As I was reading through Annabel Keeler’s translation of the ninth-century Sufi Sahl al-Tustari’s commentary on the Qur’an (available online) this evening, I came across the passage below, and was immediately reminded of a quite similar story from the Desert Fathers of fourth-century Egypt (and perhaps Palestine as well); the second story is also reproduced below. Are these two stories related? Obviously the details are slightly different, but the similarities are still pretty remarkable, if only for a congruence of values. Yet even the forms of the two stories are quite similar, enough to suggest to my mind the possibility of a relationship. There were, at some point, stories of the Desert Fathers translated into Arabic in Egypt, and these stories certainly circulated all over the Middle East and beyond. Could some of them have somehow entered the early Sufi milieu, enough to show up in the extant texts? I wouldn’t discount it…
That said, it was good to come across this story- I needed it personally. Unlike the anonymous Muslim and Christians, I have not yet overcome anger or reached a point of letting go of things. Anger is a viscous enemy; God grant us all the grace of resisting it!
It was related that there was a man among the devout worshippers (‘ubbād) who never used to get angry, so Satan came to him and said, ‘If you get angry and then show patience your reward will be greater. The devout worshipper understood him, and asked, ‘How does anger come about?’ He said, ‘I will bring you something and will say to you “Whose is this?” to which you should say, “It’s mine.” To which I will say, “No it’s not, it’s mine.” ‘ So, he brought him something and the devout worshipper said: ‘It’s mine!’ to which Satan said: ‘No it’s not, it’s mine!’ But the worshipper said, ‘If it’s yours, then take it away.’ And he did not get angry. Thus did Satan return disappointed and aggrieved. He wished to engage his heart so he could get what he wanted from him, but he [the worshipper] found him out and warded off his deception.
Sahl al-Tustari, Tafsir al-Tustari Q. 114.4
Two old men had lived together for many years and they had never fought with one another. The first said to the other, ‘Let us also have a fight like other men.’ The other replied, ‘I do not know how to fight.’ The first said to him, ‘Look, I will put a brick between us and I will say: it is mine; and you will reply: no, it is mine; and so the fight will begin.’ So they put a brick between them and the first said, ‘No, it is mine’, and the other said, ‘No, it is mine.’ And the first replied, ‘If it is yours, take it and go.’ So they gave it up without being able to find a cause for an argument.
Paradise of the Desert Fathers
3 thoughts on “Two on Anger”
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I have appreciated the sufi materials you have put up. They strike me as decidedly different from the translations of Rumi I was reading in my early 20s.
Are there any translations of sufi poets or volumes of sufi poetry that you would recommend to a non-specialist? I don’t want popular drivel, but more along the lines of what you offer here.
I am especially interested in these stories and sayings which seem to correspond to Christian desert spiritualities.
As far as Sufi poetry goes, there are a couple of volumes in the Classics of Western Spirituality series, which, despite the flakiness of ‘spirituality’ in the series title, tends to have quite high standards. The translations and intros are usually by the better people in the field. While it’s not poetry, the volume of Ibn ‘Abbad of Ronda is one of the best introductory texts for post-formative period Sufism, and is a good example of how Sufism is actually expressed in people’s lives.
There is a lovely translation (with facing Arabic text) of some of the works of an earlier Moroccan Sufi, Abu Madyan, called The Way of Abu Madyan, published by the Islamic Texts Society (which is also a good press in general). Unfortunately, a new copy of that (fairly slim since mostly poetry) book will put you back forty bucks; a used copy can be had for twenty or so. Abu Madyan’s poetry is really beautiful, but also not quite as esoteric as, say, Rumi or Ibn ‘Arabi.
There is an incredible abundance of material out there, only a very small portion of which has even received serious attention from Western scholars, much less translations. I’m hoping to post over the next few weeks some more of my own translations from other, longer Sufi commentaries, none of which have received much treatment, much less translations.