A Collection of Wisdom: Folktales

Sufi Folktales

Sufi Folktale - The New Water

Nour the Fire-Maker, and the Five Tribes

In ancient times, a man named Nour discovered how to make fire. He traveled to various places and shared his discovery to five tribes of people. They all had different reactions to him—some embraced his discovery, and others regarded him with aversion and fear. Eventually, Nour was killed by a group of people that were terrified of him and his fire.

A few centuries later, each of the five tribes had a unique viewpoint regarding Nour and fire making, which accounted for a major part of each tribe’s cultural and religious practices.

The first tribe had a priest class that kept fire-making a closely guarded secret, which gave them leverage over the other members of the tribe.

The second tribe did not care about fire making itself, but they worshipped the tools used to make fire.

The third tribe was entirely unconcerned about fire making, and instead worshipped Nour.

The fourth tribe had legendary tales about Nour and fire making ingrained in their folklore—and some people believed the legends, while other rejected them.

The fifth tribe knew how to make fire, and used that knowledge for a variety of purposes.

One day, a master and his disciples were traveling in the lands where these tribes lived. After observing the tribes, the disciples said to each other, “It is very surprising to see how all these tribes have such different views on Nour and fire making. Let us visit the tribes, and tell them the truth about fire making. The information will change their lifestyles dramatically.”

So the traveling master and disciples went to the first tribe—the one where fire was a closely guarded secret used among the priest class. After receiving a warm welcome by the tribe, they attended one of their fire making religious ceremonies headed by the priests. When the ceremony finished, one of the traveling disciples said, “I can duplicate the fire making that you regard as divine and restricted only to the priests. If I do this, will you admit that you have been wrong for all these years?” When the priests heard this, they immediately shouted out, “These travelers are heretics—seize them and take them away at once.”

The people immediately did as they said, and the travelers moved on to the second tribe—the one that worshipped fire-making tools. One of the traveling disciples announced to the tribe, “I come here to inform you that you are worshipping these tools, yet you are unaware that their use is simply to make fire.” The people heard this and responded, “We are hospitable people and welcome you to our land, but we must inform you that you are a stranger to our customs, and you do not understand what we are doing. Your statements are incorrect, and you are not acting in accordance with our religion. Hence, we will not listen to you.”

So the travelers went to the third tribe—the one that worshipped Nour. They observed the tribe’s various Nour statues and ceremonies. Later, they approached the tribe’s leaders and said, “The Nour that you worship is actually just a person like the rest of you. He discovered a fire making skill that you can learn and use.” The tribe leaders replied, “Even if that is true, such knowledge is reserved only for a select few like us, not for the entire community to know.” “But why not spread this knowledge to all?” the traveler replied. Upon hearing this, the tribe leaders replied, “You are unfamilar with our culture, and you are making sacrilegious statements. We have heard enough from you!”

So the travelers left, and went to the fourth tribe—the one where fire making and Nour were legends that some people believed and others didn’t. One of the travelers announced to the tribe, “The fire making stories and legends you speak of are indeed true, and I can show you how to make fire.” This announcement caused much division among the tribe. Among them, some people desired to learn how to make fire from the travelers, but were only concerned with using it to take advantage of others. They also did not learn to make fire properly because they were still fixated on their inaccurate legends about fire making. Another group of people said, “These travelers are duping us and trying to take advantage of us; and we will have nothing to do with them.” And another group of people said, “Whether these travelers speak the truth or not, we do not want to hear from them. We prefer to retain our current legends as they are, which forms the foundation of our culture and community.”

So the travelers left and went to the fifth tribe, where they used fire, and observed the people’s ways.

The travelers then said to their master, “What are we to make of all of this? We tried to teach the four other tribes to make fire the way this tribe does, but our efforts have gone in vain.”

The master replied, “Most people don’t really want to be taught—so you have to know the proper way to teach them. Although they have the capacity for learning, this is not enough. You have to teach them that there is something to learn. They imagine they are ready to learn, but they are really concerned with learning what they imagine is to be learned, and not what they first need to learn. Understand this, and then you will find the proper way to teach.”


Mojud’s Biography

A man named Mojud worked as a government official, then as a fisherman’s assistant, then as a farmhand, then as a wealthy merchant, and then later gave away most of his money, moved to the big city, and worked at a store. While there, he performed many feats of mysticism, and word spread about his powers.

The people there all regarded him highly, and he soon attracted a devoted following of disciples. One day some notable people in the city asked him, “Tell us your background. Where are you from? Who did you study under?”

