Ibn Zafar’s well of wisdom provides us with another fable to ponder. How the reader relates it to his or her own life experience, or to the world’s current events, will be up to him or her to decide. While the narrative below is my own, I have also included some of Ibn Zafar’s quotes (as translated by J. Kechichian and R. Dekmejian–with minor variations by me–in their excellent edition of the Sulwan Al-Muta’) as they appear at relevant points in the story.
There was once a fox named Dhalim (ظالم, or “oppressor”) who lived in a very capacious and comfortable den he had excavated from the earth. It was situated in a good location, with access to good hunting areas in all directions. One day, after returning from the hunt, he was dismayed to find his den had been occupied by a snake. The snake would not leave; and despite Dhalim’s ever more urgent pleadings, the snake would not leave. It was clear that he had stolen it as his own, and would not relinquish it. In the face of this situation there was little that Dhalim could do.
So Dhalim left to find another den. After much trekking over the countryside, he came upon a den that seemed ideal for his situation. He asked various other animals if they knew to whom the den belonged. Dhalim was told that the hole was the property of a fox named Mufawwad (مفوض, or “trusting”), who had inherited it from his father. Mufawwad invited Dhalim into his den–courteous as he was–to find out what it was that he wanted. Dhalim related, in agonized detail, how he had lost his home as a result of the snake’s thievery. Mufawwad told his visitor that he should try to avenge himself on the snake, kill him, and reclaim his home.
Thus it is said: He who suspects his enemy is almost as far advanced as he who leads forth an army against him.
Cunning often ensures victory over a powerful tribe.
It is better to die in a fire than to live in dishonor. But if you would use force against an enemy, do not attack him unless you know him to be weaker than yourself; and if you would rely on ruse, never estimate him too highly, whatever may be his power.
So the two foxes set out back to Dhalim’s former den to see what they could do together. Mufawwad had essentially offered to help his friend reclaim his home. They wanted to make a realistic appraisal of the situation, and devise some suitable stratagem to accomplish their goal.
It is said: All enterprises may be ruined by three causes. First, a plan fails if it is imparted to several individuals before it is fully divulged. Second, everything is spoiled if those in the secret are rivals, or envious of one another, because love or hatred entered their calculation. Third, if the direction of an enterprise is assumed by one who has not been on the spot from the beginning, but rather by someone who came in at a later time. Then the old leader will be jealous and envious of the new one.
The two foxes eventually came to Dhalim’s old den. The two friends knew that the best kind of plan is that one which has been reached after mature deliberation. A hasty plan, in their minds, was a reckless plan. They both resolved to sleep on the problem, and to come up with a decent plan the next day. Dhalim agreed to spend the night at Mufawwad’s den.
As he did so, he began to take a more careful look around his friend’s house. He could see that it was large, comfortable, and ideally situated. Although he could not help himself, he began to feel those first gnawing pangs of jealousy. He slowly began to be possessed with a desire to take Mufawwad’s den for his own. This thought grew stronger hour by hour, and he soon even forgot to come up with a plan for reclaiming his own old house. Even if things came to a fight, he thought he was bigger than Mufawwad and would be able to impose his will on him.
Verily, said Ibn Zafar, the wicked man is like a fire. If you feed him, he blazes up. He is also like wine, which makes a prey of him who loves it; and a slave of him who pursues it. Thus, a natural malignity cannot be conquered by sheer profits. He is a wise man who places trial before intimacy, examination before choice, and confidence before love. [Italics mine].
What Ibn Zafar means in this last sentence is that comradeship, friendship, or love must be earned. It should not be bestowed too easily on others, since many will not deserve it. Worse still, they will begin to act with malice towards you. But to return to our story.
The next morning, Mufawwad told Dhalim that he had thought things over, and that he would help Dhalim dig a new den in a place close to his old den. He urged Dhalim to abandon his old den, and take solace in digging a new one. Sometimes it is better, he said, just to move on, especially when the risks outweighed the rewards. But Dhalim was adamant. He would not consider this option. He said he might die of grief and repressed rage were he ever to give up his home to an occupying snake. Relocating was out of the question, he said.
Mufawwad could see that he would not be able to dissuade his friend. So, taking everything under consideration, he agreed to help Dhalim seek his revenge on the snake. He told Dhalim: “I have an idea. We need to find some long sticks that are suitable for setting on fire. We can light one or more of them on fire, and shove them into your old den, thereby killing the snake living there. If the snake leaves, the fire will roast him; and if he remains inside, he will be suffocated.”
So the two of them set about looking for kindling and tinder. It was now night. Each fox went his separate ways to find sticks. Mufawwad did his job, but Dhalim was still fixated on stealing Mufawwad’s own den for himself. He was still consumed by jealousy and covetousness. Once he had gathered all his material, he made his way to Mufawwad’s den and sealed himself up inside, using the wood, sticks, and leaves as a barrier.
It is said: Many have perished in attacks and ambushes planned by themselves; many have fallen into their own traps, or have wounded themselves with their own weapons.
Mufawwad had finished gathering his sticks, and had some flaming embers also, but he could not find Dhalim. He imagined that his friend had lost interest in getting rid of the snake, and had wandered off. So he went back to his own den, and found the entrance blocked. Mufawwad could not figure out what was going on. As he was examining the situation, he dropped his sticks and embers. To make sure that a forest fire would not start, he placed his embers near the front of his den while he walked around the immediate vicinity.
Of course, the smoke from the burning embers at the front of den’s entrance filled Mufawwad’s den, where Dhalim had secured himself. The fumes began to choke him, and he died soon after. So was Dhalim killed by the same stratagem that he and Mufawwad had planned to use on the snake that had stolen Dhalim’s den. After discovering what had happened, Mufawwad said to himself, “Injustice is a weapon that hurts those who try to wield it. The unjust man is killed by his own knife, and is brought to the brink of disaster by his own feet.”
It is said: Sovereignty and injustice cannot share a throne…Every sinner will find one to pardon him, except the unjust, in whose fall all rejoice with one accord. As much as injustice gives you, so much does it take away from you. [Italics mine]
Mufawwad then entered his home and removed the smoking carcass of his so-called “friend” Dhalim, the unjust. From this point on, he was always watchful for the schemes and plans of those who postured as good men, but who really were not. He became aware that unjust liars, con artists, frauds, and demagogues are often found in government and politics, as well as in normal life.
Those who try to make a career of lying, deception, and con artistry will eventually be called to account for their lives of injustice and wickedness. This reckoning may be postponed for a time. The unjust are good at covering their tracks. But sooner or later, the price will be paid. For unjust leaders who attempt to set traps for others in order to distract attention from their own evils, are often brought down by their weight of their intrinsic malice.
Read more on these subjects in the dramatic stories of Catiline and Jugurtha: