Sufi Stories 5
A Drink of Tea
An elderly lady who was conscientious and sincere in her faith one day met a
wandering Dervish – she paid him respect and invited him to partake of some food.
Though hunger was well under his control the Dervish was pleased with her
demonstration of respect which was not showy or superstitious, but derived from a
sincere heart. He therefore accepted. At the end of the repast he asked her if there
was anything he could do to repay her generosity. She refused anything saying she
was more than content with the blessings she had. But Dervishes are not such that
they judge from outward expression and he detected in her heart a knot of anxiety.
He pressed her gently and almost against her will she found herself telling of a
problem she had with her son to which she had not been able to find a solution.
‘My son is a good hearted and quite intelligent person’ she said, close to tears, ‘but
he is leading a dissolute life taking wine and the company of loose women and
gambling. I have talked to him but he has taken it into his head that when he has
sown his wild oats and had his fill of the pleasures of this world, then he will turn to
sincere repentance, and he believes that his sins will be forgiven and turned to
goodness. He even quotes scripture to support his case. I cannot persuade him of his
foolishness even though he holds me in respect and tries to hide his philandering
The Dervish pondered a moment and in warm and reassuring tones said, ‘On account
of your good nature and the saving grace that your son continues to respect you I
will see what can be done to help his case’. I am making a camp by the stream
yonder – when your son returns, send him to me to bring me some tea leaves – and
now do not worry any more’. The good woman smiled radiantly as she felt the knot
of anxiety evaporate in the sun of that saintly man’s look
In due time the son returned home, still warm from the embraces of a sweetheart and
a little drunk. His mother asked him to take the gift of tea leaves to the old man he
would find at the nearby stream. He complied and soon arrived at the place where
the dervish was sitting. That venerable man had lit a fire, and, suspended on some
sticks, he had hung a metal pot in which water was nearly boiling. The young man
paused to watch the behaviour of the Dervish – as soon as the water was on the
point of boiling the dervish would pour some of the water on to the fire – which
hissed and crackled, in the way of fire meeting its old enemy water, and then died
down. The dervish then allowed the fire to continue until the water began to heat
again. He then repeated the behaviour and the fire died down even further. He
repeated this several times. The young man coughed and the dervish turned his head.
‘Ah!’ he said feigning surprise, ‘you have brought the tea leaves – good! Sit down
and we will have a drink of tea a soon as the water is boiled’.
The young man sat down and the dervish again repeated the same behaviour – this
time the fire was nearly extinguished totally and only a small flame remained. ‘Sir!
‘said the young man, ‘this behaviour is very strange, and if it was not for your grey
hair I would call it foolish. How will you make the water boil when you keep putting
the fire out with the water – if you are not careful you will put it out altogether and
then how will you relight it or make your tea, you will have neither water nor fire.
Even if you do not put it out altogether how will you ever make the water boil by
The mystic looked intently at the young man for a moment. ‘You regard this
behaviour as foolish’ he said sharply, ‘yet how is it that you keep putting out the fire
of repentance with the water of your lust for the pleasures of this world. Know that
repentance is a fierce fire that can cook a man’s soul till God gives him Mercy – but
if you keep putting out that fire you will not receive the cooking that is required –
then how will the Mercy descend. Indeed if you persist too far the potential for that
fire to remain alight at all may one day disappear altogether’. As he spoke the small
remaining flames of the fire spluttered and died.
The young man was aghast and sought for the match box nearby which proved to be
empty. The realisation of the foolishness of his behaviour flooded through him, root
and branch, and he cast himself at the feet of that wise man and vowed to reform his
life which now appeared to him as hollow and useless as the trunk of a dead tree. He
begged to become his humble disciple from thereon in.
The mystic smiled and accepted the youth’s heartfelt request. ‘Very good’ he said,
‘then let us now have our tea’. ‘But how is this possible, the fire is out and the
matches are gone’ spluttered the youth. ‘Do not ask the Sheykh how’, the master
said, and smiled as the flame appeared to rekindle itself and began to dance merrily
until the steam from the water began to ascend heavenward. ‘Know’, he said quietly
as he put the tea leaves into the pot, ‘that the master is not subject to the metaphors
he uses, but until you attain that mastery do not cease to learn from every thing you
see and hear – regard all as the signs of God’.
Jamiluddin Morris Zahuri