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Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Sufi Story

Below is a story I heard about a famous Sufi, which bears a moral that I think we could all benefit from. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, Sufism is a mystical form of Islam. It’s hard to give a concrete definition of Sufism, as the beliefs of Sufis and their practices throughout the world are extremely diverse. However, for the purposes of understanding this story, its important to know that most Sufis are very dedicated to personal prayer, mystical experience, and ascetic and simple living (not that other Muslims aren’t dedicated to these things, mind you, but the Sufis generally place a special emphasis on these activities). Anyway, here is a story I heard the other day in my Islamic Mysticism class, which I think is more than worthy of the re-telling. This story exists in several volumes on the lives of Sufis- this is my own humble paraphrase, based on the lecture I heard in class. Enjoy:

There once was a wealthy man named Ibrahim Ibn Adham. Ibrahim was the king of Balkh, and was as wealthy as we was powerful. The army he commanded was massive, and the palace he lived in was spectacular. He was a good king, and he attempted to rule justly in the land. Nonetheless, upon reflecting on his achievements and his success, he felt distant from God. He decided he had not done enough to praise God and thank him for the success he enjoyed.

Therefore, he resolved that he would spend more time in prayer, and more time in reading the Holy Scriptures, and more time searching for God. He ordered a large study added to his palace, made of the finest materials. He ordered a soft, large, plush couch made so that he could recline while studying and praying. He ordered a golden bookstand and a golden, engraved prayer book. After all these things were made, Inrahim gave thanks to God and sat down to study and pray.

No sooner had he begun than he heard a thumping on his roof. He ignored it, but soon heard it a second time. “Attendant,” Ibrahim called to one of his servants, “go and see what is making that sound, and return back to me.” The servant went and did as he was ordered. He soon returned, and said to the king, “O King, there is a Sufi on the roof of your palace. I am not sure what he is doing there.” The king became excited- he knew the Sufis had a reputation of great piety and for spending much time in prayer. Perhaps this man could help him in his study. Ibrahim said to his servant, “A Sufi? Great! Leave him alone, I will go and speak to him myself and see what he is doing.”

With that the king left his study and clambered up onto his roof. Sure enough, on his roof was a Sufi, dressed in a poor, worn and patched frock. He was walking all over the roof, looking from side to side, and was so caught up in looking that he hardly noticed the arrival of the king. After a few minutes, becoming impatient, the king addressed the strange Sufi. “O Sufi, greetings, I am the king of this palace. I greet you kindly, because I know you Sufis have a great reputation for being close friends of God. Tell me, what are you doing on my roof?”

The Sufi looked up, startled, as if noticing the king for the first time. He smiled, and said warmly, “O King, I am glad you have come. Perhaps you can help me in my search. You see, I have lost my camel. I have searched your roof several times, but I cannot find him. Will you help me look for him?”

King Ibrahim was extremely confused. This Sufi was no saint, but was crazy. No camel could ever make it up to his roof, and even if it could it would surely be immediately obvious if it were there. The King became upset. “O Foolish Sufi. You can clearly see there is no camel on this roof. Indeed, it would be impossible for a camel to ever get up here. Why do you look for a camel in this place, where it could not possibly be?”

The Sufi looked at the king for a second, confused, and then said, “But O King, I was following your own custom. I thought it was customary in this kingdom to look for things where they could not possibly be found. For you yourself search for God surrounded by wealth, and comfort, and ease, a place where he cannot possibly be found. Surely your own chance of finding God in such wealth is much worse than my own chance of finding a camel on your roof?”

After several similar encounters with the strange Sufi, Ibrahim abdicated the throne and devoted himself to the ascetic life.

1 comment:

Arleen Spenceley said...

Wow, that was a great story! Thank you for sharing it.