Arabian Nights: Aladdin, Ali Baba, Farts and Sexy, Clever Women

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from Arabian Nights: The Husband and the Parrot

The most famous book in Arabic literature is “Arabian Nights,” a collection of stories that may have descended from an old Persian book called “Thousand and One Nights.” No one knows where the stories originally came or when they were first told. Most translations and collections are mere samples of the entire book. It is said that nobody can read all of “Arabian Nights” without dying. There are said to be a core of 270 tales with thousands of others that show up in different editions an collections.

No original or authoritative copy of Thousand and One Nights exists. Up until the Middle Ages the stories continued to be passed on orally, with different storytellers telling different stories, and did not take their present form until around 1400 when Egyptian scholars began writing the stories down. Arabic manuscripts that have survived from this period contain about 200 stories. The Middle Easter scholar Edward Said has accused European translations of the stories as being the source of many of the stereotypes and misconceptions about Arabs and Muslims.

Websites and Resources: Islamic, Arabic and Persian Literature Islamic and Arabic Literature at Cornell University ; Internet Islamic History Sourcebook ;
Wikipedia article on Islamic Literature Wikipedia ; Wikipedia article on Arabic Literature Wikipedia ; Wikipedia article on Persian Literature Wikipedia ; Persian literature at Encyclopædia Britannica ; Persian Literature & Poetry at / ; Arabic Poetry ; Arabic Poetry from Princeton ; Thousand and One Nights ; 1001 Nights ; Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, Burton, ; Islamic Stories

“The Arabian Nights,” translated by Sir Richard Francis Burton, full text on Sacred Texts and Project Gutenberg. “The Arabian Nights Entertainments,” translated by Andrew Lang

History of Arabian Nights

The fairy tales of Thousand and One Nights are believed to be mostly of Persian origin. The moral fables are distinctly Arabian. The tales of animals and beasts are thought to have come from India. Other stories are probably of Chinese, Japanese and Egyptian origin.

In the A.D. 8th century, stories of “Thousand and One Nights” were introduced to the court of Harun al-Rashid, the Caliph of Baghdad and one the greatest rulers during the Arab Golden Age. A great patron of the arts, Harun loved the stories and storytellers flattered him by making him a central character of many of the stories, often as a ruler traveling in disguises among his subjects.

The first tales from “Arabian Nights” formally reached the West in 1704 by way of Syria through French storyteller and orientalist Antoine Galland, who published a 12-volume “ Les Mille et Ue Nuits” with 1,000 stories between 1704 and 1717. Around 200 were from the Arabic version of the book. The other 800—including Sinbad and Aladdin—were collected through contacts in the Middle East.

Early manuscripts were translated into German and Dutch but were not widely read and dismissed as mere folk tales. More interest was taken in the book after Europeans became more interested in the Middle East and Charles Perrault published his book of fairy tales. Among those that read early editions were Hans Christian Anderson and Johann Goethe. Galland’s stories became popular but his translations were never completed.

In the 19th century, English translations of “Arabian Nights” were produced by Edward William Lane, John Paye and Sir Richard Burton. In his 16-volume translation of “The Arabian Nights”, Burton provided footnoted information on Muslim customs such as female circumcision, homosexuality and bestiality. The English version of the “Scented Garden Men's Hearts to Gladden”, he wrote would be "a marvelous repository of eastern wisdom: how eunuchs are made and married...female circumcision, the fellahs copulating with crocodiles."

Stories from Arabian Nights

Sir Richard Francis Burton: one of the English translators of Arabian Nights

The stories from “Arabian Nights” remain popular today. They include classical tales of adventure, magic and wealth set among exotic Eastern settings with harems, bazaars and luxurious palaces. Many people are familiar with the famous stories of Sinbad, Aladdin and Ali Babi through films and children stories without knowing anything about the originals.

Famous stories in the West from “Arabian Nights” include “Sinbad the Sailor”, “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”, and “Aladdin”. The famous tale of a flying carpet begins with three brothers—Prince Ali, Houssain and Ahmed—peering through an ivory tube and seeing that the princess the love was dying. To get to her as quickly possible the fly on a magic carpet. Lesser known stories include “ The Young King of the Black Isles”, “The Three Sisters”, “The Enchanted Horse” and “Prince Ahmen and Periebanou” .

Paul Brians of the Department of English of Washington State University wrote: “The sprawling, untidy collection of stories known throughout the Arab-speaking world as the “Thousand and One Nights” (and in English long called The Arabian Nights) evolved over a long period of time, and it is impossible to say just when a particular story was written. Because the collection reached its more or less definitive form in the 16th century we have chosen to place this example here. Such tales of magic as "Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp" and "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" are actually quite unrepresentative of the bulk of the Nights. Most are decidedly adult tales of scandal and treachery, often involving faithless women. It is an irony that cultures which depict women as irrepressibly sexual (including European culture, with its Decameron and other story collections), simultaneously tend to portray them as highly intelligent; for in a repressive patriarchal society it takes a good deal of cleverness to break the rules successfully. [Source: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook,]

Sultan Shahriyar, Scheherazade and the Historic Fart

Scheherazade and Sultan Shahriyar

The heroine of “Thousand and One Nights” is Scheherazade, the daughter of a grand vizier of a kingdom between Arabia and China. She is described as "learned, prudent and witty." The ruler of the kingdom is Sultan Shahriyar, who is deeply in love with his wife and feels deeply betrayed by her when he witnesses her having sex with a slave. Deeply hurt the sultan decides to take revenge on all women by having a new young women brought to him each night only to have her executed the following morning. Fed up with the sultan's cruelty, Scheherazade hatches a plan. She tells her father to offer her and sister to the sultan. Against his own wishes the vizier acquiesces. Both sisters sleep with the sultan.

