FRIENDSHIP AND LOYALTY
Mevlana Rumi said, “If you are looking for a friend who is faultless,
you will be friendless.”
There was a young man who had a group of friends who were not very good. They took him in a direction which was not pleasing to his father. Finally one day his father said to him, “Look, my son, get rid of your friends. I'm going to teach you the meaning of friendship.”
The son obeyed and abandoned his friends. His father took him to the back of the house, and there he killed a sheep. He slit the throat of the sheep, took its bloody carcass, and he put it into a huge sack. One could see bloodstains soaking through the canvas cloth.
“Now my son,” he said, “You know Ahmet who lives down the road. We’re the best of friends, as you know. Go and bring this sack to him, and tell him that your father accidentally killed someone. And ask him to help dispose the body.”
The young man took the sack, and carried it down the road to Ahmet’s house. He knocked, and Ahmet opened the door. “I’m the son of Habib,” the young man announced. “There’s been a terrible accident. My father has killed someone. The body is in this sack. My father asks that you help him dispose of this body, please!” “Wait a minute,” Ahmet said, and went back into his house.
Soon he returned with a sack filled with gold coins. Handing them over, he said, “Here take this to your father. With this money he will surely be able to get someone to dispose of this body.” The son went back to his father and told him the story. His father said, “My son, this is half a friend.” Then he continued, “Now take this sack and tell the same story to Hussein who lives on the other side of town. You remember him, we were once very good friends. But lately we’ve disagreed on a lot of things, and actually in the last several months we haven’t even spoken to each other. But take it to him.”
He took the sack, walked across town, and knocked on Hussein’s door. When the door opened, the young man said, “I’m the son of Habib. There’s been a terrible accident. My father killed someone. The body is in this sack. He asked if you could please help him dispose of the body.” Hussein looked at the boy, grabbed the sack, and pushing him away, said, “Tell your father I’m not interested in him. And you, get out of here. Don’t ever tell anyone you’ve seen me!” He slammed the door shut, but he kept the bloody sack. The young man went home. He told his father the story of what had happened with Hussein. His father smiled and said, “That my son, is a friend.”
At the time of the Ottoman Empire in Turkey, one of the viziers told the sultan about a great shaykh who lived in Anatolia. He warned the sultan to be careful of this sheikh, because he had hundreds of thousands of followers. And if this shaykh decided to turn against the sultan, the whole country would be in turmoil and he could even lose his throne. The sultan got quite concerned. He sent for the shaykh to come to Istanbul. When they met, the sultan said, “What is this I hear, you have hundreds of thousands of dervish followers?”
“No, that is not so,” the shaykh answered. “Well how many do you have?” the sultan insisted. “I only have one and a half.” “If you only have one and a half, why is everyone telling me that you have the power to overthrow this entire country? We shall see. There’s a huge field at the edge of town, and tomorrow everyone is going to meet at that field.” The sultan sent out messengers to announce that anyone who was a follower of this great shaykh should come to this field the next day, because the shaykh would be there. Above the field there was a hill where the sultan set up a huge tent. Inside the tent he put several sheep, but no one could see this. The next day, hundreds of thousands of people came to the field to see the great shaykh. In front of the tent the sultan stood next to the shaykh and said, “You said you didn’t have many followers. Look at all these people who believe they’re your followers.” “They are not,” the shaykh said. “I only have one and a half dervishes. You’ll see.”
“The shaykh has committed an indiscretion,” the sultan said. “And unless ten of his dervishes give up their life for him, his life will be taken.” There was a great rumbling in the crowd. “He is my shaykh and teacher. Whatever I know came from him,” one man came forward and said, “I will go and give my life for him.” The sultan’s men marched him up the hill, took him into the tent, and slit the throat of a sheep. Everybody saw the blood flowing out from the inside of the tent, and this made them very nervous. The sultan declared, “Is there anyone else willing to give his life for his shaykh?” Silence.
Then one woman stood up and said she would. They marched her up and into the tent, and again they slit the throat of another sheep. Seeing more blood, the crowd began to disperse. Soon there was no one left in the field. The shaykh turned to the sultan and said, “You see, I told you, I only had one and a half dervishes.”
The sultan said, “Oh, the man is your dervish and the woman is half a dervish?” “No, no,” the shaykh said. “The woman is my dervish, and the man is half a dervish.” Seeing the surprised expression on the sultan’s face, the shaykh explained, “The man did not actually know that he was going to be killed when he entered the tent. But the woman knew, and she still came forward. She is my real dervish.” That is loyalty. Loyalty and friendship go together.
We have to understand how to be friends. We wish to know Allah, but we don’t know ourselves. We must begin to see in a way that we can learn about ourselves. Learn about this blessing that Allah has given us. Because we are, each of us, a blessing. Allah has placed a part of His beauty in each of us. And what He has not given to one He’s given to another.
Excerpted from When you hear hoofbeats think of a zebra: Talks on Sufism, by Shems Friedlander. Mazda Publishers. Page 69-72.
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