Shaykh San‘an was a saint renowned in Mecca for his devotion and austerities and for his unique knowledge of Sufism. For fifty years he was the acknowledged leader of the learned men of Mecca, and the distinguished preceptor of hundreds of disciples. Such was his personal purity and such were his natural gifts for performing miracles that a single breath of his was sufficient to cure the worst of maladies. For several successive nights this saint saw in a dream that he had gone from Mecca to Byzantium and was there prostrating himself before an idol. He thereupon told his disciples that he apprehended that a serious calamity was awaiting him and that rather than remain in suspense he proposed to proceed to Byzantium in order to obtain a clue to the interpretation of that dream. All his followers, four hundred in number, accompanied him. When they reached their destination they came to a palace, on the tower of which stood a Christian girl. She was endowed with celestial beauty and angelic qualities, and was well versed in spiritual knowledge. On seeing her face, the Shaykh stood rivetted to the ground and lost all that was his. His followers felt greatly embarrassed, but ventured to proffer their advice to their erstwhile teacher and leader, and even to remonstrate with him for this loss of self-control. Nothing, however, could restore the saint to his senses. They, therefore, did their best to induce him to return to Mecca, but the Shaykh would not budge an inch. He made that street his residence and, mixing with the curs of the street, lived the life of a dog. Misery and illness reduced him to a skeleton, and his saintli­ness and splendour gave way to infidelity and infamy.

The girl at last came to know of this tragedy. One day she went to the Shaykh and asked, “O holy man, what is the reason for this restlessness and misery? What is the explanation for this strange phenomenon that a pious Muslim should take up his abode in the streets of infidels such as Christians are?”

“You have stolen my heart,” said the saint. “Either restore it to me, or accept my love. This love is no mere fancy. Either separate my heart from my body, or lower your head towards mine.”

“You should be ashamed of yourself, old fool,” said the girl. “At this stage of your life you had better think of your coffin rather than of love for a girl like me.”

“Abuse me as much as you may,” replied the Shaykh. “That will not affect in the least my attachment to you. Alike are old and young in the path of love. Its impress on the heart of all is the same.”

“If that is so,” observed the girl, “and if your love is genuine, you must wash your hands clean of Islam. The fancy of one who observes diversity of creed in the realm of love is no more enduring than mere colour (appearance) and smell.”

“I am prepared to do whatever you desire and shall perform with all my heart whatever you dictate.”

“Then,” said the girl, “do these things: prostrate yourself before an idol; put the Quran in the fire; drink wine and renounce Islam.”

The bewildered Shaykh replied: “I can go so far as to persuade myself to drink wine in honour of your beauty, but the other things I can never do.”

“Very well,” said the girl, “come and drink wine.”

To a temple they repaired, where the Shaykh saw a novel assemblage of persons, presided over by a fascinating hostess. Glowing with passion, he took goblet after goblet from the hand of his beloved and lost all sense and reason and attempted to take her in his arms.

“Not yet,” said the girl, “you are still a pretender in the path of love. If your attachment is real and firm, follow my ringlets* in heresy and become a Christian.

The drunken Sufi adopted Christianity.

“Now what more do you want?” he asked. “In my senses I declined to prostrate before an idol, but in this intoxicated condition I have become a worship­per of an idol such as you.”

“You want to be one with me,” replied the girl, “but I am a princess. I must have a dowry befitting a princess. Where will you find so much gold and silver? Therefore, take my advice. Recover your senses, forget this passion; be a man, and have patience like a man.”

Mortally disappointed, the Shaykh implored her not to be unkind. It was impossible for him, at that stage, to do without her.

“Well then,” said the girl, “watch my herd of pigs for a year and I will forego the dowry.”

What a position for a Muslim saint, whose religion holds the pig to be the most unclean animal! Yet the infatuated man agreed at once*.

The Shaykh’s disciples returned to Mecca, greatly mortified by the conduct of the God-forsaken saint. They dared not show their faces in public. When they had left for Byzantium, the most devoted disciple of the Shaykh was not in Mecca. He was not, therefore, able to accompany his colleagues, but when he heard from them of the condition to which the Shaykh was reduced, he took them all to task for their inactivity and inconstancy.

“You should have all turned Christians and remained with the Shaykh rather than have deserted him,” said he.

“We were prepared to do even that,” they replied, “but the Shaykh would not allow us to do so, and he bade us return home.”

“In that case,” observed the disciple, “you should have knocked unceasingly at the door of the Almighty for his redemption.”

Thereupon, they all forthwith proceeded to Byzantium, retired to a sequestered place and for forty days and nights unceasingly offered prayers for the salvation of the holy man. During this interval they touched neither food nor water, nor rested for a moment.

