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Tales from Muslim Traditions

The Head-strong Princess

Newly-weds
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A wealthy, powerful king had three beautiful daughters. One day he said to them: “All that I have is yours, or will be yours. It is my will that determines your future and your fate.”
The two eldest princesses agreed with their father’s statement but the youngest did not. She told her father: “I must be obedient to the law but I don’t believe that my fate must be determined by your opinions.”
Upon hearing these words her father was furious and decided to put her into prison until she changed her mind. As the years passed she only became more set in her belief. Exasperated, her father banished her beyond the bounds of his kingdom.
The resourceful princess found a cave and food. One day she helped a lost traveller who was a rich merchant. They fell in love, married and turned the wilderness into the most prosperous, powerful and just kingdom around.
One day, her father came to pay his respects to his new neighbours. When he recognised the new queen he was speechless. His daughter said: “You see, Father, every man and woman has their own fate and makes their own choices.”

12th century Sufi (mystic) tale
[ This tale illustrates that the Law alone cannot provide happiness and justice.]


Copper Ring
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Nasruddin’s Ring

When Mullah* Nasruddin lost his ring he set out to look for it in the street. Others soon came to help him search. Finally one man asks Nasruddin if he is certain he dropped it in this spot.
Nasriddin replied: “No, I lost it there,” and points to his house. His would-be helpers exclaim incredulously: “Then why are you looking for it here?”
Mullah Nasruddin explains patiently: “Because it is dark in the room of the house where I lost it, and here under the street light I can see!”

A Nasruddin Story

* Mullah means guardian or teacher.


The Old Woman who was the Master’s Master

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One day, his students ask the Sufi Master Bayazid Bestami* who his master was. In reply, he began this tale:
Once upon a time when I was completely possessed by ecstasy, yearning and sense of unity, I went for a stroll in the desert. There I happened upon an elderly woman heavily burdened with a bag of flour.
She asked me for help but, in view of my heightened spiritual state, I was incapable of carrying the flour sack for her. So, I beckoned to a lion. He came up to me and let me lay the sack upon its back. On the way back into town, I asked the old woman what explanation she intended to give the townspeople.
“I’ll tell them,” she replied, “that I was able to bring the flour sack into town thanks to a vain tyrant.”
“What are talking about?” I exclaimed.
The woman replied with a few questions of her own: “Has the lion asked to be put to trouble or not?”
“No,” I answered.
“Yet, you have burdened down a creature whom God Himself has not burdened, did you not?” she objected. “Is that not oppression?”
“So it is”, I admitted.
“And, despite this”, she continued, “still you desire the townspeople to know that you have subjected a lion and are a miracle worker. Is that not vanity?”
“Yes, it is”, I confessed.
Indeed, that old woman has been a great master for me; her words of wisdom have guided me farther on my spiritual journey than the teachings of any other.

from Attar’s Biography of the Saints

* Bayazid Bestami (804-874 or 877/8 CE), a great Sufi Master from Iran.