Khalifah the Fisherman of Baghdad

Update: May 2011 – Hey, if you like my writing, you should check out my new website: Sustainable Diversity with fresh new and more in depth material!

I don’t normally do this, but before I get to the meat of this entry I’d just like to explain some things on what’s happening with this site. As I’ve had this site for over a year now I’m happy to note that there has been a overall increase in visitors every month despite my entire lack of consistent posting. I thought it important that I explain why I update so little in hope of attaining some form of a regular reading base.

The first reason on why I post infrequently is because usually my entries take a lot of thought, time, and resources. I tend to use common sense logic and seemingly reliable resources to construct my thoughts and understanding of the world. Because this site is mostly for me I feel it’s absolutely essential for me to take as much time as I need to complete an entry because if I’m not in the mood I will not take the issue I’m working on as seriously.  The second reasons are because I work a full time job as a teacher, I am still going to college for my Masters , balancing a social life, or staying in shape. All these things steal time away from this.

Also though, and most importantly, I need to intake information I consider important through means I deem appropriate. This brings me to what my post is about. I just finished reading The Arabian Nights: Tales from A Thousand and One Nights. While the picture of this book is shown to the right, it does no justice, because you can’t recognize from straight on that the book is as thick as a brick. 882 pages long with an additional 166 pages of notes, with 2 centimeters tall text (I just measured it) written entirely solidly without breaks or pictures save little poems and titles. If you’d like to see just how long it is on the computer, you can check it written here (but I see just by glancing they’re missing at least 1 story)On top of it all it was translated in 1850, not exactly modern language being used either.

So why would I waste my time reading an old thick translation of The Arabian Nights? My initial reason was because I have a severe thirst for learning about cultures across our planet and for that I need to read regional classics. Reading simply American or English classics will leave me blind of much of the world. I chose this version the the Nights because it was translated by a man known as Sir Richard F. Burton. At some point I shall write an entry about this man because I believe that we will never know the extent that his influence has had on the world as we know it today. A man with unparalleled skills, Burton may have more knowledge about indigenous cultures across the world than any other man living or dead. Of course, I definitely know he had is drawbacks, but he is a man I respect in his worldly knowledge and his ability to understand the absolute importance of unbiased information while still letting you know he has his own opinions of the matter. I knew reading the Burton translation would supply me with the most raw, articulate, and insightful understanding of the Eastern culture that surrounds these stories. Since I have just completed reading this monster I would like to try my attempt at translating an ancient middle-eastern story translated by an intelligent explorer from the 1850s into something that people today might actually enjoy reading. I know there are plenty of translations of Aladdin, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, and Sinbad the Sailor out there so I decided to share a story I enjoyed but is lesser known. So without further adieu, I give you:

Khalifah, the Fisherman of Baghdad

The Dynasty underneath the Caliph during this time. (Click to enlarge)

The Dynasty underneath the Caliph during this time. (Click to enlarge)

Centuries ago the most powerful city in the entire world was Baghdad, what is now the capital of Iraq. Terrorism, imperialism, despotism, poverty, and desperation were not in vogue at the time and instead bloomed forth a flourishing kingdom. Nestled in this fertile crescent, the same city in which much of our civilization sprang forth, there was a leader that outstretched the power of any Sultan. A sultan is simply just a King in charge of thousands of square kilometers of land, a military to protect that land, dozens of cities and all the common people who make their living in his kingdom. But in Baghdad there lived not a Sultan, but a Caliph.

Between the 700’s and 1300’s the religion of Islam spread like wildfire across the Middle East. As far West as the deserted Atlantic shores of Africa and as far East as the mighty heaven-scraping Himalayas and the warm, wet Indian subcontinent Islam reigned supreme. Europe was a poverty-stricken cesspool of factional Christian kingdoms – just as much at war with each other as they were with the Muslims. The Europeans sent their poorly armed troops to fight the refined mechanized superiority of the Caliphate.

Because, you see, the Caliph was not just in charge of the city of Baghdad – but instead he was in charge of the entire Muslim world. As far as Muslims were concerned during this time period, he was the man closest to God. His power and might went unrivaled because the Caliph had more power on 3 continents than anyone else had on just one.  Spices from China would trade in its market and an ebony man from Nigeria could be purchasing it. It was the center of the entire civilized world.

To be the Caliph during this time period would be simply inexplicable. The power that he held in his hands is probably unrivaled by the power held by any single man before or since. He didn’t just have access to weapons or information but people laid down their lives for him at the drop of a hat, it was the amount of devout followers that truly gave the Caliph his power. He had vast armies just waiting for him to breathe. The Caliph received anything he desired; he had more wealth than he could squander away in several lifetimes; he owned many slaves, both black and white, male and female, that tended to his every whim. The Caliph protected God – and Muslims across the globe agreed; there was nothing more sacred.

During a particularly peaceful and productive period for the Muslim world a Caliph reigned named Harun Al-Rashid. At the Caliph’s side at all times was his head councilor, known as a Wazir, named Ja’afar. [Quick side note: Because Disney is superior at altering classic literature I just wanted to clarify something. Ja’afar happens to be the Wazir to the Caliph in many of the stories within the Arabian Nights – however Ja’afar actually does not appear in the story of Alaeddin. This is because Alaeddin takes place in China and the person who locks him in the underground chamber was a Moroccan Magician. Also Ja’afar was never the Wazir to a mere Sultan – but always the Caliph. Also – Ja’afar is actually far more reasonable and nice than the Caliph in many of the stories and he does not attempt to undermine him.]

Caliph Harun Al-Rashid on left looking divine

Caliph Harun Al-Rashid on left looking divine

Caliph Al-Rashid was married to the prestigious and beautiful Lady Zubaydah. However, the Caliph was a man of wide-taste and at the end of another tiring day of absolute power Al-Rashid would have his concubines line up and he would determine which one he would bed with for the night. I’m sure his rationale for this behavior has something to do with Allah wishing him to try only the best fruits of his labor, but if you want to know what I suspect, I think the Caliph was just using God as justification for getting his very Earthly needs. Also, having such power is going to make him a bit spoiled, so he’s going to want to have “more” than everyone else and of course he’ll need the “best” – very typical human behavior. But – on the other side of things – though he used these women exclusively for showing off power and sex I would also surmise that they were compensated quite well for this duty to where even the strongest feminist might consider becoming a concubine to a man of such unexhaustable wealth.

So I imagine the Caliph walking down a line of beautiful women dressed in the most precious of cloths and silk. All of these women ready and willing to give herself to him, but all of them also knowing that she will not be chosen tonight. All of the Caliph’s concubines knew Al-Rashid’s favorite woman. She surpassed all others in physical beauty and mental acuteness and the all-powerful Caliph felt his only weakness when it came to her. After studying each woman carefully, without fail, he would pull out Kut-al-Kulub and the rest of the women would return to whence they came and the Caliph would lustily retreat with her to another room of his magnificent palace. For the Caliph and amiable Ja’afar the Cailphate was peaceful, prosperous, fruitful, and easy. Life was good. Things were seemingly all too perfect within the kingdom of the Caliphate.

Of course, things outside the palace tend to lose their fairy-tale essence. In the poorest section of Baghdad, covered in dirty streets and neighbors living on top of another, lived a man known as Khalifah. Khalifah woke up daily with shame branded on his body. His house had but one room and there was no privacy, for even a conversation could be heard by the neighbors. He stepped out of his home to get teased by the neighborhood children. Even among the poorest and most desperate citizens of Baghdad Khalifah was a joke. For Khalifah was already 35 and he had no wife. The children heard their parents mock him for being one of the only people in all of Baghdad to be so old and unmarried, and when they saw Khalifah, miserable and hungover, step out of his house in the morning the teasing would begin. Khalifah would chase them but they scattered too quickly and he was too hungry and hungover to expend any extra energy.  Khalifah always woke up not knowing if he would eat that night, strangely enough even when one isn’t sure where his next meal will come from, one is always able to find a bottle of alcohol for cheaper. Though Khalifah was penniless and had nobody else in the world he attempted to make an honest living through the only trade he knew – fishing. One morning Khalifah woke up, far away from the palace of the Caliphate, and took hold of his fishing nets and found a remote part of the mighty Tigris river that would hopefully provide him with his daily food. As he walked through the dirty, poverty-stricken city Khalifah looked up at the Caliphate in envy, but only briefly. He learned a long time ago that it did him no good to dream. As he reached the edge of the shore he knew so well, he began to throw out his nets and fish. For thousands of years mankind had come to these shores for their daily bread.

The mighty Tigris river was one of two that supported Baghdad and the surrounding city. The Tigris gave the people of Baghdad their water and it supplied them with their fish. Its banks were lush and green and provided shelter from the hot desert sun. Khalifah spent the morning listening to the birds and the afternoons listening to the bugs while he tried to catch his food for the day. He would toss his nets out and walk closeby sitting in the grass or wading in the water. It flowed deep and was full of nutrients and had been a lifeline for civilization since it had began between these same two rivers.

Actual Tigris River! Khalifah's around there somewhere.

Actual Tigris River! Khalifah's around there somewhere.

By the time the sun was high in the air Khalifah was at his wits end with the river. Wet, dirty, hungry, hot, headachey, and burned Khalifah tossed his nets out one last time wiping the sweat from his brow defeated. He looked up at the sky desperate, knowing that he would not eat if he did not catch fish for the day, and pleaded his case to his creator, “Almighty Allah, I know I’m supposed to be patient, and I know that you will do whatever your will is, and I know that you are great, but I am begging you, please,” he closed his eyes tight and looked back up to the blinding sun, “please,” feeling as if maybe he wasn’t sincere enough, then he paused one more time,  “please just give me my daily bread so that I can eat today!” Then Khalifah sat down on the bank in the shade hoping his nets would catch something. Patiently Khalifah waited a full hour and walked up to his nets and tugged…

They were heavy! “Allah!” he yelled aloud before drawing it in, “I knew you’d pull through for me!” Khalifah started to draw the heavy net in, “Allah is the only God as well as the most bountiful one!” Khalifah was ecstatic feeling the nets heavier than expected for simply a meal, “And Allah, bounty you have provided!” Khalifah pulled the net harder, he could not wait to see what it was, perhaps a full net of fish? “Allah, you have surely outdone yourself in your kindness to m…”

Khalifah stopped speaking as soon as he saw what he dragged in. It was not a whole net of fish or even a single fish, or even anything that belonged in water at all for any reason. Sopping wet on the bank of the river was an ape, alive, and slowly attempting to untangle itself from Khalifah’s net. Khalifah watched the specimen with his jaw still dropped from praising Allah and noticed that not only did he catch an ape, but the ape was missing his left eye. Instead of an eye a deep wet gaping infected hole looked back at Khalifah. “Oh Allah!” he yelled when he found his voice, “What have I done to you?!” he shuddered in fear. The children must be right, he thought, I must be a miserable wretch and a blight to Allah. Just then the one eyed ape found his way out of the net and began to walk up the bank towards Khalifah when he realized that he was only using his left leg. His right leg dragged behind him like a stump. “Oh Holy Allah! I asked you to provide me with my daily bread and you have given me a one-eyed, lame legged ape!” Khalifah shut his mouth again astounded that he had just pulled an ape out of the deep and cool Tigris.

