HOW THE IMAM ABOU YOUSUF EXTRICATED THE KHALIF HAROUN ER RESHID AND HIS VIZIER JAAFER FROM A DILEMMA.
It is said that Jaafer the Barmecide was one night carousing with Er Reshid, when the latter said to him, 'O Jaafer, I hear that thou hast bought such and such a slave-girl. Now I have long sought her and my heart is taken up with love of her, for she is passing fair; so do thou sell her to me.' 'O Commander of the Faithful,' replied Jaafer, 'I will not sell her.' 'Then give her to me,' rejoined the Khalif. 'Nor will I give her,' answered Jaafer. ' Be Zubeideh triply divorced,' exclaimed Haroun, 'if thou shalt not either sell or give her to me!' Quoth Jaafer, 'Be my wife triply divorced, if I either sell or give her to thee!' After awhile they recovered from their intoxication and were ware that they had fallen into a grave dilemma, but knew not how to extricate themselves. Then said Er Reshid, 'None can help us in this strait but Abou Yousuf.' (1) So they sent for him, and this was in the middle of the night. When the messenger reached the Imam, he arose in alarm, saying in himself, 'I should not be sent for at this hour, save by reason of some crisis in Islam.' So he went out in haste and mounted his mule, saying to his servant, 'Take the mule's nose-bag with thee; it may be she has not finished her feed; and when we come to the Khalif's palace, put the bag on her, that she may eat what is left of her fodder, whilst I am with the Khalif.' 'I hear and obey,' replied the man.
So the Imam rode to the palace and was admitted to the presence of Er Reshid, who made him sit down on the couch beside himself, whereas he was used to seat none but him, and said to him, 'We have sent for thee at this hour to advise us upon a grave matter, with which we know not how to deal' And he expounded to him the case. 'O Commander of the Faithful,' replied Abou Yousuf, ' this is the easiest of things.' Then he turned to Jaafer and said to him, 'O Jaafer, sell half of her to the Commander of the Faithful and give him the other half; so shall ye both be quit of your oaths.' The Khalif was delighted with this and they did as he prescribed. Then said Er Reshid, 'Bring me the girl at once, for I long for her exceedingly.' So they brought her and the Khalif said to Abou Yousuf, 'I have a mind to lie with her forthright; for I cannot endure to abstain from her during the prescribed period of purification; how is this to be done?' 'Bring me one of thine unenfranchised male slaves,' answered the Imam, 'and give me leave to marry her to him; then let him divorce her before consummation. So shall it be lawful for thee to lie with her before purification.' This expedient pleased the Khalif yet more than the first and he sent for the slave. When he came, Er Reshid said to the Imam, 'I authorize thee to marry her to him.' So the Imam proposed the marriage to the slave, who accepted it, and performed the due ceremony; after which he said to the slave, 'Divorce her, and thou shalt have a hundred diners.' But he refused to do this and the Imam went on to increase his offer, till he bid him a thousand diners. Then said the slave to him, 'Doth it rest with me to divorce her, or with thee or the Commander of the Faithful?' 'With thee,' answered the Imam. 'Then, by Allah,' quoth the slave, 'I will never do it!'
At this the Khalif was exceeding wroth and said to the Imam, 'What is to be done, O Abou Yousuf ?' ' Be not concerned, O Commander of the Faithful,' replied the Imam; 'the thing is easy. Make this slave the damsel's property.' Quoth Er Reshid, 'I give him to her;' and the Imam said to the girl, 'Say, "I accept."' So she said, 'I accept:' whereupon quoth Abou Yousuf, ' I pronounce divorce between them, for that he hath become her property, and so the marriage is annulled.' With this, Er Reshid sprang to his feet and exclaimed, 'It is the like of thee that shall be Cadi in my time.' Then he called for sundry trays of gold and emptied them before Abou Yousuf, to whom he said, ' Hast thou wherein to put this ?' The Imam bethought him of the mule's nose-bag; so he sent for it and filling it with gold, took it and went home; and on the morrow, he said to his friends, 'There is no easier or shorter road to the goods of this world and the next, than that of learning; for, see, I have received all this money for answering two or three questions.' Consider, then, O polite [reader], the pleasantness of this anecdote, for it comprises divers goodly features, amongst which are the complaisance of Jaafer to Er Reshid and the wisdom (2) of the Khalif and the exceeding wisdom of Abou Yousuf, may God the Most High have mercy on all their souls!