Abu Al-Qassim Al-Tanbouri - Madas and Mistakes
Arabian Knights - Volume 1

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Kaan Ya Makaan, Fee Qadeem Al-Zamaan…
There was a Place, in Times of Old…

Called Baghdad where a man named Abu Al-Qassim Al-Tanbouri lived. He was a well-known merchant and a friendly man but, like all men, he had his failings. The most obvious of which was that he would not replace his old madas (leather sandals) no matter how badly they needed replacing.

Whenever a piece of his madas wore out or fell off, Abu Al-Qassim would have that piece replaced with whatever bit of leather was at hand. Eventually there was nothing left of the original madas and what Abu Al-Qassim wore on each of his feet was a vaguely madas-shaped hodgepodge of leather which was both ugly and very, very heavy.

Strange though the madas looked, Abu Al-Qassim never really had any trouble with them until one day...

Abu Al-Qassim was walking through the glassware market in Baghdad when a fellow merchant stopped him and said in low tones, “O' Abu Al-Qassim, a merchant from Halab arrived today and he has gold-chased glassware that no one is buying. Buy it from him now, and I will sell it for you later when it is more in demand. That way, you will get double your investment back!”

Liking this plan very much indeed, Abu Al-Qassim eagerly went to see the merchant from Halab and purchased all of the gold-chased glassware he had for sixty dinars.

Thinking cheerfully about his future gains, Abu Al-Qassim continued his walk, which happened to take him through the perfume marketplace. As he strolled along, he was stopped by another of his merchant friends who said, “O' Abu Al-Qassim, a merchant from Nasibeen arrived today and he has rosewater for sale. He is pressed for time, and wishes to sell what he has in order to continue his journey. You could get a very good price for his merchandise. Buy it from him now, and I will sell it for you later for a better price. Then, you will get double your investment back!”

Equally pleased by this plan, Abu Al-Qassim sought out the Nasibeen merchant and bought all of his stock of rosewater for sixty dinars. Abu Al-Qassim then happily took his newly acquired merchandise home and carefully arranged all the glassware on his shelves and placed all the rosewater in the gold-chased glassware. For a moment, he just stood there and admired the beautiful display, lost in thoughts of soon-to-be earned riches.

With a smile, Abu Al-Qassim turned away from his shelves and decided that since his day’s business had been concluded so satisfactorily, he would go to the public bathhouse and take a long, luxurious bath. Upon arriving at the bathhouse, he proceeded to take off his madas at the door as was customary.

Just as he was about to step into the bathhouse, a friend of his called out behind him, “O' Abu Al-Qassim, I wish you would change those madas of yours! They're extremely ugly! And you have money, by the grace of God!”

Abu Al-Qassim hesitated on the threshold of the bathhouse as he thought about his friend's words. What the man said made sense; he should buy a new pair of madas. The merchandise he bought that very day promised to provide him with a small fortune once sold. Soon, he would be able to buy a dozen new pairs of madas if he wished.

Coming to a decision, Abu Al-Qassim called back playfully to his friend, “You're right! Suma'an wa ta'ah (I hear and obey)!”

With a smile, Abu Al-Qassim went into the bathhouse and had his bath. Afterward, he stepped out to find a pair of shiny new madas next to his old hodgepodge pair. Assuming his friend had generously bought him new madas, Abu Al-Qassim happily stepped into the new pair and made his way home, congratulating himself all the while on what a truly good day it had been.

Unfortunately for Abu Al-Qassim, the lovely new madas were not meant as a gift for him. They belonged to the local judge who had gone for a bath and come out to find his new madas gone.

The displeased judge searched high and low for his missing footwear then concluded that his madas had been stolen and a pair of truly ugly, patched madas had been left in their place. Someone helpfully identified the distinctive madas as belonging to Abu Al-Qassim, whereupon the judge ordered his men to bring the madas thief before him.

Abu Al-Qassim was immediately arrested and dragged before the angry judge, where he found that there was nothing he could say to appease the owner of the shiny new madas he had accidentally taken. The resentful judge didn't believe that the theft was really just a terrible misunderstanding, so he had Abu Al-Qassim jailed, beaten and fined for his thievery.

After Abu Al-Qassim got out of prison, he railed at his ugly madas, which had been conscientiously returned to him by the judge's men. If not for the accursed madas, Abu Al-Qassim thought angrily, he would not have gotten into so much trouble with the short-tempered judge. Deciding to rid himself of the offending madas, Abu Al-Qassim took them and threw them into the Dajla (Tigris) river. He then went home, feeling very sad and depressed indeed.

Later that same day, a fisherman pulled the madas out of the river in his fishing net. The unique madas were easily identifiable as belonging to Abu Al-Qassim, so the honest fisherman made his way to the merchant’s house. When he arrived, he was dismayed to find that there was no one home.

The fisherman stood there for a moment, wondering indecisively if he should wait, or leave and come back later. As he hesitated, he noticed that one of Abu Al-Qassim’s windows had been left open. Feeling both relieved and virtuous, the fisherman tossed the madas into Abu Al-Qassim's house then he went merrily on his way, secure in the knowledge that he had done a good deed.

Unfortunately for Abu Al-Qassim, the madas hit the shelves containing the glassware and rosewater. Because the madas were so very heavy, they dislodged the shelves and sent both glassware and rosewater plummeting to the hard, unyielding ground.

