THE DEVOTEE PRINCE



The Commander of the Faithful, Harun al-Rashid, had a son who, from the time he attained the age of sixteen, renounced the world and walked in the way [FN#158] of ascetics and devotees.  He was wont to go out to the graveyards and say, “Ye once ruled the world, but that saved you not from death, and now are ye come to your sepulchres!  Would Heaven I knew what ye said and what is said to you!” [FN#159]  and he wept as one weepeth who is troubled with fear and apprehension, and repeated the worlds of the poet,

    “Affright me funerals at every time; *
         And wailing women grieve me to the soul!”

Now it chanced one day, as he sat among the tombs, according to his custom, his father passed by in all his state, surrounded by his Wazirs and Lords of the realm and the Officers of his household, who seeing the Caliph’s son with a gown of woollen stuff on his body and a twist of wool on his head by way of turband, said to one another, “Verily this youth dishonoureth the Commander of the Faithful among Kings: but, if he reproved him, he would leave his present way of life.”   The Caliph heard these words; so quoth he to his son, “O my dear child, of a truth thou disgracest me by thy present way of life.”  The young man looked at him and made no reply: then he beckoned to a bird perched on the battlements of the palace, and said to it, “O thou bird, I conjure thee by Him who created thee, alight upon my hand.” Whereupon straightway it swooped down and perched on his finger.  Then quoth he, “Return to thy place;” and it did so.  Presently he said, “Alight on the hand of the Commander of the Faithful;” but it refused there to perch, and he cried to his father, “It is thou that disgracest me amongst the Holy [FN#160] Ones, by the love of the world; and now I am resolved to part from thee, never to return to thee, save in the world to come.”  Then he went down to Bassorah, where he took to working with those which wrought in clay, [FN#161] receiving, as his day’s hire, but a dirham and a danik; [FN#162] and with the danik he fed himself and gave alms of the dirham.  (Quoth Abú Amir of Bassorah) “There fell down a wall in my house; so I went forth to the station of the artisans to find a man who should repair it for me, and my eyes fell on a handsome youth of a radiant countenance.  So I saluted him and asked him, ‘O my friend, dost thou seek work?’ ‘Yes,’ answered he; and I said, ‘Come with me and build a wall.’  He replied, ‘On certain conditions I will make with thee.’  Quoth I ‘What are they, O my friend?’; and quoth he, ‘My wage must be a dirham and a danik, and again when the Mu’ezzin calleth to prayer, thou shalt let me go pray with the congregation.’  ‘It is well,’ answered I and carried him to my lace, where he fell to work, such work as I never saw the like of.  Presented I named to him the morning-meal; but he said, ‘No;’ and I knew that he was fasting. [FN#163]  When he heard the call to prayer, he said to me, ‘Thou knowest the condition?’  ‘Yes,’ answered i.  So he loosed his girdle and, applying himself to the lesser ablution, made it after a fashion than which I never saw a fairer; [FN#164] then he went to the mosque and prayed with the congregation and returned to his work.  He did the same upon the call to mid-afternoon prayer, and when I saw him fall to work again thereafterward, I said to him, ‘O my friend, verily the hours of labour are over; a workman’s day is but till the time of afternoon-prayer.’  But he replied, ‘Praise to the Lord, my service is till the night.’  And he ceased not to work till nightfall, when I gave him two dirhams; whereupon he asked ‘What is this!’; and I answered, ‘By Allah, this is but part of thy wage, because of thy diligence in my service.’  But he threw them back to me saying, ‘I will have no more than was agreed upon between us twain.’  I urged him to take them, but could not prevail upon him; so I gave him the dirham and the danik, and he went away.  And when morning dawned, I went to the station but found him not; so I enquired for him and was told, ‘He cometh thither only on Sabbaths.’  Accordingly, when Saturday came, I betook me to the market and finding him there, said to him, ‘Bismillah, do me the favour to come and work for me.’  Said he, ‘Upon the conditions thou wottest;’ and I answered ‘Yes!’  Then carrying him to my house I stood to watch him where he could not see me; and he took a handful of puddled clay and laid it on the wall, when, behold, the stones ranged themselves one upon other; and I said, ‘On this wise are Allah’s holy ones.’ he worked out his day and did even more than before; and when it was night, I gave him his hire, and he took it and walked away.  Now when the third Saturday came round, I went to the place of standing, but found him not; so I asked after him and they told me, ‘He is sick and lying in the shanty of such a woman.’  Now this was an old wife, renowned for piety, who had a hovel of reeds in the burial-ground.  So I fared thither and found him stretched on the floor which was bare, with a brick for a pillow and his face beaming like the new moon with light.  I saluted him and he returned my salam; and I sat down at his head weeping over his fair young years and absence from home and submission to the will of his Lord.  Then said I to him, ‘Hast thou any need?’  ‘Yes,’ answered he; and I said, ‘What is it?’  He replied, ‘Come hither to-morrow in the forenoon and thou wilt find me dead.  Wash me and dig my grave and tell none thereof: but shroud me in this my gown, after thou hast unsewn it and taken out what thou shalt find in the bosom-pocket, which keep with thee.  Then, when thou hast prayed over me and laid me in the dust, go to Baghdad and watch for the Caliph Harun al-Rashid, till he come forth, when do thou give him what thou shalt find in the breast of my gown and bear him my salutation.’  Then he ejaculated the profession of the Faith and glorified his God in the most eloquent of words, reciting these couplets,

    ‘Carry the trust of him whom death awaits *
         To Al-Rashid and God reward thy care!
    And say ‘An exile who desired thy sight *
         Long loving, from afar sends greeting fair.
    Nor hate nor irk (No!) him from thee withdrew, *
         Kissing thy right to Heaven brought him near. [FN#165]
    But what estranged his soul, O sire, from thee *
         Is that thy worldly joys it would not share!’