As the time for Scheherazade execution approaches, her sister asks her tell a story. Her plan is to tell a story until it reaches its most suspenseful point and then stop. To hear the end of the tale the sultan lets Scheherazade live another day so she can tell the end of the story. Scheherazade knows a lot of stories and she keeps this up 1001 nights. During that time she produced three sons for the sultan, who ultimately becomes convinced of her womanly virtue and ends his campaign against women and the couple lives happily ever after.

Shibam, 40 kilometers miles northwest of San’a, Yemen, is a small town that sits on the edge of basin, surrounded by 3000-meter-high mountains and was the center of a number of small, ancient kingdoms in pre-Islamic times. The town was featured in the only “Thousand and One Nights” tale set in Yemen: the story of a man who let out a massive, smelly fart in the middle of a huge wedding. He was so embarrassed he mounted his horse and rode all the way to India. After many years there he decided to return to his beloved home. Just as he enters he dismounts from his horse and overhears a conversation in a house: a young girl asks her mother to tell her the story again about the “historic fart.” The man, horrified his fart had become immortalized, hopped back on his horse and rides off never to return.

Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp

In “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp,” Aladdin is a poor troublemaker. who is recruited by a sorcerer from the Maghreb (who passes himself off as the brother of Aladdin's late father) to retrieve a wonderful oil lamp from a booby-trapped magic cave. After the sorcerer attempts to double-cross him, Aladdin finds himself trapped in the cave. Fortunately, Aladdin retains a magic ring lent to him by the sorcerer. When he rubs his hands in despair, he inadvertently rubs the ring, and a djinni (genie) appears, who takes him home to his mother. Aladdin is still carrying the lamp, and when his mother tries to clean it, a second, far more powerful djinni appears, who is bound to do the bidding of the person holding the lamp. With the aid of the djinni of the lamp, Aladdin becomes rich and powerful and marries princess Badroulbadour, the Emperor's daughter. The djinni builds Aladdin a wonderful palace - far more magnificent than that of the Emperor himself. [Source: Jingizu, Yahoo Answers]

The sorcerer returns and is able to get his hands on the lamp by tricking Aladdin's wife, who is unaware of the lamp's importance, by offering to exchange "new lamps for old". He orders the djinni of the lamp to take the palace to his home in the Maghreb. Fortunately, Aladdin retains the magic ring and is able to summon the lesser djinni. Although the djinni of the ring cannot directly undo any of the magic of the djinni of the lamp, he is able to transport Aladdin to Maghreb, and help him recover his wife and the lamp and defeat the sorcerer.

There are many variations of the story, including popular pantomime incarnations. There are some who believe that “Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp” was penned by the 18th century Frenchman Antoine Galland rather than from Indian, Arab or Persian folklore.” The “Arabian Nights” Aladdin story is set in China . In Disney's 1992 version several characters are renamed and/or amalgamated (for instance the Sorcerer and the Sultan's vizier become the same person, while the Princess becomes "Jasmine"), characters have new motivations for their actions (the Lamp Genie now desires freedom from his role) or are simply replaced (the Ring Genie disappears, but a magic carpet fills his place in the plot). The setting is moved from China to the fictional Arabian city of Agrabah, and the structure of the plot is simplified.

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves

Open Sesame

Ali Baba, a poor woodcutter was in the forest when he saw forty thieves stop in front of a cave. The leader said “Open Sesame!” and before Ali Baba’s amazed eyes the sealed mouth of the cave magically opened and the men disappeared inside. To come out and close the entrance, the leader said “Close Sesame” and the cave sealed itself once more. Trembling with excitement Ali Baba waited till the thieves had left and then entered the cave after saying the magic words. To his delight he found lots of treasure. [Source:]

Ali Baba told his brother Kasim about the wondrous cave. Kasim set off to get some treasure for himself too. Sadly, he forgot the words to leave the cave and the thieves killed him. Ali Baba discovered his brother’s body in the cave. With the help of a slave girl called Morgiana, he was able to take Kasim’s body back home and bury it.

Realising that someone else knew about their cave the thieves tracked Ali Baba down. The leader, disguised as an oil seller stayed with Ali Baba. He had brought along mules loaded with forty oil jars containing the other thieves. Clever Morgiana knew who the oil seller really was and poured boiling oil into the jars killing the other thieves. While dancing in front of the leader of the thieves Morgiana stabbed him. Ali Baba was saved and lived happily ever after.

