The Man Whose Time Was Wrong

The man whose time was wrong
Shrine of Abdul Qadir Gilani, Baghdad, Iraq

I have shared on many occasions that there is a sympathetic vibration between the New Message from God, and the lives and teachings of various dervishes. This is another tale from the book Tales of the Dervishes by Idries Shah (1924-1996). Shah attributed this tale to Abdul Qadir Gilani (1078-1166) This is another tale to enjoy with a beverage, as it is longer than most posts.

The man whose time was wrong

Once upon a time there was a rich merchant who lived in Baghdad. He had a substantial house, large and small properties and dhows which sailed to the Indies with rich cargoes. He had gained these things partly through inheritance, partly through his own efforts, exercised at the right time and place, partly through the benevolent advice and direction of the King of the West, as the Sultan of Cordoba was called at that time.

[No, this is not the same merchant as in the story “The Merchant and the Christian Dervish.” Cordoba is a real place, a city of 325,000 in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia.]

Then something went wrong. A cruel oppressor seized the land and houses. Ships which had gone to the Indies foundered in typhoons, disaster struck his house and his family. Even his close friends seemed to have lost their power to be in a true harmony with him, although both he and they wanted to have the right kind of social relationship.

The merchant decided to journey to Spain to see his former patron, and he set off across the Western Desert. On the way one accident after another overtook him. His donkey died; he was captured by bandits and sold into slavery, from which he escaped only with the greatest difficulty; his face was tanned by the sun until it was like leather; rough villagers drove him away from their doors. Here and there a dervish gave him a morsel of food and a rag to cover himself. Sometimes he was able to scoop a little fresh water from a pool, but more often than not it was brackish.

[We are not told of the route the merchant took from Baghdad. Perhaps he traveled along the southern Mediterranean coast. But suffice it to say that it was a difficult journey. I imagine that after a difficult day’s travel, as he drifted off to sleep, he consoled himself. He would think how the future benevolence of the King of the West would make it all worth while. Say what you will about the man whose time was wrong. He was most assuredly determined.]

Ultimately he reached the entrance of the palace of the King of the West.

Even here he had the greatest difficulty in gaining entry. Soldiers pushed him away with the hafts of their spears, chamberlains refused to talk to him. He was put to work as a minor employee at the Court until he could earn enough to buy a dress suitable to wear when applying to the Master of Ceremonies for admission to the Royal Presence.

But he remembered that he was near to the presence of the king, and the recollection of the Sultan’s kindness to him long ago was still in his mind. Because, however, he had been so long in his state of poverty and distress, his manners had suffered, and the Master of Ceremonies decided that he would have to take a course in behaviour and self-discipline before he could allow him to be presented at Court.

All this the merchant endured until, three years after he quit Baghdad, he was shown into the audience hall.

The king recognized him at once, asked him how he was, and bade him sit in a place of honour beside him.

‘Your Majesty,’ said the merchant, ‘I have suffered most terribly these past years. My lands were usurped, my patrimony expropriated, my ships were lost and with them all my capital. For three years I have battled against hunger, bandits, the desert, people whose language I did not understand. Here I am, to throw myself upon Your Majesty’s mercy.’

The king turned to the Chamberlain. ‘Give him a hundred sheep, make him a Royal Shepherd, send him up yonder mountain, and let him get on with his work.’

Slightly subdued because the king’s generosity seemed less than he had hoped for, the merchant withdrew, after the customary salutation.

[ I consider the man whose time was wrong to be inadequately prepared on the inside. His expectations of the king’s generosity were too high.]

No sooner had he reached the scanty pasturage with his sheep than a plague struck them, and they all died. He returned to the Court.

‘How are your sheep?’ asked the king.

‘Your Majesty, they died as soon as I got them to their pasture.’

The king made a sign and decreed: ‘Give this man fifty sheep, and let him tend them until further notice.’

Feeling ashamed and distraught, the shepherd took the fifty animals to the mountainside. They started to nibble the grass well enough, but suddenly a couple of wild dogs appeared and chased them over a precipice and they were all killed.

The merchant, greatly sorrowing, returned to the king and told him his story.

‘Very well,’ said the king, ‘you may now take twenty-five sheep and continue as before.’

With almost no hope left in his heart, and feeling distraught beyond measure because he did not feel himself to be a shepherd in any sense of the word, the merchant took his sheep to their pasture. As soon as he got them there he found that the ewes all gave birth to twins, nearly doubling his flock. Then, again, twins were born. These new sheep were fat and well-fleeced and made excellent eating. The merchant found that, by selling some of the
sheep and buying others, the ones which he bought, at first so skimpy and small, grew strong and healthy, and resembled the amazing new breed which he was rearing. After three years he was able to return to the Court, splendidly attired, with his report of the way in which the sheep had prospered during his stewardship. He was immediately admitted to the presence of the king.

‘Are you now a successful shepherd?’ the monarch asked. ‘Yes indeed, Your Majesty. In an incomprehensible way my luck turned and I can say that nothing has gone wrong—although I still have little taste for raising sheep.’

‘Very well,’ said the king. ‘Yonder is the kingdom of Seville,whose throne is in my gift. Go, and let it be known that I make you king of Seville.’ And he touched him on the shoulder with the ceremonial axe.

The merchant could not restrain himself and burst out: ‘But why did you not make me a king when I first came to you? Were you testing my patience, already stretched almost to breaking point? Or was this to teach me something?’

The king laughed. ‘Let us just say that, on that day when you took the hundred sheep up the mountain and lost them, had you taken control of the kingdom of Seville, there would not have been one stone standing on top of another there today.’

[ The man whose time was wrong learned his lesson. He used his experience to succeed as a royal shepherd. I believe he ruled the kingdom of Seville wisely, and that the kingdom prospered under his rule. The story mentioned the word “luck,” but I’m not buying it. I don’t believe the king bought it. In the New Message from God, we have a great disbelief in luck. We have a great belief in preparation. We believe people have come to the world to serve a greater purpose. But there is a great deal of preparation necessary for it to be revealed. The merchant wasn’t ready to be the king of Seville. The king knew full well that the man whose time was wrong was ready to be the king of Seville. I am in preparation for a stronger iteration of the purpose for which I came to the world. I don’t claim to be ready yet. I claim to be working on it.]

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