STORY XIII. The People of Saba.
After an anecdote of 'Isa being obliged to ascend a mountain to get away from
the fools comes the story of the men of Saba. "A sign there was to Saba in
their dwelling-places two gardens, the one on the right hand and the other on
the left; 'Eat ye of your Lord's supplies, and give thanks to Him; goodly is
the country and gracious is the Lord.' But they turned aside, so we sent upon
them the flood of lram. Such was our retribution on them for their ingratitude."
1 The men of Saba were all fools, and brought destruction on themselves
by their ingratitude to God. One was far-sighted, and yet blind; another sharp
of hearing, and yet deaf; and a third naked, and yet wearing a long robe.
Avarice is blind to its own faults, but sees those of others; the sharp-eared
deaf man hears death approaching others, but not himself, and the long-robed
naked man is he who fears robbers, though he has nothing to lose. In fact, all
these men of Saba were afflicted with follies and self-delusions of this kind,
and gave no thanks to God for the blessings which they enjoyed. Accordingly
thirteen prophets were sent to admonish them, but their admonitions were not
listened to, the men of Saba questioning their divine mission and demanding a
miracle as a sign. They also told the prophets a parable of a clever hare, who,
wishing to frighten an elephant away from a fountain, went to the elephant,
pretending to be an ambassador from the moon. 2 The prophets were
naturally indignant at the effrontery of the men of Saba in misapplying
parables to discredit their divine mission, and reminded them that wicked men
had flouted the prophet Noah in the same way when he was warning them of the
flood. And they demonstrated at length how the men of Saba had misapplied the
parable of the hare and the elephant, and again adjured them to believe. But
the men of Saba continued refractory, and would not, accept the Prophets'
counsels. They plied the prophets with the arguments of the Compulsionists (Jabriyan),
and refused to be convinced of the fallacy of their reasoning. So at last the
prophets despaired of them, and left them to their doom.
Not every one can properly use similitudes and parables in divine matters.
The faculty of using similitudes is peculiar to a saint
Who is signally marked by knowledge of hidden mysteries.
What know you of the mystery hid in aught, that you
In your folly should use similitudes of curl and cheek?
Moses took his staff to be a stick, though it was not;
It was a serpent, and its mystery was revealed.
If a saint such as he knew not the mystery of a stick,
What know you of the mystery of the snare and grains?
When the eye of a Moses erred as to a similitude,
How can a presumptuous mouse understand one?
Those similitudes of yours are changed into serpents
To tear you into pieces with their jaws.
Such a parable did cursed Iblis use,
So that he became cursed of God till the day of doom.
Such a parable did Korah use in his argument,
So that he was swallowed up in the earth with his wealth.
Such parables know to be as crows and owls,
Whereby a hundred households are annihilated.
When Noah was building the ark in the desert,
A hundred parable-mongers attacked him with irony,
Saying, "In the desert, where is no water or well,
He builds a boat! What ignorant folly is this!"
The arguments of the Jabriyan, i.e., the Fatalists or Compulsionists.
The men of Saba said, "O preachers, enough!
What you say is enough, if there are any wise here.
God has placed a 'lock upon our hearts,' 3
And no man can overcome the Creator.
That great Painter has painted us thus;
His painting cannot be altered by argument.
Keep telling forever a stone to become a ruby,
Keep telling forever the old to become young!
Tell earth to assume the quality of water,
Bid water to become honey or milk!
God is the creator of heaven and them that dwell therein;
Also of water and of earth, and them that dwell therein;
To heaven He gave its revolutions and its purity,
To the earth its dark look and appearance.
Can the heaven will to become as dregs?
Can earth will to assume the clearness of pure wine?
That Person has assigned 'to each its lot,
Can mountain by endeavor become as grass?"
The prophets answered, "Verily God has created
Some qualities in you which you cannot alter;
But He has created other accidental qualities,
Which, being objectionable, may be made good.
Bid stone become gold that is impossible;
Bid copper become gold that is possible.
Bid sand bloom as a rose it cannot;
Bid dust turn to mud that is within its capacity.
God has sent some pains for which there is no cure,
Such, for instance, as lameness, loss of nose, and blindness.
God has sent other pains for which there are cures,
To wit, crooked mouth and headache.
God has ordained these remedies of His mercy;
The use of these in pain and anguish is not in vain.
Nay, the majority of pains may be cured;
When you seek those cures earnestly you find them."
The men of Saba replied, "O men, these pains of ours
Are not of the sort 'that admit of cure.
Long time ye utter these presages and warnings,
But our bonds are made thereby heavier every moment.
If our sickness admitted of a cure,
It would certainly have been lessened by your spells.
When the body is obstructed water reaches not the liver,
Though one drinks the ocean, it passes elsewhere.
Then of course the hands and feet become dropsical,
And. yet that draught does not quench his thirst."
The prophets replied, "To despair is wrong,
The mercy and grace of God are boundless.
One must not despair of the grace of such a Benefactor,
One must cling to the stirrup-straps of God.
Ah! many are the conditions which at first are hard,
But, are afterwards relieved and lose their harshless.
Oftentimes hope succeeds to hopelessness,
Many times does sunlight succeed to darkness.
We admit that ye are weighted as with stones,
_And that ye have locks upon your ears and your hearts. 4
No condition of ours is altogether as we wish,
Our business is to be resigned and to obey.
God has enjoined this servitude upon us;
We say not this merely on our own authority.
We enjoy life on condition of doing His will;
If He bids us, we sow our seed upon the sand.
The soul of the prophet cares for naught but God,
It has naught to do with approving or disapproving His works."