On the dawn following the fortieth night, when the faithful disciple was engaged in his morning prayers, he felt an exquisitely delightful breeze blowing in the direction in which he was standing. The veil before the world was lifted and he saw His Holiness, the Prophet of Islam, approaching him.

The disciple fell on his knees at once and said: “Our Shaykh has lost the way. We beseech you to show him the way.”

“O man of supreme courage and lofty spirit,” said the Prophet, “let your soul abide in peace. Your leader has been set free from imprisonment. This achievement is due to your magnanimity and earnest efforts. A cloud of dust had arisen between the Shaykh and the Lord Almighty. I have removed it. He is no longer grovelling in darkness, but is now penitent and implores forgiveness for his sins. Rest assured, such is the virtue of penitence that a hundred worlds of sinfulness, standing as an impenetrable barrier between man and his Creator, disappear with a single breath of sincere repentance.”

On hearing this, the disciple was filled with delight. He raised a cry of joy and informed his colleagues of the glad tidings.

They started immediately in search of the Shaykh and found him engaged in prayer, radiant as fire and happy in his supplications. On beholding his disciples, he wept most bitterly, tore his garments into tatters and covered his head with dust. His followers said: “O Shaykh, now is the time for thanksgiving, not for lamentation. The night of sorrow has passed; the morn of hope has dawned.”

They then related to him how the Prophet had vouchsafed his grace to him, and had bid him be of good cheer for henceforth he was sure to find his way to the Creator in a better light. The Shaykh thereupon put on his khirka (Sufi garment), and returned to Mecca.

The story, however, does not end there. The curtain now rises over a novel scene. It is now the turn of the girl to see a dream. She sees the vision of the Sun dropping by her side. In miraculous tones the sun thus spoke to her: “Go after the Shaykh immediately. Adopt his faith and be the dust of his feet. Aye, thou that polluteth him, be pure by his grace. He had not set foot in thy path intentionally and deliberately to win thy love, but thou must go to him with a set purpose. Thou didst mislead him and turn him from the right path. Therefore, be his companion now and go his way. How long wilt thou remain in ignorance? Seek divine knowledge from him and acquire proficiency in the philosophy of Love through him.”

The girl awoke from this reverie, profoundly stirred. She commenced weeping and lamenting and set out in search of the saint, not pausing for a moment to think who would point her the way out of the wilderness and give a clue to the whereabouts of the Shaykh. In her grief and supplication to the Almighty, she cried: “O Thou who knowest the truth, it is true that I made thy devotee lose the Path, but I was ignorant. Punish me not for my folly. Forgive me for all that happened for me and through me.”

About the same time the Syaykh had a message from the Unseen World that the girl had abandoned Christianity, and that she should be admitted to the faith of Islam. “Turn back, therefore, and go once more in search of that idol of yours. Be one with her in thought and knowledge.”

The Shaykh proceeded forthwith in quest of the girl and once more there was great consternation in the camp of his disciples.

“Oh Shaykh,” they expostulated, “is this the end of all your penitence and mortification? Whence again this infatuation?”

The Shaykh, however, explained to them what had happened, and they all set out in search of the girl. They found her lying on the ground, bare-headed bare-footed, wrapped in tatters, and quite insensible. They managed to restore her to her senses, but on seeing the Shaykh, she fell into a swoon. When she recovered her senses, she implored him to initiate her into the faith of Islam. The Shaykh chanted the words of the Quran in her ears. She became restless after this conversion and she felt that the moment of bidding farewell to this world of trial and humiliations had arrived. “Forgive me, O Shaykh,” she muttered, and with those words the sun of her existence con­cealed itself behind the cloud of non-existence. She was a drop of the Ocean of Truth and was merged in the Ocean again.

After the death of the girl, the Shaykh told his pupils that it was impossible for him to live any longer, and he also breathed his last the same day. He was buried by the side of the girl’s grave, and from it there sprang up a fountain of pure, transparent water; it keeps the spot green with verdure through­out the year, and is therefore a place of pilgrimage for people coming from the four corners of the world.*

When the birds heard this love-story from the lips of the Hoopoe, the flame of their love for the Simurg was rekindled in their hearts a thousandfold. They now cared not for their lives and resolved to set out in search of the Beloved. They had, however, no leader, and a leader was indispensable for such a difficult journey. It was, therefore, decided to de­termine by lot who should be their guide. Fortunately for them, the honour fell to the lot of the worthiest of them all, and that was the Hoopoe. All of them took an oath of allegiance to her, and they placed a crown upon her head.