Mojud replied, “I’m not entirely certain.”

So the people asked, “Well, how did you begin your career?”

“I began as a government official,” he replied.

“So after that you decided to quit and devote yourself to mystical things?” they inquired further.

“No, not really,” Mojud said. “After that, I became a fisherman’s helper, and then I walked out on that and became a farmer’s helper, and then I left that and became a merchant and made lots of money, and then I gave it up and came here to work in a store, and this is where I am right now.”

“That does not really explain how you have all these powers,” they replied. “That can’t be it!”

“It surely is,” Mojud replied.

Unsatisfied with his dull life story, the town biographers instead wrote a glamorous and exciting life story about him in order to conform to what the readers wanted, instead of what actually happened. And thus, that is the way that his life was recorded.

The Rumor

There once was a village with two regions bordering each other. One day, a traveler was walking through one of the regions. The man had tears in his eyes because he had just peeled onions.

Some children mistook these tears for tears of sadness, and somehow, a rumor was started that the man was crying because someone from the other region had died from a hihgly contagious illness. This rumor also spread to the second region, only over there, it was about an illness that was spreading in the first region. Soon, people from each region were terrified of the other region, and no one dared to communicate with or observe the other. Eventually, both regions decided that conditions were too dangerous, and they both moved out and started another village somewhere else.

Centuries later, each village had their own ancient story about how their town originated from somehwere else, where the people had to flee from some sort of perilous condition.

Ah Yah Hoo

A dervish was in meditation when he heard another dervish from across the lake yell out the chant “Ah Yah Hoo.”

Since the customary dervish chant was actually “Yah Hoo,” the first dervish was concerned that the other dervish was wasting his efforts, so he decided to boat across and inform the other dervish of his mistake.

When he got to the other side, he said, “Excuse me, but you are saying that chant wrong. It is actually ‘Yah Hoo,’ not ‘Ah Yah Hoo.’”

“Thank you for telling me,” the other replied.

Then the first dervish began sailing back across the river, and thought to himself, “I really helped that man. He was wasting his efforts with that wrong chant, but now that I have set him straight, he can develop all the various powers that derive from that chant. And perhaps one day he can even reach the advanced stage of being able to walk on water.”

But just minutes later, the dervish was extremely annoyed to hear the other dervish once again chanting “Ah Yah Hoo.”

The first dervish though to himself, “I cannot believe how people can be so perverse and persistent in error.”

Then all of a sudden, he heard some noise and turned around, and saw the other dervish from across the sea walking on water and approaching him! The other dervish then said to him, “Excuse me, but I forgot how to say that chant properly. Please tell me again!”

The Promise

A man had many problems, and made an oath that if his problems were solved, he would sell his possessions and give the proceeds to charity.

But later, when his problems were solved, he wanted to find a way out of his oath. He decided to offer his possessions for sale for one gold piece, but only under the condition that the purchaser would also have to buy his cat for one thousand gold pieces. He soon sold the items, kept the thousand gold pieces, and gave the one gold peice to charity.

Most people’s nature when dealing with a teaching is to act like that man did.

The Emperor’s Cure

An Emperor was very sick, and no doctor was able to cure him. He grew distraught over his sickness, and sent his people to far off places looking for an effective treatment.

One of them brought back a Sufi named El-Arif, the disciple of El Ghazali. El-Arif examined the Emperor, asked about all the treatments he tried, and then announced to the emperor and to his entire court, “The Emperor can be cured with faith.”

One of the courtiers responded, “He has faith, but that has not cured him.”

"Well," El-Arif replied, “if that's the case, there is only one other treatment that might work. But I am reluctant to even suggest it, because it is really a terrible thing. In fact, I will not say it.”

When the people heard this, they pleaded with him over and over agian, until he finally relented. He told them, “The Emperor can be cured by taking a bath in the blood of 300 executed children.”

Everyone was extremely distraught to hear these words. However, after thinking it over, the royal councilors eventually advised the Emperor to do as El-Arif said. They reasnoned, "The Emperor is essential to our kingdom's safety and prosperity. We have to try cure."

An announcement was made throughout the city of what was to happen. The people were horrified to hear this. Some cursed the Emperor for demanding the children's execution. Others prayed that the Emperor would be healed in time so that the children’s lives would be spared.

The Emperor, meanwhile, just could not bear the slaying of innocent children, and became tormented with the thought of going along with the plan. Several days passed, and he declared that he would not take El-Arif’s suggestion after all. And about the same time he declared this, his illness also disappeared.