In the evening, Abu Al-Qassim came home, opened his door and saw his madas lying in the middle of the shattered remains of the expensive gold-chased glassware. By then all the rosewater had evaporated, but the rich scent of roses lingered in the air, tormenting Abu Al-Qassim and reminding him of the hefty investments he had made and the profits he could have had…if not for his madas.

Unable to face the devastating financial losses, Abu Al-Qassim burst into tears and cried out, “I am poor! These accursed madas have made me a pauper!”

Even more determined than ever to get rid of the horrible madas, Abu Al-Qassim waited until the dead of night then he began digging a hole in the hard-packed floor of his house. He had decided to bury the madas and thus be done with them once and for all. His neighbors, hearing a mysterious digging sound in the middle of night, immediately complained to the local judge. They accused Abu Al-Qassim of trying to bring down the wall dividing their properties.

The local judge, with the theft of his new madas still fresh in his mind, was not at all surprised at such behavior from a man he personally knew to be a thief. He immediately ruled that Abu Al-Qassim was to be arrested, jailed and fined for his actions.

When Abu Al-Qassim got out of prison for the second time, he decided to try and free himself yet again from the cursed madas. This time though, he would act a little more cautiously. He went to the local sewers, instead of the river, and threw the madas in. There! he thought with satisfaction, No one fishes in the sewers! I am finally safe!

Feeling like the world was a brighter and better place already, Abu Al-Qassim happily went home and settled down to enjoy his victory over the accursed madas. His happiness was short-lived though because the judge's men came and dragged him away to court.

Apparently, Abu Al-Qassim's madas had blocked the sewers and caused them to overflow. The extremely unhappy people quickly found the source of the blockage and removed the cause of it, which they discovered to their chagrin was Abu Al-Qassim's distinctive madas. Displeased by such mischief, the people all complained loudly to the local judge.

Unsurprised by the actions of this nefarious man, the judge again ordered Abu Al-Qassim imprisoned. He also fined him the amount of money it took to repair the damage to the sewers, and fined him an additional amount as an extra punishment for his refusal to repent his criminal behavior.

When Abu Al-Qassim got out of prison for the third time, he decided that the only way to keep his madas from getting him into more trouble was to never part from them. So he washed them and thoroughly cleaned them, and then he put them on the roof of his house to dry.

As the madas lay drying innocently in the sun, a stray dog spied them and was tempted by the sight of them and the damp leathery smell of them. After some effort and a few failed attempts, the mischievous dog managed to clamber up onto the low roof of Abu Al-Qassim's house and eagerly went to investigate the madas.

Carrying its prizes gleefully in its mouth, the dog proudly began parading around the roof. Unfortunately, as the dog trotted by the side of the roof, one of the madas slipped from its mouth and fell, landing on the head of a passerby. Stunned and bleeding, the man looked around and found a single madas lying in the road, a unique madas that was easily identifiable as belonging to Abu Al-Qassim.

The man angrily went and complained to the local judge, who by then had despaired of Abu Al-Qassim ever behaving himself. He simply ordered Abu Al-Qassim to pay for the injured man's care and pay a fine in exchange for the pain and trouble he had caused.

Paying for the injured man's medical care, not to mention the extra fine, made Abu Al-Qassim well and truly broke. He had not a single dinar to his name. Not long ago, he had been a fairly well-to-do merchant, now he was a poor man who kept going to jail because of his hodgepodge madas.

After all of the trouble his accursed madas had given him, and all the unpleasant encounters with the judge, Abu Al-Qassim was feeling truly desperate. He would give anything, anything at all, to never see his madas, or that vindictive judge, ever again! But what could he do?! Every time he tried to get rid of the madas, or even to keep them, they somehow got him into more trouble!

Finally, an idea struck Abu Al-Qassim. He knew how he could get rid of his madas!!

“Your honor,” Abu Al-Qassim said to his nemesis, the judge, “I wish for you to write a legally binding document severing the relationship between myself and those accursed madas, and declaring that they do not belong to me and I do not belong to them! We are each innocent of the doings of the other, and whatever the madas do, I am not responsible for it!”

The bemused judge asked Abu Al-Qassim a few questions and then finally listened to his story with an open mind. As Abu Al-Qassim told his tale of woe, he was practically in tears. The judge began wondering if perhaps he had misjudged the man. Once the story was finally told, the judge could not help but laugh and laugh and laugh. To think, a pair of ugly madas could get this hapless man into so much trouble!

That very day, the judge ruled that Abu Al-Qassim was free of his madas, now and forevermore. The judge even had his men announce it to the people of Baghdad. Finally free, Abu Al-Qassim left his madas with the judge and, happily, never saw either ever again.

*Written by © 2011. Care to read or leave Comments?

  1. Names, Translations and Aliases:
    • Abu Al-Qassim Al-Tanbouri: أبو القاسم الطنبوري.
  2. Madas: Leather sandal-like footwear.

  1. Ibrahim, M., Al-Mowla, M., Al-Bajawi, A. (2011 AD, 1432 H). قصص العرب [Stories of the Arabs]. Beirut: Al-Maktaba Al-Assrya. Volume 4. Page 294-296.

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