The men of Saba replied, "If ye yourselves are happy,
Ye make us miserable and annoy and disturb us.
Our souls were void of all anxieties,
And ye have plunged us into cares and anxieties.
The comfort and harmony which we enjoyed heretofore
Have been rent in pieces by your evil presages.
We used to be as parrots munching sugar,
Ye have made us as fowls brooding on death.
On every side stories inspiring anxiety,
On every side sounds exciting fears:
On every side in the world an evil presage,
On every side evil portents threatening punishment:
This is the burden of your parables and presages,
This the purport of your awe-inspiring stories."
The prophets replied, "Our evil presages
Are corroborated by the state of your souls.
Suppose you are sleeping in a place of danger,
And serpents are drawing near to bite your heads,
A kind friend will inform you of your danger,
Saying, 'Jump up, lest the serpent devour you.'
You reply, 'Why do you utter evil presages?'
He answers, 'What presage? Up, and see for yourself!
By means of this evil presage I rouse you,
And release you from danger and lead you to your home.'
Like a prophet he warns you of hidden danger,
For a prophet sees what worldlings cannot see."
Mercy inclines the good to devotion, but vengeance the bad.
If you do a kindness to a generous man, 'tis fitting,
For each kindness he will return seven hundredfold.
When you treat a base man with scorn and contumely,
He will become your slave in all sincerity.
Infidels when enjoying prosperity do wrong,
When they are in hell they cry, "O our Lord!"
For base men are purified when they suffer evil,
And when they enjoy prosperity they do evil.
Wherefore the mosque of their devotion is hell,
As the snare is the fetter of wild fowl.
The prison is the hermitage of the wicked thief,
For when he is there he is ever crying to God.
Whereas the object of man's being is to worship God,
Hell is ordained as a place of worship for the proud; 5
Man has the power to engage in any actions soever,
But worship of God is the main object of his existence.
Read the text, 6 "I have not created Jinns and men but to worship
The only object of the world is to worship God.
Though the object of a book is to teach an art,
If you make a pillow of it, it serves that purpose too.
Yet its main object is not to serve as a pillow,
But to impart knowledge and useful instruction.
If you use a sword for a tent-peg,
You prefer the worse use of it to the better.
Though the object of all men's being is wisdom,
Yet each man has a different place of worship.
The place of worship of the noble is nobility,
The place of worship of the base is degradation.
Smite the base to make them bow the head.
Give to the noble to make them repay liberally.
Inasmuch as the base are evil and arrogant,
Hell and humbling are the "small gate" for them.
Verily God has created two places of adoration,
Hell for the base and increased bliss for the noble.
Even so Moses made a small gate in Jerusalem, 7
To make the Israelites bow the head in entering it.
The discussion is continued and illustrated by anecdotes of the Sufi who
preferred a table with no food upon it, because he ever sought
"not-being," of Jacob's vision of Joseph, and of a devout slave who
obtained leave of his master to say his prayers in a mosque, but tarried there
so long that the doors were shut, and he could not get out, nor his master in.
The prophets at last despaired of making any impression upon the unbelievers,
but called to mind the text "When at last the Apostles lost all hope, and
deemed that they were reckoned as liars, our aid reached them, and we delivered
whom we would, but our vengeance was not averted from the wicked."
The despair of the prophets.
The prophets said, "How long, in our benevolence,
Shall we give to this and that one good advice?
How long shall we hammer cold iron in vain?
How long waste breath in blowing into a lattice?
Men are moved by God's decree and fixed ordinance, 9
As sharp-set teeth are caused by heat of belly.
'Tis Primal Soul that dominates the Second Soul, 10
Fish begins to stink at the head, not the tail.
Yet be advised and keep your steed straight as an arrow,
When God says 'Proclaim' we must obey. 11
O men, ye know not to which party ye belong, 12
Exert yourselves then, till ye see which ye are.
When you place goods upon a ship,
You do it in trust that the voyage will be prosperous;
You know not which of the two events will befall you,
Whether you will be drowned or come safe to land.
If you say, 'Till I know which will be my fate
I will not set foot upon the ship;
Shall I be drowned on the voyage or a survivor?
Reveal to me in which class I shall be.
I shall not undertake the voyage on the chance
On the bare hope of reaching land, as the rest do.'
In that case no trade at all will be undertaken by you,
As the secret of these two events is always hidden.
The lamp of the heart, that is a timid trader,
Acquires neither loss nor gain by its ventures. 13
Nay, it acquires loss, for it is precluded from gain;
'Tis the lamp that takes fire that acquires light.
Since all things are dependent on probability,
Religion is so first of all, for thereby you find release.
In this world no knocking at the door is possible
Save hope, and God knows what is best."
Probability the guide of life in religion as well as in common matters.
"Religion dependent an hope and fear." 14
The final cause of trading is hope or probability,
When traders work themselves lean as spindles. 15
When the merchant goes to his shop in the morning,
He does so in hope and probability of gaining bread.
If you have no hope of getting bread, why go?
There is the fear of loss, since you are not strong.
But does not this fear of utter loss in your trade
Become weakened in the course of your exertions?
You say, "Although the fear of loss is before me,
Yet I feel greater fear in remaining idle.
I have a better hope through exerting myself;
My fear is increased by remaining idle."
Why then, O faint-hearted one, in the matter of religion
Are you paralysed by the fear of loss?
See you not how the traders in this market of ours
Make large profits, both apostles and saints?
What a mine of wealth awaits them on leaving it,
Seeing they make such profits while still here!
Fire is soft to them as cotton raiment,
The ocean bears them gently like a porter;
Iron in their hands is soft as wax,
The winds are their obedient slaves.