A legend retold by Curtis Peter van Gorder
The sultan’s trumpet sounded. “Soon he will arrive. Make sure that we are ready for him!” Abbanes, the sultan’s chief vizier (servant or assistant), announced from the balcony to all of the servants, who gathered in the courtyard below him. At the clap of his hands, the servants all throughout the palace scurried immediately off to their duties. Everyone could hear him, for the palace was constructed in such a way that a hand clapped from a certain point echoed throughout the vast fortress.
The numerous palace attendants all knew what was required of them. They also knew what would happen to them if they were negligent in their duties, for they had been taught that the sultan’s business required haste.
The sultan’s caravan was a wonder to behold. It stretched from the palace gates atop the steep granite hill, some 400 feet high, deep down into the distance below. Camels and elephants laden with riches and spices from distant exotic lands slowly navigated the winding road and over a bridge that spanned a moat.
The procession arrived at the palace gates. These massive gates had huge, sharp, pointed spikes protruding outward, which prevented attacking armies from battering them in. These gates were now flung wide open to greet the sultan’s entourage (a group of special employees who go with a high-ranking or famous person on visits and engagements). Inside the open entrance way stood Jamshid, the sultan’s brother.
“Welcome home, my brother!” Jamshid exclaimed. “We have eagerly waited to see your face.”
“And I yours,” the sultan replied.
The sultan looked up to see that the entire court had come out to welcome him. From atop the entrance gates and ramparts (a defensive fortification made of an embankment, often topped by a low protective wall), a thousand ladies dressed in fine silk dresses of every color had come out to greet him. Handsome noblemen cheered him and waved their arms wildly in adulation (excessive flattery or admiration). A shower of rose petals fluttered down upon the procession, and the air was filled with a delightful aroma.
The camel carrying the prestigious passenger snorted and bellowed, then stooped down on its knobby knees as the sultan alighted. The sultan was immediately surrounded by a host of servants ready to attend to his every need, and who waited to refresh him from his arduous journey.
The sultan was quickly led to his scented bath, which would be followed by a massage from his ladies in waiting, and a light meal of fruit and delicacies. After having been refreshed and fed, the sultan summoned Abbanes, who soon appeared, bowing as he entered the sultan’s presence. Standing next to the sultan was his brother, Jamshid.
“Abbanes,” the sultan began, “in my travels I have seen magnificent palaces that far outshine any building that I have ever imagined. These buildings inspire the respect of their people, and the fear of their enemies. I wish to build such a monument in stone that shall be known throughout the world for many generations to come. I want people to stop and marvel at this wonderful creation.”
Abbanes raised his head slightly and spoke respectfully, “But sir, if I may say so, your palace is already fabulous in wealth and glory. Its splendor has dazzled the eyes of many travelers. It has…”
The sultan raised his hand for silence. “It must now be more magnificent yet,” he said. “I will make my palace greater than any other. It must be greater than anything on Earth to house my great riches, for even now I have acquired in my travels one of the world’s most precious diamonds. Should it not also have the most exquisite palace to house it? Can you help me to build such a palace?”
“Your wish is my command, your majesty,” Abbanes answered, as he lay prostrate on the floor, “but I have no knowledge in such affairs.”
“Why not have Abbanes seek out a man who will be able to build such an edifice of glory?” Jamshid suggested.
“An excellent idea!” the sultan exclaimed. “Do so, Abbanes. Go at once. Remember, you must find a man who shall be able to build for me such a magnificent palace that all who see its splendor will marvel. It must last for all perpetuity (eternity).”
“I shall do as you command, master,” the vizier said. Abbanes left the room with a bow after being dismissed from the sultan’s presence.
The next morning, Abbanes set out to find a man who would be skilled enough to build the palace of the sultan’s dreams. He sought out all of the best builders in the realm, but none was exceptional enough to fulfill the sultan’s grand expectations.
Then one day while journeying to a neighboring village, he saw a magnificent house. Immediately, he wished to know the name of the builder. Perhaps this would be the man he sought for.
The house had graceful alabaster domes and pillars in which were set semi-precious stones. Even though the sun was high in the sky, the fountains in the lush garden that surrounded the house cooled the air.
Abbanes ordered his footmen to stop the litter, and he stepped out of it.
An elderly couple dressed in fine clothes opened the gates of the house.
“Whose house is this?” Abbanes asked.
“It is ours, sir,” the man answered.
“But why have not your slaves opened the gates for you?” Abbanes questioned.
“We have no slaves here, only our friends,” the man replied respectfully.
“Where are they now then?”
“Working in the fields. They should be returning soon. Would you like to wait for them? May we offer you food and drink as you rest from your journey?”
“Yes, that would be kind of you. I would like to ask of you a few questions.”
“Do so, sir. Enter.”