Then he betook himself to prayer, asking pardon of Allah’ -- And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.

When it was the Four Hundred and Second Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that the youth then betook himself to asking pardon of Allah and to invoking prayer and praise upon the Apostle and the Lord of the Just and repeating verses of the Koran; after which he recited these couplets,

    “O sire, be not deceived by worldly joys; *
         For life must pass, and joy must learn to mourn;
    When thou art told of folk in evil plight, *
         Think thou must answer for all hearts forlorn;
    And when thou bear thy dead towards the tombs, *
         Know thou wilt likewise on that way be bourne.”

Continued Abu the Basri, “Now when the youth had ended his charge and his verses I left him and went home.  On the morrow, I returned, at the appointed hour, and found him indeed dead, the mercy of Allah be upon him!  So I washed him and, unsewing his gown, found in the bosom a ruby worth thousands of gold pieces and said to myself, ‘By Allah, this youth was indeed weaned from worldly things!’  After I had buried him, I made my way to Baghdad and, going to the Caliph’s palace, waited till he came forth, when I addressed him in one of the streets and gave him the ruby, which when he saw, he knew and fell down in a fainting-fit.  His attendants laid hands on me, but he revived and said to them, ‘Release him and bring him courteously to the palace.’  They did his bidding, and when he returned, he sent for me and carrying me into his chamber said to me, ‘How doth the owner of this ruby?’  Quoth I, ‘Verily, he is dead;’ and told him what had passed; whereupon he fell a-weeping and said, ‘The son hath gained; but the sire hath lost.’  Then he called out, saying, ‘Ho, such an one!’; and behold there came out to him a lady who, when she saw me, would have withdrawn; but he cried to her, ‘Come, and mind him not.’  So she entered and saluted, and he threw her the ruby, which when she saw and she knew, she shrieked a great shriek and fell down in a swoon.  As soon as she came to herself, she said, ‘O Commander of the Faithful, what hath Allah done with my son?’; and he said to me, ‘Do thou tell her his case’ (as he could not speak for weeping).  Accordingly, I repeated the story to her, and she began to shed tears and say in a faint and wailing voice, ‘How I have longed for thy sight, O solace of mine eyes! [FN#166] Would I might have given thee to drink, when thou hadst none to slake thy thirst!  Would I might have cheered thee, whenas thou foundest never a cheerer!’  And she poured forth tears and recited these couplets,

    ‘I weep for one whose lot a lonely death befel; *
         Without a friend to whom he might complain and moan:
    And after glory and glad union with his friends, *
         He woke to desolation, friendless, lorn and lone;
    What Fortune hides a while she soon to all men shall show; *
         Death never spared a man; no, not a single one:
    O absent one, my Lord decreed thee strangerhood, *
         Far from thy nearest friends and to long exile gone:
    Though Death forbid my hope of meeting here again, *
         On Doom-day’s morrow we shall meet again, my son! [FN#167]

Quoth I, ‘O Commander of the Faithful, was he indeed thy son?’  Quoth he, ‘Yes, and indeed, before I succeeded to this office, he was wont to visit the learned and company with the devout; but, when I became Caliph, he grew estranged from me and withdrew himself apart. [FN#168]  Then said I to his mother, ‘Verily this thy son hath cut the world and devoted his life to Almighty Allah, and it may be that hard times shall befal him and he be smitten with trial of evil chance; wherefore do thou given him this ruby, which he may find useful in hour of need.’  So she gave it him, conjuring him to take it, and he obeyed her bidding.  Then he left to us the things of our world and removed himself from us; nor did he cease to be absent from us, till he went to the presence of Allah (to whom be Honour and Glory!), pious and pure.’  Then said he, ‘Come, show me his grave.’  So, I travelled with him to Bassorah and showed him his son’s grave; and when he saw it, he wept and lamented, till he fell down in a swoon; after which he recovered and asked pardon of the Lord, saying, ‘We are Allah’s and unto Him we are returning!’; and involved blessings on the dead.  Then he asked me to become his companion, but I said to him, “O Commander of the Faithful, verily, in thy son’s case is for me the most momentous of admonitions!’  And I recited these couplets,

    “‘Tis I am the stranger, visited by none; *
         I am the stranger though in town my own:
    ‘Tis I am the stranger! Lacking kith and son, *
         And friend to whom I mote for aidance run.
    I house in mosques which are my only home; *
         My heart there wones and shall for ever wone:
    Then laud ye Allah, Lord of Worlds, as long *
         As soul and body dwell in union!’”

And a famous tale is told of



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