Sinbad the Sailor

Sinbad the Sailor, also known as Sinbad of the Sea, is one of most beloved characters from “Arabian Nights”. “My destiny makes a strange tale,” he says. Some believe that Sinbad was a composite of historical figures or merchants and sea captain who sailed in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean between the 8th and 11the centuries. Some say he was born in Oman.

Sinbad took seven voyages. He endured shipwrecks, cannibalism, near starvation, and attacks by monsters, apes and giant birds and serpents. After each trip he settled down, “used life joyously, eating prime meats, drinking delicately, lying softy and dressing rich,” until he got the urge to take to the sea again. When he finally retired he said he had experienced “an excess of marvel” as was “definitely cured..of any further desire to travel.”

In effort to reconstruct the journey possibly taken by sailors that inspired the Sinbad tale, adventurer Timer Severin sailed 6,000 miles from Oman to China in 1980 and 1981 in a ship modeled after a merchant ship depicted in a 13th century manuscript. [Source: Tim Severin, National Geographic, October 1982]

The voyage from Muscat to Guangzhou, with stops in southern India, Sri Lanka, Sumatra, and Malaysia, took seven and a half months. Along the way the modern Sinbads endured broken sails, the doldrums, storms and pirates.

Highlights of Sinbad’s Voyages

On his second voyage, Sinbad's ship finds the large egg of a giant bird called a roc. A merchant accompanying Sinbad kills the bird inside the egg. This angers its parents who drop rocks on Sinbad' ship and sink it. Marooned on the island home of the roc, Sinbad ties himself to the sleeping roc and is airlifted away. Of the roc, he said “It rose and rose until I thought that I was about to touch the vault of Heaven.” Sinbad lands in a valley full of diamonds. He then escapes from huge groups of snakes that guard the a valley filledbut manages to escape emerged with his pockets full of precious stones. Sri Lanka is believed to be the site of Sinbad’s adventures in the valley of the diamonds. There are pits there where sapphires are found that are often full of snakes.

On his forth voyage, Sinbad is shipwrecked off an island and is captured by cannibals. Realizing his crew is being fattened up, Sinbad is offered food but refuses while his crew feasts. During his escape Sinbad sees his crew on all fours eating grass like cattle. Sumatra is believed to be the site Sinbad’s run in with cannibals. There are tribes that are said to have once been cannibals.

On his fifth voyage, Sinbad is captured in a forest by a manlike creature, known as the Old Man of the Sea, with rough black skin. It eats wild fruit and can not talk. Sumatra is believed to be the site of this story too. The manlike creature perhaps were based on orangutans.

On his sixth voyage, Sinbad is shipwrecked on an island and captured by pirates and sold into slavery to ivory traders. They traders force Sinbad to go into the forest everyday and kill and an elephant. Eventually some elephant show Sinbad a secret graveyard so he can obtain the ivory without killing any elephants. Sri Lanka is also believed to be the site of Sinbad’s adventures in the elephant graveyard. On his seventh voyage, Sinbad encounters a marine monster with a mouth “like a valley between two hills.” The monster nearly swallows his ship.

Little Hunchback

“The Little Hunchback” from “Arabian Nights” goes: In the kingdom of Kashgar, which is, as everybody knows, situated on the frontiers of Great Tartary, there lived long ago a tailor and his wife who loved each other very much. One day, when the tailor was hard at work, a little hunchback came and sat at the entrance of the shop, and began to sing and play his tambourine. The tailor was amused with the antics of the fellow, and thought he would take him home to divert his wife. The hunchback having agreed to his proposal, the tailor closed his shop and they set off together. []

“When they reached the house they found the table ready laid for supper, and in a very few minutes all three were sitting before a beautiful fish which the tailor's wife had cooked with her own hands. But unluckily, the hunchback happened to swallow a large bone, and, in spite of all the tailor and his wife could do to help him, died of suffocation in an instant. Besides being very sorry for the poor man, the tailor and his wife were very much frightened on their own account, for if the police came to hear of it the worthy couple ran the risk of being thrown into prison for wilful murder. In order to prevent this dreadful calamity they both set about inventing some plan which would throw suspicion on some one else, and at last they made up their minds that they could do no better than select a Jewish doctor who lived close by as the author of the crime. So the tailor picked up the hunchback by his head while his wife took his feet andcarried him to the doctor's house. Then they knocked at the door, which opened straight on to a steep staircase. A servant soon appeared, feeling her way down the dark staircase and inquired what they wanted.

“"Tell your master," said the tailor, "that we have brought a very sick man for him to cure; and," he added, holding out some money, "give him this in advance, so that he may not feel he is wasting his time." The servant remounted the stairs to give the message to the doctor, and the moment she was out of sight the tailor and his wife carried the body swiftly after her, propped it up at the top of the staircase, and ran home as fast as their legs could carry them. Now the doctor was so delighted at the news of a patient (for he was young, and had not many of them), that he was transported with joy. "Get a light," he called to the servant, "and follow me as fast as you can!" and rushing out of his room he ran towards the staircase. There he nearly fell over the body of the hunchback, and without knowing what it was gave it such a kick that it rolled right to the bottom, and very nearly dragged the doctor after it. "A light! a light!" he cried again, and when it was brought and he saw what he had done he was almost beside himself with terror. "Holy Moses!" he exclaimed, "why did I not wait for the light? I have killed the sick man whom they brought me; and if the sacred Ass of Esdras does not come to my aid I am lost! It will not be long before I am led to jail as a murderer."

