Chivalry in plain clothes


A certain king was very fond of jewellery. Once he needed a ring repaired, so he summoned an official to take it to the most reputed goldsmith in town. When the official explained the work to be done to the goldsmith in the bazaar, urging that it was a rush job, the goldsmith saw the value of the gem and when the official was looking the other way, he skilfully replaced it in the setting with another, then completed the work to perfection and handed the ring back to the courier.

The king was himself an expert, so that he spotted the substitution immediately and, having no doubt about the functionary’s trustworthiness, sent guards to apprehend the goldsmith and bring him before him. Since the king was an absolute monarch, he could order the execution of someone with the merest gesture and it would be done summarily. Thus, when the goldsmith was dragged away from his booth in the bazaar and hauled up before the king, it was clear that he was in great peril as one whose punishment seemed a foregone conclusion.

The king was beside himself with rage. No sooner was the goldsmith brought before his eyes, than he let loose a volley of oaths and curses against the man, as a thief with such gall as to dare to change the stone in the king’s ring. When the goldsmith made no attempt to reply, his silence further infuriated the king, so that he ordered the man to be taken to the executioner to have four of his fingers cut off, the four which had stolen the stone. Then the goldsmith was to be taken back to the bazaar, the original stone restored and the goldsmith disgraced before the public. The court functionaries were delighted at this command, which they took to be a licence to loot the shop in question, if not the whole goldsmith’s bazaar. They rushed the goldsmith out of the door before the king could change his mind and made for the torture chamber.

The goldsmith’s impassive demeanour dumfounded those around him. He stood erect and unflinching in the king’s presence and did not bat an eye throughout these unpleasant proceedings, nor did he plead for mercy when the king gave the order for his fingers to be amputated; nor did he react when they took him away for the act to be done.

In the course of all this the vizir of the king came to the palace and inquired what the commotion was all about. Upon hearing of the goldsmith and his deed, and the decree of the king, he hastened along the route by which the goldsmith was being taken. Going through the crowd, the vizir suddenly found himself beside the prisoner, who was striding along, fully composed with cheerful dignity. The vizir let out an involuntary cry and ordered him to be released. The guards did so and stepped back, leaving the two men by themselves, facing each other.

The vizir was sure that the goldsmith had not done what he was accused of, but he was uncertain how to broach the issue. The goldsmith, for his part, offered no suggestion. Finally the vizir asked him what had actually taken place and why he had not spoken up on the matter, but the goldsmith merely repeated phrases like “It is right!”, “It is God’s will!” and “On the Path whatever occurs is to the wayfarer’s benefit”. All the vizir could do was to press the goldsmith’s hands in his, kiss them and beg him in God’s name to tell what had actually taken place.

The goldsmith did not want to say anything, but he was touched by the vizir’s gesture and moved by his distress and oath. So he felt forced to admit, that he was not to blame for what had happened and that the ring of the king had been taken to someone else for repair.

The vizir shouted with joy, then asked the goldsmith why he had kept silent. The latter’s answer shook him to the core: “I said to myself that I had done nothing to deserve being brought to the palace, let alone be punished by having my fingers cut off. However, I let myself be suspected and committed myself to punishment, so that the one who is helpless would not be subjected to this punishment”.

The goldsmith, after further questions, only wanted to tell more if the vizir would insist that the king would pardon the helpless person involved. “If you do not promise this”, said the goldsmith, “I am ready to have my fingers amputated, for my working life is finished, so I have no need of these fingers. However, the one who did this is young and helpless. Whatever he has done, was done out of ignorance, desperation and the rashness of youth, so that he deserves mercy, humanity and forgiveness”.

Suddenly realizing what had happened, the vizir on an impulse fell down at the goldsmith’s feet. The latter picked him up and pressed him to his breast. They remained in embrace for several minutes. The onlooking penal functionaries and courtiers were dumfounded. Once everyone had recovered and the vizir had promised to do what the goldsmith desired, the latter revealed all, saying:

“There is a youth working at the goldsmith’s bazaar whose name is exactly like mine. He is a good craftsman, but as he is just starting out, he earns very little and can easily be tempted. When I was taken to the palace and saw the wrath of the king, I was sure that the punishment which would be exacted would be too harsh for one so young who had committed an act out of a momentary temptation. Out of pity for the youth, I kept silent. Once the sentence was given, I was resolved to the loss of a few fingers, for I have only a short time left to live, while if he were to lose his fingers, he would be truly wretched. Now that you know, go and settle this business”.

Light-hearted the vizir went to the king and explained everything to him. Refusing to believe that there were people of such virtue in his capital, the king summoned the goldsmith to his presence and sent for the youth as well. Once the two, along with the vizir, had assembled before him, he began by having the youth tell what had really happened.

The boy confessed everything, weeping and begging for clemency; then the king turned to the goldsmith and apologized, praising his chivalry and altruism, and asking what favour he would like. The goldsmith maintained the calm and impassivity, which he had displayed before the king previously, saying: “I want nothing for myself, but I would like to request that you pardon the young man, who acted out of ignorance and poverty, succumbing to temptation. I am willing to be his guarantor, so that he will be sure not to do such a thing again”.

At first amazed, then inspired with ecstasy over this course of events, the king pardoned the youth and lavished praise upon the shaikh; then he asked the vizir where he knew the goldsmith from. After a pause of a few seconds the goldsmith spoke up before the vizir had a chance to reply, saying: “He is one of my customers and brings his jewelry to me for repair”.

At this point the vizir broke in, cutting the goldsmith off to say that besides being his customer, he was also his disciple. Then he explained that the goldsmith was a shaykh in a Sufi order. The king became ever more astonished. Pointing to the shaykh, he exclaimed: “I have never seen a spiritual guide in ordinary clothes, working as a simple goldsmith!” The goldsmith replied: “My clothing is to be without category. A sufi is free of hypocrisy and pretence, co-existing with whatever group he is associated and being of service to it. Those who are concerned with clothes, titles, status and demonstration of miraculous powers are either idols or idol-worshippers, but the sufi is an adherent to divine unity”.

The king told his vizir: “You have submitted to this shaykh without my knowledge; yet so worthy is he that this is perfectly justified, for it is your ego which you have surrendered. I trust that you are diligent in your discipleship in following your spiritual guide and that you are, consequently, just as sincere in your service to me”.