Tag Archives: a lion in a desert


I’ve heard from my teacher, that his teacher’s teacher was the most feared scholar of his time. Although ‘fear’ might sound like a negative trait, understand the context: during his time, there emerged an unjust and cruel Sultan who sought to end ‘the problems faced by our great nation’ through the elimination of all religious teachers, mystics, philosophers and thinkers. The state did not want to support them anymore. In fact he went so far as to  claim their message was the poison that plagued the people, and he would go to great lengths to… dispose of any threat. What was once a lively, forward-looking country soon collapsed into a dark place where hopes, dreams and knowledge were eclipsed by the fear of a painful end. The light in their eyes seemed to diminish with every day yet the Sultan’s coffers were steadily filled.

While Mawlana kept a quiet life as a trader and did not preach openly, except by request, his extensive knowledge of a wide range of subjects and razor sharp mind soon emerged as a beacon of light in the seas of turmoil fuelled by increasing ignorance, anger and fear. Many men tried to outsmart him, confront him with what they thought was the truth, but ended up leaving with their tails between their legs and their minds reeling from the encounter. Most of these men would eventually become his students.

He never made it a point to lecture or conduct classes, but eventually the people’s demand for enlightenment, their strong desire to get away from the pain of their existence through wisdom and knowledge, through the fragrant company of a scholar and the calming effect it had on their souls, became so strong so quickly that it caught the Sultan’s attention.

As cruel as the Sultan was, he was also a cool, calculative, shrewd and intelligent man. In a short period, this Mawlana had gained quite a following, so to dispose of him by force or abruptly would mean a further mess to clean up after; for sure his so-called students and supporters would take up arms against the establishment. Messy, messy.

So instead he sent two of his smartest men, in disguise, to figure out what this Mawlana was about and how best to unshackle his hold on the people, and then swiftly erase what he was.

The two men went, posing as village people. Late at night they knocked at his door, entered quietly and sat amongst the small group that was gathered in the cramped house. Mawlana had already begun teaching, and he looked once over at the two latecomers; they busied themselves with getting comfortable on the floor and then listened with mock interest. Soon though, that interest grew real.

It was two hours later that the class ended, but before leaving Mawlana asked that the last two people to enter should stay behind for a word with him. The two ministers were not prepared for this, but kept their cool.

When everyone had left, Mawlana beckoned them closer, signalling they sit in front of him. They did, and he just looked at them calmly. He looked and looked, as one might look out the window to the fields outside, until the two men got uncomfortable and could not keep quiet any longer.

‘Yes, Mawlana? You wanted to see us?’

‘Correct,’ came his short reply. And he stared.

‘Uhm… What is it about?’

‘What is your visit about?’ he asked.

‘Oh! Well, we wanted to learn!’ one of them said excitedly.

‘What you have learnt is yours to keep. You may return to your Sultan now,’ he said with just the faintest trace of a smile.

The colour from their faces drained, but they did not show their surprise, instead looking down. They would have feigned ignorance, but knew better than to argue. The man that sat before them saw right through them.

‘Uh… Mawlana… Forgive us,’ one said coarsely before standing to leave. His partner looked up at him, then at Mawlana, and as though realizing how out of place he was, jolted up and left in a hurry.

Needless to say the Sultan was not very pleased with what they had to say. He didn’t like it that this Mawlana seemed to be more of a threat than he first thought, and greater than the other scholars he had disposed of by magnitudes. This man was special. He could not live any longer.

Without so much as a second thought, the Sultan sent for his best assassin.

‘Make it look like an accident. You have three days!’ were his instructions.

The assassin had little time to work, but made every second count. When Mawlana was asleep, the assassin went to his house. Every detail was taken in, plans manifested in his head, ideas were analyzed and rejected one by one. He then observed Mawlana as he went about his day, taking note of his route, habits and potential accident spots.

By the end of the first day, the assassin had 5 separate kill points, a meticulously crafted plan of successive backups should the first fail and so on. But immediately his plans were thwarted.

The flame just kept dying. The stone never fell. The ladder would not budge. The poisoned fruit were knocked down and trampled over. The camel was fast asleep. In an astonishing series of unlikely failures, the assassin grew impatient and frustrated. He would need to kill by hand, then set up the place to look like something else had happened. If the stone would not fall then he himself would bring it crashing down.

He would go to the house and wait, in time for his target’s return.

But he never did. The assassin waited some more. Still no show.

He left the house to check the other locations when was stopped along a corner street by a man in a cloak. It was dark but the cloaked man’s identity was no secret. It was Mawlana.

‘Must you really do it?’ came the question.

‘Yes. It is my duty. I have sworn allegiance to the Sultan,’

‘Why would you work for that man?’

‘That is none of your business,’

‘You should leave. Go far away, start a new life. This path you have chosen does not suit you,’

‘The path chose me. But what would you know, old man?’

‘This is your chance to go, take it!’

‘I will kill you.’

‘You chose this yourself,’… came the almost sad reply.

All Mawlana did was look into the assassins eyes, and something very strange happened. All of a sudden there was an explosion of understanding and seeing, his mind was opened wide, wide, wide to receive everything in the universe. His eyes rolled back and his mouth hung open, his body twitching and shaking. Then he collapsed into Mawlana’s arms.

He awoke the next morning a mad man, his mind bent and deformed under the weight of all the he now knew about this world and beyond.

This would happen to two other killers before Mawlana appeared before the Sultan one day. Needless to say he was scared out of his wits by the man, and promptly took his suggestion to ‘stop all your evil, now’. Barely two months after the Sultan disappeared, and a visiting prince was given his title.

The prince did not visit by chance, yet the people felt so lucky that a good and righteous man like him would come by their gates for no good rhyme nor reason.

Mawlana never looked at anyone like that again, and he took the three killers under his care, slowly nursing them back to health. They stayed his loyal servants till the day he departed from this world, and only then did the reveal the full story that i have just recounted.

They could not tell it while Mawlana was still alive, out of shame and respect.

And they would not utter a word of what exactly was revealed unto them, and it was a secret that died with them.