The Mad Fence
A Folktale rewritten by Norma Tarazi
Once there was and once there wasn't, a long time ago, a
young boy named Tariq with a VERY bad temper. When his mother called him
to get up for school in the morning he would yell at her, "I'm up, leave
me alone!" even though he had just opened his eyes.
If he wanted spaghetti when his mother made macaroni and cheese, he would
get mad at her for not asking him before cooking.
When his little sister accidentally touched his toys he would yell
at her. Always. He HATED it when someone touched HIS stuff, especially
When his friend missed the ball in a soccer game and their team
lost, he yelled really bad words and his friend decided not to be
friends with him anymore. Well, it WAS all his friend's fault anyway, and
who needs friends!
His father was a sailor and left home often to sail on ships around the
world. He wasn't home a lot. One day, his father came home
from a long trip while Tariq was working on a model ship on the table.
His father roared out "Asalaam alaikum, I'm home!" and his mother and
little sister came running happily from the back rooms to greet him. A
gust of wind from the open door blew down the newly glued mast of Tariq's
model ship. Tariq screamed in rage. "Shut that door! You just ruined my
Tariq's father, mother, and little sister stared at him in shock.
Everyone stayed away from Tariq for a while, while Tariq's father
had coffee and talked with his wife and daughter. There
was lots of news of the family to catch up on.
Then, when Tariq's mother went to start supper, Tariq's father called him
out to the storage shed in the back yard.
"Tariq, see these nails? See this hammer? I want you to
take a nail to the back fence and hammer it in, for getting mad about the
breeze disturbing your model earlier today. And from now on, I want you to
pound in a nail each time you get angry."
Tariq didn't understand why he should hammer a nail, but he did as his
father ordered. It was hard to hit the nail square on the head, and once
he hit his finger instead of the nail. He got mad at the hammer and threw
across the yard. Tariq's father made him nail in another nail, for
the hammer in rage.
The next morning, Tariq was almost late to school because
he had to hammer in 5 nails for yelling at his mother, father, and sister
for 5 different reasons before breakfast. By the end of the day he had
hammered in 37 nails, and he was pretty tired of hammering. He was getting
better about not hitting his fingers though.
Day by day Tariq hammered nails. Why did his father insist on it? Looking
at the fence, with its many nails, Tariq was embarrassed by all the proof
of his bad deeds.
Some of the kids from school knew about the fence, because he accidentally
told them. They called it the "Mad Fence". They asked many
times to come and see it but Tariq wouldn't show it to them. But little by
little, he found that the thought of the fence made it easier to hold his
and he gradually began to yell less often, and when he yelled, he was able
to stop more quickly.
Then, one evening, he was building a block castle and his
sister, who had come over to watch, dropped her stuffed bunny on the
blocks, making the whole thing come down. Tariq stood up quickly, took a
big breath to yell, and, instead of saying something mad, suddenly burst
out, "OK, I'll get a nail!"
His father came out to the fence as Tariq pounded in the new nail. They
talked about how he was pounding in fewer nails now. He had made great
progress. He was even starting to have some friends again. Friends were
nice to have! That was slow going though, because they remembered how mad
he used to get and didn't trust him yet.
"I'm glad I don't have to pound so many nails anymore, Dad. Seeing all
the nails in the fence is ugly."
Then his father suggested that Tariq could remove a nail
each day that he went all day without losing his temper. Day by day Tariq
looked forward to removing a nail from the fence before Isha prayer. It
was often difficult to pull them out and he had to struggle, but it felt
good to remove the signs of his bad deeds.
Finally, the day came when he removed the last nail. He called his family
to witness the great event. He felt very proud.
His mother was so happy, she kissed him and promised to
make his favorite dessert for after supper.
His father, however, said, "You have done well, my son, but look at the
holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things
in anger, they leave a scar just like this. You can put a knife in a man
and draw it out. It won't matter how many times you say, "I'm sorry". The
wound is still there. A verbal wound is as bad as a physical one."
The family stared at the fence solemnly. It was a witness of Tariq's battle
with himself. Then his father hugged him and said, "May you grow to be a
strong man, Son.
The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, "The strong is not the one who
overcomes people by his strength, but the strong is the one who
controls himself while in anger." (Bukhari)