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Alone in the Desert (retold by Nasruddin)

Ah, it was a time of bustling cities and pressing obligations! After a time, I grew weary of the pace and needed a respite, a quiet time in which to gather my inner peace again. So I took the barest necessities and went into the desert, to be alone in the endless space under the vast sky, and to have only the stars and the sand for company.

It was a blessed time. Each day I awoke before the sun, and fell asleep to the light of shooting stars. I prayed at the appointed times and meditated early and late. I slept more soundly than I ever slept before, and woke refreshed and happy. The peace began to grow like a clear pool in my heart.

I was sleeping one night when I heard a sound. Is it not true that a tiny sound so often heralds great occurences? I heard the sound of a scratching on my tent. Perhaps a desert rat, or the wind. I opened my eyes, and all was dark. I peered into the darkness, and dimly discerned a shape barely outlined in the faint starlight that permeated the cloth of the tent. It was a man, stealthily entering.

I didn't want to intrude; his concentration seemed to be intense. Besides, I was a little curious, so I lay and watched. He apparently planned to rob me of all my possessions, not knowing I had only brought the barest necessities. He rooted around for a few moments, and stood up. I could see he had a good load on his back. In the faint light I could just discern both of my table lamps and my golf clubs.

He exited the tent, and I could hear him depositing the booty on the ground a little distance away. Just as I thought, he returned for more. He was a little longer the second time, but when he stood, I saw he was carrying my grandfather clock. When he picked up my color television, it was the last straw.

I jumped up and followed him out of the tent.

"Stop!" I cried. He froze in his tracks. Slowly, with trembling limbs, he set his load on the ground, and turned.

"I am lost!" he stammered. "I was trying to find my way and stumbled on this tent."

"And decided to take everything in it?" I asked.

"You have caught me." He hung his head in shame. "I am at your mercy. I have stolen, and I must pay the price."

I looked at him with what I hoped was a piercing gaze. "We have no magistrates here, save that I was once a mulla. We do have common sense and compassion."

He looked at me wonderingly. I went on. "I see by your garb you are a poor man, and by the doll showing from your pocket that you are a family man."

"I am," he replied. "We have fallen on hard times."

"For heaven's sake, don't make them harder, young man," I said. "Where I come from, if we do a job, we do it one hundred percent. You have been sloppy, and have not completed your task. You forgot this." And I handed him the small bag of gold I always keep at the foot of my bed.

He looked at me dumfounded. "What do you mean, effendi?"

"I mean this is your most fortunate day," I replied. "I have just this night renounced ownership of all my possessions, and returned them to their rightful owner. Do you know who that is?"

"Allah?" he asked, weakly.

"But of course!" I cried, warming to my subject. "All these goods are not mine; they belong to Allah, and are at the disposal of everyone. So you see, young man, by the greatest stroke of fortune, on this night, of all nights, in this tent of all tents, you did not steal, because the goods belonged to you already. Now are you going to take the gold or not?"

The young man was silent for a moment, then fell on his knees.

"Oh, great shaikh! You are beyond all wisdom! I have never heard anything so wise or so compassionate. You are the most wise and generous of all men! I repent of my misdeeds, and throw myself on your mercy. Please take me as your disciple, and teach me your profound philosophy."

"Ah, I am pleased with you, my son." I replied. "You can never earn more than a bachelor's degree with me, because I am a bachelor."

He looked up at me , wondering what nonsense this was. And surely, wisdom and nonsense are often difficult to distinguish.

"I will take you as my companion and teach you what I can. You may share my tent. Now that you have unburdened me of these possessions, there is plenty of room!"

So that is how I met Tekka. He has since become a good and loyal friend, as I am to him.

Peace be upon you; I must now depart.

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