There was once a poor farm worker named Abdul Karim who, with his wife, Ziba–“the beautiful one” — and his two children, lived in a sheltered valley, surrounded by hills, the sides of which were covered with fine gardens and in which grew peaches, grapes, mulberries, and other delicious fruits in great profusion.
Abdul Karim was only a poor laborer on the land, receiving no wages, merely being paid in grain and cloth sufficient for the wants of himself and family. Of money he knew nothing except by name.
One day his landlord was so pleased with his work that he actually gave him ten rials to do with as he wished. To Abdul Karim, this seemed a great sum, and so right after his day’s work was done, he ran home to his wife and said: “Look, Ziba, here are riches for you!” and spread out the money before her on their table cloth.
His wife was delighted, and so were the children. Then Abdul Karim said: “How shall we spend this great sum? I think I will go to the famous city of Mashad, which is only twenty miles from here, and after placing two rials on the shrine of the holy Imam Reza, I will then visit the bazaars and buy everything you and the children desire.”
“You would better buy me a piece of silk for a new dress,” said Ziba, his wife.
“I want a fine horse and a sword,” said little Yusuf, his son.
“I would like an Indian handkerchief and a pair of gold slippers,” said Fatima, his daughter.
“They shall be here by tomorrow night,” said the father confidently, and taking a big walking stick, he promptly set off on his journey.
When he had come down from the mountains to the plain below, Abdul Karim saw stretched before him the glorious city of Mashad, and was lost in wonder at the sight of the splendid domes, where roofs glittered with gold, and the minarets, from the tops of which the priests were calling the people to prayer.
Coming to the gate of the shrine, he asked an old priest if he might enter. “Yes, my son,” was the reply. “Go in and give what thou canst spare to the mosque, and Allah will reward thee.”
So Abdul Karim walked through the great court, amidst worshipers from every city in Asia. With open-mouthed astonishment he gazed on the riches of the temple, the jewels, the lovely carpets, the silks, the golden ornaments, and with humility he placed his two pieces of money on the sacred tomb, leaving him with only 8 rials.
Then through the noise and bustle of the crowded streets, he found the bazaar. He saw the fruit-sellers in one place, in another those who sold pots and pans, then he came to the jewelers, the bakers, the butchers, each trade having its own part of the bazaar, and so on, until he reached the silk-sellers.
Abdul Karim entered one of the silk shops and asked to see some material, and after much picking and choosing, fixed upon a superb piece of purple silk with an embroidered border of exquisite design. “I will take this,” he said loudly. “What is the price?”
“I shall only ask you two hundred rials, as you are a new customer,” said the shopkeeper. “Anybody else but you would have to pay three or four hundred.”
“Two hundred rials!” repeated Abdul Karim, in astonishment. “Surely you have made a mistake. Do you mean rials like these?” taking one out of his pocket.
“Certainly I do,” replied the shopkeeper, “and let me tell you it is very cheap at that price.” But when Abdul Karim told him that he had only 8 rials to spend, and had to buy a horse, a sword, a handkerchief and golden slippers in addition to the silk, the shopkeeper became angry and threw Abdul Karim out of the shop. “Here I have been wasting my time and rumpling my beautiful silks for a fool like you,” cried the angry merchant. “Get out of my shop!”
Disappointed, Abdul Karim then went to the horse market, only to find that the lowest-priced horse would cost two hundred and fifty rials. The horse dealers mocked him when they found he had only eight rials, and suggested that he buy the sixteenth part of a donkey for his little son.
As for a sword, he found that it would cost at least thirty rials; a pair of golden slippers would run into many hundreds of rials; and for an Indian handkerchief, the price was twelve rials.
Sad and tired, Abdul Karim decided to return home. Along the way, he met a beggar crying: “Dear friend, give me something, for tomorrow is Friday”–the Sabbath. “He that giveth to the poor, lendeth to the Lord, and of a certainty the Allah will pay him back a hundredfold.”
“Of all the men I have met to-day, you are the only one with whom I can deal,” said the simple Abdul Karim, who was by then sick of money. “Here, have my remaining eight rials. Use them in the service of God, and perhaps I will indeed get them back a hundredfold.” Wrapping up the eight rials very carefully, the beggar promised some day to return them a hundredfold.
