Stories & Tales
The Caliph and the Figs

When out riding one day, the Caliph Harun ar Rashid noticed a very venerable-looking old fellah, a farmer, planting a fig tree. The Caliph asked why he was taking the trouble to plant a tree so late in his life. He could surely hardly hope to eat its fruit.

"Oh Emir al Mu’menin," replied the old man. "God willing, I may live to taste the fruit of this tree, but if not, my sons will do so, just as I have eaten the fruit of trees planted by my father and great-grandfather."

"How old are you?" asked the Caliph.

"One hundred and seven,” replied the man.

"A hundred and seven!" exclaimed the Caliph in astonishment. "Well, in case you really do live to eat fruit from this tree, be sure and let me know."

Several years passed, and Harun ar Rashid forgot the incident. One day he was told that a very old fellah requested an audience with him, saying that by the Caliph"s own com¬mand he had brought him a basket of figs. He ordered the man to be admitted, and Harun was surprised to find that it was the same fellah he had once seen planting a fig tree. The man had with him a basket of beautiful figs from that very tree he had planted years ago. The Commander of the Faithful received the gift most graciously. He asked the old man to sit beside him on the diwan, and had a robe of honor put over his shoulders. When the man was ready to leave, the Caliph gave him a gold dinar for each fig.

When the old fellah had left, the Caliph"s son al Ma’mun asked his father why such grace had been shown to an illiterate peasant.

"My son," replied Harun, “Allah Himself had honored him, so I was bound to do the same."

The old fellah returned to his village in high spirits, and there he told his neighbor of the kindness and generosity Harun ar Rashid had shown him.

Now next door to him lived a jealous and greedy woman, who was so envious of her old neighbor’s good fortune that she resolved to outdo him. She nagged her husband till he filled a large basket with figs and presented himself with them at the door of the Caliph’s palace. When he was asked what he wanted, he answered that as the Commander of the Faithful was famed for his impartiality and had so richly rewarded his neighbor for a few figs; he also had brought some and hoped to receive a similar reward.

On hearing this reply the guards reported the case to Harun, by whose orders the foolish man was pelted with his own fruit. So ashamed was he that he returned home and divorced his wife, who had exposed him to such treatment.

Adapted from Folklore of the Holy Land, J.E.Hanauer, Dover Publications