Some people attributed his recovery as a reward for his good deed of sparing the children's lives, while other people felt that it was a divine power caused by the relieved mothers of the children.

They asked El-Arif what he thought, and he remarked, “He did not have faith, so I gave him something equal to it. It was his focus and purposefulness, combined with the feelings of the mothers who wanted his disease cured.”

He also said, “An effect can take place when there is a way made to attain it within a certain time period.”

The Bird’s Advice

A man caught a bird, and the bird said to him, “Release me, and I will give you three valuable pieces of advice. I will give you the first when you let me go, the second when I fly up to that branch, and the third when I fly up to the top of the tree.”

The man agreed, and let the bird go. The bird said, “Do not torment yourself with excessive regret for mistakes.”

The bird then flew up to a branch and said, “Do not believe anything that goes against common sense, unless you have firsthand proof.”

And then the bird flew up to the top of the tree and said, “You fool. I have two huge jewels inside of me, and if you had killed me instead of letting me go, you would have had them.”

“Darn it!” the man said. “How can I have been so stupid? I am never going to get over this. Bird, can you at least give the third piece of advice as a consolation?”

The bird replied, “I have been hoaxing you. And now you are asking for more advice, yet you have already disregarded the first two pieces of advice I gave you. I told you not to torment yourself with excessive regret for mistakes, and I told you not to believe things that go again common sense unless there is some kind of firsthand proof. And yet, you just tormented yourself with excessive regret for letting me go, and you also believed that somehow there are two jewels inside of a tiny bird like me! So here is your third piece of advice: ‘If you are not using what you know, why are you so intent on seeking what you do not know?’”

The Bird’s Request

There once was a merchant who had a bird as a pet that he kept in a cage. One day, the merchant said to the bird, “I am going to India on business, the land that you are from. Do you want me to bring anything back for you.”

The bird replied, “Not really, I just want my freedom.”

“No,” the merchant responded.

“OK then,” said the bird, “Can you at least go the jungle in India and tell the free birds over there about me and how I am in a cage.”

So the merchant agreed and complied with the bird’s request when he got to the jungle in India. And as soon as he finished his statement, a wild bird that looked just like his own fell to the ground.

“Oh dear,” the man thought. “This must be a relative of my bird, whose sadness of hearing about my bird’s captivity has caused him to die.”

When the merchant arrived home and the bird asked what happened, the merchant sadly replied, “Unfortunately, when I spoke about you, one of your relatives collapsed immediately upon hearing how you are in a cage.”

When the bird heard this, it too collapsed in its cage.

The merchant thought, “Now the news of his relative’s death has killed my bird!”

Greatly saddened, he picked up the bird and put it near his window. Immediately after he did this, the bird flew out the window and to his freedom.

From a distance, he said to his former owner, “You have been tricked. You thought that misfortune had struck me, but in actuality the opposite has happened. The message of the way I could free myself was sent by my relative through you.”

And with that statement, the bird flew away.

The Parrot is Bald

A grocer had a charming parrot who talked and amused all of the grocer’s customers greatly. One day, while the grocer was away, the parrot was flying and accidentally knocked over a bottle of oil on the grocer’s coat. When the grocer came back and saw this, he became enraged and hit the parrot on the head, which knocked the feathers off its head and made it bald.

Greatly traumatized from this, the parrot did not talk anymore. Soon the grocer grew guilty and regretful of what he had done, especially since the parrot’s charming talk attracted so many customers to his store. So the grocer tried all sorts of methods to please the parrot and get him talking again. He prayed, he gave the bird treats, and he even sang to it—but all to no avail, for the parrot continued to remain silent.

Then one day, a dervish with a shaved head came in to the store.

When the parrot saw this, it remarked, “Did you also knock over a bottle of oil and upset the grocer?”

The Deaf Man’s Visit

A wealthy man instructed his deaf worker to go visit a man who was ill. Before going, the deaf man decided to prepare himself for the conversation and the responses he would give to the sick man.

He thought to himself, “I will say to him, ‘How are you doing.’ And the sick man will then say, ‘I am OK, thanks for asking.’ And then I will say, ‘Thank God. Tell me the medication you have been taking.’ And then he will say, ‘I am taking such and such medication.’ And then I will say, ‘Great. Now tell me who your doctor is.’ And then he will say, ‘Mr. So and So.” And then I will say, ‘That is a great doctor. He is sure to bring you good health.’”

So having this all rehearsed, the deaf man went to see the sick man, and began saying his preset lines.

“How are you doing?” the deaf man asked.

