THE PIOUS BLACK SLAVE.

(Quoth Malik ben Dinar, (5) on whom God have mercy), We were once afflicted with drought at Bassora and went forth repeatedly to pray for rain, but saw no sign of our prayers being answered. So I went, I and Itaa es Selemi and Thabit el Benani and Neja el Bekkaa and Mohammed ben Wasi and Eyoub es Sukhtiyani and Hebib el Farsi and Hassan ben Abou Sinan and Otbeh el Ghulam and Salih el Muzeni, (6) till we reached the place of prayer, when the boys came out of the schools and we offered up prayers for rain, but could see no sign of acceptance. So about mid-day the people went away and I and Thabit el Benani abode till nightfall, when we saw a black of comely visage, slender-shanked and big-bellied, come up, clad in a pair of woollen drawers; if all he wore had been priced, it would not have fetched a couple of dirhems. He fetched water and made the ablution, then, going up to the prayer-niche, prayed two inclinations deftly, his standing and bowing and prostration being [well-nigh] simultaneous. Then he raised his eyes to heaven and said, 'O my God and my Master and my Lord, how long wilt thou reject the prayers of Thy servants in that which offereth no hurt to Thy sovereignty? Is that which is with Thee expended or are the treasuries of Thy kingdom exhausted? I conjure Thee, by Thy love to me, to pour out upon us Thy rain-clouds forthwith!'

Hardly had he made an end of speaking, when the sky clouded over and there came a rain, as of the emptying of waterskins. When we left the oratory, we were up to our knees in water, and we were lost in wonder at the black. So I accosted him and said to him, 'Out on thee, O black, art thou not ashamed of what thou saidst?' 'How so?' asked he. 'Didst thou not adjure God by His love for thee?' said I. 'What giveth thee to know that He loveth thee?' 'Away from me,' replied he, 'O thou that art distracted [by the love of the world] from [the care of] thine own soul! Where was I, when He gave me strength to identify myself with Him and of His special favour vouchsafed unto me the knowledge of Him? (7) How deemest thou that He aided me thus except of His love to me? Verily, His love to me is after the measure of my love to Him.' Quoth I, 'Tarry awhile with me, may God have mercy on thee!' But he said, 'I am a slave and the Book of God enjoins me to obey my lesser (8) master.' So he went away and we followed him afar off, till we saw him enter a slave-dealer's house.

Now the first half of the night was passed and the last half was long upon us, so we went away; but next morning, we repaired to the slave-dealer and said to him, 'Hast thou a boy (9) to sell us for service?' 'Yes,' answered he, 'I have nigh upon a hundred boys, and they are all for sale.' Then he showed us slave after slave, till he had shown us threescore and ten; but my friend was not amongst them, and the dealer said, 'These are all I have.' But, as we were going away, we espied a ruinous hut behind his house and going in, saw the black standing there. 'It is he, by the Lord of the Kaabeh!' cried I and turning back to the dealer, said to him, 'Sell me yonder slave.' 'O Abou Yehya,' (10) replied he, 'this is a plaguy, morose, unprofitable fellow, who hath no concern by night but weeping and by day but repentance.' 'It is for that I want him,' said I. So the dealer called him, and he came out, feigning drowsiness. Quoth his master, 'Take him at thine own price, so thou hold me quit of all his faults.' So I bought him for twenty dinars and said, 'What is his name?' 'Maimoun,' answered the dealer; and I took him by the hand and went out with him, intending for my house; but he turned to me and said, 'O my lesser lord, why didst thou buy me? By Allah, I am not fit for the service of the creature!' 'On my head be it,' replied I; 'I bought thee that I might serve thee myself.' 'Why so?' asked he, and I said, 'Wast thou not in company with us yesterday in the place of prayer?' 'And didst thou hear me?' quoth he; and I answered, 'It was I accosted thee yesterday and spoke with thee.'

Then we went on till we came to a mosque, where he entered and prayed a two-bow prayer; after which he said, 'O my God and my Master and my Lord, the secret that was between Thee and me Thou hast discovered unto men and hast betrayed me therein among Thy creatures. How then shall life be sweet to me, now that others than Thou have happened upon that which is between Thee and me? I conjure Thee to take my soul to Thee forthright.' So saying, he prostrated himself, and I waited awhile till, seeing that he did not raise his head, I went up to him and moved him and found that he was indeed dead, the mercy of God the Most High be upon him! I laid him out and looked at him, and behold, he was smiling. More-over, whiteness had gotten the better of blackness in his face, and it was radiant with light.

As we wondered at his affair, the door opened and a young man came in to us and said, 'Peace be on you! May God make great our reward and yours for our brother Maimoun! Here is his shroud: wrap him in it.' So saying, he gave us two robes, never had we seen their like, and we shrouded him therein. And now his tomb is a place whither the folk resort to pray for rain and ask favours of God; and how excellently well saith the poet on this subject:

      The pleasaunce of the just is in a garden of the skies, About whose gates God's doorkeepers hold ever watch and ward.
      Behold, there drink they of old wine, and mingled therewithal Tesnim, (11) that is, the wine of close communion with the Lord.
      The secret of their hearts is safe from other than God's sight; For that their sprights with His are blent in one supreme accord.


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