came over the old man. A great light shone out of him. His beard, that had been white, now became black and glossy. The jewels and gold threads of the valuable Sufi cloak shot rays in all directions, as if touched with the sun: Thus the old man in the patched cloak was revealed as Khizr, whom we have already met in the beginning of this tale.

“Now you can see,” said Khizr, “that this cloak, which you valued so highly, but which proved useless to you in the markets of the world, does indeed hold all the value you imbued it with, and infinitely more., Your valuation, in tact, was far too low, your paltry degree of admiration insulting to the sublimity of this garment. You valued it only as high as your own vanity – while it saw in you the knowledge of Allah. This is why it came into your life, and clung to you like a loyal friend, and always returned to be with you, even through great hardship. But perhaps vanity for knowledge is not, all in all, a bad exchange. Nevertheless, the cloak bas now been returned to its rightful owner, because only in this moment has it been given with an open hand, neither stolen, nor bartered, nor sold There is nothing inside this cloak but knowledge; consequently knowledge may be your companion from now on, and accompany you in all your travels. But as for that tiny particle of knowledge called ‘The Tale of the Dervish with the Valuable Sufi Mantle’ its time to speak is now ended.”

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