As they entered the house, Abbanes was even more amazed at the interior of the house. He had never seen anything like the geometric designs of the enamel and mirror mosaics, the rich tapestries that graced the walls and floors. The painted ceiling curved in delightful arches. In one place, a small waterfall flowed serenely into a pond with fish and scented by water lilies. The vizier and his men sat down, and were soon treated to a meal of roasted lamb.
Abbanes, stunned by the beauty of the house, inquired further of the elderly man: “Who built this fine house? I wish to seek him out, that he may labor for the sultan in beautifying his palace.”
“His name is Mahesdas.”
“Tell me what you know of him.”
“I worked for him for many years, building many of the finest palaces in India.” The old man then went on to describe in detail several of the grand creations they had worked on together.
“And this house?” Abbanes asked.
“Mahesdas rewarded me for my labors by building this house for me to grow old in. He is from a merchant family, and was an architect.”
“He is retired now, and has devoted himself to prayer and helping others.”
“Good! If he wishes to help others he can help his sultan.”
“Where can I find this man?” Abbanes asked, ignoring his host’s hesitation.
Unwilling to risk rousing the ire (anger) of his important guest, the old man resolved to not speak further of his doubts. “It is easy enough to find him, as he lives atop that hill,” he said, pointing out the window to a simple house atop a nearby hill.
The vizier excused himself and made his way with his entourage to the humble, mud-baked dwelling of Mahesdas. Pulling aside the curtain that kept out the heat and dust, he found Mahesdas reading a large illustrated book.
Upon seeing his visitors, Mahesdas put the book down and greeted them. He had a beard and long hair that had begun to turn white, which contrasted with his simple yet elegant blue garment.
Abbanes lost no time in explaining why he had come, for the sultan’s business required haste.
After listening to Abbanes’ intent to redesign and beautify the sultan’s palace, Mahesdas remained silent for some minutes. He then answered thoughtfully: “It is true that I am a skilled architect and builder, and I could design and build such a palace for you, but there is something I must tell you …”
“What must you tell me?”
“I am a follower of one called the Christ.”
Abbanes had heard of this belief, and of its followers. But he had never met one, nor did he know what their belief was about. Perhaps many of them had met with a martyr’s death as their “guru” had. Abbanes sought to find the relevance of this statement to his mission.
“And why are you telling me this?”
“I am telling you this, because what I build for you may not please you. For as Christ’s servant, I only do His bidding.”
“Are you telling me that you are not skilled enough for the job?”
“No, that is not what I am telling you.”
“Are you telling me that you will refuse the command of your sultan? For if it is, such impudence (behavior that shows a lack of respect) will be rewarded by death!”
“No, that is not what I am telling you.”
“Then what are you telling me?”
“I am telling you that I may build something that pleases you not.”
“If you are able to build anything like the house I saw, or the palaces I have heard that you have constructed, then I am sure that we will not be disappointed.”
“Perhaps and perhaps not,” Mahesdas answered. Then, realizing that he had no choice, Mahesdas agreed to go. “I will do my best for my ruler.”
Collecting his few belongings, he mounted the camel that led them back to the sultan’s palace. There, the sultan instructed Mahesdas in his wishes. Mahesdas took careful notes and made drawings of all that the sultan wanted. The sultan asked Jamshid to discern if Mahesdas was worthy of the task the sultan was to give him.
Over the next few weeks Jamshid carefully observed Mahesdas, and saw that he was indeed an honest man. One time, Jamshid left a bag of gold coins on the table and retired for the night, as a test to see what Mahesdas would do. Jamshid was not disappointed, for the next morning as soon as the coins were discovered, Mahesdas returned them to the sultan.
One day, the sultan was called away on very important business, not knowing how long it would be before his return. The sultan summoned Mahesdas and Abbanes to his hall. In their presence he unrolled a scroll that was sealed with his royal seal and handed it to his trusted vizier to give to Mahesdas.
“Mahesdas, I have entrusted you to finish the task I have assigned you. This is a decree which puts in your command my storehouse of gold and precious stones to beautify my palace.”
Mahesdas took the scroll and bowed in appreciation.
After many more instructions, cautions, and other words of confidence, the sultan departed for a distant land.
“Goodbye, my brother! May you return soon in joy!” Jamshid called out after the outgoing caravan.
The sultan returned the wave and proceeded on with his journey.
Soon after the sultan’s departure, war broke out in the region, and it was very difficult to send or receive messages from his palace. He was curious as to how work was progressing on his dream palace that was to outshine any that had ever been built.
Jamshid tried to communicate with him, as the sultan did to Jamshid, but each time the messages did not get through. Robbers attacked some of the couriers, leaving them wounded on the side of the road. Floods and other natural disasters waylaid some couriers, while fighting prevented others from carrying the sultan’s messages.
After almost two years, the sultan was able to return home. With each passing day on his journey to his palace, his heart soared in expectation. He thought to himself, How wonderful my palace must be now! Even if it is not yet completed, it must be a wonder for all to behold.
The sultan first sensed something was wrong when his brother was not there to greet him. He soon found out why-Jamshid had taken ill with a severe fever that would not be cured.
But this was only the beginning of his grief. The sultan’s sadness turned to dismay, then soon to anger, when he learned that not the least beginning had been made on his grand building project. Not one stone had been laid upon another, not one beam hewn. The treasure which he had left in Mahesdas’ care to be spent in the palace’s construction was gone-all gone! For Mahesdas had given it, down to the last copper coin, to the sick and the poor, the needy, the hungry, and the distressed. One of the many projects he undertook was to dig wells for surrounding villages that had no water.
Many lives had been given a new start in those two years. But that was not how the sultan viewed it.
Abbanes was arrested that same day for having chosen Mahesdas as builder. As for Mahesdas, he was bound hand and foot and dragged into the sultan’s judgment hall, and thrown at the feet of the mighty ruler.
“Is this how you carry out my commands, and how you repay my trust?” questioned the sultan.
“Did I not tell you that I might build something that pleased you not?”
“You have built nothing! That is the problem!” the sultan yelled.
“But I have carried out the behests (requests; orders) of my sultan, and even so do I fulfill his trust. Let me explain,” said Mahesdas.
Before he could answer, the sultan called out to his guards, “Throw this villain into the dungeon to await my punishment.”
Now it so happened that at this time, Jamshid’s condition worsened. His sickness seemed to be unto death, and he fell into a sleep that he could not awaken from.
The sultan grieved, for his brother was most dear to him. He shut himself in Jamshid’s room and would not eat or drink or talk to anyone. He would only wail and talk to his sleeping brother: “Oh, my brother, will we never ride together in the hunt again? Will you never be there to greet me when I return from my journeys?”
On the fourth day, as the sultan sat mourning beside his brother, suddenly Jamshid sat up.
“Jamshid! You are better!” the sultan said joyously as he kissed and embraced him.
“Brother! I am feeling well!” Jamshid answered, still recovering his senses.
“How is it that you have come back from the dead?” the sultan asked.
At first, Jamshid could only say, “I have seen strange things!”
“What strange things? Tell me of them.”
“I will tell you all, but first call Mahesdas to my side. I wish to speak to him.”
“I have locked that thief in the lowest dungeon. He will never see anyone again except on his execution day. He promised to build me a palace, but instead he has given my riches away to the poor!”
“Please, brother, don’t hurt him. He is a friend of God, and the angels of God serve him.”
“What foolishness is this? What has he told you? You are still recovering from your sickness. You need rest.”
“No, I tell you! Please, brother, if you love me, release him. I am glad I awoke from my death sleep to plead for his life. For truly black would have been your sin if you had lifted your hand against him.”
“And why are you so interested in this man? Has he enchanted you?”
“You may not believe it, but when I had died, angels came to me and took me to Paradise. There they showed me a palace more wonderful than any ever seen by mortal eyes. I approached it by a wide, crystal road bordered with gracious date palms. In its center stretched a sparkling waterway wherein floated lotus blossoms of many colors, and great white birds. Beside this pool wandered happy souls, singing heavenly songs, arrayed in delicate garments of the deep hues of flowers.
“Next we climbed steps in a gentle gradual ascent to the palace. Its towering walls arose like rosy mist from a terrace flagged with precious tiles. Those walls were more dazzling than alabaster, yea, more pure than the snow of the mountaintops illumined (to make something shine with light) by the first flush of dawn. And there were scores of windows-some were vast and open to the indescribable light of Heaven, and some windows were screened with climbing vines of flowers of every kind. The walls were crowned with domes glistening as bubbles that form upon the sea’s edge, and minarets lifted themselves into the air, light and slender like darts. Within the floors was inlaid silver, reflecting all things as in a mirror. The walls were gold, wrought by artisans skilled beyond men of the earth. Everywhere gems burned with luster unspeakable, radiant yet subdued, and fountains flowed cool and sweet as music delighted the ear.
“But enough of its beauty. What you must know, my brother, is even this … that the angels who showed me these wonders, said: ‘This is the palace built by Mahesdas for your brother, the sultan. He is not worthy to inhabit it, so it shall be taken from him and given to another more worthy.’ Then it was that I awoke to find you embracing me.”
“I will release him,” the sultan said with determination in his voice.
“Let us go together, and free him then,” Jamshid said joyfully.
Having spoken, the sultan and Jamshid walked quickly to the prison, released Mahesdas and Abbanes, and clad them in precious vestments.
