Week 4: Stories of Sufi Saints

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Al-Fozail ibn Iyaz

Reading time: 3 minutes. Word count: 500 words.

Al-Fozail ibn ‘Iyaz was born in Khorasan (a mountainous region in the north-eastern portion of Iran). He lived as a robber and bandit, but later renounced this life and went to Kufa in Iraq, and later to Mecca. He died in 187 (803). In these first stories about Fozail, you will see that he even when he was still a bandit, he displayed some unusual behaviors, which were a paradox to those around him - puzzling his fellow bandits, and also puzzling the people who were the victims of his crimes.

Fozail the highwayman

At the beginning of his career, Fozail-e Iyaz pitched his tent in the heart of the desert between Merv and Bavard. He wore sackcloth and a woollen cap, and hung a rosary around his neck. He had many companions who were all of them thieves and highwaymen. Night and day they robbed and pillaged, and always brought the proceeds to Fozail since he was the senior of them. He would divide the loot among the bandits, keeping for himself what he fancied. He kept an inventory of everything, and never absented himself from the meetings of the gang. Any apprentice who failed to attend a meeting he expelled from the gang.

One day a great caravan was passing that way, and Fozail’s confederates were on the alert for it. A certain man was travelling in the convoy who had heard rumour of the brigands. Sighting them, he took counsel with himself how he might conceal his bag of gold. “I will hide this bag,” he said to himself. “Then if they waylay the caravan, I will have this capital to fall back on.”

Going aside from the road, he saw Fozail’s tent and Fozail himself close by it, an ascetic by his looks and the clothes he wore. So he entrusted the bag of gold to him.

“Go and put it in the corner of the tent,” Fozail told him.

The man did as he was bidden, and returned to the caravan halt, to find that it had been pillaged. All the luggage had been carried out, and the travellers bound hand and foot. The man released them, and collecting the little that remained they took their departure. The man returned to Fozail to recover his bag of gold. He saw him squatting with the robbers, as they divided up the spoil.

“Ah, I gave my bag of gold to a thief!” the man exclaimed.

Seeing him afar off, Fozail hailed the man, who came to him.

“What do you want?” he asked.

“Take it from where you deposited it,” Fozail bade him. “Then go.”

The man ran into the tent, picked up his bag, and departed.

“Why,” cried Fozail’s companions, “in the whole caravan we did not find so much as one dirham in cash, and you give back ten thousand dirhams!”

“The man had a good opinion of me, and I have always had a good opinion of God, that He will grant me repentance,” Fozail replied. “I justified his good opinion, so that God may justify my good opinion.”

It is said that by nature he was chivalrous and highminded, so that if a woman was travelling in a caravan he never took her goods; in the same way, he would not pillage the property of anyone with slender capital. He always left each victim with a due proportion of his belongings. All his inclination was towards right doing.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • why did the man think he could trust Fozail with his bag of gold?
  • what did Fozail's fellow-bandits what to do with the gold?
  • what did Fozail do instead?

Source: Attar, Muslim Saints and Mystics (Episodes from the Tadhkirat al-Auliya, or Memorial of the Saints). Translated by A. J. Arberry. 1966. Website: Omphaloskepsis.

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM