At length Mirza Abdul Cossim himself, having heard much of my sanctity, took an opportunity, when visiting the shrine of the saint, to send for me. This was an event which I contemplated with apprehension; for how could I possibly conceal my ignorance from one who would certainly put my pretensions of knowledge to the test? — an ignorance so profound, that I could scarcely give an account of what were the first principles of the Mohamedan faith.
I, therefore, began to take myself to task upon what I did know. ‘Let me see,’ said I, ‘I know, lst, that all those who do not believe in Mahomed, and in Ali his lieutenant, are infidels and heretics, and are worthy of death. 2ndly, I also know that all men will go to Jehanum (hell), excepting the true believers; and I further believe that it is right to curse Omar. — I am certain that all the Turks will go to Jehanum — that all Christians and Jews are nejis (unclean), and will go to Jehanum — that it is not lawful to drink wine or eat pork — that it is necessary to say prayers five times a day, and to make the ablution before each prayer, causing the water to run from the elbow to the fingers, not contrariwise, like the heretical Turks.’
I was proceeding to sum up the stock of my religious knowledge, when the dervish came into the room; and I made no scruple of relating to him my distress and its cause.
‘Have you lived so long in the world,’ said be, ‘and not yet discovered that nothing is to be accomplished without impudence? The stories which Dervish Sefer, his companion, and I related to you at Meshed, have they made so little impression upon you?’
‘The effect of those stories upon my mind,’ said I, ‘produced such a bastinado upon the soles of my feet, by way of a moral, that I request you to be well assured I shall neither forget you nor them as long as I live: the fêlek is a great help to the memory. And now, according to your own account, instead of the bastinado, I am likely to get stoned, should I be found wanting; a ceremony which, if it be the same to you, I had rather dispense with. Say then, O dervish, what shall I do?’
‘You are not that Hajji Baba which I always took you to be,’ said the dervish, ‘if you have not the ingenuity to deceive the mûshtehed. Keep to your silence, and your sighs, and your shrugs, and your downcast looks, and who is there that will discover you to be an ass? No, even I could not.’
‘Well,’ said I, ‘be it so: Allah kerim! God is great! — but it is being in very ill luck to be invited to an entertainment to eat one’s own filth.’
Upon which I set forward with my most mortified and downcast looks to visit the mûshtehed, and, thanks to my misfortunes, I truly believe that no man in the whole city could boast of so doleful a cast of countenance as I could. However, as I slowly paced the ground, I recollected one of the tales recited by our great moralist Saadi, in his chapter upon the Morals of Dervishes, which applied so perfectly to my own case, that I own it cheered me greatly, and gave me a degree of courage to encounter the scrutiny of the mûshtehed which otherwise I never could have acquired. It is as follows:—
‘A devout personage was once asked, what he thought of the character of a certain holy man, of whom others had spoken with slight and disrespect? He answered, “In his exterior I can perceive no fault, and of what is concealed within him I am ignorant. He who weareth an exterior of religion, doubt not his goodness and piety, if you are ignorant of the recesses of his heart. What hath the mohtesib to do with the inside of the house?"’
I then recollected some sentences from the same chapter, which would apply admirably in case I were called upon to show my learning and humility at the same time; for I promised to say to the holy man, should he offer me an opportunity, ‘Do unto me that which is worthy of thee, treat me not according to my desert. Whether you slay or whether you pardon, my head and face are on thy threshold. It is not for a servant to direct; whatsoever thou commandest I shall perform.’
The mûshtehed had just finished his midday prayer, and was completing the last act of it by turning his head first over the right shoulder then over the left, when I entered the open apartment where he was seated. It was lined with his disciples, on each side and at the top, all of whom looked upon him with the reverence and respect due to a master. Here he held his lectures. A mollah, with whom I was acquainted, mentioned who I was, and forthwith I was invited to take my place on the carpet, which I did, after having with great humility kissed the hem of the holy man’s cloak. ‘You are welcome,’ said he; ‘we have heard a great deal concerning you, Hajji, and inshallah, your steps will be fortunate. Sit up higher!’
I made all sorts of remonstrances against sitting higher up in the room (for I had taken the lowest place); and when I had crept up to the spot to which he had pointed with his finger, I carefully nestled my feet closely under me, covering both them and my hands with my coat.
‘We have heard,’ said he, ‘that you are a chosen slave of the Most High; one whose words and whose acts are the same; not wearing a beard of two colours, like those who are Mussulmans in outward appearance, but who are kafirs in their hearts.’
‘May your propitious condescension never be less!’ said I: ‘your servant is the most abject of the least of those who rub their forehead on the threshold of the gate of Almighty splendour.’
Here ensued a pause and dead silence, when we each appeared absorbed in deep meditation. The mûshtehed then breaking the silence, said to me:—
‘Is it true, O Hajji! that your talleh, your destiny, has turned its face upon you, and that you have come hither to seek refuge? We and the world have long bid adieu to each other; so my questions are not to satisfy curiosity, but to inform me whether I can be of use to you. Our holy Prophet (upon whom be blessings and peace!) sayeth, “Let our faithful followers help each other: those who see, let them lead the blind; those who prosper, let them help those who are in adversity."’
Upon this I took courage, spoke my sentences from Saadi, as already recited, and told my tale in such a modified manner, that my auditors, I verily believe, began to look upon me as very little short of a martyr.
‘If it is so,’ said the mûshtehed, ‘perhaps the day is not far off, when I may be the instrument, in the hands of God, to see justice done you. The Shah is to visit the tomb before this month is expired, and as he looks upon me with the eyes of approbation, be assured that I will not be deficient in endeavouring to procure your release.’
