Ali woke up before the sun. He washed himself and quickly changed to his work coat and ate the kosai* cake, Amina, had devotedly kept ready for him last night. She wanted to bake him up a fresh kosai, but he particularly insisted not to; he couldn’t let her deprive sleep for his sake. Ali Kaita, was gentle in nature and had a compassionate spirit. His wife, Amina and his two kids, Moussa and Sani were simple folks who loved him with all their heart. Ali kissed them softly and left for his smithy.
Ali was the village blacksmith in one of the Makara areas in the Sokoto state, Nigeria. He was the descendant of the legendary smith Wadiya Kaita who was fondly called Makera^ Wadiya by the village people. The Kaita family always bore quality blacksmiths throughout the generations and considered it a tradition bound to be followed; wise men in the village talks of an old story when one of the chief smith in the family married fifteen times to get a boy of his own to keep up the tradition. Ali was living the family habit presently.
Ali’s apprentice Murtala had gone to the village to see his new-born; and Ali had no help in the smithy. He had to get up early to prepare the forge heat; a task usually assigned to Murtala. Ali remembered fondly that Murtala was hesitant in leaving at first, when he got the good message about his wife’s delivery. He told Ali “Master, by the grace of Allah, the Almighty, my wife has given birth to my daughter, ten days back, says the village Alim~. He passed through my village on his journey here and he was kind enough to bless my child. He says she is an angel and blessed that she grows to a virtuous woman. I asked the most respected one, many a question, that now, I stand in shame, for I shouldn’t have bothered the great one so; but master, my poor mind was in so much agony that perhaps it is not to be blamed for. I was eager to know how my dear wife was doing. The all generous Alim has set my mind at some peace now, I can continue with our Holy Work at ease master.” Ali was greatly touched by these words and he promptly asked Murtala to leave for his village as he said “I pray, you should leave at once to your home my dear boy, for you have become a Creator and it is one of the life’s most joyous moments. Run to your wife and hold your daughter, look unto her eyes and you shall see the purpose of your life. They say kids are gifts from God, but I believe kids are God themselves. Rush to your daughter and kiss her while she is still pure, sinned neither by talks nor by actions. The Holy Work shall proceed well by the grace of God, don’t you worry about that”. Ali knew that the coming days were crucial with respect to The Holy Work he was assigned to, but he couldn’t deny a daughter her father’s first touch.
*kosai - spicy fried bean cakes West African style
^Makera - The word Makera is a Hausa name for smithery
~Alim -. A Sunni saint
THE HOLY WORK
Around two months back, the Sultan of Sokoto himself summoned Ali to His court. “Come my old friend, I hoped to see you in good health and wealth. One of my messengers told me a piece of news and the more I think about it the more it vexes my mind. Ali, my dearest friend, only you can pacify me. It will be dishonourable to say that I have trust in you for I think the Almighty himself is at work when you take the hammer of yours. You are the most skilled craftsman in my land and I have, but, nobody else to go to, to get my mission accomplished. My messenger told, how he saw, with his very eyes, the prosperity in the land of Javanese king Satera; and all because of a magical Kris (keris*) his smith forged for him. Yes, you heard it correct my friend, a magical Kris.
I want you to make for me a holy Kris. Believe me when I say, I want my land and people to be flourishing; and it all lies in your very hands my comrade. When you are done with this assignment, I assure, you shall be rewarded greatly, not just here, but up there in Almighty’s court as well. I now, as your Sultan, ask your acceptance of this scheme, but know that, in my heart, I kneel and plead to God that you do not deny this old man’s wish, perhaps the last one. Yes, my friend, I am dying, I do not think I have much time left in this world, and I want my people to remember me as the Sultan who enriched their land. But do not fret over me dear fellow, for I have this Holy Work to finish, and I shan’t leave before that, and who else to assist me other than the progeny of the great Makera Wadiya. Tell me Ali, will you take this up?”
The Kaitas had been the trusted workforce and had always been beholden to the royalty. Ali was in no place to refute the Sultan’s request, and he was, as a matter of fact, quite blissful with the mission. He honoured and believed the Sultan and his words. He knew that taking up the work of Holy Kris will demand from him some sacrifices. He will need to leave for some place remote where he should meditate and perform austerities, including refraining from food, for forty days and nights. This is meant to generate the special powers needed to produce a Kris, as the “Hikayat” ^ states explicitly that the heat of hardening the Kris should come not from a burning fire but from an inner fire that these ascetic practises create. Ali proudly took up the task with no doubts in mind.
