THE PILGRIM AND THE OLD WOMAN WHO DWELT IN THE DESERT.
A man of the pilgrims once slept a long sleep and awaking, found no trace of the caravan. So he arose and walked on, but lost his way and presently came to a tent, at whose door he saw an old woman and a dog by her, asleep. He went up to the tent and saluting the old woman, sought of her food. 'Go to yonder valley,' said she, 'and catch thy sufficiency of serpents, that I may broil of them for thee and give thee to eat.' 'I dare not catch serpents,' answered the pilgrim; 'nor did I ever eat them.' Quoth the old woman, 'I will go with thee and catch them; fear not.' So she went with him, followed by the dog, to the valley, and catching a sufficient number of serpents, proceeded to broil them. He saw nothing for it but to eat, for fear of hunger and exhaustion; so he ate of the serpents.
Then he was athirst and asked for water to drink. 'Go to the spring and drink,' answered she. So he went to the spring and found the water thereof bitter; yet needs must he drink of it, for all its bitterness, because of the violence of his thirst. Then he returned to the old woman and said to her, 'O old woman, I marvel at thy choosing to abide in this place and putting up with such meat and drink!' 'And how is it then in thy country?' asked she. 'In my country,' answered he, 'are wide and spacious houses and ripe and delicious fruits and sweet and abundant waters and goodly viands and fat meats and plentiful flocks and all things pleasant and all the goods of life, the like whereof are not, save in the Paradise that God the Most High hath promised to His pious servants.' 'All this,' replied she, 'have I heard: but tell me, have you a Sultan who ruleth over you and is tyrannical in his rule and under whose hand you are, who, if one of you commit a fault, taketh his goods and undoth him and who, when he will, turneth you out of your houses and uprooteth you, stock and branch?' 'Indeed, that may be,' answered the man. 'Then, by Allah,' rejoined she, 'these your delicious viands and dainty life and pleasant estate, with tyranny and oppression, are but a corroding poison, in comparison wherewith, our food and fashion, with freedom and safety, are a healthful medicine. Hast thou not heard that the best of all boons, after the true Faith, are health and security?'
Now these (204) [quoth he who tells the tale] may be by the just rule of the Sultan, the Vicar of God in His earth, and the goodness of his policy. The Sultan of times past needed but little awfulness, for that, when the people saw him, they feared him; but the Sultan of these days hath need of the most accomplished policy and the utmost majesty, for that men are not as men of time past and this our age is one of folk depraved and greatly calamitous, noted for folly and hardness of heart and inclined to hatred and enmity. If, therefore, the Sultan that is set over them be (which God the Most High forfend) weak or lack of policy and majesty, without doubt, this will be the cause of the ruin of the land. Quoth the proverb, 'A hundred years of the Sultan's tyranny, rather than one of the tyranny of the people, one over another.' When the people oppress one another, God setteth over them a tyrannical Sultan and a despotic King. Thus it is told in history that there was, one day, presented to El Hejjaj ben Yousuf (205) a docket, in which was written, 'Fear God and oppress not His servants with all manner of oppression.' When he read this, he mounted the pulpit, (for he was ready of speech,) and said, 'O folk' God the Most High hath set me over you, by reason of your [evil] deeds; and though I die, yet will ye not be delivered from oppression, with your evil deeds; for God the Most High hath created many like unto me. If it be not I, it will be a more fertile than I in mischief and a mightier in oppression and a more strenuous in violence, even as saith the poet:For no hand is there but the hand of God is over it And no oppressor but shall be with worse than he oppress.
Tyranny is feared: but justice is the best of all things. We beg God to better our case.'