Cheating by Candlelight

Ali was a generous and famous man in the district, but he had two friends, Jabbar and Kassim, who were inclined to be mean. These two friends often liked to dine at Ali’s house as Ali was a lavish host and had an excellent cook.

Whilst they ate, the three men would discuss everything under the sun One evening the talk happened to turn to the subject of ghosts. Ali firmly declared that there were no ghosts, but his friends argued loud and long that, of course, there were ghosts. After many arguments, Ali was challenged by his friends to test his convictions for a wager.

Finally, it was agreed that on the night of the next new moon, Ali was to spend the whole night in the graveyard, which was on the top of a nearby hill. Furthermore, he was to stay under a banyan tree there, which local superstition said was the home of ghosts, as numberless as the leaves on the tree. And finally, it was laid down that Ali was not to have any light and must spend the entire night in the darkness of the graveyard.

If Ali passed this test, which his friends would ensure he could not, they promised to treat Ali to a grand dinner. If, on the other hand, Al failed, then he was to provide his friends with a meal comprising of not less than twenty courses.

After an early dinner at Ali’s house, the three men set out for the graveyard on the night of the new moon. Arriving at the cemetery, they had no difficulty finding the ghostly banyan tree, and it was a dismal place for anyone to spend the night. The two friends, Jabbar and Kassim, quickly searched Ali to ensure he was not carrying candles and matches, then hurried away with a promise to come back at daybreak to see how Ali had fared.

After they had gone, Ali took off the string of beads he wore around his neck, spread a cloth on the ground, and, turning to the west, knelt and prayed to Allah. By the time Ali had finished his prayers, it was pretty late. In the distance, a jackal started to howl, and then other jackals joined in the chorus. Above his head, an owl dismally hooted, and the graveyard seemed full of unearthly sighs and rustling.

Ali began to get scared, but calling loudly on Allah to protect him, he sat down under the tree and closed his ears to the noises around him.

From where he sat, Ali could see the town below, with the lights in the houses going out, one by one, as the occupants went to bed until there was total darkness. But in one place, there was a lighted candle in the window, shining out into the night.

Ali watched this tiny light for hours and wondered why the people in that house should be awake at this time of night. He waited a long time to see this light go out, but he began to feel drowsy and soon fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

When Ali awakened, it was broad daylight, the birds were singing in the trees, and his two friends had already arrived. Ali rubbed his eyes, stretched his limbs, and in his heart, was thankful to the merciful Allah for protecting him through the night.

After greeting his friends, Ali exclaimed, ” By Allah’s grace, I have won !”

But his friends Jabbar and Kassim were evidently in no mood to concede that Ali had won the wager, and they started asking him questions.

“Brother, were you in complete darkness?” queried Kassim.

“Yes,” replied Ali.

“Are you sure?” asked Jabbar with a sly grin. “Was there not a lighted candle in the window of one of the houses?”

Ali once knew that his so-called friends had deliberately cheated him with the lighted candle. So he decided to teach them a lesson they would never forget.

“Yes,” said Ali, “I did see the candlelight.”

“Then you have lost the wager. His friends shouted. And now you will have to give us the twenty-course dinner!

Ali knew better than to argue with his friends, so he fixed the day and hour for dinner.

On the day of the dinner, Jabbar and Kassim, dressed in their finest robes, arrived at Ali’s house well on time. Ali, as usual, received them warmly and took them into the big hall. They talked for hours, but there was no sign of any food. At last, hunger pangs made them forget their manners and ask Ali when the food was coming.

“A twenty-course dinner takes a long time to prepare,” said Ali, “So you must be patient.”

The friends waited and waited, but still, there was no sign of any food, and Ali seemed quite content to sit and talk. Finally, the friends grew suspicious and told Ali they wanted to go to the kitchen to see what was happening with the food. So Ali took his friends to the kitchen.

What did Jabbar and Kassim find there? The cook was sitting in front of the stove, on which a big brass pot was placed, but only one small candle was burning inside the stove!

The two friends could not hide their disappointment and shout at the cook, “You fool, how can you cook a big dinner with the heat from just one candle?”

Ali turned to his friends and quietly said, “Brothers, do not be angry with the cook. If a candle at the foot of a hill can provide light to a man on the top of the hill, why cannot a candle under a pot cook the food in it?”

After that, Jabbar and Kassim were forever sorry that they had tried to cheat their good friend Ali, though he remained friendly towards them, never again invited them to dine at his house.

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