Ali and Murtala left for the banks of Sokoto River the very next day to live in accordance with the rules for the next forty days. He temporally closed his smithy and made sure there were no pending works to be done. They packed very lightly and took only water and limited supplies with them. The practises to be followed in the next forty days were new to both the master and his apprentice, and yet both made strong confident strides; for the apprentice had full faith in his master, and Ali had full faith in himself. It was three days and two nights long to reach the banks of Sokoto River and they took ration just enough to survive the journey alone. They carried some weapons as well, in case they are confronted by any wild beasts.
On their way to the Sokoto River, Murtala asked Ali, “Master, is it true that the Kris will have magical powers and that it will affluence the land? I had this conversation with my wife’s brother, just before we left, he jeered, at me and our Sultan, for believing in this stuff. He says no Kris will bring good times, but only actions will. He says, our Sultan has become too old, that, he is no longer in his senses, and he has become very lazy, that, he is not willing to act for our land and enrich it, but rather have this responsibility transferred to a Kris. He also told me to stay away from this work, as he thinks that, when the people realises that the Kris is non- magical, the blame will fall on us Master, you and me; for people might say that we cheated our forty days fasting or that our hearts are impure. Tell me Master, am I speaking evil and have I become a wrongdoer in the Almighty’s eyes by uttering these words? If you say so, I am ready to shun these thoughts off my mind at this moment and work with you as always, but I may not hereafter sleep peacefully as I did always.”
Ali knew that the boy was having a dilemma, and being his master, Ali felt the responsibility of keeping him calm. Ali was lost in thought for some time and he suggested that they take a short break before continuing their journey. “Come my dear boy, let us take a quick rest under the shade of that tree; the sun is at his mightiest now and it will only be wise to halt a little” Once they were settled on a rock Ali continued with an impish smile “Ok. Now to answer your question, pardon me, but allow me to ask you some questions my lad, what or whom do you think the Almighty is? What are His ways? How do we live up to His expectations? What makes Him happy?”
Seeing Murtalas quizzical expression, Ali continued, “There, there, you need not answer them. I’ll tell you what my answers are. I believe Allah, the Almighty, is omnipotent and Immortal, I believe He is the reason everything exists and that He exists through everything, I believe He is the life that flows through you, me and this tree here.”
“Now I’ll tell you what I believe He is not. I believe that He is not the guardian who rewards when you do right and thrashes on your sin. No dear boy, He is beyond good and evil, happiness and grievance, success and failure. Just imagine, Murtala, when you have so blindly accepted His great powers why is it that you persist on giving Him our image; our, mortal, dim-witted image. Why would you think that he stands as a Jury to judge our deeds when He himself could have designed it in any way he wanted? Are you not testing the credibility of his power by doing so?”
Ali was profoundly overcome with such strong feelings in his heart that he continued quite unaware of his surroundings “Murtala, I am sure you know about Jannah* and like everyone else you dream of going through the doors to Firdaws^ once the Judgement has been made. It is true that Firdaws – The Highest Gardens of the Paradise, offers all the pleasures in the world, but yet, it does not talk of God, the All Powerful, will join us there, am I not correct? It is that way, because, I believe, The Supreme Saviour is beyond Jannah and Jahannam~”
“I tell you all these, my boy, to help you shun your fear about The Most Loved One punishing you for your sins. He is the abode of abundant kindness. He is the manifestation of pure unconditional Love which flows uninhibited from Him to all of us and that is what keep this world from not breaking apart in spite of its chaos. It is naive to think that He causes misfortunes to us, no, He only knows to love and that is his Grand Design.”
“Tell me, my friend, have not you ever felt like hugging the earth just after the first rain, or reach out and feel the morning dew sticking to the leaves of the doji plant, or to plunge into the depths of the clear water of the Sokoto River; tell me, are you totally devoid of these feelings. You cannot elude from these Murtala, not at least, for once in your whole lifetime, the feeling of unconditional, infinite compassion for another being, a strong sense of oneness with The Nature; and this is how, I believe, The Great One truly talks to us, or rather work his way through us. Who are we, dear Muratla, to talk of His ways, as if, we understand it, with our ignorant, delirious mind?"
