ornament

Sidi Mustafa

Sidi Mustafa

Sidi Mustafa was revered as a saint by his countrymen. He lived high atop a hill overlooking a populous city to the south and a great sea to the west. The house in which he lived had been built by his father, a wealthy merchant, and at one time it was exceedingly opulent. But when his father died and Sidi Mustafa inherited his vast estate, he divided most of his wealth among the slaves who had faithfully served the household and granted them their freedom. Afterwards, he lived the life of a hermit, spending his days meditating, writing songs and poems, and cultivating his garden.

Of his once considerable riches, Sidi Mustafa kept nothing but a golden bowl, a lute with five silver strings, and the clothes he wore. Besides these things, the rooms of his house were practically empty. But his garden provided him with everything else he really needed. The mild climate and rich soil of the land assured him of a constant supply of produce, even in the winter months, and occasionally he would exchange in town some of the fruit, vegetables, and flowers he grew for paper, pen, and ink. Such barter, however, was infrequent, and always expeditiously concluded.

Sometimes people would seek him out on his mountaintop for the wise counsel he invariably gave; there were always a meal and shelter for the pilgrim who came to his door in spiritual and bodily need.

Among his few possessions, he loved none better than a certain tree which grew behind his house right in the center of the garden. When he was a boy, the old servants used to tell him all kinds of wonderful stories about how it had come to be there. Ali the Gardener believed it had sprouted from a seed carried by a strong wind from faraway Africa. Kacem the Doorkeeper was certain that a mischievous jinn disguised as a traveler, whom he had refused to let in one stormy night, had vengefully planted "a demon seed from the fiery pit of hell" in his master's garden. Fatima the Midwife, who had delivered Sidi Mustafa, was convinced, on the other hand, that the tree had grown from a star which fell from heaven the very night her mistress's only child was born, and she considered it a gift from his guardian angel.

Nobody really knew with certainty how the sapling had happened to appear where it did, but there was general agreement that it first broke through the soil around the same time Sidi Mustafa came into the world. Nobody who dwelt in or visited the house had ever seen anything like it before, and many a wealthy guest secretly coveted the tree and would very much have liked to have it in his own pleasure garden.

Most remarkable about the little tree were its beautiful yellow-orange blossoms, whose petals even from a short distance, looked like tiny tongues of flame, especially when the breeze and sunlight played together among the branches. Curiously, the tree was always in bloom, even on those rare days when frost nipped at the mountain. What is more, it gave off the freshest fragrance of all the trees, shrubs, and flowers in the garden. No wonder, then, that whenever Sidi Mustafa would pray or meditate, he would sit beneath the branches of his favorite tree.

There was a charming ritual with which the silver-haired saint began each day. First, he would fill his golden bowl with water, part of which he drank and the remainder of which he used to wash himself. A meditation and a prayer followed, after which he improvised a song (neither too short nor too long) upon his lute. Just as the sun rose over the purple hills of the east, he would set aside his instrument, fill the golden bowl once more, and pour the water in a wide circle around the foot of the tree. When he had given it to drink, he kissed its trunk reverently and went back to his house for breakfast, picking a few fresh fruits along the way. Later, there would be time for gardening and composing, but he would return to sit beneath his little tree whenever he felt weary, and would always come away refreshed.

Now Sidi Mustafa's simple life had brought him great contentment, but with the onset of old age he had begun to long for the final rest and supreme happiness of Paradise. This desire was very much with him in the early morning just before dawn on his eighty-fourth birthday. Accustomed to the cyclical rhythm of his days and the four seasons, he observed his matutinal ritual exactly as he had done for the past fifty years, omitting neither one thing nor another. It was most extraordinary, then, that by the time he had finished his lute improvisation the sun had not yet climbed above the horizon.

"The light will come at any moment," he thought to himself as he began to fill the golden bowl a second time to water his tree.

Indeed, light did soon appear. It came, however, not from the east as he expected, but over his shoulder from the west. Greatly surprised by this anomaly, Sidi Mustafa turned in the direction of the light. He could scarcely believe what he saw: the yellow-orange blossoms of his tree were alight, actually glowing as brightly as the dawn!

Sorely afraid, Sidi Mustafa fell to his knees, and raising his arms to the heavens, cried out: "Allah, O Compassionate and Merciful One, protect me from all harm and evil, now and in the time to come!"

There was a long silence. Then a voice from the Tree said: "Fear not, Sidi Mustafa, for you are a virtuous man and no harm or evil will come to you. Do as I command, and this very day you shall be in Paradise!"

"Who are you?" asked Sidi Mustafa, trembling.

"That is of little importance now," replied the Tree, "but what you want to know will be revealed to you in good time. Trust me and trust in the One, and you will not be misled."

"What, then, would you have me do?" questioned Sidi Mustafa in a quavering voice.

"First, remove from your house what you will. Then lock all of its windows and doors, and throw away the key," answered the Tree.

Sidi Mustafa did as he was commanded, and removed from his house all the songs and poems he had written (for there was nothing else of real value to him inside), locked all the windows and doors, then raised his arm to toss away the key. To his astonishment, just as he was about to hurl the key into the darkness, he felt the palm of his hand expand, and a great weight which forced his arm down.

Instead of the key, he now held a sword in his hand, and he could see its hilt was studded with precious stones and its broad blade was of formidable aspect. He had no sooner made this discovery than there was a burst of light behind him from the north, and when he turned around he saw a tall gate of the whitest marble now standing where his house had been. Through its magnificent central arch he beheld the form of his beloved Tree standing in the midst of the garden. It was twice as brilliant as it had been before, though the sun had not yet risen. Passing through the arch, he hastened to the garden and stood before the Tree.

"You have done well, Sidi Mustafa," it said, "but there is still another task which must be accomplished. Lean the sword against my trunk, and stand with your songs and poems beneath the marble arch through which you just passed. Below you will see the city, and when a wind that blows down into the valley arises, release to it all that you have written."

Sidi Mustafa leaned the sword against the Tree, stood beneath the marble arch with his songs and poems, and when a wind that blew down into the valley arose, he released to it all that had been written. The leaves of paper had no sooner left his hands than they turned into a flock of beautiful birds with snow-white plumage, and as they flew down towards the city, they were as winged songs, so sweetly did their tones fall upon wakening ears. Sidi Mustafa listened spellbound until their silvery voices faded into silence. Then there was another burst of light from behind, and this time when Sidi Mustafa turned around, he saw that his wondrous Tree was glowing with a light three times as bright as it had been before!

When he drew near once more, the Tree said: "You have done well, Sidi Mustafa, but there is still another task which must be accomplished. Take the golden bowl which you have filled and pour its water on the ground beside you. Once you see the direction in which the current flows, break the golden bowl into a thousand pieces and toss these into the stream."

Sidi Mustafa took the golden bowl and poured the water on the ground beside him. The puddle soon widened and deepened until it became a pool, and the pool grew into a lake, and the lake lengthened into a river which flowed down the mountainside toward the great sea to the west. Sidi Mustafa broke the golden bowl into a thousand pieces and flung them into the torrent. As the current carried the pieces along, they sensibly increased in size until at last they were veritable islands, none less dazzling than the next, and each taking its place in the fluvial course as if by preordination. The splendorous panorama unfolding before Sidi Mustafa's eyes left him breathless, and he could scarcely contain his delight.

When the river had finally reached the sea and the last island had settled in its midst, there was another flash of light. Sidi Mustafa turned once again to face the Tree, and thrilled to discover that it was now four times as brilliant as it had been! The sun, however, was still under the horizon.

"You have done well, Sidi Mustafa," the Tree said to him, "but there is still another task which must be accomplished. Take up your lute, which lies beneath me, and play on its five silver strings the loudest of chords. Thus will they be stretched and loosed. Remove them from the lute and place them inside your hat. Next, pluck the fourteen thickest silver hairs from your beard and put these, with your plectrum, inside the body of the lute through its sound holes. When you have done this, toss the lute into the river and the hat to the wind."

Sidi Mustafa took up his lute and struck a chord with such force on its five silver strings that they were stretched and completely loosed from their pegs. When he had put the strings into his hat, he plucked the fourteen thickest silver hairs from his beard and placed them and the plectrum into the body of the lute through its sound holes. Finally, he flung the lute into the river and the hat to the wind.

The hat billowed out and expanded in the air until it was a thousand times its original size, and the silver strings, which attached themselves to it, greatly thickened and lengthened. Again and again they pierced the fabric like stitches sewn by invisible hands while the wind twisted and tore it into various and sundry shapes. Meanwhile the lute increased in length, width and height until it was as large as a majestic galley. Its plectrum became a tall, sturdy mast which fit snugly into the deck of the vessel. The fourteen thickest hairs from Sidi Mustafa's beard transformed themselves in the twinkling of an eye into fourteen mighty silver oars, which emerged along the galley's sides. Not less splendent were the riggings of the galley's masts and sails, made from the five silver strings taken from his lute. Sidi Mustafa had before him a magnificent ship a Pharaoh would have envied!

So struck was he by this superb bark, rocking rhythmically from side to side in the river with its sails, flags, and banners proudly unfurled, that Sidi Mustafa might have stood admiring it for hours rapt with delight. The handsome craft, however, had no sooner been completed than there was another burst of light; when he looked behind him, Sidi Mustafa saw that his Tree was now five times as refulgent as it had been before! Indeed, it illumined everything around it with an intensity not less than that of the midday sun. Sidi Mustafa might well have been scorched and blinded by such light, but strangely, it did not harm him in any way. He felt only a gentle, pleasing warmth which soothed his aged body and cheered his heart.

"You have done well, Sidi Mustafa," the Tree told him, "but there is still another task which must be accomplished. Take off your robe and gather within it the thousand blossoms you pluck from my branches; then toss the blossoms onto the water of the river and leave your robe by the shore."

Since Sidi Mustafa loved his Tree more than any of his other possessions, he could scarcely bear to imagine it without its resplendent yellow-orange flowers--even though everything he had given up thus far had been turned to some great and noble end. "Surely," he thought to himself, "nothing lovelier than those blossoms, as bright as the midday sun, could possibly result if I do as the Tree commands."

Addressing himself to the Tree, he implored: "My beloved Tree, please do not command me to take from you that which is your glory; to disfigure you thus would be a hideous and barbarous act!"

"Because you love me, you will do as I have commanded," rejoined the Tree, "for Love's duty is beyond reproach and its beauty beyond destruction."

Since he knew that the Tree had spoken truthfully, Sidi Mustafa removed his robe and gathered within it the thousand blossoms which grew on the Tree's branches; then he tossed the blossoms onto the water of the river and left his robe by its shore. The flowers had no sooner touched the water than they changed into a school of golden fishes, who began at once to swim towards the galley, encircling it again and again like a band of light more radiant than the midday sun! As far as the eye could see, the landscape was bathed in a glorious effulgence, and all the colors of the mountains, valleys, and waters shone with indefinable iridescence. This spectacle so entranced Sidi Mustafa that he stood utterly motionless as a syllable of wordless awe passed his lips. It did not, however, make him forget his beloved Tree, towards which he turned in due course with undiminished devotion.

"You have done well, Sidi Mustafa," said the Tree, "but there is still another task which must be accomplished. Take the sword which leans against me and cut off my seven branches; then throw these into the river."

Now Sidi Mustafa was as reluctant to cut off his Tree's seven branches as he was to pluck away its thousand blossoms, but he knew there must have been a reason that exceeded his understanding for what he had been asked to do. Nevertheless, he could not hold back his tears as he picked up the sword and began to hew the Tree's graceful limbs. When he had gathered them together into a bundle, he walked to the river and dutifully cast them in.

What happened next so delighted and amazed Sidi Mustafa that his heart bounded to his throat and beat with a vigor he had not felt for fifty years. As the seven branches floated agitatedly on the surface, they suddenly elongated, thickened, and turned the color of purest ivory. Appendages not unlike arms and legs shot forth, and then dark-haired heads sprouted at the severed ends of each branch. By the time these curious figures had assumed their final form, Sidi Mustafa saw before him seven young men of princely grace, splashing, laughing, and disporting themselves exuberantly in the water. How their bodies glistened as they swam and flexed their muscles! How they rejoiced in the warm river currents! Sidi Mustafa would have loved to join them, but his age obliged him to watch them from the shore, as he fondly recalled times long past when he, too, swam, laughed, and played with dear companions.

In the carefree abandonment of their water gambols, the young men insensibly neared the galley, and the golden fishes at their approach broke the circle in which they had been swimming and leaped in sympathetic anticipation. A game ensued between the nimble young men and the fleet fishes, the latter now eluding, now caught in eager, grasping hands. The captors always considerately released their captives, and both participated in these frolics with such zest and spirit that Sidi Mustafa's pulse throbbed with unabating enthusiasm.

Above the sportive color-dappled spray, blithely rolling giants of clouds basked in a light and warmth even more pervading and splendorous than before. But nothing he had seen or felt made Sidi Mustafa forget his Tree, whose noble life-enframing trunk stood sublimely in the center of the garden.

"You have done well, Sidi Mustafa," it told him, "but there is still another task which must be accomplished. Dig beneath the earth until you find my seven roots; then cut them off near my trunk with the sword and do with them as you did with my seven branches."

"Alas, my dearly beloved Tree!", exclaimed Sidi Mustafa. "Will you not perish if I sever your roots?"

"Do as I have commanded," answered the Tree, "for with death is the coming of new life and the fulfillment of Love's promise."

When Sidi Mustafa heard these words, he knew that the Tree had spoken wisely. He dug beneath the earth until he found the Tree's seven roots, cut them off near the trunk, gathered them together in his arms, then cast them into the water just off the river's shore. All at once, they stood upright on their ends, rose in height, broadened all around, and turned the color of fine alabaster. Atop each lustrous shaft appeared the head of a young woman as beautiful as a houri, and in an instant pairs of delicate wing-like arms spread out and began to flutter becomingly. The lower half of each column cleaved into legs of singular shapeliness, which began to dance in place even as the shaft's upper portions took on feminine forms and charms so voluptuous that their description would beggar the language of a poet. Never before in his austere ascetic's life had Sidi Mustafa known such delectation, and he was almost ashamed of the pleasure he took in seeing these winsome damsels perform for him.

Meanwhile, the young men, who had climbed onto the deck of the galley, looked on with equal delight at the dance of the seven maidens. When the latter had concluded their expressive steps and had curtsied reverently, they joined hands, then buoyantly walked over the water to the galley, where the seven comely youths lifted them aboard. They had no sooner set foot on deck than the thousand golden fishes, who had begun to mass before the vessel's bow, burst forth into a formation of the sacred letter

Ya

whose outline shone on the face of the river with the fiery brilliance of three suns! This prodigious vision enraptured Sidi Mustafa, for it seemed to him to be filled with a profound and joyous significance. He was not, however, distracted from the memory of his Tree, whose rootless, limbless trunk stood superb but quiescent at the center of his garden.

"Cherished Tree," he said compassionately, "this morning you have shown me marvellous things beyond my furthest imagining, things which have taken me to the very threshold of ecstasy. But if you live no more, you at whose foot my thoughts have blossomed into Love's loftiest desires, then I shall be beyond consolation!"

There was a long silence, which penetrated Sidi Mustafa like a blade. But then the Tree declared: "Sidi Mustafa, you have done very well, indeed, and have no cause to despair! But there is one last task which must be accomplished. Remove your tunic and sash, and go to the place on the shore where you left your robe. Wash the robe, tunic, and sash in the river's water, rinsing them three times. When you have finished, hang the robe and tunic on me, and tie the sash around my girth."

Sidi Mustafa did as the Tree commanded, and after taking off his tunic and sash, went to the place on the shore where he had left his robe. All of his apparel, once of the finest linen and silk, was now tattered and torn, for the silver-haired ascetic had acquired no new clothing in more than three-score years. But after having rinsed his garments in the river's water the third time, he found that not a rent or fray remained in any one of them, and each had given up its former color and become immaculately, radiantly white!

He hung the robe and tunic on the trunk of the Tree and fastened the sash around its girth. Then Sidi Mustafa drew back several steps, clasped his hands together, and closed his eyes prayerfully.

When he opened them again, there stood before him a young man whose beauty even surpassed that of the seven princely youths and seven dancing maidens. Around the young lord's head and white raiment was an aureole of a brilliance unexcelled by all the lights in the heavens! As he beheld this numinous creature, tears of joy welled up in Sidi Mustafa's eyes and fell to earth at his feet.

"O, perfected vision of loveliness! O, being supremely blessed," exclaimed Sidi Mustafa ecstatically, "who are you?!"

"Do you not recognize me, Sidi Mustafa?" said the smiling young lord in a deep, resonant tone. "I am your soul!"

Sidi Mustafa swooned in speechless wonderment.

"Soon," the young lord continued, "I shall part; my helpmates and I must journey down the river to the great sea."

When he said this, the thousand golden fishes one by one left the immense

Ya

they had inscribed on the face of the river and began to swim downstream, each stopping only when it had reached the tranquil waters of its own golden island.

"Must you go so soon?" asked the old Sidi Mustafa with childlike innocence.

The young lord smiled again and looked tenderly at the wrinkled face of the silver-haired saint. Then drawing near, he gently enframed that venerable visage with his hands and kissed it on the brow. Sidi Mustafa closed his eyes restfully as a strange, sweet weariness settled over his frame like a mantle. Inside him, at the center of his being, appeared a tiny point of brilliant white light; like a new star in the womb of night, it seemed alive and growing, feeding on the rich stores of mind-stuff enveloping it.

The young lord knelt to pick up the sword whose hilt was studded with precious stones and whose blade was of formidable aspect, and in the moist earth at Sidi Mustafa's feet he made a small opening with its point.

"Salam!" he said as he withdrew, slipping the sword behind his sash and treading lightly across the river waters to his beckoning companions.

"Salam!" echoed the old Sidi Mustafa as a peaceful smile spread over his face.

And in the stillness of that supreme moment, when the sainted hermit bowed to the moist earth and contracted into a little seed, the sun rose from behind the purple hills of the east.

--jdf, 1984

You are listening to a MIDI file of "Morning Meditation" from the Caprice en forme d'arabesques by Dillon Ford.

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Last updated September10, 2001
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