Holy Land: Lokman

Lokman, the subject of this story, is the Islamic Aesop, famous for his fables. You can read more about him at Wikipedia. There is an entire sura in the Koran which records his wise sayings: Luqman.

The life of Lokman also resembles the life of Aesop: although he was misshapen and ugly, but he was given the gift of eloquence. You can read more about the legendary Life of Aesop (also called The Aesop Romance) at Wikipedia.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Holy Land Folklore unit. Story source: Folk-lore of the Holy Land: Moslem, Christian and Jewish by J. E. Hanauer (1907).


Besides his devoted wife, Ayûb had a relative who, from all accounts, was one of the most remarkable men that ever lived. He is generally called "El Hakìm Lokman," though I have also heard the name "El Hakìm Risto" applied to him. This personage was the son of Baura, who was the son or grandson either of Ayûb's sister or of his aunt. He lived for several hundreds of years till the time of David, with whom he was acquainted. He was extremely ugly, of a black complexion, with thick lips and splay feet; but, to make up for these deformities, Allah gave him wisdom and eloquence. Offered the choice between the gifts of prophecy and wisdom, he chose the latter. The prophet David wished him to be King of Israel, but he declined so onerous a position, content to remain a simple Hakìm.

Having been taken and sold into slavery by the Bedû who raided the Hauran and carried off Ayûb's cattle, he obtained his liberty in a remarkable manner. His master, having one day given him a bitter melon to eat, was greatly surprised at his obedience in consuming the whole of it and asked him how he could eat so unpleasant a fruit. Lokman answered that it was no wonder that he should, for once in a while, accept an evil thing from one who had conferred so many benefits on him. This answer so pleased his owner that he set him free.The well-known fables excepted, the following story is that most often related of this sage.

A certain rich man was very ill, and the doctors said he must die because there was some animal inside him, clutching at his heart. It was thought it might be a serpent, for it is well known that if people sleep in the fields where yellow melons are growing they run the risk of young serpents slipping through their open mouths into their stomachs and thriving there on the food that ought to nourish their victims.

El Hakìm Lokman was called in as a last resource. He said there was one operation which might save the patient, but to perform it would be very dangerous. The sick man clutched at this last chance of life. He sent for the Kadi, the Mufti, and the whole Council of notables, and in their presence signed and sealed a document which exonerated Lokman from all blame in case he died under the operation. He then took leave of his friends and relatives.

Lokman invited all the other doctors in the city to assist at the operation, first making them swear that they would not interfere through jealousy.

One physician, however, he did not invite, and that was his sister's son, of whom he was very jealous, but who, nevertheless, attained ultimately even greater skill than Lokman himself. This nephew, though uninvited, determined to witness the operation, so he climbed on to the house-top, where he knew of a small window through which he could look into the sick-room and see all that was going on.

In the meantime Lokman administered benj to the sufferer and, as soon as the anaesthetic had taken effect, proceeded to lay him open. So doing, he revealed a huge crab clinging to the heart.

At the sight even Lokman himself lost courage and said: "There, sure enough, is the cause of sickness, but how to remove the beast I know not. If anyone here knows a way, for Allah's sake let him name it."

The physicians replied, "We cannot tell how to remove the creature for, if we use force, it will only cling more tightly to the heart, and the man will die."

Hardly had these words been spoken when, to Lokman's surprise and shame, the unseen watcher on the house-top shouted into the room, "Ilhak bi ’n-nâr ya homâr! Follow up with fire, thou ass!"

On hearing this most opportune advice, Lokman sent one of his colleagues running to the Butchers' Street to ask the keeper of the first Kobab-broiling-shop to lend him an iron skewer. Others were told to prepare a brazier; others to fetch cotton wool.

When all was ready, the great Hakìm wrapped a wet cloth round one end of the iron skewer for a handle and thrust the other in the fire till it was red-hot, while one of the attendant physicians, by his orders, manufactured two small pads of cotton wool. When the skewer was red hot, the operator touched one of the claws with it. The sudden pain caused the crab to lift that claw when one of the pads was put beneath it. In this way all the claws were loosened, and the crab could be removed without danger to the patient.

Lokman was then going to clean the wounds with a silver spoon, but his nephew on the roof cried: "Beware of touching a human heart with metal."

He therefore took a piece of wood that lay handy and fashioned it into a spoon for his purpose. Having anointed the wounds in the heart, he sewed up the chest of the patient, who thereafter recovered and enjoyed long life.

from the Koran)

(900 words)

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