“Agitated though he was, and with reason, the doctor did not forget to shut the house door, lest some passers-by might chance to see what had happened. He then took up the corpse and carried it into his wife's room, nearly driving her crazy with fright. "It is all over with us!" she wailed, "if we cannot find some means of getting the body out of the house. Once let the sun rise and we can hide it no longer! How were you driven to commit such a terrible crime?"

“"Never mind that," returned the doctor, "the thing is to find a way out of it." For a long while the doctor and his wife continued to turn over in their minds a way of escape, but could not find any that seemed good enough. At last the doctor gave it up altogether and resigned himself to bear the penalty of his misfortune.

“But his wife, who had twice his brains, suddenly exclaimed, "I have thought of something! Let us carry the body on the roof of the house and lower it down the chimney of our neighbour the Mussulman." Now this Mussulman was employed by the Sultan, and furnished his table with oil and butter. Part of his house was occupied by a great storeroom, where rats and mice held high revel. The doctor jumped at his wife's plan, and they took up the hunchback, and passing cords under his armpits they let him down into the purveyor's bed-room so gently that he really seemed to be leaning against the wall. When they felt he was touching the ground they drew up the cords and left him.

“Scarcely had they got back to their own house when the purveyor entered his room. He had spent the evening at a wedding feast, and had a lantern in his hand. In the dim light it cast he was astonished to see a man standing in his chimney, but being naturally courageous he seized a stick and made straight for the supposed thief. "Ah!" he cried, "so it is you, and not the rats and mice, who steal my butter. I'll take care that you don't want to come back!" So saying he struck him several hard blows. The corpse fell on the floor, but the man only redoubled his blows, till at length it occurred to him it was odd that the thief should lie so still and make no resistance. Then, finding he was quite dead, a cold fear took possession of him. "Wretch that I am," said he, "I have murdered a man. Ah, my revenge has gone too far. Without tho help of Allah I am undone! Cursed be the goods which have led me to my ruin." And already he felt the rope round his neck.

“But when he had got over the first shock he began to think of some way out of the difficulty, and seizing the hunchback in his arms he carried him out into the street, and leaning him against the wall of a shop he stole back to his own house, without once looking behind him. A few minutes before the sun rose, a rich Christian merchant, who supplied the palace with all sorts of necessaries, left his house, after a night of feasting, to go to the bath. Though he was very drunk, he was yet sober enough to know that the dawn was at hand, and that all good Mussulmen would shortly be going to prayer. So he hastened his steps lest he should meet some one on his way to the mosque, who, seeing his condition, would send him to prison as a drunkard. In his haste he jostled against the hunchback, who fell heavily upon him, and the merchant, thinking he was being attacked by a thief, knocked him down with one blow of his fist. He then called loudly for help, beating the fallen man all the while.

“The chief policeman of the quarter came running up, and found a Christian ill-treating a Mussulman. "What are you doing?" he asked indignantly. "He tried to rob me," replied the merchant, "and very nearly choked me." "Well, you have had your revenge," said the man, catching hold of his arm. "Come, be off with you!" As he spoke he held out his hand to the hunchback to help him up, but the hunchback never moved. "Oho!" he went on, looking closer, "so this is the way a Christian has the impudence to treat a Mussulman!" and seizing the merchant in a firm grasp he took him to the inspector of police, who threw him into prison till the judge should be out of bed and ready to attend to his case. All this brought the merchant to his senses, but the more he thought of it the less he could understand how the hunchback could have died merely from the blows he had received.

“The merchant was still pondering on this subject when he was summoned before the chief of police and questioned about his crime, which he could not deny. As the hunchback was one of the Sultan's private jesters, the chief of police resolved to defer sentence of death until he had consulted his master. He went to the palace to demand an audience, and told his story to the Sultan, who only answered, "There is no pardon for a Christian who kills a Mussulman. Do your duty." So the chief of police ordered a gallows to be erected, and sent criers to proclaim in every street in the city that a Christian was to be hanged that day for having killed a Mussulman.

“When all was ready the merchant was brought from prison and led to the foot of the gallows. The executioner knotted the cord firmly round the unfortunate man's neck and was just about to swing him into the air, when the Sultan's purveyor dashed through the crowd, and cried, panting, to the hangman, "Stop, stop, don't be in such a hurry. It was not he who did the murder, it was I."