Murtala was new to this notion and his ever-obedient mind could not easily get hold of this. He asked with great passion “Tell me master, why we choose the right path, if not for His
Blessings, why we bow down and pray, if not for His forgiveness, what will keep man from being inhumane, if not for the fear of Jahannam”.
“Oh Murtala, why can we not lead a lawful life out of the love for him, why do we need a greater reason other than love for Him” “We are here to live, love and let other live. We are all fragmented pieces of one greater soul. We have no existence without each other; but sadly, we often cannot stand each other”
"I dream of a Jannah, here, in our very land, when everybody realises the Grand connection, and embraces it, there shan't be judgement, but only absolute kindness and empathy, there shan't be a single suffering soul who will not be met with respite, there shan't be sinners for everyone will be beyond good and evil. But unfortunately, this will just be a dream" there was disappointment in Alis voice. Ali talked with such strong passion that tears were flowing down his cheeks, his voice faltered and his whole body trembled.
Murtala silently pondered over his master’s words. The idea seemed too sophisticated for him but he dared not question again fearing he would break his master.
"To answer your question regarding the magical power of Kris, I do believe in it Murtala, for I believe that true magic, true power of performing miracles, lies not with Him but with us, here, in our hearts Murtala. I believe in our Sultan and I implore you my boy shun away the doubts from your heart and let us work together to implement our Sultans dream. The question to be asked is not whether the Kris would bring richness to our land or not, but rather, what can, we, as children, do for our Mother to take care of her. You wouldn’t leave your mother to the mercy of a Kris alone, however magical it might be, would you? We must do this Murta because the Sultan believes in this, and our beloved Sultans words have the power to convince the people of our land. They would happily believe in the good days to come; their happiness will show in their work and trust me Murta happiness can be very contagious.”
The master and his disciple sat under the shade for some more time before continuing their journey.
*Keris – A kind of dagger, the kris is both a weapon and a highly charged spiritual object.
^Hikaya - an Arabic word that literally translates to "stories" - is a form of Malay literature, which relate the adventures of national heroes of Malayan kingdoms, or royal chronicle-
* Jannah – the Quran generally uses the term Jannah symbolically referring to paradise. However ^Firdaus - designates the highest layer of heaven.
~Jahannam - In contrast to Jannah, the words Jahannam, Dozukh, and Nār are used to refer to the concept of hell
Ali prepared the forge and was getting ready for his day’s work. The Holy Kris was nearing completion, it was in the hardening phase. Forty days penance and two weeks of hard labour had taken its toll on him. His cheeks were hollow. His nearly fair complexion was now hidden inside a layer of black dust and coal, matching his dishevelled hair and beard. Veins stuck out from neck and hands. Despite this weary appearance, his face had a strangely beautiful glow to it; eyes buried deep inside, were hard to be seen, but the moment you get a sight of the pair, you see a determined, joyous and satisfied soul.
Ali was taken over by a sudden wave of fatigue and he bent his head slightly to the anvil and closed eyes. It was precisely at this moment that the door to the smithy creaked. Ali opened his eyes to see a long figure clad in pure white, gliding right through the door, or so he thought. The small lamp in the corner made dancing shadows around the dimly lit room and it made a special appearance around the stranger’s head like a halo. Ali slowly got up on his feet and looked at the man, now standing nearly two feet from him.
His tunic was pure white, so pure that Ali himself felt ragged and dirty standing there. He was tall, very tall, that his head grazed the leather and sheepskin hung atop. But what intrigued Ali the most was the man’s face. His face was utterly calm, devoid of any emotions of any kind. There was not a strand of hair in his cheek, nor a moustache. He did not seem happy, nor was he sad, his lips were twirled, but not to a smile, his eye brows were curled slightly as if in a frown and as he was looking around the smithy, he looked somewhat amused, the first hint that his face could bore emotions. There were no ornaments and headcloth, except for a small black thread around his neck that went inside the tunic.
Ali spoke, as if in a trance, and asked “Who are you My Lord, and what seeketh you from my humble abode. I would very much like you to take a seat, but one cannot find a cathedra here, as you can see, and yet pardon me Oh King, I cannot stand your stature, it hurts my eyes.