Then deep inside Khalifah rage boiled, he walked sternly up to the lame-legged, one-eyed ape and he grabbed it by his stinking wet arm and dragged him up the bank to a tree where Khalifah tied him up to it. “You stupid ape!” Khalifah shrieked with fury, “I said I wanted fish in my net! Not a stupid one-eyed, lame-legged APE!” Khalifah scoured the ground nearby for a good switch to beat him with and spotted one. “Oh yes!” he looked at the switch maniacally, finally fed up with his patience.  Starving, hot, hungry, and tired, he eyed the ape slowly up and down without a flicker in his gaze. The ape looked back at him with what looked like a slight concern. Khalifah stomped up to the ape and raised his hand with the switch in it and just before Khalifah was going to lay his blow down upon the ape, it cried:

“Khalifah!”… There it was, Khalifah’s name, clear out of the ape’s mouth. Again Khalifah’s jaw dropped and the switch fell behind his back as he just stared at the creature. “Instead of beating me with that switch, leave me bound to this tree, go back down to the river and cast your nets one last time, if you don’t get your daily bread then you may return up here and beat me.” Khalifah looked at the ape skeptically, realizing he not only wasn’t going to be able to release his rage, but have to cast his nets one last time. However, knowing the lame-legged ape wasn’t going anywhere, he replied back to the ape, “One more time. If I don’t receive food for the day, then you will be sorely beaten you grotesque ape!” and with that Khalifah went back down to the river, cast his nets, and again waited glancing occasionally at the ape who refused to speak again.

And again, the nets were full. Khalifah’s hate vanished and his heart again was in his throat. The ape was right, for this time the net was heavier, and again Khalifah began to pull in the nets faster, and again he praised Allah for being so kind to him. And when he finally got the nets to the river’s edge Khalifah could not believe what he saw: not only was it another ape, but it had a massive gap between the two front teeth which stuck far out of its mouth, its eyes were darkened with soot, it was covered in henna-dyes, and was wearing a tattered waistcloth! If that wasn’t enough, the ape was guffawing right at Khalifah, not even trying to get out of the net, rolling around on the sand hardly breathing for how hard he was laughing.

This second ape really must want to see the first one beaten

This second ape really must want to see the first one beaten

Next to Khalifah was his switch and he bent over and picked it up and walked straight to the one-eyed, lame-legged ape and took back his hand ready to beat the ever-loving life out of the ape when again, for the second time, he spoke: “Before you beat me, please go see what my ape-friend has to say to you, because he’ll give you what you want.” Khalifah seethed at the one-eyed ape but nonetheless marched back down to the bank where the gap-toothed ape was finally untangling himself from the nets and his laughing had died down to an uncontrollable cackle that came in spurts. “Khalifah,” he began, “if you listen to me, you’ll get what you need,” he hooted. Khalifah was unimpressed with the ape’s manners but he really was not in a much better position just by beating the apes, so he listened, “Tie me up to a tree like my friend up there, and toss your nets in one last time, this time you will surely get what you need.” Khalifah looked flatly at him, then glanced up at the sun which was by this point beginning to fall in the sky. Khalifah tied up the gap-toothed ape to a second tree and returned back to fishing along the bank. As he fastened his nets to the shore he said to himself, “Today, Allah must’ve decided to play a joke on us all and replaced all the fish in the mighty Tigris with apes,” and again he sat watching the apes who silently waited. Occasionally the second ape began to giggle ready to burst into guffaws which were knocked silent by Khalifah’s glare.

Again, his net was full. This time his hope returned but it was guarded, Khalifah wasn’t sure he could handle it if another ape came up, and of course one did. Khalifah dropped his nets, “Thank you Allah for this glorious day you have provided us with, with the beautiful weather, and the cool breeze, and that today is a day made for apes. Today we are not allowed to fish, but instead we come to the river to catch monkeys from Allah that are deep in the Tigris!” Turning his attention to the ape that just washed ashore, this time a beautiful red ape with a blue waist-cloth similarly decorated as the gap-toothed ape, Khalifah asked exhausted, “And what are you going to tell me to do? Because if you think I’m going to toss those nets in that river one more time you’re…” the ape interrupted him, “Khalifah! Don’t you remember me?”

Khalifah looked again at the ape and took a moment to respond. Then, angrily realizing he knew absolutely no apes responded, “No, I know no apes.” The ape replied, “I’m the ape of Abu al-Sadat, the Jewish banker in the city.” While Khalifah noticed the lack of imperfections of this third ape in comparison to the others, he wondered at why this ape was telling him this, “So what do you do for Abu?” asked Khalifah. “Well,” began the ape, “every morning when he wakes up I tell him ‘good morning’ and give him 5 dinars of the most precious gold and before he goes to bed at night I give him 5 dinars again and say goodnight.”

This incensed poor Khalifah who couldn’t even get a meal for the day and shot his eyes angrily at the one-eyed, lame-legged ape and yelled, “See what fine apes other owners have?! Abu gets an ape that pays him just for waking up and going to bed at night and I get an ape that tells me to keep going fishing for more apes while I starve to death! You’re an awful, terrible, no-good, rotten, wretched, foul, excuse for an ape!” and Khalifah remembering the switch in his hand started running towards the one-eyed, lame-legged ape. The red ape spoke up again, “Khalifah! Do not beat him yet, let me first tell you what I want you to do!” Khalifah dropped the switch and looked back at the third ape. “And what do you want me to do?” rejoined Khalifah.

“I want you to,” began the ape, “cast your nets back into the river one last time.” “Oh no you don’t!” yelled Khalifah raising the switch again and eying the first ape, while the ape of Abu continued, “Let me finish, cast your nets back into the river and whatever you capture bring it up to me and I’ll tell you a secret!” Khalifah was only half convinced as beating the one-eyed, lame-legged ape seemed like the better judgment. Playing monkey games all day is only making him end up with more monkeys; but he appealed to Allah, and knowing that patience must come before all (and that he could beat all 3 if he didn’t get anything), he tied the third up to another tree and again tossed his nets back into the deep and bountiful Tigris River. Again, he waited eying the apes that now were three in number. They sat silently waiting, the one-eyed, lame-legged looking wholly concerned, the gap-toothed ape guffawing, and the third sitting politely. After some time Khalifah got up to check his nets.

Again, something was inside of it and he pulled it in, thoroughly unthrilled. However, to Khalifah’s surprise, the most beautiful and biggest fish he had ever pulled from the Tigris came out looking absolutely fat, healthy, and exotic. Of his entire life fishing out of the bountiful Tigris he had never seen a fish so fat and beautiful.  “So what do you plan on doing now?” asked the red ape. Khalifah thought and said, “I’m going to take that switch, beat that wretched monkey over there with the one-eye and lame-leg for making me waste an entire afternoon catching monkeys, then I’m going to take you home and eat this delicious-looking fish.”

“I have a better plan,” replied the red ape, “Put that fish in the basket, and take it to my Master Abu al-Sa’adat, the Jewish banker…” The ape continued giving Khalifah instructions and promised that if he did exactly what he said that the beautiful red ape would give Khalifah 10 dinars of gold every day instead of the banker, and the Jewish banker instead would get the luck of the one-eyed, lame-legged, wretched ape. There was but one catch:

“What is it?” asked Khalifah finally. “You must let us all go. Me, the cackling ape, and even the wretched one-eyed ape.” Khalifah looked down at his switch and then back up at the foul ape. Khalifah briefly envisioned a moment of pleasure by beating the filthy ape within an inch of his life, but to get the red ape’s promise reward he knew he had to let his aggression toward the awful ape go. Khalifah looked back down at his hand which would not let go of the switch; finally he dropped it. He then walked up to the red ape who hopped down the bank of the river to a fresh pool and quietly lay inside cooling off watching Khalifah. Khalifah then let the gapped-tooth ape go which hooted all the way down the bank and made a loud splash into the water. Finally he walked up to the one-eyed, filthy, lame-legged ape and stopped in front of him. The beautiful red ape in the river watched closely. Khalifah stared into the infected gaping hole in his head. It stunk, even from such a distance, and there was nothing to like about this ape – it deserved to be beaten Khalifah thought. He then turned his head toward the red ape in the river and wondered why he wanted him to let him go so much, but untied the ape and watched it slowly limp down to the river and disappear back into the water. Then all 3 apes were gone just as mysteriously as they appeared and the banks of the mighty Tigris were again quiet. The only proof that they existed was the fat healthy fish that he held in his hand that was to reward him from this day forth. While the insects buzzed lazily on the cool banks of the river Khalifah made his way back to the city.

We'll pretend this is the Baghdad Khalifah trapses through because the only pictures I can find of it is of wartorn rubble

We'll pretend this is the Baghdad Khalifah trapses through because the only pictures I can find of it is of wartorn rubble

It was still the afternoon when Khalifah made it back to the city. The ape’s instructions were simple. The first instruction the ape gave him was to go straight to see Abu, the Jewish banker. Khalifah was not allowed to stop anywhere else and he was not allowed to speak to anybody else – otherwise the ape’s promise would be void. Khalifah walked through the familiar market that he had spent his entire life begging and buying from. “Khalifah! What are you hiding in there?” one of his acquaintances, the tailor, joked at him. A swelling that did not usually enter Khalifah filled him and he wanted to stop and brag, but quickly ignored the feeling remembering the deal. Then he passed by the children who teased him earlier that morning, “Khalifah – a man with no wife so he is a man with no charm!” yelled the children, “Yes! and a man with no money and who stinks like a bloated fish on the shore of the Tigris!” Khalifah walked by them silently. This is harder than I expected, thought Khalifah.

And if this step was hard he could not imagine how hard the next step would be. The red ape told him to do something very strange. When he gives the fish to Abu the banker he needs to accept nothing in return. However, the ape warned him that Abu will in fact give him 1 dinar for the fish but it was essential that Khalifah not accept this 1 dinar and to give it back to Abu. When Khalifah gives back the dinar Abu will give Khalifah back 2 dinars. Khalifah then needed to return the 2 dinars. The red ape warned that this would happen until Abu has given Khalifah the weight of the fish in gold – but to not accept it. Instead, the red ape said, tell him the only way to pay for the fish is to say these few words in front of everybody: “Bear witness, everybody that is here at the market today. I give Khalifah the fisherman my ape in exchange for his ape, and that I barter for his lot and luck for my lot and luck.” The ape told Khalifah that must be the price of the fish and to accept absolutely no gold.

Khalifah found himself in front of Abu al-Sa’adat’s place of business and stepped inside. Abu sat like the Caliph himself donned in beautiful dress with servants and slaves moving busily around tending to his whims. Initially, Abu didn’t notice Khalifah come inside as he was busy scolding a servant for not getting him an exotic meal for dinner that evening. Khalifah walked right up to Abu and stood before him. Abu stopped scolding his servant and cast his eyes upon the poor and wretched Khalifah. Khalifah was covered in sweat, stunk like the river, and was burned red from the sun. Immediately Abu addressed the situation, “Khalifah the fisherman! Welcome to my shop! What can I do for you? If anybody has done you any wrong that has any association with me we will both go to the Chief of Police and we’ll seek justice together. We’ll take it to the Caliph if we must!”

Khalifah replied, “No, your business has always been reputable with me. But I do have an funny story that I think would interest you. You see, this morning I went to the river and cast in my nets on your luck and came out with this beautiful fish.” With this Khalifah showed Abu the fish.

Abu about fell out of his chair when he noticed the fish, “Khalifah! You have no idea! Last night I drempt a beautiful woman promised me God would bestow me with a precious present and this fish is undoubtedly it!” Khalifah felt an excitement grow inside that everything was working according to how the red ape said. Then Abu grew very grave and came close to Khalifah, “By your faith Khalifah, have you shown this fish to anybody but me?” Khalifah replied honestly, “By Allah, nobody has seen it but you.” Abu turned to the servant he was scolding and said “This will be my dinner for tonight, bring it to my wife and have her broil and fry it up for my meal when I return home.” With this the servant did as Abu asked and took the only food Khalifah had caught all day away from him so that Abu could eat well.

When the boy left Abu held out his hand and gave Khalifah 1 dinar of gold, “Take this for yourself Khalifah, and spend it on your family.” As the gold entered Khalifah’s hand his wits left from his head. Khalifah smiled as if he had never seen a dinar of gold in his life. Finally – he had the power to buy some food and a few other things he had been needing for his home. With a grin pasted to his face he turned away from Abu and left his shop and began walking down the market street thinking about all of the things he could buy with his dinar – he could even buy alcohol that didn’t burn like acid all the way down his throat… then as he was about to round the corner of buildings near his home his wits returned. Very clearly the ape had stated that he must give the dinar of gold back and accept no gold for his gift. He turned around and bolted back to Abu al-Sa’adat’s shop and came bursting back in. He threw the dinar back down on the table and shouted, “Take back your gold and give me back my fish! Are you trying to make a laughing stock of me?” If Abu didn’t know any better he would’ve bet a separate person left the shop from the person who came racing back in.

“Oh Khalifah! Please settle down!” the banker chuckled, “if the price be-it unfair then take these 2 dinars in addition to the 1 I had given you before.”

Just as the ape had said. Khalifah held his ground, “Give me back my fish and nothing else! What makes you think I’d sell it at such a low price?”

Annoyed, the Jew responded, “Khalifah, take two more dinars of gold. That’s a total of 5 dinars. Now go out of my shop and don’t be anymore greedy. I have a business to run and can’t be bartering the price of fish all day.” The next thing Khalifah remembered was walking down the street of the market cheering, “I have more luck with Allah today than the Caliph himself!” He joyfully rolled his 5 gold pieces in his hand feeling their cold hard crisp opportunity. He could finally pay off his debt to Kamar. He could eat without fishing for weeks. And he planned on getting very drunk that evening. Then he turned around and saw Abu’s shop across the marketplace and again he remembered what the red ape said: Do not accept any gold for the fish.

Khalifah came running back into the shop breathless and looking as wholly unappealing as before, throwing the gold pieces back at the Jewish banker. Surprised, Abu responded, “Do you want to change your pieces of gold for pieces of silver?”

“No. I don’t want silver and I don’t want gold. I don’t want 5 pieces or 10 pieces. I only want you to give me back my fish!”

Abu could not understand how audacious such a destitute person was acting and became contemptuous, “Fisherman! You bring me a fish not worth 1 gold dinar and I give you 5 for it; yet you are not happy with that. Tell me Khalifah, have you stumbled upon a genie that has made you crazy? Please, tell me what your price for that fish is, I’d love to hear what price you put on it.” Abu was impressive with his rich clothes and stern demeanor that everyone watching the spectacle knew Khalifah had overstepped his boundary.  All watched intently to see the wily Khalifah’s response.

Khalifah, hyped on adrenaline, was trying to remember clearly what it was that he needed to make Abu say according to the red ape. His head reeled and pounded for he was both excited and exhausted. And in this mixture of energy and fatigue Khalifah made an innocent mistake. When someone wants to become Muslim Islam requires the new member to say the Shibboleth of the Muslim creed, also known as “the two words.” To a Muslim that has been a Muslim his whole life talking in everyday conversation “two words” simply means that you’d like to say a few words. However, to the Jewish banker in a Muslim city “two words” has a very Muslim meaning to him and what Khalifah said next made Abu the Jew reel with anger. “I don’t want any gold or silver for my fish but instead I simply want you to say two words.”

For the first time Abu rose from his comfortable chair. He narrowed his eyes sharply and gritted his teeth. “You, Khalifah – the most execrable of the Muslim faith, will have me throw away my Judaism over the sake of a fish!? You will remove me from my own religion and change my entire belief system which has been taught to me and my family for generations… for a fish?!” Abu yelled to all his servants who were watching the spectacle, “Go and beat this man who wants to defile my own religion in my own shop!” And down fell Abu’s servants onto Khalifah. Though Baghdad was a city dedicated strictly to the Muslim faith money speaks universally; and Abu clearly had it and Khalifah clearly did not. Khalifah was beaten to the ground by the time Abu called his servants off of him and returned to his seat. “Leave him and let him rise,” he stated. Khalifah pushed himself from the floor and stood before Abu as if nothing had happened. “Now, Khalifah, tell me what your price is for the fish. Seriously now, as you see I’m quite sick of dealing with this very simple matter.”

Khalifah inspected his body and when he was satisfied responded, “Don’t worry about the beating. I’m 10 times more stubborn than a donkey and can take 10 times the beating of one too.” Abu smiled and restated his question clearly ready to rid him of Khalifah the Bother. “I will accept nothing from you,” Khalifah replied, “aside from two words that I’ll relate to you.”

Abu leaned down in his chair, “Khalifah, are you trying to turn me into a Muslim?”

Khalifah replied, exhausted and annoyed at the mysterious red ape, “I don’t want you to become a Muslim and I don’t want to become a Jew. I don’t want you to say anything bad having to do with the Muslim religion and I don’t want to have to say anything bad of the Jewish religion. I don’t want you to not believe in the things you believe in or believe in the things you don’t believe in,” Khalifah paused stymied, “at least I think that’s what I meant – I mean – I just want you to stand on your feet and say these words: ‘Bear witness, everybody that is here at the market today. I give Khalifah the fisherman my ape in exchange for his ape, and that I barter his lot and luck for my lot and luck .'”

The sun sinking over the real Tigris River - Khalifah can't enjoy it because he has an empty stomach

The sun sinking over the real Tigris River - Khalifah can't enjoy it because he has an empty stomach

Abu the Jewish banker looked blankly down at Khalifah, “That’s it?” Khalifah just shook his head and Abu responded, “If this is all you require for your fish then we could’ve gotten this taken care of a long time ago. This will sit lightly upon me.” Abu stood up and spoke the words that Khalifah had related. When the banker had finally spoken the word “luck” Khalifah left his shop with a strong feeling of satisfaction. However, when the door shut behind him Khalifah became quickly deflated. In front of him lay the market and he hadn’t a single piece of money to exchange for food in it – and the only fish he had caught that day was now in the hands of the banker – paid in full.

Starving and dejected Khalifah made his way back to the river. Again he passed by the children and again they teased him but he did not hear their words. Internally he was scolding himself for following the orders of a bunch of raucous apes. It was late afternoon by the time Khalifah returned to the banks of the Tigris with no apes in sight. The sun sat low in the sky. He walked down to the bank and tossed his nets for the umpteenth time. He sat and watched the sun sink lower in the sky for a while and ignoring the snarling knot inside his empty stomach. He walked up to his nets and pulled them in – they were heavy. With greater and greater force he pulled them in half expecting to see an ape and half expecting an actual meal for the first time this day. And as the net came out so did all kinds of fish. A woman walking along the bank saw the catch and offered 1 gold dinar for a fish. Another man quickly saw this transaction and came to make one himself. In total he made himself 10 gold dinars that and had enough fish for a full course meal.  That night as he lay in his bed full for the first time in weeks Khalifah recalled that he received 10 gold dinars that day just as the red ape had promised. He then slept the deepest sober sleep he had in years.

In fact Khalifah sklept so well that he woke up many hours later the next day than he had the previous day. It was already after noon and normally Khalifah would’ve been fishing all morning. Still with a full stomach Khalifah picked up his fishing nets and realized that even if he didn’t catch anything today he could have another delicious meal with the 10 dinars he had made the previous day. But – after yesterday – Khalifah was just too curious to see what the mighty Tigris had to offer today. He stepped out of his front door where the neighborhood children were playing. “Lazy Khalifah is so rich he does not need to get up until after noon to work!” yelled one. “His kingdom is but vast and wide and to travel it takes much energy from him. He must rest,” yelled another. Khalifah was used to this and he continued on to the river, at least today something interesting might happen like yesterday. His one day rest renewed his energy and maybe even the ape would reappear again today with more good news.

After only a few attempts into the Tigris deep Khalifah had obtained the amount of fish it took him all day to get yesterday. He was finished and it was hours before he had made his final trip to the river the previous day. Khalifah sold the fish and had far more money than the previous day. Khalifah paid off his debt to Kamar and bought foods he had never tried before but were common among Baghdad. Khalifah then swung down to the shop that sold alcohol and got his favorite bottle and a bit of hashish to smoke that evening. He even was able to set up his merchant stand that he never used because he never had anything to sell. As he stepped inside he realized it would be a lot better place to sleep than at home around the teasing neighborhood children. He then decided he would sleep here and sell his fish here. When he counted his profit for the day he realized again he had made 10 dinars as the ape had promised. He realized that he wouldn’t get the 10 dinars if he did not fish for the day, but realized it was a small price to pay for such fine results.