At last Abdul Karim came in sight of his cottage, and little Yusuf, who had been all day on the look-out for him, ran breathlessly to meet him. “Where’s my horse and sword, father?” he cried. And Fatima, who had just come up, called out, “And my handkerchief and golden slippers?” And Ziba asked for her bit of silk. But when she heard his story, and above all that he had given eight rials to a beggar, Ziba got very angry, and marched off to complain to the landlord.
The landlord was even more angry and yelled out, “What! the blockhead gave his eight rials to a beggar? Send him to me!” And when Abdul Karim came before the landlord, he said scornfully: “You must fancy yourself a big spender, Abdul Karim. I never give more than a copper coin to a beggar, but Your Excellency gives them silver!” So as punishment, the very next day, the landlord instructed Abdul Karim to go into the desert and start digging for water, and not to return until he found it.
For many days Abdul labored under the scorching sun, until he had dug a deep well, and then he came upon a brass vessel, finely chased, full of shiny jewels and dazzling gems. Being simple, he did not recognize the value of the treasure he had found, but he remembered that he had seen pretty pieces of glass like these for sale in Mashad, and made up his mind that at the first opportunity, he would again visit the city and take the stones with him.
Abdul did not have to wait long for an opportunity to visit Mashad again, for on finding water a little lower down, the landlord was so pleased that he gave him a well-deserved rest.
With still a pocket full of jewels, he went straight to the shop where he had seen such stones, and spoke to the shopkeeper who was seated at the entrance to his shop, calmly smoking his water-pipe. “Do you want to buy any more stones like those?” he asked, pointing to some in the window display case.
“Yes, have you got one?” replied the merchant, for Abdul did not look like a man who was likely to have more than one, if any.
“I have a pocket full of them,” said Abdul.
“You have a pocket full of pebbles, more likely,” thought the jeweler, but when Abdul Karim showed him the contents of his pockets, he was so astonished that he could hardly speak. Leaving his apprentice in charge, the jeweler hastily left the shop and fetched a policeman.
“This man is obviously a thief! ” cried the jeweler.” His pockets are filled with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and pearls of great price. Without doubt he has found treasure belonging to the King, which he is trying to sell!”
And so it was, since according to the law, all treasures found became the property of the King, though Abdul Karim knew nothing of this. Abdul Karim was searched; the precious stones were found upon him; and he and his whole family were sent under a guard capital for further investigation.
While all these things were taking place, the King saw in his dreams, for three nights in a row, the Holy Prophet, who, looking steadfastly at him, proclaimed: “Abbas! Protect and favor my friend and servant.” On the third night, the King took courage and said to the Prophet: “And who is thy friend and servant?” The answer came: “He is the poor laboring man, who despite his poverty gives one-fifth alms at the shrine of Mashad, and now, because he has found the King’s treasure, they have bound him, and are bringing him to this very city.”
So the very next morning, the King rushed forth two days’ journey to meet Abdul Karim along the way. First came one hundred horsemen. Next, poor Abdul, seated on a camel, with his arms bound tightly. Walking behind the camel were Abdul’s weeping children and their mother. Then came the foot soldiers guarding the treasure. The King made Abdul’s camel kneel down, and with his own hands the King undid the cruel bonds on Abdul Karim’s arms. With tears running down his face, Abdul knelt before the King and pleaded for his dear ones, saying: “If you imprison me, at least let these innocent ones go free!”
Lifting Abdul from the ground, the King replied: “I have come to honor, not to imprison thee. When thou hast rested, thou shalt return to thine own province, not as a prisoner, but as a wealthy man!”
And smiling, the King added: “Already is the silk dress prepared for Ziba; the horse and sword for Yusuf; and the Indian handkerchief and the golden slippers for Fatima have not been forgotten.” The King had read in the report of the chief of police and knew all of the details of Abdul’s case.
And so it was that Abdul’s piety and gift to the shrine had come back, not a hundredfold, but beyond his wildest dreams, and the shrine and the poor benefited greatly thereby.