‘What can such a sinner as I say to one of your high sanctity? I will pray for you; the dust of your path shall be collyrium for my eyes. Whatever you will do for me will be the effect of your goodness.’
‘It is plain that you are one of us,’ said the mûshtehed, apparently well satisfied at the almost divine honours which I paid him. ‘True Mussulmans always recognize each other in the same manner, as I have heard to be the case among a sect of the Franks, called Faramoosh 81 who by a word, a look, or a touch, will discover one another even among thousands.’
‘Allah ho akbar! God is great’; and ’La Allah il Allah! there is but one God’ was echoed by the company, in admiration of the mûshtehed’s knowledge; and then he continued to address me thus:—
‘There is an ajem with you, who calls himself a dervish. Is he an acquaintance of yours? He says that he and you are hem dum, of one breath. Is it so?’
‘Che arz bekunum? what supplication can I make?’ said I, not knowing precisely whether to acknowledge my friend or not.
‘Yes, he is a fakîr, a poor man, to whom I have given a path near me. He has done me some little service, and I am mindful of him.’
‘You must be mindful of yourself,’ said an old mollah, who sat next to me. ‘Whatever is thief, whatever is knave, you will be sure to find it among these ajems.’
‘Yes,’ said the mûshtehed, as he rested both his hands upon his girdle, whilst his disciples (who knew this to be his favourite attitude when about to make a speech) settled their faces into looks of attention —‘yes, these, and all who call themselves dervishes, be they the followers of Nûr Ali Shahi, be they Zahabîas, be they Nakshbendies, or be they of that accursed race of Uweisîes; all are kafirs or heretics — all are worthy of death. The one promulgate, that the fastings of the Ramazan, our ablutions, the forms and number of our daily prayers, are all unnecessary to salvation; and that the heart is the test of piety, and not the ceremonies of the body. The other acknowledge the Koran, ’tis true; but they reject everything else: the sayings of the Prophet, opinions of saints, etc. are odious to them; and they show their religious zeal by shouting out the blessed name of Allah, until they foam at the mouth, like so many roaring lions; and this they are pleased to call religion. Another set pretend to superior piety, by disfiguring the outward man, making vows, and performing acts of penance, that partake more of the tricks of mountebanks than of the servants of the Almighty. The fourth, the most heretical of all, would make us believe that they live in eternal communion with supernatural powers; and whilst they put on a patched and threadbare garment, affect to despise the goods of this world, and keep themselves warm by metaphysical meditations, which neither they nor any one else understand. No distinction of clean or unclean (may they enjoy the eternal grills!) stands in their way; lawful and unlawful is all one to them; they eat and drink whatever they choose, and even the Giaours, the infidels, are undefiled in their sight. And these call themselves Sûfies; these are your wise men; these are your lights of the world! Curses on their beard!’ To which all the company answered ‘ameen,’ or amen. Curses on their fathers and mothers! Curses on their children! Curses on their relations! Curses on Sheikh Attar! Curses on Jelâledîn Rûmi!’82 After each curse the whole assembly echoed ‘Ameen!’
When he had concluded, all the company, whilst they expressed their admiration at his doctrine, looked at me to see if I was not struck with amazement. I was not backward in making the necessary exclamations, and acted my part so true to the life, that the impression in my favour was universal.
The mûshtehed, warmed by his own words, continued to harangue against the Sûfies with such vehemence, that I believe had there been one at hand, they would have risen in a body and put him to death. I hugged myself in the success which had accompanied my attempt to appear a good Mussulman, and now began to think that I was one in right earnest.
‘If what I do,’ said I, ‘constitutes a religious man, and is to acquire me the world’s consideration, nothing is more easy. Why then should I toil through life, a slave to some tyrant, exposed to every vicissitude, uncertain of my existence beyond the present moment, and a prey to a thousand and one evils?’
I left the mûshtehed, and returned to my cell, determined to persevere in my pious dispositions. When I met my companion again, I told him all that had happened, and everything that had been said about him and dervishes in general; and advised him, considering the temper in which I had left the assembly, to make the best of his way out of a place in which every man’s mind and hand were turned against him. ‘If they catch you, they stone you, friend!’ said I; ‘upon that make your mind easy.’
‘May the stones alight on their own heads!’ exclaimed the dervish: ‘a set of blood-thirsty heathens! What sort of religion can theirs be which makes them seek the life of an inoffensive man? I come here, having no one thing to do with either Sûni or Shiah, Sûfi or Mohamedan: on the contrary, out of compliment to them, I go through all the mummery of five washings and five prayings per day, and still that will not satisfy them; however, I will be even with them. I will go; I will leave their vile hypocritical town; and neither will I wash nor pray until necessity obliges me to pass through it again.’
I must own that I was not sorry when I heard the dervish make this resolution. I saw him with pleasure gird on his broad leathern belt, from which was suspended great bunches of beads, and stick his long spoon in it. I helped to fasten his deer-skin to his back; and when he had taken up the iron weapon, which he carried on his shoulder, in one hand, whilst his other bore his calabash suspended with three chains, we bade each other adieu with great apparent cordiality.
Leaving me to the full possession of my cell, he sallied forth with all the lightness and gaiety of heart of one who had the world at his command, instead of the world before him, with nothing but his two feet and his ingenuity to carry him through it.
‘May the mercy of Allah be poured over you,’ said I, as I saw the last of him, ‘you merry rogue! and mayest thou never want a pair of shoes to your feet, nor a pleasant story to your tongue, with both of which thou mayest go through life with more pleasure both to thyself and others than the rich man, who is the slave of a thousand wants, a dependant upon his dependants for the commonest necessaries of his existence.’
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53