The stranger quickly tore his eyes off the forge and looked at Ali and let out a mirthful high-pitched laugh and talked in a booming, deep voice. “Oh, my dear man, you have surely mistaken me for someone else. I shall sit down on this wooden stub here and you can look for yourself whether I am wearing a crown. I do not own even a single dime, this being my only possession”, He pulled out the black thread that went around his neck; it held a tiny silver locket shaped in the form of a key. “This key, my dear fellow, is a special one that can unlock anything in this whole wide world. It can unlock even the greatest of minds, and who knows I might have unlocked and just popped out of your fine mind now” saying thus, He let out another fit of laughter.
“My dearest man, let us talk; let us hear what we have for each other”. He took Ali’s hand, his brown eyes fixed straight on Alis. “I know whom you presume me to be, but know this my good man, I I may or may not be That, it does not really matter. My form is lithe and it fills the mould created by the beholder’s mind. I am how you define me” “I have led fierce wars for reasons unknown; I have moved decisions made by the strongest of minds, by an unintended glance, I have been the reason for numerous carnage as well as limitless kindness; I have healed many but with neither magic or wisdom, they simple chose to be healed. I have been the pacifier for some, while destroyer for some others; do you see it Ali, I am what you believe, I am the faith, the hope, the unknown that fills the void”
“People have thanked me for their good times and on other instances blamed me for their bad times. But believe me my beloved man, I do not interfere in the natural course of things, it happens as it should; be it severe pain or heart wrenching grief, I do nothing to soothe. I told you what I am, now I’ll tell you what I’m not. I am neither good nor bad, I am not compassion or malice, I am neither positive nor negative, I am not powerful or weak; I am neither God nor Devil, I am nothing and everything, I’m what you make me”
“One may call this the quirks of a foolish old man, and yet here I come to show you, my friend, The Key, I made myself. It opened the door of ultimate wisdom and showed me what truly I am and what I am not. I lead a “normal” life as some would say; I am the loving father to a daughter and a dedicated husband to my wife. I am a merchant by profession and I earn my daily bread to feed my family. My fellow beings love me, and I am duty bound to love them back, yet I stand unattached. I’m no saint Ali, but just a mortal human like you, my body will eventually deteriorate and stop dead, but my soul has already been freed, it stands afloat seeing the whole world, thousands of brothers alike me, free, enlightened souls chained to not a thing”
Ali sat motionless, overwhelmed with a whirlwind of thoughts. He was confused and yet everything was plain as daylight. He spoke after a long time “Oh Respected One, do you wish to tell me that I tread your way to enlightenment? I don’t know my Lord, but now that you spoke yourself of what I believed you to be, my mind is now unclear. If people sees you as who you are, will there be hope or order in the world. I have started doubting my own judgement. Please have mercy on me and wash away the qualms, I cannot bear this any longer” Ali got up and kneeled down, he took the man’s leg and placed it on his lap and kissed them gently.
The man smilingly said “Oh Ali, As I already said, I cannot bring peace to your mind, and I shan’t make decisions for you either. I am what you believe Me to be. I’m your creation Ali, and I don’t have the answers that evades you. You are free to portray me in any other way you like. I am you Ali. I come here to show you that you become what you believe and arrive at the destination where your faith leads you to. I am Al Fatih and I know you will be too, one day. That day, you’ll reach the ultimate Oneness beyond sufferings and desires, on that day we shall meet again Ali”
Ali startlingly realised that the man was his own self, but with The Key, which made the whole difference. The whole world was closing in around him and Ali felt the hard-cold wood as his head hit the smithy floor.
The Final Finishing
The whole kingdom of Sokoto was clad in yellow and green, there were celebrations everywhere. The Holy Kris enthroned earlier that day and the people were in high spirit. The Sultan appeared younger and buoyant and made a silent prayer to God that he lives long enough to see the magic of Kris and how it transforms their land. He was, though, slightly down heartened that Ali did not stay for the proceedings, he vanished as quickly as he came after delivering the Holy Kris. He seemed to be in great hurry and pre-occupied in his thoughts.
Ali hurried for the smithy as fast as his legs could carry him. Amina and the kids were still at the palace. His mind contemplated on the work left to do, Ali’s final finishing; Ali will cease to exist subsequently, marking the birth of Al Fatih. His mind was still filled with uncertainties, but he knew the answers would sooner or later reach out to him. He now knows the terminus, he just need to choose the path to it. The one thing which Ali felt sure was about his belief and made him stronger.
The Holy Kris rested eloquently on the ornate golden stool with a brilliant turquoise cushion. The Kris looked truly magical and it intensely carved wooden handle bore the image of a Key.