Of the trader and the Jew

In Religion and philosophy on 24. November 2013 at 22:20

‘The young preacher saw the beggars head decapitated from its body. Dipped in tar and hung from the bridge midways to the mighty Tigris. His limbs torn apart and thrown to vultures beside the cemetery. However, he was not satisfied as any accuser would have been, he was horrified I tell you. I found him next week sleeping beside the gate to oil market. His fresh white clothes now smirked in dirt, hands before so clean now held a begging bowl and face so straight, now completely lost’


The trade

The trader held his cup close to his mouth, looking across the fire to his recently met fellow trader who was heading in opposite direction. Both had to encamp and call it a day. The other trader, an old and massive man with snow white beard and stomach reminding of the wine barrels he had in his caravan of carts. His curls the only reminder of him being a Jew were gently placed behind his ears which were hidden under his magnificent black turban. Looking thoughtfully in the fire, the Jew moved his hand from his beard and spoke;

‘You tend to tell me that the accuser, the one who fought the case against this poor beggar, now himself became a beggar? Strange are the ways in Bagdad, but we are not to comprehend young man. Now tell me, fifteen dinars should be enough for three crates of that olive oil’

Both were encamped beside the main road from Isfahan heading for Sistan. The Jew, with his sons, tents, household animals and barrels of wine, and the trader, with his cart loaded with barrels of olive oil. The sun had just announced its defeat to the moon and dinner was consumed to the least bit. The old Jew poured another cup of his wine, put more wood on fire and straightened up to get his deal done.

‘Old man’, the trader said ‘you will get your deal, but listen; the preacher-turned-beggar told me one thing which I could not forget. And for the past weeks I have been thinking on his words; My existence is confirmed by connection with the existence of another being, I found the other too late, and lost him too early, then what existence do I have left?’

‘Utter nonsense. Son, you are young, do not interfere in these affairs, lest your fate will be the same as that poor beggar. In my fresh youth, I too questioned and wondered. If existence is to be confirmed by the other, then you need to know who the other is’

‘And you got your answer?’

‘No, I’m not interested anymore, all I know is that HaShem is my lord, that I have to rest on Shabbat and that I need that olive oil of yours to make profit tomorrow’

‘Good man, let me get mine answer, your deal will be good but it will not be sealed tonight when I’m in my cups, and you are to be awake to protect your belongings’

The cups

While the talks went on, the cups got countless and the fire danced wildly. The youngest son of the Jewish trader crept closer from where he had hid to hear this entire conversation. Leaning towards his father’s massive stomach, the boy listened eagerly to the thoughts sounding like magic in full wonder. The trader saw deep into the fire and opened his mouth;

‘As far as I get it, the beggar, was hopeless in love. Something tragic happened, and by the loss of love, he lost will to live. In his worldview, his love managed to take such a big part of life that he believed his existence was confirmed by dialogue with this love of his. As he lost her, he lost his wit to accept his existence, and as he could not confirm he became afraid’

‘Could be, but now you are assuming too much. The beggar we do not know much about, but the preacher must clearly have had gone through an devastating experience in order to change his life totally’

‘He was by the looks disillusioned. From being a young promising preacher from Basra, he turned to the streets and was spat on by his former comrades and disciples. As I can collect from market gossip, he accused the beggar of heresy, who in turn challenged him to debate. In this process the preacher was confronted by the magic words of beggar and became lost’

‘Not lost fool. He found himself, or rather confirmed his existence, by meeting the man he accused of heresy. But he could not comprehend it, until the beggar lost his head. Sad affair this, either live in ignorance or get completely taken by knowledge, do not linger in between as my beloved wife used to say’

‘Jew, your people and the creed of Ismail think alike, always comfortable in rituals, rites and systems, no wonder it ended up in beheading for that beggar. They challenge this hegemony, this effort to create system in this mess. The beggar in turn had simply said that you lose faith in God, if you believe in him simply out of fear.’

‘It may be, our beloved lady of Basra said something similar, Lord burn the paradise if I worship you out of its prize, and quench hell if I worship you out of fear. But as the cups puts to rest my reason, and you challenged my thoughts from youth, do listen now; The reason the accuser turned mad is simple and I can figure it out without even have talked to him like you did’

‘Now you are talking old man. Pour me another one and while at it, pour some light to that thought.

The spin

Fire cracked, it was midnight. The young boy was still listening to the deep conversation his father and the trader had. Both men, in resting position, with cups in hand and eyes pointing at the full moon had been silent for some time when the Jew broke the silence;

‘As I can collect it, the beggar and the preacher have a connection. Beggar being trapped by his tragic love for a woman and becoming a wayfarer, the preacher realising he for once lacked any rational answer for a question the beggar had trapped him in’

‘Why is it that you children of Ibra has to be so structural and rational in your understanding? Levitate, let your heart control the mind – this question which has troubled me is a matter of heart, and can only be answered that way’

‘Look, they are connected in a long chain as far as I can assume their questions even more. I believe as my friend the Gaon in Tiberias told me there must be a calculation behind this magic’

‘Magic? It is a play of words, which has no effect on the universe, earth or the dirt, but it pulverises the reason, expands the heart, and introduces man to a whole new, unknown universe’

‘What man feels in mind and heart is all subject to one’s own understanding of reality, but how it affects from one to the other has some calculation in it son’

‘Jew, you have indeed a point, there is this connection which needs to be solved. May the answer lies in combining the two questions?’

‘Let us marry these questions; the one says he cannot have existence without the confirmation through dialogue with another created being. The other says he cannot believe in the creator, if he has to fear him’

‘And the connection? Both are longing for something they hardly can touch’

The Jew hushed the traveller, paused and looked on him with a smile on his old face and said

‘They long for something lost son, they long to get back home. Through the path of love, the strongest human feeling, stronger than any wit, intellect or interference of the brain, to the creator, in order to be one with him once again. As they cannot comprehend it, they lost their wit’

‘Jew… I have gotten my answer. Now I long for my love back home, and for the olive oil, it will be seventeen dinars, no less.’

The chain

And as the story came to an end, the great Sheikh closed the scroll and looked outside his study table towards the outskirts of Bagdad.

‘By chance would Saadia the Gaon meet this son of the Jew and note down this strange story, forgotten by man for centuries but would come to my attention as I needed it the most.’ he thought.

‘Debate of Gods attributes never concluded this question, and as the world was ignorant to Hallaj or this poor beggar, two strange traders talked of a treatise I have worked on for ages. Sokrat was uncertain on the creation being eternal, as it then would never have been created, while Rushd so certain concluded it being so, and its form being inherent in this matter as well.’

‘And while ibn Ata’s creed were so eager to claim that God has attributes in his essence, they were surprisingly also claiming that Gods words are created. Ironically their counterparts, the most rigid of them, claimed God to have physical attributes, but funny enough claimed Gods word to be eternal’

‘If given, as I have started to believe, that almighty’s attributes are in his essence, then his words are also his essence. His thoughts, actions… creations are also parts of his being. And thus, as Sajid the beggar was reluctant to believe out of fear, he chased a medium to believe out of love – eventually misguiding poor preacher Salim to long for a confirming, rather than seeking route of love to the creator, the one and only to confirm existence.’

The Sheikh put up some notes he had written earlier and started reading.

‘ibn Sabin tells so delicately that unity of God is in being. And this being is in creation. How I wished to discuss this with the Jew and the trader but they are bones and dust now. Tell them that these poor souls were longing wrongly, as they did not needed to long, they were already a part of him – they were united in being’

‘Or am I concluding a matter the way I would like the question to be? Did these two travellers answer these questions as they would like them to be? Is it simply a mad lover and a mad regret? These strange battles human fight – poor has to fight hunger, thinker has to fight thoughts’

Taking a pause, he closed the scrolls and notes and packed them aside.

‘Once uttered, these damned thoughts become hostage. This might not be my battle today, but the braves have paid with their lives. I will have some leverage when I take on this world, and let them say ibn Arabi lost his mind, it doesn’t matter anymore. For now, all I know is that God is hidden under my cloak, and that tomorrow I’m off to Mosul to meet a long lost friend…’

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