It was impossibly quiet. Away from city lights, on moonless nights, the stars appear more brilliant than most people have ever seen. But to the ancients the night sky was a tapestry of signs. "The dark hour" a voice pierced the cool air. "What is the dark hour?" asked another, and then the night returned to reverent silence. A pause. "It is the darkest part of the night. Before dawn is when it happens. Soon the false dawn will appear." Another silence. "What is the false dawn?" “Pay attention.” The two looked into the darkness. In the East a vertical beam of white light extended upward from the horizon across the arc of the sky. As it grew it was followed by a cold milky haze. “The false dawn is brightest near the autumn equinox. But there’s no rosy hue like the true dawn, just a pale grey. There is a special blessing in the hours before the true dawn. A tranquility in the air. A spiritual traveler should always wake before the sun, when our minds and bodies are refreshed. It is a time of reflection and rumination before the business of the day clouds our minds.” “So what should we be reflecting on?” "Sit child, I will tell you the story of The Herdsman and the Lion.” ---------------------------------------------- A long long time ago our clan convened an assembly of our elders to appoint a sultan who was granted executive powers. And so they chose a man named Assad the Lion who was both a ferocious warrior and a wise jurist. He was known for his courage, and wit. But he quickly abandoned the Law and began legislating new decrees our ancestors had never seen. Sultan Assad ordered that for every meal he would eat only the bone marrow of young goats, which is the creamiest most delicious part of the animal. He said that the rich protein would keep him strong, both in body and mind, and was sure that the clan would recognize the value of his strong leadership. But after feeding the Sultan this way for several days the clansmen began to worry. To satisfy the Sultan’s appetite they had to slaughter ten goats every day, and their herds were rapidly dwindling. One day a herdsman came to the Sultan to plead with him that if he didn’t change the rate of his consumption they will have slaughtered every goat in every herd within three months. Assad the Lion called him forward and in an act of cold calculation he cut out the herdsman’s tongue who screamed as blood poured from his mouth, but no one dared to come to his aid. That night the Sultan ate the tongue with his evening meal. But it was too late. The people had heard the warning of the herdsman and knew the direness of their situation. The clan elders convened a second assembly, this time in secret, to discuss their predicament. The elders thought a coup was in order, and that it was time to plot the murder of the Sultan. They argued that if they all joined together they could over power Assad the Lion. But the herdsman objected, in writing of course. He argued that if they overthrew the Sultan by violent means the result would only be the rise of another tyrant. So, he devised a different plan. Bone marrow is very fatty. So, for one month they would gradually increase the Sultan’s portions. Meanwhile, the rest of the clan would perform the fast of King David, only eating every other day, to discipline their appetites. After a month Assad had become accustomed to meals nearly twice as large, and had gained considerable weight, while the rest of the clan had become lean and efficient, accustomed to hunger. Then one day the herdsman returned to the Sultan, but since he could not speak he brought a written declaration. It was a manifesto of reform which he presented to Assad. It described the discontentment of his clansmen, and served him an ultimatum. The declaration was signed by every herdsman, every farmer and every baker in the clan pledging to slaughter not one beast, harvest not one crop and bake not one loaf until he peacefully and voluntarily relinquished his appointment. There would be no more bone marrow. Enraged, the Sultan tore the document to shreds declaring that the clan could not survive without him. He drew a billao dagger and lunged at the herdsman, but he was made clumsy by his obesity and the herdsman easily dodged. The Sultan fell flat on his belly and the assembled crowd laughed, humiliating him in his own court. The next day the Sultan went barging into people’s homes looking for food, but he found none. On the second day he went to the orchards to steal fruit but he found people ready to defend their property, and himself in no condition to fight. On the third day he marched out into the grazing pastures to slaughter a goat himself, but he was so fat from marrow and weak from hunger that he couldn't catch one. The chase left him exhausted, wheezing in the dirt. The herdsman approached him in the field, but the Sultan was too weak to get up. He laid on the ground gasping for air as the herdsman stood over him without speaking. Once he caught his breath Assad the Lion cried out, “I submit. I submit. I submit!” and began weeping. The herdsman bent forward and took Assad’s head in his hands. With one hand he pet his hair and with the other he fed him a fist full of raw oats, as he did to sooth a frightened animal. Assad became known from then on as Assad the Lamb, and lived out his life in humiliated obscurity. He was never trusted to serve as a jurist for the clan ever again. His only role was to be a servant to the herdsman in restitution for the injury. The herdsman became one of our clan’s wisest and most celebrated jurists, and Assad was charged with reading his written statements. And the elders resolved to never appoint another sultan. ------------------------------------------------------- There was a green flash and then twilight. The sky turned gray and then blue. The stars faded. Like a wave, a roar swept over the valley. Birds began to sing. The grass and trees came to life with a soft rustle. And there was no more silence. Faces became discernible again. Young Hakim and his grandfather Jilani, the elder jurist of their clan, sat around the coals and ashes of last night’s fire. Paying attention. The child looked puzzled. “I don’t understand. Why didn’t they just overpower Assad at the beginning? They wouldn’t have lost all those goats.” Jilani stroked his beard. “It is part of the natural Law that the ends will always contain their means. What made Assad a tyrant was that he deviated from the natural way, or most precisely the elders did by appointing him. You cannot return to the natural way by unnatural means. If they had resolved to murder him their result would contain more violence. Without addressing the original deviation the elders would have only replaced him with a new sultan, likely whoever lead the party that killed him. And there’s no telling how many lives would have been lost, or how many goats a new tyrant would demand. Not to mention, if they had killed Assad he would not have been alive to offer restitution.” “I think I understand. But how do you know what the natural way is?” “That’s a question for another night. I have affairs to attend to.” Jilani stood up, using a piece of spiraled drift wood as a cane. “Stay here as long as you like. Think a lot. The sunrise will be soon. It will be beautiful. The next time we meet we will discuss the Law.” Jilani began walking down the the mountain, leaving Hakim alone with his thoughts.