‘A Foolish Man’, the story below, is from Kan Ya Ma Kan: Folktales and Recipes of Syria and its Ethnic Groups by the late Muna Imady. It is published here by ‘Beloved Syria’ with the permission of the author’s mother, Elaine Imady.

This story comes from Sweida. 

As explained in the introduction to ‘A Foolish Man’, Sweida is the southernmost of Syria’s fourteen muhafazat and is on the Jordanian border. Along with Daraa, it is historically part of the Hauran region. The capital and largest city is also named Sweida, and a large majority of the population is Druze. It has largely stayed out of the civil war in Syria. 


A FOOLISH MAN 

Kan ya ma kan, in days gone by, there lived a man who always failed in everything he planned to do or began to do. One day, in desperation, he decided to travel to a very distant place to pray to Allah and describe his problem to Him. Perhaps Allah might feel sorry for him and turn failure away from him. The man walked and walked, until one evening he came across a frightful looking hyena. The hyena asked him, “Where are you going, O Man?” 

The man explained his problem to the hyena, who answered sadly, “Look at me, my good man. My fur is falling out day after day, and winter is about to start with its cold storms and blizzards. Would you please ask Allah for a cure for my case?” The man said he would and continued on his way.

Soon he came across a peasant who greeted him, so he sat down to rest and talk with him a bit. When the peasant heard the man’s story, he said, “My brother, will you do me a favour?” 

“Yes,” said the man.

The peasant said, “For the longest time, I have worked on this land that I inherited. I have been plowing it, sowing it, and harvesting it, and yet I grow poorer day after day. I fear the day will come when my family and I find ourselves without food or drink. Would you please tell Allah about my situation and ask when I might find some relief?” The man reassured him that he would.

After a short walk, he came upon a thin horse in a lush valley. The mare looked at him with beautiful, sad eyes and asked him where he was going. The man told his story and the mare asked, “Will you do me a favour?” 

“Yes, indeed,” he replied.

“Please ask why, although I eat my fill and roam in this rich valley as I please, I remain tired and frail. Ask about my problem and what might cure me.” The man reassured the horse that he would, and he continued on his way.

By evening, he had reached a magnificent castle with a high wall around it. When he asked the guards about the owner, they told him it was the castle of their king. They said that the king didn’t like anyone to pass through the kingdom unless he visited him and explained his story. They also said the king was the most just of kings and the most merciful to his subjects. 

The man entered the castle and asked to see the king, and immediately he was granted permission. The king was extremely good looking and was dressed in very elegant clothes. The man told his story and recounted all that had happened to him on his way. He told the king that the place he was heading for was just beyond his kingdom, and that was why he had to pass through. The king said, “Can I ask you a favour?”

“Certainly, Your Majesty,” answered the man.

The king said, “I have been ruling this kingdom for ten years now, since my father’s death, as I was his only child. I have been the kindest and most just king to my subjects, but my problem is that some of my generals of the army and some high officials do not obey me. Please pray that God shows you the reason for the predicament I am in.”

The king saw to it that the man was well fed and was shown to a fancy room to sleep. The next morning, the man took off on his journey. 

After a two-day walk, he reached the place he was searching for. He began his program of worship, praying to God and pleading with Him to be merciful to him and to point out to him the reason for his failure in all matters. Finally, he had a dream in which a voice that either came from above or from within the depths of the mountain said, “What is it you want, O Visitor?” 

The man told his story and then asked, “What shall I tell the hyena?”

The Voice answered, “Tell the hyena that its disease will be cured once it eats a foolish person.” Then it told him to tell the peasant that he should continue to work hard and that soon his land would give him wealth enough for him and his children after his death. And as for the mare, she should submit to a human who would know how to cure her and give her the right food and drink, in all the right amounts, to make her strong and healthy. Then, the Voice explained that the king was actually a woman in man’s clothing, and that although she was disguised as a man, her heart remained that of a woman. Finally, the Voice said, “Concerning you, O Man, know that your providence is before you. You only need to pay attention and think.”
 

The man started back happily, glad to have all the answers. First he stopped at the king’s castle, and when he was granted an audience with the king he said, “You are a woman disguised as a man, and this is the reason for your problem, since your heart is the heart of a woman despite your appearance.”

The king shouted, “Be silent or I will kill you! The guards may hear what you have said to me just now, which is something no one knows but me, you, and God. Were people to find out the truth, they would attack me with their swords. But can I suggest something?”

“Yes, I’m listening.”

The disguised woman paused uncertainly, then she said, “I offer you my hand in marriage and you can become my wazir and help me rule this kingdom of mine.”  The man declined, explaining that the Voice had told him his providence was before him, and at the moment he was not interested in getting married. 

The man continued on his way and soon he reached the thin mare. He said to her, “You need to hand over your affairs to a human who would take the best care of you.”

The mare nodded her head and said, “Very well then, I grant that you may be my guide, and I will carry you on my back wherever you wish.”

The man said, “No, no. I have much to do ahead. My providence awaits me. I cannot stay.” 

The man passed by the farmer and told him the message of the Voice and then continued on his way. He had only walked a short distance when the farmer began to call him back, saying, “Come back, good brother, for my plow has pulled up a treasure box, and I will divide the fortune between us.”

The man turned around and answered, saying, “No, no. The Voice said to me that my providence would be before me.” And he went on.

Finally, the hyena intercepted his path and asked him, “Tell me, O Man, how did things go for you?”

The man told the hyena all that had happened and ended his story saying, “And you will not be cured until you eat a foolish man.”  The hyena bared his teeth saying, “By God, I will never meet anyone more foolish than you!” 


A woman in Sweida countryside wearing traditional Druze clothes. She is with Susan Dirgham, editorial team, ‘Beloved Syria’. 2006.