The tale of

Omar and John

by Robin Gordon

Auksford crest: a great auk displaying an open book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"
-  Auksford, 2005  -

©  Copyright Robin Gordon, 2005
For permitted uses see Copyright and Concessions

In the name of God, who is compassionate and merciful, hearken now, my brothers and sisters, to the tale that I tell.

Once there lived a rich man whose name was John. His lands were extensive, his pastures good, and his flocks numerous as the stars or the grains of sand. His wife was beautiful, faithful, and skilled in all the arts of cooking and household duties. His sons were strong and worked hard, and his daughters were as beautiful as their mother and skilled in many arts. His servants were many, and they worked well for John and his family, and were well rewarded.

On day there came to John a man named Omar, who said to him: "Give me leave, I pray you to settle on your lands, for my lord the King is displeased with me and I fear his wrath. I am infirm and cannot work, but my sons and the young men of my household will do all that you ask."

John said to Omar: "It shall be as you ask. My lands are fertile and many men can work on them. Your sons and the young men of your household will be paid well for their labour, but as for you, because you are old and infirm I will give you a house to live in, and my servants will bring food to you and your wife and those of your children not yet of an age to work for their living."

So Omar settled on John's land, and his sons and the young men of his household were well paid for their labour. Omar himself did no work but sat at home with his wife and his younger children, and the people who served John gave them food out of his plenty.

Then Omar said to John, "Let not my lord be angry with me, for we serve the same God who is compassionate and merciful, but you do not follow the teachings of our Prophet, upon whose head be blessings heaped and multiplied, for you worship upon your knees while we bow our heads to the ground. So let your servant build a hall where he and his household may worship God as our own Prophet, upon whose head be blessings heaped and multiplied, has taught us."

Then John said to Omar, "It shall be as you desire, and behold I will give you stones from my quarries and trees from my woods, and my people will bring them to you and help you build your hall."

Then said Omar: "My people are grateful to you, my Lord. We will gladly accept stone from your quarries and trees from your forests and help to carry them to our site, but we will build our hall ourselves, for our Prophet, upon whose head be blessings heaped and multiplied, has said Let no unbeliever enter your place of worship."

"It shall be as you wish," said John, and he sent men with stones from his quarries and wood from his forests, and Omar's own sons and servants built the hall and worshipped God as their own prophet had taught them. Then Omar sent for priests and teachers from his old homeland, and they came, and with them their wives and their children and their servants and their whole households, and John made them welcome, and to such as were infirm, or said they could not work, he gave houses and money to buy food.

It chanced then that Omar fell grievously sick and was like to die. His wife used all her skill in healing, but she could not cure him. All his daughters and his daughter-in-law, and the wives of his household servants sought for cures but could find none. His priests and his teachers prayed to God in the hall he had built and in the way their Prophet had taught them, but still he grew worse. So his wife sent a message to John, saying: "Behold, my husband, the guest in your land, lies sick and is likely to die unless some cure can be found.

So then John sent his own physicians and his surgeons, and they took Omar to a place of healing and cared for him day and night. And the skill of the surgeons cured him of his infirmity, and after many days he returned home, stronger than before. But still he did no work, for he said, "I am old, and have lost the skills of youth. Let John send me money and food as before." So it was done, even as he asked.

Then one day one of the sons of Omar came to him and said, "The daughters of John are passing fair, and there is one, the youngest and fairest of all, whom I desire to possess."

Omar said: "Our Prophet, upon whose head be blessings heaped and multiplied, has told us we may not take wives from among the unbelievers lest his children be contaminated by unbelief."

"I do not desire to marry the girl", said his son, "but my body lusts for her and I desire to lie with her."

"My son," said Omar, "these people are not our people. They do not worship God in the way our own Prophet, upon whose head be blessings heaped and multiplied, has taught us. You may do as you please, and you will commit no sin, for their laws are not our laws."

The young man went and found the girl and lay with her. She was not willing, and so he used force.

Afterwards John came to Omar and said: "Someone in your household has done this terrible thing. Bring him to me that I may judge him and punish him."

But Omar said, "Our people live by the rules of our Prophet, upon whose head be blessings heaped and multiplied, and we honour our women. If any has raped this daughter of yours it must be one of your own servants, and has she not deserved this fate, for she walks in the streets and the fields, where there are men, as if she were their equal. Your laws are not our laws. I cannot help you."

Then Omar's younger sons and his grandsons, and the sons of his servants and his priests and his teachers came to him and said, "Behold at the school that John has built for the children of this land there are women who presume to teach. Why should we listen to the words of women who are fit for nothing but to wash our clothes and cook for us."

Then said Omar, "you may listen to the words of the men who teach if you wish, in so far as they do not conflict with the teachings of our own Prophet, upon whose head be blessings heaped and multiplied, but the women you may disregard, for they are not worthy to teach the sons of men. Truly these people's laws are not our laws."

Then Omar went to John, and he said, "Let not my lord be displeased, but my people are now numerous in this land, and though we worship the same God, yet we worship him in different fashions, for you kneel to worship, while we bow down to the ground as we were taught by our own Prophet, upon whose head be blessings heaped and multiplied. Our laws and customs are not as your laws and customs, and it is not right that our young men should be taught by women, as yours are, or that our girls should be taught by men. Give your servant leave to build a school, for behold, our young men do not respect the teachers that are women, and so they do not learn as they should."

Then John said. "It shall be as you wish. You are my guest in this land and my servants shall give you money to buy bricks and timber and to pay your teachers." And it came to pass even as he had said, and Omar build a school for his own people in that land.

But then some of the young men came to him and said, "Is it not unjust that John's people prosper in this land and we are poor? Why will they not give us all houses to live in and food to eat instead of making us work for our keep? Should we not kill John's sons and take what we need.

Then said Omar, "Truly it is unjust, for you are sons of our Prophet, upon whose head be blessings heaped and multiplied, and you should have leisure to study his writings and to pray as he taught. But you can take what you will from John's people for they are unbelievers who worship God only on their knees instead of bowing themselves to the ground as we were taught by our own Prophet, upon whose head be blessings heaped and multiplied. You may take what you will from them, and if they oppose you, you may kill them and commit no sin, for their laws are not our laws."

So the young man went and broke into the houses of John's sons and took what they would, and when the men of the household came they killed them, and they returned to Omar's village with much gold and many horses and cattle.

Then John came to Omar and said, "Behold, great wrong has been done to me, for my sons have been killed and their goods taken. Hand over to me the murderers that I may judge them and punish them.

Omar replied saying, "Our people live by submission to the laws of our own Prophet, upon whose head be blessings heaped and multiplied. We worship the same God as you, and he is compassionate and merciful. Surely my lord would not have me hand over my own people to be judged by unbelievers."

John departed and was wroth, and he sent his servants to Omar's village to arrest the malefactors and take them before the judges, but Omar's men fought with them, and some they killed and some they beat and left for dead, and others they drove away.

Then Omar sent the murderers back to his own homeland, and he sent a message to John, saying: "Your men have attacked my village and sought to kill my sons and my servants and the sons of my servants. If we had not driven them off they would have raped our women and desecrated our holy place of worship. Between us and unbelievers such as these there can never be peace until you let us follow our own laws and customs as we were taught by our own Prophet, upon whose head be blessings heaped and multiplied. Let us make an agreement. I shall rule in this village and the lands around it according to the laws and customs of our Prophet, upon whose head be blessings heaped and multiplied, and none of your stewards or servants or judges or lawyers or teachers or priests shall set foot here on pain of death, and, in return you shall make laws in your own land forbidding your people to speak ill of the Prophet, upon whose head be blessings heaped and multiplied, or of any of his followers or their laws and customs."

Now John was by this time old and enfeebled. His elder sons were dead and he had none to advise him. "I will drive out this man, Omar," he said, "and send him back to his own king, but, since he is my guest and has eaten my bread, I will first have to ask his king to promise not to harm him, whatever evil he may do."

So John did nothing, and Omar lived in triumph, and when trading caravans passed his village, bringing goods to John's city, his men attacked them, killed the traders and stole all the beasts of burden and the goods they carried.

The time came when John and Omar both died. Each presented himself at the gates of Paradise where stand an Angel, with a book wherein are recorded all the deeds of the deceased, and a Djinn, with a scourge made of cords of fire.

To one of those men the Angel said, "Enter into Paradise, for, though you were rich you shared your wealth and made strangers welcome within your gates." But to the other he said, "Begone, for, though you claimed to follow the laws of your prophet, you betrayed your host and acted shamefully and dishonourably."

Then the Djinn with his whip of fire drove Omar from the gates and into the Abyss of Outer Darkness, but John mounted up into Paradise.

He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. Let the rich nation welcome within her gates the poor man who will work for his keep, and reward him well; but let the stranger within the gates keep faith with his host. You who have eaten the bread of friendship must offer loyalty in return. There is no reward in Paradise for him who kills his benefactor, and he who kills, saying he kills in the name of God, condemns himself out of his own mouth to the deepest pits of Hell.

Please remember that this story is copyright.  See Copyright and Concessions for permitted uses.

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