FROM “ADORATION AND PREAMBLE”

I held in my bath a perfumed piece of clay
that came to me from a beloved’s hand.
I asked it, “Are you musk or ambergris?
Like fine wine, your smell intoxicates me.”
“Till someone set me down beside a rose,”
it said, “I was a loathsome lump of clay.
My companion’s scent seeped into me.
Otherwise, I am only the earth that I am.”
I held in my bath a perfumed piece of clay
that came to me from a beloved’s hand.
I asked it, “Are you musk or ambergris?
Like fine wine, your smell intoxicates me.”
“Till someone set me down beside a rose,”
it said, “I was a loathsome lump of clay.
My companion’s scent seeped into me.
Otherwise, I am only the earth that I am.”

LOVE AND YOUTH

When the Arab king heard how Majnun had been driven by his love for Laila to forsake everything and wander the desert as a man possessed, he ordered his servants to bring Majnun to him, and when this was accomplished and Majnun was standing before the king in his court, the king reproached him, asking what fault Majnun had discovered in the human soul that he had chosen instead to live like an animal. Majnun replied:

“My closest friends blame me for loving her,
but if they saw her they would understand.
And you, my love, ravisher of my heart,
let your face shine once on those who scold me
and they will miss the lemons in their hands,
and slice their flesh, and bleed for your beauty.
Then they will know the truth and, like Potiphar’s wife, I will be able to say, “This is the one you blamed me for.”

The king was intrigued and ordered Laila to be brought to him. His servants searched the encampments of several Arab families until they found her and brought her into the palace courtyard. The king looked at her for some time, examining her outward form very carefully, but no matter which angle he looked from, all he could see was an ugliness that became more and more despicable to him as he thought about how highly Majnun had praised her. The plainest handmaiden in his harem was more beautiful than the dark woman he saw before him.

Majnun could tell from the look on the king’s face what he was thinking and said, “To perceive Laila’s beauty and the mystery it reveals to those who can see it, you need to look through my eyes.”

If the leaves on the trees ringing this glade
had heard what I heard of the glade’s story,
they would have lamented it with me. Dear friends,
say to this man who does not seem to care,
“Love has not yet wounded you, and so
you cannot know the agony that overflows
Majnun’s heart.” When you do, we’ll share our tales.
Till then there is no point to talk of bees
with someone who has never felt their sting.
Until we live the same experience,
words will show you only its empty shell.

FROM TA’ALIM VA TARBIYAT—EDUCATION

I overheard a rich man’s son and a poor man’s son arguing as they stood near the grave of the wealthier boy’s father. “My father’s coffin,” the rich boy was saying, “has a marble gravestone decorated with a mosaic of turquoise-like gems, and his epitaph has been carved in the most elegant script. Your father’s grave, on the other hand, is nothing more than two bricks pushed together with two handfuls of mud thrown over them.”

The poor son listened quietly. Then he said, “By the time your father gets out from under that heavy stone, mine will already be in paradise.”

An ass walks lightly with a light burden.
Just so, a darvish who carries on his back
nothing but his own poverty will arrive
at death’s gate at ease with the life he’s lived
and with his fate; but a wealthy man, whose life
lacked nothing, will find it hard to die,
for death means leaving luxury behind.
In the end, the prisoner who escapes
with nothing will be happier than a prince
whose wealth lies just beyond the bars of his cage.

FROM ADAB’EH SOH’BAT—PRINCIPLES OF SOCIAL CONDUCT

Everyone thinks his own thinking is perfect and that his child is the most beautiful.

I watched a Muslim and a Jew debate
and shook with laughter at their childishness.
The Muslim swore, “If what I’ve done is wrong,
may God cause me to die a Jew.” The Jew
swore as well, “If what I’ve said is false,
I swear by the holy Torah that I will die
a Muslim, like you.” If tomorrow the earth
fell suddenly void of all wisdom
no one would admit that it was gone.

DON’T KNOT THE ROPE OF GENEROSITY

I’ve heard that once a week went by
when no one wandering the world
stopped at the tents of Allah’s Friend,
whose practice was to eat his meals
only at the proper time
unless a poor or homeless person
came to his door. So he stood outside
his tent and looked around. At the edge
of the valley he saw a man whose hair
age had powdered white, sitting
bent and lonely in the desert
like a willow. Abraham
called out his warmest welcome, “Light
of my eyes! Please, honor the salt
and bread of my table! Eat with us!”
Recognizing Abraham for who he was,
the old man sprang to his feet,
eager to accept the invitation.
Abraham’s attendants gave
the lowly guest a seat of honor,
called for the table to be set,
and took their own seats; but when
they said together “In God’s Name…”
no words escaped the old man’s mouth.
Abraham spoke, “I do not see in you
the passion and sincerity of faith
that men of your age usually express.
Aren’t we obliged each time we eat
to thank the One who filled our plates?”
The old man answered, “I will not speak
of God except as I have learned to do
from my teachers. I am Zoroastrian.”
Once God’s favored messenger found out
the destitute old man was just a gabr,
he chased him like a stray dog from the tent.
(The pure of heart cannot abide such filth!)
But then, from Heaven, the voice of God’s reproof
came down, “Dear Friend! I have fed this man,
and given him his life these hundred years,
but you, in a single moment, were filled with hate.
Why refuse him hospitality
just because he bows before a fire?”
Don’t knot the rope of generosity
just because you find, in this person, fraud
and deceit; in that one, trickery and cunning.

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