The chief of police, who was present to see that everything was in order, put several questions to the purveyor, who told him the whole story of the death of the hunchback, and how he had carried the body to the place where it had been found by the Christian merchant. "You are going," he said to the chief of police, "to kill an innocent man, for it is impossible that he should have murdered a creature who was dead already. It is bad enough for me to have slain a Mussulman without having it on my conscience that a Christian who is guiltless should suffer through my fault." Now the purveyor's speech had been made in a loud voice, and was heard by all the crowd, and even if he had wished it, the chief of police could not have escaped setting the merchant free. "Loose the cords from the Christian's neck," he commanded, turning to the executioner, "and hang this man in his place, seeing that by his own confession he is the murderer."

“The hangman did as he was bid, and was tying the cord firmly, when he was stopped by the voice of the Jewish doctor beseeching him to pause, for he had something very important to say. When he had fought his way through the crowd and reached the chief of police, "Worshipful sir," he began, "this Mussulman whom you desire to hang is unworthy of death; I alone am guilty. Last night a man and a woman who were strangers to me knocked at my door, bringing with them a patient for me to cure. The servant opened it, but having no light was hardly able to make out their faces, though she readily agreed to wake me and to hand me the fee for my services. While she was telling me her story they seem to have carried the sick man to the top of the staircase and then left him there. I jumped up in a hurry without waiting for a lantern, and in the darkness I fell against something, which tumbled headlong down the stairs and never stopped till it reached the bottom. When I examined the body I found it was quite dead, and the corpse was that of a hunchback Mussulman. Terrified at what we had done, my wife and I took the body on the roof and let it down the chimney of our neighbour the purveyor, whom you were just about to hang. The purveyor, finding him in his room, naturally thought he was a thief, and struck him such a blow that the man fell down and lay motionless on the floor. Stooping to examine him, and finding him stone dead, the purveyor supposed that the man had died from the blow he had received; but of course this was a mistake, as you will see from my account, and I only am the murderer; and although I am innocent of any wish to commit a crime, I must suffer for it all the same, or else have the blood of two Musselmans on my conscience. Therefore send away this man, I pray you, and let me take his place, as it is I who am guilty."

“On hearing the declaration of the Jewish doctor, the chief of police commanded that he should be led to the gallows, and the Sultan's purveyor go free. The cord was placed round the Jew's neck, and his feet had already ceased to touch the ground when the voice of the tailor was heard beseeching the executioner to pause one moment and to listen to what he had to say. "Oh, my lord," he cried, turning to the chief of police, "how nearly have you caused the death of three innocent people! But if you will only have the patience to listen to my tale, you shall know who is the real culprit. If some one has to suffer, it must be me! Yesterday, at dusk, I was working in my shop with a light heart when the little hunchback, who was more than half drunk, came and sat in the doorway. He sang me several songs, and then I invited him to finish the evening at my house. He accepted my invitation, and we went away together. At supper I helped him to a slice of fish, but in eating it a bone stuck in his throat, and in spite of all we could do he died in a few minutes. We felt deeply sorry for his death, but fearing lest we should be held responsible, we carried the corpse to the house of the Jewish doctor. I knocked, and desired the servant to beg her master to come down as fast as possible and see a sick man whom we had brought for him to cure; and in order to hasten his movements I placed a piece of money in her hand as the doctor's fee. Directly she had disappeared I dragged the body to the top of the stairs, and then hurried away with my wife back to our house. In descending the stairs the doctor accidentally knocked over the corpse, and finding him dead believed that he himself was the murderer. But now you know the truth set him free, and let me die in his stead."

“The chief of police and the crowd of spectators were lost in astonishment at the strange events to which the death of the hunchback had given rise. "Loosen the Jewish doctor," said he to the hangman, "and string up the tailor instead, since he has made confession of his crime. Really, one cannot deny that this is a very singular story, and it deserves to be written in letters of gold."

The executioner speedily untied the knots which confined the doctor, and was passing the cord round the neck of the tailor, when the Sultan of Kashgar, who had missed his jester, happened to make inquiry of his officers as to what had become of him. "Sire," replied they, "the hunchback having drunk more than was good for him, escaped from the palace and was seen wandering about the town, where this morning he was found dead. A man was arrested for having caused his death, and held in custody till a gallows was erected. At the moment that he was about to suffer punishment, first one man arrived, and then another, each accusing themselves of the murder, and this went on for a long time, and at the present instant the chief of police is engaged in questioning a man who declares that he alone is the true assassin."

“The Sultan of Kashgar no sooner heard these words than he ordered an usher to go to the chief of police and to bring all the persons concerned in the hunchback's death, together with the corpse, that he wished to see once again. The usher hastened on his errand, but was only just in time, for the tailor was positively swinging in the air, when his voice fell upon the silence of the crowd, commanding the hangman to cut down the body. The hangman, recognising the usher as one of the king's servants, cut down the tailor, and the usher, seeing the man was safe, sought the chief of police and gave him the Sultan's message. Accordingly, the chief of police at once set out for the palace, taking with him the tailor, the doctor, the purveyor, and the merchant, who bore the dead hunchback on their shoulders.

“When the procession reached the palace the chief of police prostrated himself at the feet of the Sultan, and related all that he knew of the matter. The Sultan was so much struck by the circumstances that he ordered his private historian to write down an exact account of what had passed, so that in the years to come the miraculous escape of the four men who had thought themselves murderers might never be forgotten. The Sultan asked everybody concerned in the hunchback's affair to tell him their stories. Among others was a prating barber, whose tale of one of his brothers follows.

