THE APPLES OF PARADISE
(Quoth Abou Bekr Mohammed ibn el Ambari (153)), I once left Ambar, on a journey to Ammouriyeh, in the land of the Greeks, (154) and alighted midway at the monastery of El Anwar, (155) in a village near Ammouriyeh, where there came out to me the prior of the monastery and superior of the monks, Abdulmesih (156) by name, and brought me into the monastery. There I found forty monks, who entertained me that night with the most liberal hospitality, and I saw among them such abounding piety and diligence in devotion as I never beheld the like of in any others. On the morrow, I took leave of them and went on to Ammouriyeh, where I did my business and returned to Ambar [without again visiting the monastery].
Next year it befell that I made the pilgrimage to Mecca, and as I was compassing the Holy House, behold, I saw Abdulmesih the monk also making the circuit of the Kaabeh, and with him five of his fellows, the monks. When I was certified that it was indeed he, I accosted him, saying, "Art thou not Abdulmesih er Rahib?" (157) "Nay," answered he; "I am Abdallah er Raghib." (158) Therewith I fell to kissing his hoary hairs and weeping; then, taking him by the hand, I led him aside into a corner of the sanctuary and said to him, "Tell me the manner of thy conversion to Islam." "It was a wonder of wonders," answered he; "and befell thus. Know that, not long after thy visit to us, a company of Muslim devotees came to the village, in which is our monastery, and sent a youth to buy them food. He saw, in the market, a Christian damsel selling bread, who was of the fairest of women, and became then and there so passionately enamoured of her, that his senses failed him and he fell on his face in a swoon. When he revived, he returned to his companions and told them what had happened, saying, 'Go ye about your business; I may not go with you.' They blamed him and exhorted him, but he paid no heed to them; so they left him and went on, whilst he entered the village and seated himself at the door of the woman's shop. She asked him what he wanted, and he told her that he was in love with her, whereupon she turned from him; but he abode in his place three days, without tasting food, with his eyes fixed on her face.
When she saw that he departed not from her, she went to her people and acquainted them with her case, and they set the boys of the village on him, who pelted him with stones and bruised his ribs and broke his head; but, for all this, he would not budge. Then the people of the village took counsel together to kill him; but one of them came to me and told me of his condition, and I went out to him and found him lying prostrate on the ground. So I wiped the blood from his face and carried him to the convent, where I dressed his wounds, and he abode with me fourteen days. But, as soon as he could walk, he left the convent and returned to the door of the woman's shop, where he sat gazing on her as before. When she saw him, she came out to him and said, 'By Allah, thou movest me to pity! If thou wilt enter my faith, I will marry thee.' 'God forbid,' answered he, 'that I should put off the faith of the Unity and enter that of Plurality!' (159) Quoth she, 'Come in with me to my house and take thy will of me and go thy ways in peace.' 'Not so,' answered he, 'I will not barter the pious service of twelve years for the lust of a moment.' 'Then depart from me forthright,' said she; and he rejoined, 'My heart will not suffer me to do that;' whereupon she turned her face from him. Presently the boys found him out and began to throw stones at him; and he fell on his face, saying, 'Verily, God is my keeper, who sent down the Book and who protecteth the righteous!' (160) At this juncture, I sallied forth and driving away the boys, lifted his head from the ground and heard him say, 'O my God, unite me with her in Paradise!' Then I took him in my arms, to carry him to the monastery; but he died, before I could reach it, and I dug him a grave without the village and buried him there.
In the middle of that night, the people of the village heard the damsel give a great cry, and she in her bed; so they flocked to her and questioned her of her case. Quoth she, 'As I slept, the Muslim [who ye wot of] came in to me and taking me by the hand, carried me to the gate of Paradise; but the keeper denied me entrance, saying, "It is forbidden to unbelievers." So I embraced Islam at his hands and entering with him, beheld therein palaces and trees, such as I cannot describe to you. Moreover, he brought me to a pavilion of jewels and said to me, "This is my pavilion and thine, nor will I enter it except with thee; but, after five nights, thou shalt be with me therein, if it be the will of God the Most High." Then, putting his hand to a tree that grew at the door of the pavilion, he plucked therefrom two apples and gave them to me, saying, "Eat this and keep the other, that the monks may see it." So I ate one of them and never tasted I aught sweeter than it. Then he took my hand and carried me back to my house; and when I awoke, I found the taste of the apple in my mouth and the other in my hand.' So saying, she brought out the apple, and it shone in the darkness of the night, as it were a sparkling star. So they carried her to the monastery, where she repeated to us her vision and showed us the apple; never saw we its like among all the fruits of the world. Then I took a knife and cut the apple into as many pieces as we were folk in the company; and never knew we aught more delicious than its taste nor sweeter than its scent; but we said, 'Haply this was a devil that appeared to her, to seduce her from her faith.' Then her people took her and went away; but she abstained from eating and drinking till the fifth night, when she rose from her bed and going forth the village to the grave of the young Muslim, threw herself upon it and died.
Her people knew not what was come of her; but, on the morrow, there came to the village two Muslim elders, clad in hair-cloth, and with them two women in like garb, and said, 'O people of the village, with you is a woman of the friends of God, (161) who died a Muslim, and we will take charge of her, instead of you.' So the damsel's family sought her and found her dead on the young Muslim's grave; and they said, 'This our sister died in our faith, and we will take charge of her.' 'Not so,' rejoined the two old men; 'she died a Muslim and we claim her.' And the dispute waxed hot between them, till one of the Muslims said, 'Be this the test of her faith. Let the forty monks of the monastery come all and [essay to] lift her from the grave. If they succeed, then she died a Nazarene; if not, one of us shall come and lift her up, and if she yield to him, she died a Muslim.' The villagers agreed to this and fetched the forty monks, who heartened each other and came to her, to lift her, but could not. Then we tied a great rope about her middle and tugged at it with our might; but the rope broke in sunder, and she stirred nor; and the villagers came and joined their endeavour to ours, but could not move her from her place. At last, when all our devices failed, we said to one of the two old Muslims, 'Come thou and lift her.' So he went up to the grave and covering her with his mantle, said, 'In the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful, and of the Faith of the Apostle of God, on whom be peace and salvation!' Then he lifted her and taking her in his bosom, betook himself with her to a cave hard by, where they laid her, and the two women came and washed her and shrouded her. Then the two elders bore her to the young Muslim's grave and prayed over her and buried her by his side and went their way.
Now we were witness of all this; and when we were alone with one another, we said, 'Of a verity, the Truth is most worthy to be followed; (162) and indeed it hath been publicly manifested to us, nor is it possible to have a clearer proof of the truth of Islam than that we have seen this day with our eyes.' So I and all the monks embraced Islam and on like wise did the people of the village; and we sent to the people of Mesopotamia for a doctor of the law, to instruct us in the ordinances of Islam and the canons of the Faith. They sent us a pious man, who taught us the rites of devotion and the tenets of the faith and the service of God; and we are now in great good case. To God be the praise and the thanks!"