“I am on the verge of dying” the man replied.

“Thank God,” the deaf man said. “Tell me what medication you have been taking.”

Greatly offended, the sick man replied, “Whatever it is, its effects have been like poison.”

“Great,” replied the deaf man. “Now tell me who your doctor is.”

Even more annoyed, the sick man replied, “The Angel of Death! Now get lost you jerk.”

“That is a great doctor,” the deaf man said. “He is sure to being you good health.”

And with that statement, the deaf man left, thinking that he had succeeded in looking after the sick man.

The Search for the Tree

A learned man was in a storytelling mood, and began describing to several others about fruit from a special tree in India. He said, “Anyone who eats the fruit of that tree will have perpetual life and youth.”

A king heard this story and was intent on eating fruit from the tree. He sent his servant to India and told him, “Find that tree and its fruit, no matter how long it takes, or how difficult it is to find. I will support you by sending money.”

The servant followed his demand, and for years he searched high and wide throughout India for the tree—but alas, he hadn’t found it. And whenever he asked anyone about it, some people would just take him for a psychopath, while others toyed with him and said, “Yeah, you can find the tree in so-and-so region, and it is quite a sight,” and so on.

The man continued to search while the king sent him money for support, but eventually, the searcher decided that he had had enough, and decided to quit and go back to the king crying in frustration. On his way back, he met a shayk who noticed how sad he was, and asked, “What is the matter?”

The servant told the shayk about his unsuccessful quest to find the tree that would give perpetual life and youth, to which the shayk responded, “The way you are searching, the tree you seek is farther than far. Yet in actuality, it is as close to you as you are to yourself.

“You have searched for the appearance of such a tree, but have missed the actual essence of it. In fact, it is not necessarily a ‘tree,’ for sometimes it is the sun, sometimes it is the sea, and sometimes it is the clouds. It is the essence that is limitless and all encompassing. It is in you, too. Why search for one form or another? You will miss finding it, and instead find disappointment. Don’t pursue the name—pursue the source, and it shall be found.”

Tirckeration Times Two

A man was leading a ram, and decided to take a rest—but as he rest, someone stole the ram.

Upon noticing what had happened, the owner frantically running in hopes of finding it. As he searched, he noticed the thief sitting near a well, lamenting, “What shall I do? Oh My! What shall I do?”

The man went up to the thief and said, “What is the matter?”

The thief replied, “I dropped my wallet into this well, and I don’t know how to get it back. I must get it back—it had one hundred dinars in it. Please, sir, help me retrieve it. If you can, I will give you twenty dinars for your help.”

The man thought to himself, “Well, I lost my ram, which is worth about two dinars, but now I have the opportunity to make 20 dinars. Wow, this is great.”

So the man took off his clothes and hopped into the well. As he was down there, the thief took his clothes and stole them as well.

Amir’s Horse

A man named Amir had an exquisite and beautiful horse. When the King saw it, he became mesmerized by it and was convinced it had divine qualities. He ordered his officers to get the horse from Amir.

They went to Amir’s house and told him about the King’s request, and said, “Bring the horse to the royal palace tomorrow.”

Although Amir esteemed the King highly, he did not want to give up the horse, so he tried to devise a way out of his predicament. He went to his advisors for advice, and then the next day, he brought his head advisor, a vizier, to the royal palace with the horse.

The King then said to the vizier, “Isn’t this an exquisite horse? I have never seen anything like it.”

The vizier replied, “Your highness, your fondness for this horse has made you mistake a demon for an angel. This horse might appear to you as exquisite, but its nature is like a vicious predator that is a threat to your power.”

When the King heard this, all of a sudden he changed his mind, and decided that the horse might not be as great as he thought it was.


Two friends encountered each other traveling in opposite directions on a street.

They each asked where the other was going. One said, “To see a woman,” and the other said, “To a religious gathering.”

The first friend said to the other, “Why are you going to go see that woman. Come to the religion gathering—there will be a preacher, and singing, dancing, storytelling, and more.”

The other replied, “You should come with me. I can hook you up with my woman’s sister—she is really hot.”

They both presented their cases, but both friends decided to go their originally planned way.

When the first friend went to the religious gathering, he was preoccupied thinking about what a good time his friend must be having with his woman, and he regretted his decision to come to the religious gathering.

And while the second friend was with his woman, he was preoccupied thinking of how his friend was having fun at the religious gathering and doing a good deed, and he regretted not going with him.

Thus, there is a saying that a person will not give up this world for the other, nor will he give up the other world for this one.