How the Hodja Saved Allah: a Turkish Folktale

One day, a wise old Hodja (teacher, scholar) in Istanbul was leading his young students as they committed a passage of the Koran to memory. The Hodja himself knew the sacred book backwards and forwards. So many years had he taught it, he could recite it in his sleep without a single error. Although he had recited and listened to that day’s passage countless times before, this time he was seized by the message like never before: “Those who spend their money in the service of God are like a kernel of corn, from which grow seven ears, each containing one hundred kernels. God bestows manifold gifts on whom he pleases.” As he spoke the words, a brilliant light switched on in the mind of the Hodja and he knew he would be secure in his retirement.

He sent his students home for the day and proceeded to count his life savings. Careful figuring based on the compound appreciation promised in the verse would result in a payout of 1,000 piastres, a fortune! The Hodja immediately went into the streets, handing a few coins to each needy soul he encountered, until every last cent was gone. He was flat broke but thought himself a rich man, certain that 1,000 piastres were already on the way. Having helped a good number of destitute neighbors felt pretty good too.

That night, he was grateful for his simple dinner of bread and olives, but found himself dreaming about the occasional roast he would enjoy with his pending wealth. The next day, he had only bread to fill his stomach, and still no 1,000 piastres, but he did not despair.

On the third day, there was still no money and his cupboards were bare. Hungry and weak, his faith tested, he walked into the open fields beyond the city walls, reached to the sky and beseeched the Lord to take pity on His good servant. He cried and moaned and shook his fists.He was preparing to throw himself to the ground and wallow when a fearsome howl stopped him cold.

It was the voice of a certain wandering Sufi monk, who was quite out of his mind and terrorizing the area. Normally, wandering Sufi monks were welcome guests. This one was unpredictable, even violent, and from the sound of it, he was just over the horizon, and heading toward the Hodja. With surprising speed and agility, considering his advanced age, the Hodja climbed high up into a tree, there being nowhere else to hide.

The crazy monk came right up to the tree and sat down beneath it. He was wailing and lamenting, not only for himself but for the whole world. He cried out to God, “Why is there so much pain in the world? What’s the point? Why was I born? Why was anyone born only to suffer and die? Why?? Why?!! All my life, I have prayed for relief but to no avail. Now, I know what I must do to avenge the misery of mankind!”

He reached into a leather pouch at his side and pulled out a small figure, which he addressed as Job. He said, “down through the ages, you have been held up as a great example of patience and faith. In your name we are taught that forbearance brings reward. But this is not true. Many suffer with no end. I will punish you now for your bad counsel.” With his sword, the monk cut off the head of the figure he called Job.

Then he took another figure from his bag. This one he called David. To David he said, “you wrote songs of peace and love, but lived a sinful life. For misleading mankind with your pretty words, I will punish you.” And he cut off the head of the David figure.

The third figure to come out of the bag represented Solomon. The monk said, “Solomon, for centuries, you have been revered for your wisdom and vast knowledge, but you were not always wise. You did some bad things that brought suffering to countless many. I shall cut off your head.” And he did.

Next, the monk pulled a figure from his bag which he called Jesus. “Jesus, you came into the world, suffered and gave your own life so that mankind would know peace. You were a great prophet, yet the church founded in your name brought war after war. All that misery must be avenged.” Off came the head of the figure called Jesus.

The next figure from the bag was Mohammed. The monk said, “Mohammed, like Jesus, you were a great prophet, but so many suffered and died the world over in your name, you also must be punished.” Off came the head of the Mohammed figure.

Then the monk touched his forehead to the ground and stayed there in silence for several minutes. When he rose, he brought another figure from the bag. “Allah, you are all powerful. Mankind is your creation, all the good and all the evil in the world ultimately comes from you. I cannot punish your prophets and not also punish you.” As he raised his sword to chop of this final Ultimate Head, a shout came from the tree above, “STOP! He owes me 1,000 piastres!”

The monk was so startled, he dropped to the ground in a dead heap. The Hodja sat motionless in the tree for a good 30 minutes but the monk did not stir. The Hodja tossed a few twigs down at the monk and got no response. He climbed down from the tree and checked for a heartbeat. Sure enough, the monk was dead.

When he put the Allah figure safely back into the monk’s pouch, he discovered that it was full of gold. He poured the coins on the ground and counted out exactly 1,000 piastres. He looked toward Heaven and said, “Allah, I never doubted you would keep your promise, but,” he added, “not before I saved your life.”

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