In What Sense Can this Adulterous Woman Be Called Faithful?

Paul Brians of the Department of English of Washington State University wrote: “ Such tales of magic as "Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp" and "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" are actually quite unrepresentative of the bulk of the Nights. Most are decidedly adult tales of scandal and treachery, often involving faithless women. It is an irony that cultures which depict women as irrepressibly sexual (including European culture, with its Decameron and other story collections), simultaneously tend to portray them as highly intelligent; for in a repressive patriarchal society it takes a good deal of cleverness to break the rules successfully. This story stands out in depicting sympathetically a heroine who manages to cleverly make fools of her would-be lovers by developing her own unique defense against sexual harassment. [Source: Translated by Richard Burton, revised by Paul Brians , excerpted from “Reading About the World, Volume 2,” edited by Paul Brians, Michael Blair, Douglas Hughes, Michael Neville, Roger Schlesinger, Alice Spitzer, and Susan Swan and published by HarperCollinsCustomBooks. Internet Islamic History Sourcebook,]

“In What Sense Can this Adulterous Woman Be Called Faithful?” from “Thousand and One Nights” goes: A woman of the merchant class was married to a man who was a great traveler. Once he set out for a far country and was absent so long that his wife, out of sheer boredom, fell in love with a handsome young man, and they loved each other exceedingly. One day, the youth quarreled with another man, who lodged a complaint against him with the Chief of Police, and he cast him into prison. When the news came to the merchant's wife, she nearly lost her mind. Then she arose and--putting on her richest clothes--went to the house of the Chief of Police. She Greeted him and presented him with a petition which read, "The man you have imprisoned is my brother So-and-So, who had a fight with someone; but those who testified against him lied. He has been wrongfully imprisoned, and I have no one else to live with or to support me; therefore I beg you graciously to release him."

“When the Chief had read the petition, he looked at her and immediately fell in love with her; so he said to her, "Go into my house, till I bring him out; then I will send for you and you may take him away." "O, my lord," she replied, "I have no one to protect me except almighty God. I cannot enter any strange man's home." “The Chief said, "I will not let him go unless you come to my home and let me do what I will with you." “She answered, "If it must be, you must come to my home and sleep through the afternoon and evening there." "And where is your home?" he asked; and she answered, "At such-and-such a place," and arranged a time for him to come. “Then she left him, who had entirely fallen in love with her, and went to the Cadi of the city, to whom she said, "O, our lord the Cadi!" “He said, "Yes?" and she continued, "Examine my case and you will be rewarded God." “He said, "Who has wronged you?" and she replied, "O my lord, I have a brother, my only brother, and it is on his behalf that I come to you, because the Chief has imprisoned him as a criminal and men have borne false witness against him, claiming that he is an evil man, and I beg you to intercede for him with the Chief of Police."

“When the Cadi gazed at her, he immediately fell in love with her and said, "Go into the house and rest awhile with the women in my harm while I send to the Chief to release your brother. If I knew how much his fine was, I would pay it myself out of my own purse sot that I could enjoy you, for your sweet speech greatly pleases me.: She said, "If you, O my lord, are to behave in this way, we would not be able to blame others." Said he, "If you will not come in, go away." Then she said, "If you insist, O our lord, it will be better and more private at my place than in yours, for here there are slave-girls and eunuchs and people coming and going; and indeed I am not this sort of woman, but I see that I must give in." The Cadi asked, "And where is your house?" and she answered, "In such-and-such a place, and set for him the same day and time as the Chief of Police.

“Then she went from him to the Vizier, to whom she offered her petition for the release from prison of her brother, who was absolutely necessary to her; but he also demanded she give herself to him, saying "Allow me to do what I will with you and I will set your brother free." She said, "If you insist, let it be in my house, for there we shall both have more privacy. It is not far away, and you I will wash and dress myself properly for you. He asked, "Where is your house." "In such-and-such a place," she answered, and set the same time for as for the two others.

“Then she left him to go to the King and told him her story and sought her brother's release. "Who imprisoned him?" he asked; and she replied, "It was the Chief of Police." When the King heard her speech, it pierced his heart with arrows of love, and he asked her to enter this private chamber with him so that he might send to the Cadi to have her brother released. But she said, "O King, everything is easy for you, whether I agree or not; and if the King indeed wants me, I am fortunate; but if he will come to my house he will do me more honor by entering it, as the poet says: "O my friends, have you seen or have you heard of his visit whose virtues I hold so high?" The King said, "I do not disagree." So she set for him the same time as the three others and told him where her house was.

“Then she left him and sought out a carpenter, and told him "I want you to make me a cabinet with four compartments, one above the other, each with a door that can be locked. Let me know how much it will cost and I will pay it." He replied, "My price is four dinars; but, sweet lady, if you will grant me your favors, I will charge you nothing." She answered, "If it is absolutely necessary, I will agree; but in that case make five compartments with their padlocks," and she told him to bring it exactly on the day required. He said, "This is well; sit down, O my lady, and I will make it for you immediately, and then will come with you." So she sat down by him while he began working on the cabinet; and when he had finished it she asked to have it carried home at once and set up in her sitting-room. Then she took four gowns and carried them to the dyer, who dyed each of them a different color; after which she prepared meat and drink, fruits, flowers, and perfumes.