Time-appropriate art

Time-appropriate art

For 10 days this went on so that in total Khalifah the fisherman had made 100 dinars in gold. This realization came to him on the 10th night while he was in the back of his shop swigging from a bottle. “Yes. 10 days – 100 dinars. Khalifah,” he addressed himself taking a break to smoke from his pipe, “everyone knows you as a poor fisherman and now you have 100 gold dinars!” This quickly concerned Khalifah. He was not used to having money and he knew people who dealt with a lot of money usually had to deal with the Caliph. He didn’t know the details but he knew the Caliph took money just because he wanted it and nobody could tell him no.  Khalifah took another swill, “What if word got to the Caliph that I have 100 gold dinars and he calls me to his huge palace and tells me to give it to him?” Khalifah thought quickly and responded to his own question, “Well you would say, ‘Oh Commander of the Faithful, Harun al-Rashid, I am but a poor fisherman and I do not have this money you speak of. Whoever told you this information must be a liar.’ – then what would he do?” Khalifah was quiet again and the still night air of the market enveloped the room, he took a deep draw from his pipe, “he would torture me.” Khalifah got up off his bed and said to himself, “He would torture me with a whip until I gave him his 100 dinars,” Khalifah thought about this for a moment and said, “No. He will not take my 100 dinars! I earned that money myself and I will not give it to him! He can torture me all he wants he will not get my 100 dinars!” Khalifah was pacing around the room with seething anger by now but he still was debating with himself, “I can take the worst of beatings… but he will not be beating, he’ll be whipping… I’ve been whipped before and I can handle it… You’ve been whipped for not listening, not for 100 dinars, do you really think you can take that beating?… It’s been a while, but I’ll try, I’ll practice whipping myself to be ready for when the Caliph is ready to whip me!” And with this Khalifah tore off his clothes in a hazy stupor and began whipping himself as best he could. He beat himself until he screamed like that of one being tortured. Typically it’s not an activity someone participates on their own, so when the neighboring merchants came out to ask Khalifah if he was being robbed and found him naked whipping himself, they asked in astonishment what he was doing.

“If someone tells the Caliph of the dinars I have made here then he will demand it from me and when I don’t give it to him he’ll torture me. I’m accustoming myself to what may come.”

The other merchants laughed at Khalifah, “Khalifah you are a fool. May Allah not bless you or the dinars you have gotten. You’ve disturbed us all from our sleep because you’re drunk and high and doing something absolutely crazy!” All the merchants returned to their shops while Khalifah went on whipping himself.

On the 11th day Khalifah felt much like he did on the first. He was hungover and the only difference this time was that instead of waking up with hunger he woke up with scars across his body. He rolled around in pain for a while until he could rise clutching his purse with 100 gold dinars in it. Not only did he have to worry about the Caliph calling him and demanding it from him but now he had his neighbors to worry about snooping his merchant shop while he’s gone because he had admitted to them the previous night that he had quite a bit of money. Khalifah couldn’t remember if he told them it was 100 dinars, for the first time in 10 days Khalifah felt shame again. But then he remembered his 100 dinars and his shame turned to bitter greed. “If I leave the 100 dinars in the shop they’ll surely be taken, and if I bring them on my belt someone will lay in wait for me and kill me for it.” Khalifah thought for a moment and remembered a secret pocket in the collar of his gaberdine. Satisfied he put his purse in there and put on his waistcloth, girdle, and got his supplies ready to fish for the day.

Outside the children from his neighborhood had found his merchant shop. They noticed he did not leave or enter his house recently and were too interested to see what Khalifah was up to now. One of them peered his eyes into Khalifah’s window and saw him coming towards the front door with his nets. A boy stood poised next to a dirty puddle in front of Khalifah’s humble shop. As Khalifah stepped outside the boy kicked the puddle and it splashed right into Khalifah’s face. The children ran laughing. Khalifah just clutched his collar pocket with gritted teeth and went down to the deep and cool Tigris. “At least I should be done fishing by noon and I can come back and eat, drink and smoke some more.”

It was well into the afternoon and Khalifah had still not caught anything. He had tried everything – moving different places, staying in one spot, but no matter what he did he couldn’t catch any fish – and he was out later than he had been for any of the last 10 days. He became more and more frustrated with this until he cried out to Allah, much like on the first day and said “This throw will be my final throw into the river and I will fish no more after this!” With all his might Khalifah threw his nets into the deep, cool water and at the same time his collar pocket ripped throwing the purse to the depths. In slow motion he saw the pocket rip and the purse come flying out tossing some of the dinars out into the air. Khalifah could do nothing but watch as it dipped below to steady depths of the river. Immediately he tore off his clothes and dove into the Tigris. Nearly 100 times Khalifah dove to the bottom of the river and each time came up without a single dinar. On the final time he realized he hardly had enough energy to stay afloat and tore himself to the shore for no other reason than pure exhaustion. Just as Khalifah had been 11 days earlier he was again broken – sunburned, scarred, filthy and exhausted on the shore of the river.

While Khalifah was diving desperately for his dinars the children had caught him jumping like mad into the river. The boy who had kicked the puddle in Khalifah’s face earlier came up with the idea to run away with Khalifah’s clothes. So one of the boys snuck up while Khalifah dove under for the purse, grabbed his gaberdine, girdle, and waistcloth, and ran all the way back to Baghdad without stopping. When Khalifah pulled himself up from the shores to see nothing but his nets, staff, and basket he fell back to the ground again. Khalifah’s rage boiled and he crawled to his feet, wrapped his net around his body with his basket in one hand and a staff in the others. He was going to find who took his clothes. To anyone standing along the river that day Khalifah would’ve been a sight to behold – resembling a lobster that just fought off a whole fishing crew still half-wrapped in the net.

Another supposed painting of the beloved Caliph Harun Al-Rashid

Another supposed painting of the beloved Caliph Harun Al-Rashid

A short distance from the bank of the river the Caliph Al-Rashid himself was riding with his Wazir, Ja’afar. They had decided to take a ride on this particular day because people were starting to talk about Al-Rashid and his fascination for Kut al-Kulub. Al-Rashid had even been neglecting his Caliphate duties by spending almost every waking moment beside her listening to her talk and making love to her. “I have no desire to do anything else,” Al-Rashid confided to his loyal Wazir. Ja’afar pondered thoughtfully and then remarked, “Even your wife, the Lady Zubaydah, hasn’t seen you nearly in proportion as Kut al-Kulub. You have responsibilities Oh Commander of the Faithful.”

“Yes, you’re right,” responded the Caliph disappointed but pleased with the sense of truth he spoke, “You were right Ja’afar to make me come out on this day. But right now I am so thirsty, is that a man atop that mound over there?” Ja’afar agreed that it was and offered to go ask him for some water but the Caliph insisted on doing it himself as he would’ve had to wait even longer for the water. Al-Rashid started to ride on his mule towards the man in the distance.

Khalifah had just walked up the edge of the Tigris when a man on a mule in the distance rode up to greet him. When the Caliph saw him he was astonished at how horrible Khalifah looked, wrapped up in his net, basket in one hand, and staff in the other. Khalifah was dirty, sunburned, exhausted, and still had open wounds across his whole body from the night before. Still the Caliph saluted the odious man and Khalifah returned the salute. Certain that this homeless man did not recognize who he was he asked politely, “Do you by chance have any water?” Khalifah snapped back at him, “There is a whole rivers worth down there!” The Caliph thanked him and rode down to the waters edge and took his drink. Then he called Khalifah down to the water’s edge. Al-Rashid was unsure how to start a conversation with such a strange man.

“Can I ask what is your profession?” he began. Khalifah flared up even angrier than before, “I didn’t know you could come up with a sillier question than that about the water but you have! I do believe the only thing that is between both me and you is my profession!”

“So it is!” replied the Caliph, unsure of what to say next he addressed the elephant in the room, “Then where is your gaberdine, girdle, waistcloth, and the rest of your clothing?” Khalifah began to suspect that if this strange man with soft skin and outlandish clothing knew what he was wearing then he must’ve been the thief playing a trick on Khalifah. Certainly with what this man was wearing he wouldn’t know the specifics of Khalifah’s clothing so well unless he took it himself. “Give me back my clothes right this minute, I’m tired of the jokes!”Khalifah yelled.

“I promise!” replied the Caliph, “I do not know a thing about your clothes!”

Khalifah rejoined, “If you do not give me my clothes back right now I will take this staff and bash it right over your skull!” The Caliph, a bit unnerved, pulled off his satin gown and gave it to him instead. “Take this in place of your clothes,” the Caliph said. Khalifah looked it over unimpressed complaining about how much more his lost clothes were worth because they actually were durable. Khalifah slipped it over himself and cut around the bottom because it was too long. The Caliph watched one of his fine silk gowns get shredded by this vile man and could do nothing but laugh to himself at the sight. Khalifah amused the Caliph and when he was done shredding his gown he turned to the Caliph and asked how much a soft man like him earned, “10 dinars a month” the Caliph replied picking a typical wage among the poor in the city.

“That’s too bad for you!” replied Khalifah, “I make 10 dinars every day!” Khalifah happened to ignore the fact that this day was not one of them, “If you want I’ll show you how to fish and we’ll split the profit!” Al-Rashid, still amused by Khalifah, agreed and Khalifah taught the Caliph how to fish. And before long the Caliph had caught dozens of fish with Khalifah’s net, and Khalifah could not be more excited. “I’ll look after these fish here by the river and you take your mule to market and get a couple of frails. Then we can take the fish to my stand in the market and split the profit.”

“Hearing is obeying,” replied the Caliph, hopped on his mule, and rode back up over the mound back towards Ja’afar. Ja’afar noticed that the Caliph had lost his serious demeanor of the previous conversation about Kut al-Kulub and instead it was replaced with a grin. The Caliph related all that he saw down by the river and how Khalifah was naked and angry and cut up his robe. Ja’afar just listened relieved the Caliph had found something else to put his mind on. “… and so now he’s down there waiting for me to come back with a couple of frails. But Ja’afar, I’m tired now and want to go back to my palace and rest.”

“Right,” said Ja’afar, “I’ll send someone in place of you to get the frails and return to Khalifah then?” The Caliph laughed, “Tell anyone that brings me a fish from Khalifah – the man who taught me to fish – will get 1 gold dinar!” And with that the troops swept forth to the riverbank to collect a fish for a dinar.

Khalifah sat on the riverbank sorting through his bunches of fish picking out the two he was going to have for dinner that night when he heard a strange rumbling. He set down his basket next to the pile of fish and took his two favorite with him to look over the edge of the river bank. To his surprise a whole slew of soldiers and slaves came rushing up to the bank covering the entire area with dust. Khalifah’s eyes widened and he ran back down the edge of the bank and quickly began to try and hide the fish – but there were too many and all of the servants came down the side of the river and picking up the fish. “No! Don’t take them! I’ve earned these for my living!” Khalifah yelled in fear. But as the men surrounded him he realized they were offering him money! Khalifah motioned down to his basket and began granting soldier after slave a fish for some silver.

And just as quickly as they had arrived all of the men were gone back over the river bank. A stunned and dusty Khalifah looked down at his basket full of silver and all he was carrying were the two fish he was going to have for dinner tonight. He looked down at his two fish and then just looked ahead blankly for a long moment – then he shouted. “Wahoo! Those fish must’ve been straight from paradise!” He let out another howl of excitement and jumped into the river to clean himself and his fish off. He dove under and felt the cool water rush around his body and he came back up to the edge of the shore refreshed, “Oh Allah, by the virtue of these fish, let my soft-skinned silly clothed servant come back with the frails at this very moment!”

And at that very moment the chief of the Caliph’s black slaves, Sandal, came over the riverbank. He had ridden behind the rest and had just finished tying up his mule before spotting Khalifah. Sandal was a eunuch which is a slave that have been castrated so as to be trustworthy enough to serve women. The Caliph had thousands of eunuchs – of many races. I just thought that was noteworthy. So Sandal saw that Khalifah had 2 fish left and he knew that meant the Caliph would give him 2 gold dinars.

“How much for those fish?” the eunuch asked.

“They are not for sale, go away!” Khalifah yelled back at the intimidating character. Though Sandal was castrated he did not become the chief of the black eunuchs without brute strength. Sandal continued to approach Khalifah who got a little nervous – but they were his two best fish and he planned on eating them that night.

“Give me the fish and I’ll pay you the price,” stated Sandal, more directly this time. Khalifah was nervous but was not quick to back down.

“Has a genie got ahold of your head? These fish are not for sale!” Khalifah looked right into Sandal’s eyes only to find that they were already piercingly staring back. Sandal reached into his waist and pulled out a mace. “Oh! These fish are for sale though!” Khalifah restated holding up the very two fish he was about to hide behind his back. He handed the fish to Sandal and Sandal reached into his pockets for the silver. After checking his pockets multiple times he realized he had none. Khalifah looked at him.

“I don’t have your silver so you’re out of luck,” Sandal said sternly. Just as Khalifah was about to fly into a torrent of words Sandal continued, “But I’ll tell you what I will do for you. You come tomorrow to the Palace of the Caliphate and ask for the eunuch Sandal; the slaves will then bring you to me and I will pay you what I owe you and I will be free of your debt.” The thought of being able to go to the palace of the mighty Caliph Al-Rashid to collect money was too much for Khalifah. Despite having taught him to fish earlier Khalifah thought he had never seen the person closest to Allah, let alone be able to collect money from his home.

“Thank you, Sandal!” Khalifah replied, “Today is a blessed day and it has been from the moment the sun rose over the desert this morning. I will be by tomorrow to collect my silver.” With that Khalifah and Sandal parted ways.

As dusk settled the sun cast deep colors across the market in Baghdad. Khalifah took his basket of silver and bought food, drink, and smoke with it. He walked along a common street in the market where many shops were closing down for the day. He passed by the tailor who noticed Khalifah’s peculiar outfit. As Khalifah approached he thought it looked like clothing of the Caliph and wanted to take a closer look. He called out to Khalifah who looked like he had been dragged across the desert by a camel but had a calm look to his face.

“Khalifah – by chance could you tell me where you got your gown?”

“It’s ugly isn’t it? This was a gift given to me by my new apprentice. If he didn’t give it to me I’d have had his hand chopped off for stealing my clothes from me! I took the young man and taught him how to make a real living for a day – instead of stealing! I taught him so well, look how much he earned me and I hardly had to lift a finger!” While Khalifah was bragging the tailor was certain the gown was of the Caliph and worth 1000 dinars had Khalifah not sliced it up with his knife.  As he bid Khalifah goodnight the tailor mused at what the Caliph had done when he came across Khalifah. He just imagined Khalifah the wretch and the Commander of the Faithful interacting and chuckled to himself before he returned home to his family to tell the story.


Earlier that day while Khalifah was teaching the Caliph how to fish a plot was being conspired back at the palace of the Caliphate. Lady Zubaydah, the wife of Harun Al-Rashid, was seething with jealousy over Kut al-Kulub. “I am the Caliph’s wife! I should be respected as such! Night and day he spends all his hours with her! What does she have that I can not provide? A Caliph has his right to his concubines but this is excessive – I am being treated more like a concubine than his wife! There is only one thing that must be done then!” She looked directly at her most faithful eunuch (a castrated slave), “You are going to find the lady Kut al-Kulub and you are going to tell her how pleased I am that I finally get to meet the adoration of my husbands affection. Tell her that I, the wife of the Commander of the Faithful, am inviting her to a banquet this afternoon to witness her most perfect mental and physical grace in person. Fill her head with pride so it is certain that she comes, and tell her I insist. And then later tonight, when you are serving the dessert, drug her so that she passes out and will not wake up – but do not kill her.” The eunuch replied, “Hearing is obeying,” and left.

Kut al-Kulub? I say yes.

Kut al-Kulub? I say yes.

When Lady Zubaydah saw Kut al-Kulub for the first time that evening her jealousy redoubled. She was the most beautiful woman in all of the Caliphate and she carried herself in a way most women could only dream of. With her teeth gritted Lady Zubaydah continued to flatter her guest and talk with her finding Kut al-Kulub’s knowledge far outranged her own. At long last dessert was finally served and Kut al-Kulub ate hers with pleasure and compliments – this was sweetest of all to the Lady Zubaydah. A short while later Kut al-Kulub’s form finally took an imperfect form, her eyes drooped heavily, and Kut al-Kulub was asleep on the table that lay in front of her. She turned to her most trusted eunuch and told him to carry her upstairs and then immediately prepare a tomb for her before the Caliph returned with Ja’afar. The eunuch took Kut al-Kulub under the arms and brought her up the stairs.

When Caliph Al-Rashid rode into the palace that evening he was all smiles. “Oh yes, Mr. Caliph sir, I was wondering if you had a magnificent robe that I could knife up with my scaly fishing knife, I believe I could be starting a new trend for Caliph’s of the future!” Al-Rashid joked to Ja’afar.

“Indeed that is funny Oh Commander of the Faithful, but it looks as if a slave is here to give you a message,” Ja’afar responded and looked down at the nervous slave who began kissing the ground before the Caliph.

“May you live 1000 years and never die!” the slave began, “but be certain that Kut al-Kulub choked on her food and died this very night!”

For the Caliph day turned to night and light turned to dark, he was silent while he ran into the palace with Ja’afar close behind. “Where is her tomb!?” he shouted. Servants quickly showed him the way to the falsified tomb. Outside of it the Lady Zubaydah stood innocently yet menacingly. Each servant in the area knew the truth but did not dare speak a word for fear of their lives. The Caliph sat in the tomb for an hour before retiring to his room for the evening heartbroken.

Lady Zubaydah and her eunuch walked upstairs to the room they were hiding Kut al-Kulub in. She was still sound asleep. “I couldn’t kill her, you know that,” Lady Zubaydah said to the eunuch, “But what can I do with her? She’ll be awake within a day or two!” The eunuch stayed silent hoping that he would not have to murder such a lovely woman. “Bring me that chest from my chamber,” Lady Zubaydah finally ordered and the eunuch left and returned with the chest. “Yes, this will work. We’ll put her in here and tomorrow you will go to market at your usual time and you will bring this chest to sell with you. Now this is what you will tell anybody who wants to buy the chest – they must buy it locked. Tell them there is no key so it can only be used as a bench or table. This way no one will ever open it and no one will ever find out the fate of the wonderous Kut al-Kulub.”

“Hearing is obeying,” replied the eunuch and the two retired for the evening.


Khalifah woke up early the next morning of the 12th day. He had went to bed early the night before due to exhaustion of his hard day of losing all of his money. He glanced over at his what was left of his silver, which wasn’t much. He wondered for a moment whatever happened to the soft faced boy that gave him that silly robe. But there was something bigger on his mind – for today he was going to visit the palace of the Caliphate. Today was the day Khalifah was going to collect a debt from the palace of the Caliph himself! Khalifah didn’t need to go fishing today and put on his best clothes that he owned. They were tattered and dulled from overuse but they were clean. Khalifah was about to step out the front door when he saw the neighborhood children outside with some rotten fruit from the night before ready to throw at Khalifah when he stepped outside. Khalifah slipped out the back of his small shop with the rest of his silver and ran behind the string of shops to the sweets store on the other side of the market. He bought a handful of sweets and circled around behind the children so that he was facing his shop waiting for himself to come out to hit with fruit. Khalifah sat on a bench mere meters behind the children.

“He’s gonna get it good when he gets out? Hmm?” asked Khalifah to the boy that kicked water in his face the previous day. The boy responded without looking back, afraid that if he did he’d miss the moment to get Khalifah right in the face, “Oh yea, you should see how mad he gets! He never learns, that Khalifah!” Then the boy recognized the voice as Khalifah’s but by the time he turned around all that was in his place was a pile of sweets for the boys. Khalifah was disappearing into the morning crowd chuckling to himself – he had outsmarted the children so today was certainly going to be a good day.

Khalifah wandered through the streets of the market and then through his poor neighborhood that he hadn’t returned to the last couple of weeks. He saw his neighbors living humbly and they could tell as he passed that he walked with a purpose today. “Where are you going Khalifah?” they would ask, “I’m going to collect my debt. From the palace of the Caliphate!” Most people knew that when words like these came out of Khalifah’s mouth to get back to doing work. Khalifah continued his walk through the nicer neighborhoods of Baghdad where more prosperous merchants, sailors, and soldiers lived. Then Khalifah found himself in the nicest neighborhoods that surrounded the palace where dignitaries lived, people who knew the Caliph directly, Khalifah slowed his pace feeling a bit intimidated by all of the materialism. He, after all, was only going to collect two pieces of silver and even if he had his 100 dinars couldn’t even purchase a single decoration from one of these houses. Yet, he continued on because a debt is a debt and any man can appreciate that being worth settling.

Arabian architecture is awesome

Arabian architecture is awesome

When Khalifah reached the gates of the palace he realized that he was in the presence of a place so beautiful he might as well have been wearing his fishing nets over himself as he did the day before because the clothes he had on were not much better. Shame burned him as he walked towards the slave entrance of the palace – the slave entrance – and he still felt unworthy. Then he stopped before he approached the slave in front of the door to collect himself. This man took 2 fish from you yesterday, Khalifah said to himself, and you are entitled to 2 dirhams of silver for them – now march inside this palace and act like you deserve it – if you show them weakness they’ll laugh at you for trying to do business out of the palace of the Caliphate.

He went up quite bravely to the slave standing at the door and said as professionally as he thought he could be, “I am here to see Sandal the eunuch, please,” Khalifah was then led into the entrance where Mamelukes (white slaves), black slaves, and eunuchs poured about the quarters taking care of their portion of the palace. Khalifah was awed by the sight but then remembered that this was a business trip and followed the slave through a few more chambers until he was in a small room with a few other eunuchs. Across the room was Sandal and Khalifah approached him.

“I have not disappointed you gentleman. We fisherman are men of our words,” Khalifah addressed Sandal. When Sandal turned his head to see who had spoken to him he nearly hopped back when his eyes recognized him as that wretch of a fisherman he promised two dirhams of silver to but yesterday in clothes that weren’t fit for a beggar. Sandal laughed long and deep.

“By Allah, you know I’m no gentleman. But you are right Fisherman, you are a man of your word, as am I,” Sandal reached for his pouch to pay the fisherman and continue on with his work when who walks into the room but the Grand Wazir of the Caliph himself, Ja’afar. Though Ja’afar was not the Caliph many around the palace treated them as one in the same for whatever Ja’afar said always allied with the Caliph and whatever the Caliph said always allied with Ja’afar. To do anything but stand at absolute attention in his presence would be disrespectful and Sandal stopped everything he was doing, including getting Khalifah his silver.

But Khalifah, not used to the customs of the palace, just watched Sandal reach for his pouch and then drop it behind his robe again. And when he looked up at Sandal’s face to see what the matter was he noticed he stopped paying attention to him completely! Khalifah did notice a man enter the room but Khalifah did not think Sandal so daft to forget something as simple as paying him 2 dirhams – but yet he continued to gaze his attention elsewhere. Khalifah, so focused on the interruption and Sandal’s odd behavior, failed to notice everyone else standing at attention for Ja’afar in the room. And Ja’afar himself was almost standing at attention looking at the filthy man that was so focused on his eunuch Sandal. Khalifah decided that Sandal must have no attention span and to remind him of the reason why he’s there.

“Oh gentleman, the silver you promised me, so I may go please,” Khalifah began to feel uneasy and did not like the situation. Sandal continued to stand at attention out of respect for the Grand Wazir. Khalifah snapped.

“Oh! Are we waiting for the moon to be full first? Was this some part of the agreement I do not remember? May Allah put the greatest shame on the man who takes from an honest worker and does not give him proper pay for it. If you think you’d like to fix that situation you can simply just pay me my two dirhams and I will be on my way. Most gratefully to Allah will I be on my way!” Ja’afar watched this spectacle with bemusement. It wasn’t every day somebody would act so foolish in front of him. However, Ja’afar saw it was becoming obvious that this man was getting quite angry at Sandal.

“Oh Eunuch, what does that beggar want with you?” Ja’afar asked.

“You don’t know him, my lord Wazir?” asked Sandal surprised.

“Please! I am quite certain I would remember this unique character,” Ja’afar smiled.

“This is the man whose fish we bought yesterday that the Caliph asked us to get for him. I didn’t want to return to the Commander of the Faithful without a gift of fish when all the other soldiers had some. I promised him that I’d pay him today.”

“Sandal! You don’t know who this is, do you?!” asked Ja’afar excitedly, “How interesting that he show up at the Caliph’s hour of need.”

“Grand Wazir, who is he?,” replied Sandal.

“This is the Master of the Commander of the Faithful and equal partner in business!” Ja’afar beamed. Sandal couldn’t help but break a smile at the thought of this poor fisherman being the master of anything, let alone the Caliph. Ja’afar continued, “You know how the Caliph’s feeling about Kut al-Kulub’s death and nothing that has been tried today has come even close to cheering the Commander of the Faithful up. The last time I saw the Caliph so happy was yesterday after meeting this very fisherman and today it will be this fisherman again that will bring joy to our commander. Please Sandal, may I take him?”

“Do what you will with him, you know my only relationship to him, Oh Grand Wazir.”

“Great!” replied Ja’afar smiling, “Make sure he doesn’t go anywhere and I’ll be back,” he looked knowingly at Sandal, “I’ve got a plan.” Ja’afar disappeared back behind the door. Sandal ordered the other eunuchs in the room to seize Khalifah for Ja’afar.

Khalifah, not understanding exactly what passed between the eunuch and the strange man that entered the room, all of a sudden found himself seized by the other eunuchs in the room. “So what a wonderful payment for my fish – you know, you were wrong, you really are a gentleman! I come for my payment and instead you are going to imprison me and demand payment from me! There is no finer gentleman than that!” Sandal put cotton in his ears and went about his business.

The Caliph mourning over Kut-al-Kulub's death... and a random slave?

The Caliph mourning over Kut-al-Kulub's death... and a random slave?

Inside the main hall, where the Caliph sat on his throne, was quiet and melancholy. As the Caliph sulked on his throne for loss of his love Ja’afar approached and greeted him. The Caliph returned his greeting.

“Oh Commander of the Faithful, do I have your honorable permission to speak freely?”

“Who ever put a restraint on it my Grand Wazir? Say whatever is on your mind.”

“Well,” started Ja’afar in a very serious manner, “as you know I have just left you to return to my house when on my way a man was waiting outside the palace. And who was it but your Master and partner, Khalifah the Fisherman!” Ja’afar paused for a moment for effect, “And you’ll never guess but he was here because he wanted to complain about your behavior. In fact, he told me this exactly, ‘By Allah I taught him how to fish and when I needed him to fetch me a pair of frails he left and never came back. This is the work of a bad partner and a bad apprentice.’ So, Oh Commander of the Faithful, he awaits you just outside the palace right now expecting you to either tell him yes, you wish to continue this partnership you promised or no, you don’t wish to continue it. That is the due he charges you with now. He said it’s only fair for him to know so that he can find a new partner.” For the first time since entering the palace the previous night the Caliph beamed.

“Are you serious Ja’afar?” he asked incredulously, “Is he really outside the palace right now?”

“By Allah and life he stands right outside the palace at this very moment.” The Caliph’s mind raced and a larger smile slowly consumed his face as he thought. Ja’afar began to congratulate himself in his head on what a terrific Wazir he was to make the Caliph so happy at the height of his mourning. It was clear that Khalifah had the power to make the Caliph happy regardless of the situation – he was better than a jester.

“Oh Ja’afar, by Allah, I will give Khalifah his due alright! Take that paper over there and cut me 40 pieces,” the Caliph ordered and the Wazir followed them happily. Ja’afar exaggerated his excitement to make the Caliph feel better and it was clear that at the moment Kut al-Kulub was off of his mind and that Ja’afar had succeeded in his duties as Grand Wazir. He certainly was Grand alright…

“If Allah wants to send him misery through me then he will send him misery, if Allah wants to send him propserity, then he will have that,” the Caliph continued. Ja’afar finished cutting the 40 pieces and looked curiously interested at what the Caliph meant by “misery.”

“On 20 pieces of paper put different sums of money, anywhere between 1 dinar and 1000 dinars – oh and also throw in some positions around the palace – anywhere from the least appointment to the Caliphate!” Ja’afar looked wide-eyed at the Caliph but did as he said, “On the other 20 pieces of paper put 20 kinds of punishment from the lightest beating all the way to death. Now when the fisherman comes in here I will have him choose 1 of these 40 pieces of paper and whatever is written on that paper I will give him.”

“Even the Caliphate?” Ja’afar asked wide-eyed.

“Even the Caliphate and with no ill will,” Al-Rashid replied seriously, “Of course if he picks hanging, mutilation, or death then he will also receive that. Now go and fetch him while I prepare,” replied the Caliph. There was no trace of sadness on the Caliph now, but Ja’afar thought to himself, at what cost? If this fisherman dies simply because he was trying to cheer up the Caliph then Ja’afar would be responsible. And if this wretch of a fisherman becomes the new Caliph, again, it will be due to Ja’afar’s lies. As Ja’afar walked to get Khalifah his mind raced for a way to diffuse the situation, but knowing that the Caliph had ordered it, he knew nothing else could be done. When Ja’afar re-entered the room where he last saw Sandal and Khalifah, he found Khalifah ranting despite all the eunuchs’ collective annoyance.

“I’ve learned my lesson! Never trust a slave who has more gold than I’ve earned in my entire life. Because that slave will invite you to the Caliph’s palace and try to make me pay money I do not have! And he does this with the audacity of knowledge that it is actually he who owes silver to me! Like I said, you are no slave, but a gentleman! You’ve treated me like nothing but an honored guest since I’ve shown up!” Khalifah wailed but did not fight as 2 eunuchs held him by the arm and two eunuchs stood closeby in case he became violent. Ja’afar sighed and waived at the eunuchs to bring Khalifah to him and to follow him to the Caliph. Realizing that he was being taken away from Sandal, who had not acknowledged him since Ja’afar originally entered the room, Khalifah began directing his insults at Ja’afar, whom he did not know to be the Grand Wazir.

I'm sure the beauty inside the Caliphate much exceeded this

Middle East - 10 points for your attention to detail!

“And if he is a gentleman, then you must be a Persian Prince! And I’m not only held here against my will to be robbed of my empty pockets by a treasure chest! It’s not enough for you all to arrest me – but these slaves must come with me wherever I go like I am Allah’s most dangerous enemy! Certainly it takes nothing less than a gentleman and a Persian Prince to treat me with such honor and dignity for going to collect a debt of 2 dirhams!” Ja’afar easily became unaffected by Khalifah’s words because they were nothing but a bunch of hot air. However, understanding that he did put Khalifah in a position he did not belong or asked for, Ja’afar’s heart was with him. Despite his loud raucous, Ja’afar was certain that Khalifah deserved compensation for being put out of his way like this. After all – he was just a simple fisherman who was doing nothing but his trade. No matter which way Ja’afar cut it, Khalifah had done no wrong. As they walked through 7 vestabules total filled with riches beyond Khalifah’s wildest dreams he did not see them. His world was dark and full of unjust treatment and that is exactly what he was focused on.

Khalifah only shut his mouth for a moment when Ja’afar had led him in front of a giant curtain. Ja’afar looked at Khalifah starkly, “Mark my words, Oh Fisherman! You stand in front of the Commander of the Faithful and the defender of the Faith of Islam!” With this the curtain was raised and the Caliph was exposed. Though this was the same hall where Ja’afar and the Caliph had just cut and filled out the papers the atmosphere was completely different. The hall was lit brightly and the Caliph looked stately and impressive with countless servants and people of high importance at his side. Wealth beamed from the Caliph’s presence as he was seated on the couch looking down upon both Ja’afar and Khalifah. Despite this dramatic display much was lost to Khalifah. When he heard Ja’afar’s words a moment of panic and fear struck him for he remembered the other night where he feared this very scenario. He was about to be whipped by the Caliph for the money that he had regretfully lost in the river. Now he was about to be whipped by the Caliph and he had no money this time.

But when the curtain dropped Khalifah was relieved to find that it was not the Caliph that sat behind the curtain, but instead a bunch of men he did not know – except for one! After Ja’afar’s words the hall was silent. Khalifah walked up to the Caliph and spoke.

“Well if it isn’t the man with the soft skin and silly clothes. I see you found yourself some even stranger clothes to wear! Was this what you did instead of getting my frails? It wasn’t right of you to say you were my partner and apprentice in fishing and then never return leaving me to guard all the fish. And do you know why it wasn’t right? Because once you left I was swarmed by soldiers and servants of this very palace and they bought the fish at a much cheaper price than if you would’ve returned quickly with the frails. And so I come here today to receive my payment and they have arrested me to steal money I do not have.  And this is all your fault because you did not return with the frails. But, Softskin, tell me for why have they imprisoned you?” Khalifah asked with interest after his scolding, “You have even less money than me! For a palace so grand you would expect the Caliph to be spending his time robbing someone a little richer than us, no?”

The Caliph simply smiled, “Please come here Khalifah and take one of these pieces of paper.”

“Yesterday you were a fisherman and today you are an astrologer! But the more trades a man has the less he gains from them!” Khalifah replied hoping to convince this lucky boy to return to fishing with him as he captured more fish than Khalifah had on any of his previous days.

“Do as he says and do it now!” Ja’afar said sternly.

Perhaps this is the jar the Caliph put the papers in!

Perhaps this is the jar the Caliph put the papers in!

This aggravated Khalifah and he replied spitefully, “The Persian Prince has spoken! I didn’t even want to work with this poor, goofy apprentice in the first place!” He walked forward and took a piece of paper from a jar giving it to the Caliph. Khalifah waited in angst as the Caliph passed it to Ja’afar.

“Read the paper aloud,” the Caliph ordered. Ja’afar slowly unfolded the paper and looked at it. Shame poured upon the Wazir when he read the words and he cried out.

“There is no Majesty and there is no Might, save in Allah, the Glorious and the Great!” Ja’afar cried the usual words of bad news.

The Caliph’s eyes narrowed and counteracted with, “I hope Allah has given you the opportunity to give me good news. Read the paper, Oh Grand Wazir!”

“The paper states, ‘Let the fisherman receive an hundred blows with the stick.'”

“Then Allah shall be granted his wish!” The Caliph roared and ordered a guard to go over to Khalifah and whip him.

“I knew it! I knew you would torture me for my money!” And down upon Khalifah the guard came with a stick. They lifted his shirt and pulled down the back of his pants and began beating both his back and bottom. At first welts swelled over his own beating from a few nights previous. Once the welts split blood began to gush down his back. Finally the beatings ended and Khalifah lay a bloody pile on the floor in front of the Chief Justice of Allah. Then, slowly, Khalifah began to raise himself.  He stood up in his pool of blood that lay beneath his feet and wiped sweat and blood away from his face and looked right at Ja’afar with an intense renewal of energy and spite.

“I can take the beatings of 100 stubborn donkeys and I swear to you I have no gold to give! I hope you’re enjoying your game of imprisoning and beating someone who has come only to complete an honest business proposal, you’ve been nothing less than the prince I’ve known you as since you brought me here!” Khalifah hissed at Ja’afar. Ja’afar looked up at the Caliph who looked content to let Khalifah go with 100 beatings for the collection of his meger and necessary pay. Then Ja’afar looked back at Khalifah, a bloody mess – and knew that none of this would’ve happened save for his entrance to the room when he was collecting his debt from Sandal, and then he knew none of this would’ve happened without his meddling so Ja’afar worked up his courage and spoke directly to the Caliph.

“Oh Commander of the Faithful,” Ja’afar began his appeal, “this poor devil came to the river to drink, and how should we now let him go away thirsting? Give this poor beggar something as that was his intent on coming. We have only taken from him, we have given him nothing.” The Caliph narrowed his eyes at Ja’afar for daring to question his magnanimity, “My suggestion,” then continued Ja’afar reading the Caliph very clearly, “is that we allow a charity to this worthless wight and allow him to choose another paper to hopefully admonish his poverty.”

“You understand,” the Caliph addressed Ja’afar, “that if he takes another one of these papers and he receives death then I will assuredly kill him. And this will all be the cause of your interference.” Ja’afar looked over at Khalifah who was already a mess because of him.

“If he dies, he’ll be at rest,” Ja’afar responded.

With those words Khalifah’s eyes widened, “May Allah never gladden you with any good news!  Has Baghdad become so constricted that you seek to murder me for some extra space? What have I ever done to you? I just came to collect 2 dirhams of silver!” Khalifah could not believe what he heard just pass between them about him. He had just taken 100 beatings, and Allah only knew what other punishments lay within those papers, and yet this man Khalifah called a Persian Prince wanted him to draw another!

“Just take a paper and crave a blessing from Allah,” Ja’afar replied to Khalifah sincerely. Khalifah walked from his pool of blood back to the Caliph who reached out the container of papers. Khalifah drew one with a large flicker of annoyance crossing his face. He walked back down to Ja’afar and glaringly gave the paper to him. Blood and sweat was smeared across the back as Ja’afar opened the paper and stared at the words without saying a thing.

“Why are you quiet Oh Grand Wazir?” the Caliph asked.

“The paper says,” began Ja’afar, startled back to reality by Al-Rashid, “Nothing shall be given to the fisherman.” A sigh of relief left Khalifah.

“Hmm,” mused the Caliph, “Well then his daily bread shall not come from us! Guards, escort the fisherman out of my palace!”

“Just one moment please, Oh Commander of the Faithful,” quickly interrupted Ja’afar. The guilt of Khalifah leaving with no just compensation for his fish and instead being beaten severely still weighed heavily on him, “Please let the fisherman take a third paper that will hold his charity!” Khalifah could not believe what he was hearing. He had escaped death twice for trying to honestly collect his living and yet this man continued to put his life in danger.

“Let him take one and no more,” compromised Caliph Al-Rashid, “and if death comes, then death will come.” For a third time the Caliph extended the container with the remaining 38 pieces of paper. Khalifah dug his hand deep into the papers and brought another one out and scathingly gave it Ja’afar. Ja’afar slowly opened up the paper. The hall was silent aside from the unfolding. Wealth unimaginable gleamed from every corner of the hall. The suspense thickened.

Khalifah's single dinar of gold given to him by the Caliph

Khalifah's single dinar of gold given to him by the Caliph

“The fisherman will be given one dinar of gold,” Ja’afar said flatly and turning to Khalifah said, “I’ve sought nothing but good fortune for you but Allah has willed it that you get nothing except for this single dinar of gold,” which Ja’afar pulled out of his robe and gave it to Khalifah.

“Thank you again Persian Prince,” Khalifah remarked with heavy sarcasm, “For every hundred beatings I receive with a stick I get 1 dinar of gold, this is exactly the good fortune you’ve worked so hard to give me,” Khalifah looked in disgust at Ja’afar and spit on the floor into his own puddle of blood, “May Allah never send your body any health!”

With these words the Caliph laughed in delight, “This man will never tire in amusing me,” he chuckled, “Now please, eunuchs, escort him back to whence he came,” and Khalifah was taken back to the slave quarters in which he entered the palace.  Khalifah saw nothing but red as he walked toward the exit of the palace grounds. While a gold dinar was more than the 2 pieces of silver he had come for, it seemed an insult after his 100 beatings.

Sandal was working near the exit of the slave quarters when he saw Khalifah come through the room in which he left him at. Knowing that the Caliph only wanted to see Khalifah for pleasure he was certain Khalifah received much more than the 2 pieces of silver he had come for. “Oh fisherman,” cried Sandal, “why don’t you share some of the riches you received from the Caliph when he was playing with you?”

“Oh yes gentleman! And will you share with me you worthless slave?” Khalifah shot back full of venomous hate, “I have eaten a stick to the tune of a hundred blows, and my payment? 1 gold dinar. So you!” he looked at Sandal at his wits end and yelled, “You are all too welcome to this single worthless dinar!” and took the dinar from his pocket and threw it right at Sandal. As the dinar hit Sandal’s robes Khalifah began to have tears stream down his cheeks while running wildly for the exit. He had come to the palace of the Caliphate to collect an honest debt and now he was beaten and humiliated. Sandal immediately ordered two slaves to grab Khalifah and bring him to him.

“I’ve said too much and I have wronged you,” Sandal spoke to Khalifah who had his head lowered in shame, he could not leave even if he tried. Sandal reached into his robe and pulled out a red purse, he opened it, and dumped the contents into Khalifah’s hand. “Take this 100 gold dinars in payment for your fish and do not feel that I have wronged you,” Sandal said bending over to pick up the dinar Khalifah had just thrown at him, “And don’t forget the Caliph’s dinar!”

Despite just being severely beaten Khalifah felt a whole new sense of energy and power. He now had 101 gold dinars and was now richer than he had ever been. He did not remember leaving the palace for he was celebrating in his head. He had scars on his back but walked with pride unrivaled by anybody as he enetered the market. He saw a group of people around a stand and headed toward the crowd. They were huddled around the stand so close that Khalifah could not see what was being sold on the inside so absentmindedly he began pushing through the crowd. The crowd easily spread for Khalifah who was still bloodied from his beatings at the palace. Inside the stand was an elaborate chest with a eunuch sitting atop it. Next to the chest and eunuch was a merchant crying out, “Oh merchants, men of money, who will lay down some money for the unknown contents of this chest? It is said that this chest was never to be opened again and was taken directly from Lady Zubaydah of the Palace of the Caliphate, which is why a eunuch sits atop of it. Who will be willing to throw down some money for this beautiful chest?”

“20 gold dinars,” an unknown man from the crowd began the bidding. Also within the crowd with Khalifah was the tailor who had seen Khalifah in the Caliph’s torn up robe. When he heard the chest came from Lady Zubaydah he hoped that some expensive clothing lie inside and he joined into the bidding. “50 gold dinars!” the tailor yelled. Khalifah watched and listened in amazement. He had never had enough money to be around, let alone participate, in an auction like this. He had more than 50 gold dinars and if he chose to he could bet on this chest, and he was about to open his mouth when another man in the back of the crowd shouted, “70 gold dinars!” Khalifah was about to bid again when he wasn’t sure how much he should bid now, the tailor yelled out from the crowd again, “80 gold dinars!” Khalifah got annoyed, his mind couldn’t work this fast, the minute somebody gave a price somebody else was already giving out a new price. He opened his mouth to yell again when someone else in the crowd, in an act of desperation, shouted out, “95 gold dinars!” The tailor knew that the man bidding against him had spent all of his money and shouted in return, “100 gold dinars!” Khalifah was in a dead panic, he wanted to bid for the chest even if he didn’t get it, just to be a part of normal market life and in an act of desperation he shouted out louder and more intensely than any other, “100 gold dinars and 1!”

Time-appropriate art

Time-appropriate art

Everybody looked at Khalifah, the bloody miserable wretch, in shock. The tailor looked at Khalifah, his new opponent in bidding for the chest, and began to laugh out loud. “Oh eunuch, sell the chest to Khalifah the fisherman for 101 dinars,” the tailor could not help but laugh at the situations he ran into Khalifah and felt nothing but goodwill toward him. The crowd began to cheer, to see such a poor miserable fisherman purchasing something from the Caliphate amused everybody. What was even more amusing was when Khalifah actually produced all 101 dinars on the spot. Once the transaction took place the crowd began to disperse and the eunuch made his way back to Lady Zubaydah to tell her he accomplished her mission and received 101 dinars in compensation for the chest. Within minutes the stand was completely empty and Khalifah had a chest that he could not carry; he also was completely broke agian. He had spent the rest of the silver on sweets for the children and he had spent all the money he had earned from Sandal on this chest. Yet Khalifah was stubbornly satisfied because he had a big expensive chest now and it looked important.

He walked around the chest and tried picking it up and was only able to lift it to his waist before he dropped it again, “This chest sure is heavy!” Khalifah said to himself looking around a little meekly feeling a little foolish for spending all of his money on something he could not carry. However, 15 minutes later he had propped up the chest diagonally against the wall and squeezed underneath it and used his shredded back for support. Though it stung he felt proud that he had found a way to move the chest and dragged it all the way to his shop. However once he reached his shop he realized the chest would not fit inside.

Another 20 minutes found everything that was once inside Khalifah’s humble shop was now sitting in front of it and the chest was now inside. He squeezed what he could back into his shop but left the table outside underneath the wooden awning. Khalifah made all kinds of efforts to open the chest but was too exhausted and decided to wait until morning. Having no money Khalifah made his bed atop the chest and went to sleep early and hungry as he had not eaten since the previous evening.

Underneath the pristine Baghdad sky that night the market was silent and all was asleep. Khalifah lay on his chest sleeping soundlessly when from the chest came a tap. It echoed across Khalifah’s humble shop and shattered the silent night in Khalifah’s ears. His eyes opened but he saw nothing different than when they were closed; everything was black. The single window in the front of the shop provided the only point of reference for Khalifah. A deep blue sky with piercing stars gave Khalifah assurance that he was in his shop but he could not shake that a very distinct sound had awoken him from his sleep. He listened and heard only the nothing that permeated the rest of the sleepy market. Khalifah adjusted his position so that he lay his ear directly on the chest and closed his eyes to fall back asleep.

Then the noise happened again and to Khalifah’s fright he heard it coming from inside the chest! He hopped off of it as quickly as he could stumbling in to the clutter he had created trying to get the chest inside his shop. Now with everything he had done to get the chest inside his shop he was willing to do twice as much to get it back outside the shop. Khalifah tripped and fell over something hitting his head and waxing him angry. “I’m certain there must be a genie inside and I will grab a stick and beat it when it comes out!” Khalifah clammered around for a lamp and realizing he had no oil for it ran outside of his shop distrubing the peace of the market.

“Oh, people of the market!” Khalifah yelled and slowly people began to stir, one of his neighbors yelled, “What do you want Khalifah?”

“Please supply me with a lamp for genies are upon me!” Khalifah yelled in fright. Everyone who awoke laughed at Khalifah and one of the neighbors supplied him with a lamp and everyone returned to their places. Khalifah crouched next to the lock of the chest with the lamp nearby, rock in one hand, and a stick in the other. “I will smite this genie for disturbing my sleep!” and with those words he broke the lock off of the chest with the rock and began opening the chest.

Inside the chest Kut al-Kulub’s drugs were wearing off and she began to stir which is what startled Khalifah so much. When the chest began to open she awoke from her deep sleep and looked up to see a filthy man covered in dry blood and a terrible stench of fish permeated the air.

Khalifah looked down into the chest, “And who are you?!” asked Khalifah in surprise. He was expecting to find a genie but instead found a beautiful woman for the likes he had never seen.  “Bring me my maidens,” Kut al-Kulub ordered the filthy man, but Khalifah responded, “Maidens would not come within miles of this shop.” Kut al-Kulub sat up in the chest and looked at Khalifah and said, “Where am I?”

“You are at my shop,” replied Khalifah.

“So am I not in the palace of the Commander of the Faithful, Al-Rashid?” Kut al-Kulub tried to straighten her head on the situation she found herself in. She could not remember what she had done last.

“What are you talking about madwoman? You are nothing but my slavegirl for I purchased you and this chest for 101 dinars earlier today and brought you home. I didn’t know you were asleep inside this chest until this very moment, but I did buy the contents of this chest,” said Khalifah. Kut al-Kulub began to piece together what happened remembering her nervousness when seeing the Lady Zubaydah. She remembered becoming incredibly sleepy while eating and that was her last memory. Lady Zubaydah must have gotten jealous of the time she spent with her husband and stuffed her in the chest and had someone sell it at the market. Then this pathetic wight purchased the chest. She considered Khalifah for a moment.

“What is your name?” she asked.

Khalifah looked at her smitten by her beauty, “My name is Khalifah. Why is it that good fortune has shined upon me when I know of nothing but bad?” Kut al-Kulub could see the lust in his eyes and decided to take control of the situation.

“Spare me this talk. Do you, Khalifah, have anything to eat?” she asked.

“No nor anything to drink. I haven’t eaten for almost two days now and went to bed hungry tonight,” replied Khalifah.

“Don’t you have any money?” Kut al-Kulub asked.

“I spent all the money I had on the very chest you came in on. I am now completely broke,” Khalifah explained. Kut al-Kulub laughed at him for his poor judgment.

“Get up right now and go ask your neighbors for some food for I am hungry,” Kut al-Kulub told Khalifah. If he didn’t have anything himself at least she could make him useful.

Khalifah went outside and awoke his neighbors for the second time that night, “Oh people of the market!”

Out of one of the dark shops one responded, “Now what is the problem Khalifah? Has the genie requested something you can’t provide?”

“No my neighbors, I am hungry but have no food to eat.” Pity filled his sleepy neighbors’ hearts and one by one they came out with meats, cheese, and vegetables until Khalifah could carry no more food. Then he returned to his shop where he placed all the food in front of Kut al-Kulub and told her to eat saving nothing for himself. Kut al-Kulub simply laughed at him.

“How can I eat this without something to drink? Do you want me to choke and die?” Khalifah wandered back outside with a pitcher and stood in the middle of the street.

“Oh people of the market!” Khalifah yelled.

“What calamity has befallen you now you bothersome wight?” someone yelled back.

“I have eaten my food but I am now thirsty and have nothing to drink.” Pity again filled the hearts of some of those in the marketplace and one by one each came up to Khalifah and gave him a portion of water until his pitcher was full. He returned to Kut al-Kulub who was satisfied and began to eat. While she ate she acquainted Khalifah with her story and who she was.

When she mentioned the Caliph Al-Rashid Khalifah stopped her, “Is this Caliph Al-Rashid the one who imprisoned me yesterday?”

“There is only one Caliph,” she replied.

“By Allah I’ve never met someone who is as rich and yet cheap as he. He gave me a hundred blows yesterday all for a single dinar and my crime was teaching him how to fish and letting him be my partner. He treated me wrong!” Khalifah fumed showing off his healing wounds. Kut al-Kulub could see this was a sore subject for Khalifah and again took control.

“Stop this talk on the Commander and the Faithful. If he treated you wrong be prepared to be treated very right. Did you not hear who I am to him? You will be rewarded beyond measure if you deliver me to him safely.” With these words everything transformed in Khalifah’s mind. He asked Kut al-Kulub if she needed anything else and when she did not they both slept separately until morning. By noon that day Khalifah was again standing in front of the Caliph, this time with rewards being bestowed upon him beyond measure. The Caliph was so pleased to get his favorite concubine back he spent another solid month with her. Ja’afar was pleased to see Khalifah rewarded so well. When Khalifah was leaving the palace he ran into Sandal, related the story of what happened after he left, and gave Sandal 1,000 dinars for the 100 he had given him the previous day. If it was not for Sandal’s generosity Khalifah would not have become rich.

Another picture of the Tigris

Another picture of the Tigris

Khalifah became so rich he never had to fish again. Bestowed with slaves and more money than he knew what to do with he bought a mansion high on a hill that looked over the city and the mighty and mysterious Tigris river. From his mansion he could see where he used to have his merchant shop and where he used to live. One day Khalifah was walking through the streets a beggar came up to him asking for some money. The beggar was remarkable for two reasons – he was a Jew in a Muslim city and his face was familiar to Khalifah but he could not place it. Khalifah gave him a gold dinar and returned to his mansion and sat watching the mighty Tigris flow by. Then along the banks he saw a monkey climb out from the water and run into the nearby trees. Khalifah recalled looking ignorantly up at the Caliphate on that day a long time ago daring not to dream – and now one of his closest friends was the Caliph. “I live in a strange world,” thought Khalifah who smoked from his pipe and then napped.

10 Responses to “Khalifah the Fisherman of Baghdad”

  1. Richard Says:

    Again some excellent writing!

    You may only write a little, but I find what you do write is the very rare offerings which I read from start to finish.


    • nakedmaninthetree Says:

      I’m glad you still check up and enjoy my writing. I’m so busy lately, but adding to this is always a goal of mine. I’ll do my best to get another one out as soon as I can.

  2. ixobelle Says:

    I’m slowly crawling through your posts one at a time, always a very nice read.

    This was awesome.

  3. Marwa Says:

    I am an Iraqi girl and you wrote so exciting.I wonder where you got all this information. you are great…

    • Nakedmaninthetree Says:

      Marwa –

      I appreciate the praise from the native land of my story! I simply read the story “Khalifah the Fisherman” from the Burton English translation and translated the story into terms that are easier to read today and I put a bit of personal artistic imagery. I also researched the names and such I did not know anything about through different sources.

      I’m thankful for your appreciative comment.

  4. Lynus Says:

    I am reading the Arabian Nights for my Islamic Middle East class and one of the stories we have to read is precisely this one. I am so glad I found this, because it made the read that much more entertaining (and it is already very fun on its own). Thank you!

    Plus, I admire the fact that you are interested in many cultures; I am, too, which is partly why I took this class.

    • nakedmaninthetree Says:

      Lynus, I am thankful for your comment. It encourages me to create more. Although I haven’t updated in a while, I am busy working on creating more things very soon.

  5. hurtige penge Says:

    Thanks for the sensible critique. Me & my neighbor were just preparing to do a little research about this. We got a grab a book from our local library but I think I learned more from this post. I’m very glad to see such magnificent info being shared freely out there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: