Bi ismillahir rahmanir raheem
Woman: a parable
was walking through the marketplace one afternoon when, just as the
muezzin began the call to prayer, his eye fell on a woman’s back. She
was strangely attractive, though dressed in fulsome black, a veil over
head and face, and she now turned to him as if somehow conscious of his
over-lingering regard, and gave him a slight but meaningful nod before
she rounded the corner into the lane of silk sellers. As if struck by
a bolt from heaven, the man was at once drawn, his heart a prisoner of
that look, forever. In vain he struggled with his heart, offering it one
sound reason after another to go his way—wasn’t it time to pray?—but it
was finished: there was nothing but to follow.
He hastened after her, turning into the market of silks, breathing from
the exertion of catching up with the woman, who had unexpectedly outpaced
him and even now lingered for an instant at the far end of the market,
many shops ahead. She turned toward him, and he thought he could see a
flash of a mischievious smile from beneath the
black muslin of her veil, as she—was it his imagination?—beckoned to him
The poor man was beside himself. Who was she? The daughter
of a wealthy family? What did she want? He requickened
his steps and turned into the lane where she had disappeared. And so she
led him, always beyond reach, always tantalizingly ahead, now through
the weapons market, now the oil merchants’, now the leather sellers’;
farther and farther from where they began. The feeling within him grew
rather than decreased. Was she mad? On and on she led, to the very edge
The sun declined and set, and there she was, before him as ever. Now they
were come, of all places, to the City of Tombs.
Had he been in his normal senses, he would have been afraid, but indeed,
he now reflected, stranger places than this had seen a lovers’ tryst.
There were scarcely twenty cubits between them when he saw her look back,
and, giving a little start, she skipped down the steps and through the
great bronze door of what seemed to be a very old sepulcher. A soberer
moment might have seen the man pause, but in his present state, there
was no turning back, and he went down the steps and slid in after her.
Inside, as his eyes saw after a moment, there were two flights of steps
that led down to a second door, from whence a light shone, and which he
equally passed through. He found himself in a large room, somehow unsuspected
by the outside world, lit with candles upon its walls. There sat the woman,
opposite the door on a pallet of rich stuff in her full black dress, still
veiled, reclining on a pillow against the far wall. To the right of the
pallet, the man noticed a well set in the floor.
“Lock the door behind you,” she said in a low, husky voice that was almost
a whisper, “and bring the key.”
He did as he was told.
She gestured carelessly at the well. “Throw it in.”
A ray of sense seemed to penetrate for a moment the clouds over his understanding,
and a bystander, had there been one, might have detected the slightest
“Go on,” she said laughingly, “You didn’t hesitate to miss the prayer
as you followed me here, did you?”
He said nothing.
“The time for sunset prayer has almost finished as well,” she said with
gentle mockery. “Why worry? Go on, throw it in. You want to please me,
He extended his hand over the mouth of the well, and watched as he let
the key drop. An uncanny feeling rose from the pit of his stomach as moments
passed but no sound came. He felt wonder, then horror, then comprehension.
“It is time to see me,” she said, and she lifted her veil to reveal not
the face of a fresh young girl, but of a hideous old crone, all darkness
and vice, not a particle of light anywhere in its eldritch lines.
“See me well,” she said. “My name is Dunya,
This World. I am your beloved. You spent your time running after me, and
now you have caught up with me. In your grave.
At this she laughed and laughed, until she shook herself into a small
mound of fine dust, whose fitful shadows, as the candles went out, returned
to the darkness one by one.
2001 Nuh Ha Mim Keller
Rasul Allah (sallah llahu alaihi wa sallam) said: "Whoever knows himself, knows his Lord" and whoever knows his Lord has been given His gnosis and nearness.