“Now when the appointed day came, she put on her costliest dress and adorned herself and scented herself, then spread the sitting-room with various kinds of rich carpets and sat down to await who should come. The Cadi was the first to appear; and when she saw him, she rose to her feet and kissed the ground before him. Then, taking him by the hand, made him sit down by her on the couch and lay with him and fell to joking and toying with him. Soon he wanted to fulfill his desires with her, but she said, "O my lord, take off your clothes and turban and put on this yellow robe and bonnet(1), while I bring you food and drink, and then you shall do what you will." So saying, she took his clothes and turban and dressed him in the robe and bonnet; but hardly had she done this when there was a knocking at the door.

“He asked, "Who is that knocking at the door?" and she answered, "My husband!" "What shall I do? Where shall I go?" the Cadi said. "Have no fear," she replied;" I will hide you in this cabinet;" and he answered, "Do whatever you think necessary." So she took him by the hand, and pushing him into the lowest compartment, locked he door on him. Then she went to the door of the house, where she found the Chief; so she kissed the ground before him, and taking his hand, brought him into the sitting-room and said to him, "O my lord, make this house your own, this place you place, and I will be your servant. You shall spend all days with me; so take off your clothes and put on this red sleeping gown." So she took away his clothes and made him put on the red gown and set on his head an old patched rag she happened to have; after which she sat by him on the divan and they toyed with each other until he reached to touch her intimately, whereupon she said to him, "O our lord, this is your day, and no one will share it with us; but first, if you will be so kind and generous, write me an order for my brother's release from jail so that my heart can rest easy." He said, "I hear and obey, by my head and eyes!" and wrote a letter to his treasurer saying, "As soon as this communication reaches you, set So-and-so free, without delay. Do not even wait to give the messenger an answer." Then he sealed it and she took it from him, after which she began to toy with him on the divan again when someone suddenly knocked at the door.

“"Who is that?" he asked; and she answered, "My husband." "What shall I do?" he asked, and she replied, "Enter this cabinet, till is end him away and return to you." So she set him up in the second compartment from the bottom and padlocked the door; and meanwhile the Cadi heard everything they said. Then she went to the house door and opened it, and in entered the Vizier. She kissed the ground before him and received him with all honor, saying "O my lord, you flatter us by coming to our house; may God never deprive us of the light of your countenance!" Then she seated him on the divan and said to him, "O my lord, take off your heavy clothes and turban and put on these lighter garments." So he took off his clothes and turban and she dressed him in a blue shirt and a tall red bonnet, and said to him, "Those were your official robes; so leave them be for their own time and put on this light gown which is more suitable for carousing and making merry and sleep." Then they began to play with each other, and he was just about to take her when she put him off by saying, "We will get to that."

“As they were talking there came a knock at the door, and the Vizier asked her, "Who is that?" to which she replied, "My husband." "What is to be done?" he said; and she answered, "Hide in this cabinet until I can get rid of him and come back to you; don't be afraid." So she put him in the third compartment and locked the door on him, after which she went out and opened the house door, and in came the King. As soon as she saw him she kissed the ground before him, and taking him by the hand, led him into the sitting-room and seated him on the divan at the far end. Then she said to him, "Truly, O King, you honor us highly, and whatever we might give you of all the world contains would not be worth a single one of your steps toward us." And when he had sat down on the divan she said, "Permit me to say one thing."

“"Whatever you wish," he answered; and she said, "O my lord, relax and take off your robe and turban." His clothes were worth a thousand dinars; but when he took them off she dressed him in a patched gown worth ten dirhams at the very most, and began talking and joking with him. All this time the men in the cabinet heard everything that went on but did not dare to say a word. Soon the King placed his hand on her breast and sought to fulfill his desire for her; but she said "We will do this soon, but first I promised myself that I would entertain you properly in this room, and I have something to please you."

“As they were speaking, someone knocked at the door and he asked her, "Who is that? "My husband," she answered; and he said, "Make him go away voluntarily, or I will go out and force him to go away." She replied, "No, O my lord, be patient while I send him away using my cleverness." "And what shall I do?" asked the King; whereupon she took him by the hand and, making him enter the fourth compartment of the cabinet, locked it upon him. “Then she went out and opened the house door to the carpenter, who entered and greeted her. She said, "What kind of a cabinet is this you've made me?" "What's wrong with it, O my lady?" he asked; and she answered, "The top compartment is too narrow." He replied, "No it isn't," and she answered, "Get in yourself and see; you cannot fit in it." He answered, "it is wise enough for four," and entered the fifth compartment, whereupon she locked the door on him.

