Stories 12: The Meaning of Prayer

The Moghul Emperor, Akbar, was one day out hunting in the forest. When it was time for evening prayer he dismounted, spread his mat on the earth and knelt to pray in the manner of devout Muslims everywhere.

Now it was precisely at this time that a peasant woman, perturbed by the disappearance of her husband who had left home that morning and hadn’t returned, went rushing by, anxiously searching for her husband. In her preoccupation she did not notice the kneeling figure of the Emperor and tripped over him, then got up and without a word of apology rushed further into the forest. Akbar was annoyed at this interruption but, being a good Muslim, he observed the rule of speaking to no one during the namaaz.

Now just about the time that his prayer was over the woman returned, joyful in the company of her husband whom she had found. She was surprised and frightened to see the Emperor and his entourage there. Akbar gave vent to his anger against her and shouted, “Explain your disrespectful behaviour or you will be punished.”

The woman suddenly turned fearless, looked into the Emperor’s eyes and said, “Your Majesty, I was so absorbed in the thought of my husband that I did not even see you here, not even when, as you say, I stumbled over you. Now while you were at namaaz, you were absorbed in one who is infinitely more precious than my husband. And how is it you noticed.

The Emperor was shamed into silence and later confided to his friends that a peasant woman,  who was neither a scholar nor a Mullah, had taught him the meaning of prayer.

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