The sultan then said meekly, “Mahesdas, I ask your forgiveness.”
“I give it freely, my sultan.”
“But tell me, why did you give my money away to the poor?”
“My Lord came to me and told me not to lay up treasures on Earth, where thieves will break through and steal, but to lay up treasures in Heaven by helping others. For He told me that as I have done it to the most needy, I have done it to the Lord. But may I also ask of you a question?”
“Why did you change your mind and free me?”
Jamshid told Mahesdas of his dream. Mahesdas replied, “In Heaven there are many mansions such as the one you have seen. Jesus has said that in His Father’s house there are many mansions, He is even now preparing a place for us. They that have faith and show love to others are helping to build it. These are the true riches, O Sultan, that shall never fade away.”
The sultan humbly answered: “I will be found worthy to inhabit that mansion, you will see. But, Mahesdas, could you teach me about this Jesus that brings yiu to heaven and help me to build another such mansion in Heaven for my brother next door to mine?”
Mahesdas smiled as he bowed. “As a servant, I can only do the bidding of my king.”
The sultan was true to his word, for with Mahesdas and Jamshid’s help he cared for his people like a father cares for his children. So beloved by his people was he that he became known as a sultan of kindness, benevolence (to help others in a generous and kind manner), and one who would help anyone in need.
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What does this story mean for the 21st century man, perhaps it would be that the treasures of this world pass away but kind deeds done in love to help others endure into eternety. Though the diamond was lost to this land, the wells that were dug by Mahesdas those many years ago, are still being drawn from and giving life to a thirsty land.
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In this world we always have to go through problems, difficulties and suffering at times in one way or other. Unrighteousness, greed, hatred, corruption, lies and deceit always get the upper hand no matter how hard good men try to make the world a pleasant place. It is because this world was given over to Satan for now, and he is the manager, so to speak, and rules over it. (See Matthew and Luke 4) Adam and Eve did not listen to God but let themselves be deceived by Satan “to know”-to know good and evil. With their “forced migration”, their being driven out of the Garden of Eden, they were driven away from the presence of God into the world of Satan and each one of us is now born into Satan’s world as a prisoner of sin. This is what “the Scripture which Allah sent down before” of which Allah says we should believe in tells us. (Surah An-Nisa 4:136) Let’s study from the book sent down before:
Adam and Eve lived in a perfect world. There was absolutely nothing bad or destructive or hurtful, so why would they want to look for and desire something else? This, for us, is unimaginable, especially knowing the fact that they knew God in person: “And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day…”- 1 Moses 3:8
Why couldn’t they just trust that what God had said was right and the best? Why did they listen to Satan and question what God had said as being the right thing to follow? Satan told them that they would become like God and know about good and evil, if they would just eat of the fruit of this one tree that was forbidden for them to eat of by God. Man is curious by nature and wants to know more, but how could they not know what good and evil was and why did they want to know it so bad that they disobeyed God? To understand this we have to put ourselves in their shoes: they were surrounded only by good, there was nothing bad, so how could they know what good actually is and how good they had it if there was no comparison? And how could they even know what obedience or disobedience is when they never experienced it? It took a bite of that forbidden fruit to awaken their conscience in them to tell them that they had just done something bad and wrong.
And it took for them to be cast out of the Garden of Eden to understand how good the garden had been and how bad, scary, dangerous and at times just really awful this world can be. Now they knew the meaning of the words “good” and “evil”, “obedience” and “disobedience” that were completely beyond their imagination before. And now they knew that God is truth, and Satan is a liar. Before that they did not even know the meanings of “the truth” and “a lie”.
To fully understand something we therefore need a comparison. God gave men a free will and just like he did not stop Adam and Eve from making the wrong choice so he does not want any of us today to be hindered from making up our own minds. He does not desire anybody to worship him only because they have no other choice because of being born into a certain religion and do not know anything else but the religion that requires obedience or else they will endanger their life. Instead God wants people to see different possibilities and hear of different opinions and then make their own choices out of their own free will. His greatest desire is that we will love him out of our own free will. Is this not also how you imagine a God that is called love and mercy, goodness and kindness? To be born into a certain religion and not be allowed to choose for yourself would not fit with the picture of a righteous God full of love, mercy, goodness and kindness, does it? Thoughts for you to ponder on!
To be continued
Chapter 22:9 Then came one of the seven angels… and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. 15 And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia.4 Its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, 144 cubits5 by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. 18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. 22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
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P.S. Did you like the words written here? Where they an enlightenment to your soul? Would you or a friend or acquaintance be able to translate this page into a language a majority of Muslims speak like Arabic, Farsi, French, Hindi etc.? Would you be able and like to help enlightening the Islamic world and be a tool in this for God to use to His glory and spreading of His Good News? May God bless you and make you a blessing to many!
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