“Then she took the letter of the Chief of Police and carried it to the treasurer who, having read and understood it, kissed it and delivered her lover to her. She told him all she had done and he said, "But what shall we do now?" She answered, "We will move away to another city, for after all this we cannot remain here." So the two of them packed up what possessions they had and, loading them on camels, set out immediately for another city.

“Meanwhile, the five men remained each in his compartment of the cabinet without eating or drinking for three whole days, during which time they held their water, until at last the carpenter couldn't hold back any longer, so he pissed on the King's head, and the King pissed on the Vizier's head, and the Vizier pissed on the Chief, and the Chief pissed on the Cadi, whereupon the Cadi shouted, "What filth is this? Isn't it bad enough that we are trapped like this that you have to piss all over us?" The Chief of Police recognized the Cadi's voice and answered, "May God reward you, O Cadi!" And when the Cadi heard him, he knew it was the Chief. Then the Chief shouted, "What's the meaning of this filth?" and the Vizier replied, "May God reward you, O Chief!" so that he recognized him as the Vizier. Then the Vizier shouted "What is this nastiness?" But when the King heard his Vizier's voice he recognized it, so he kept silent to conceal his plight.

“Then the vizier said, "May God curse this woman for the way she has dealt with us. She has brought together here all the chief officials of the state, except the King. Said the King, "Silence! For I was the first one to be entrapped by this shameless whore." At this the carpenter cried out, "And what have I done? I made her a cabinet for four gold pieces, and when I came to get my pay, she tricked me into entering this compartment and locked the door on me." And they began talking with each other, diverting the King and reducing his shame.

“Soon, however, the neighbors came by the house and noticed it was deserted. They said to one another, "Only yesterday, our neighbor the wife of So-and-so was home; but no we cannot hear or see anyone. Let's break down the doors and see what is the matter; or news of the case may come to the Chief of the King, and we will be thrown into prison to regret that we had not taken action earlier." So they broke down the doors and entered the sitting room, where they saw a large wooden cabinet and heard the men in it groaning with hunger and thirst. Then one of them said, "Is there a Genie (2) in this cabinet?" and another said, "Let's pile fuel around it and burn it up."

“When the Cadi heard this, he cried out, "Don't!" and they said to each other, "The Genies pretend they are mortals and speak with the voices of men." Thereupon the Cadi recited a passage from the Blessed Qur'an, and said to the neighbors, "Come closer to the cabinet." So they came closer, and he told him, "I am So-and-so the Cadi, and you are so and so, and here we are all together." The neighbors said, "Who put you in here?" And he told them the whole story from beginning to end. They brought a carpenter to open the five doors and let out the Cadi, the Vizier, the Chief, the King and the carpenter in their bizarre robes; and each one, when he saw how the others were dressed, began laughing at them. She had taken away all their clothes; so all of them sent to their homes for fresh clothing and put it on and went out, shielding themselves from people's eyes.

Efforts to Censor Arabian Nights in Egypt

In some places, conservative Muslims have launched campaigns to "purify" “Arabian Nights” "The book contains profanities that cannot be acceptable in Egyptian society," Egyptian lawyer Ayman Abdel-Hakim told the Los Angeles Times, referring to a poem in the story collection about a woman who challenges men to fulfill her sexual desires. "We understand that this kind of literature is acceptable in the West, but here we have a different culture and different religion."[Source: Amro Hassan and Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, July 11, 2010 /]

Reporting from Cairo, Amro Hassan and Jeffrey Fleishman wrote in the Los Angeles Times, Hakeem is a member of Lawyers Without Shackles, a group determined to delete salacious passages from contemporary literature and cherished classics. Its campaign against” "The Arabian Nights," “is part of a religious conservatism that has been growing in Egypt since the mid-1990s. The lawyers don't expect to win many cases — Egypt's government is vigilant against hints of extremism — but say they are duty-bound to use lawsuits to protect society from anti-Islamic tendencies.Mohamed Salmawy, president of the Egyptian Writers Union, counters that it is cultural sacrilege to fiddle with an epic that was generations in the making. and grew to include "The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor," "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves," "The Islamist movement's real target is to get back at intellectuals," Salmawy said. "The Taliban ruined the Buddha statues in Afghanistan, and these people here are trying to destroy an equally important monument of our heritage." /

“Egypt's prosecutor general, Abdel-Maguid Mahmoud, recently dismissed a complaint brought to him by Lawyers Without Shackles against a publishing house affiliated with the Ministry of Culture. The group sought to ban a new edition of "The Arabian Nights" or excise "obscene" passages so as not to incite "vice and sin" among readers. The prosecutor held that the tales have been published in Egypt for centuries without any danger to public morality. A previous court verdict in 1986 allowed the publishing of another edition of the 'Nights' that was based on the same original writings we used for the 2010 edition," said Suzanne Abdel-Aal, one of the editors of the recent release. The 'Arabian Nights' case was hastened through the court and thrown out two months after it was filed. That's because it was against a state-run [agency], whereas someone like me had to scuffle in court for years before winning," she said. "I wasn't intimidated, but I know many writers who've grown afraid to express their real opinions because of cases like these." /

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Arab News, Jeddah; "A History of the Arab Peoples" by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); "Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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