Once there was a weak old man who was very sick. He went to an hakim (a traditional physician) and said, “I am very ill. Please help me!"
The hakim took his pulse and examined his tongue.
Then he asked, "What did you eat last night?"
"What did you have for breakfast?" asked the hakim.
The hakim saw that not only was the old man sick, but he was also starving and spiritless. It was as though he were about to collapse and pass away from lack of food and energy.
The man of medicine felt sorry for the old man. In order not to increase his anxiety, the hakim said, "Do you know that your illness doesn't need any medicine or special diet? To get better, you should do want you want and eat whatever you like. If you do that, you'll get better."
"What you say is right," said the sick man, "but the fact is I can't eat anything I want or do what I want because I am a poor man."
The hakim felt even more pity for him. Since he did not want to increase the old man's discomfort at the end of his life, he said, "I meant that you shouldn't think about such things. If you depend on God, He will provide. In the meantime, you should enjoy life as much as you are able."
"God bless you, hakim! God bless you, for you have made me feel better.
"Yes, my good man," said the hakim. "That's it! May God make you well! Now, go wherever you want and fulfill your dreams."
"I want to go and look at meadows and flowing water," said the old man.
"Excellent!" said the hakim. "Go in good health!"
So, the old man, pleased with the hakim's advice, walked to some meadows and by a river admiring the scenery as he went. When he had gone a little way, he saw a dervish (a mystic) sitting on the riverbank. The dervish was bent over the river washing his face and hands.
The sick man looked at the back of the dervish's neck and saw that it was clean and smooth. He felt a sudden urge to slap the dervish on his neck. He knew that he shouldn't hit another man without reason, but he recalled the hakim's words, that the remedy for his condition was to do whatever he wanted to do and surrender to his whims.
The old man was unable to fight the impulse. He rolled up his sleeve, got closer, and slapped him on his neck.
The dervish, who had been busy washing his face and hands, managed not to fall into the water with great difficulty. He shouted in outrage at the blow and jumped up to grab his assailant and beat him up. But when he looked at the sick man who appeared to be at death's door, he realized that it might result in the old man's death if he took revenge. So, he seized his hand and said:
"Wretch! Don't you want to keep your head on your body? Why did you hit me without any provocation? Why did you do it? Are you crazy?"
"I don't know why I did it," said the sick man. “I just felt the urge, and the hakim had told me to whatever I felt like doing.."
“YOU DON’T KNOW!" cried the dervish. “I’ll let the judge decide!"
The dervish took the sick man's hand and dragged him to the house of the judge. He described what happened and finished up, saying, “And that is my complaint. Now, here is the culprit, and you are the judge. If you say that I should retaliate, then say so, and I'll do it. If not, what is to be done? I was afraid to hit him because he is so weak, I might kill him. In any event, it isn't right that in a city where there is a judge that a man should strike another without cause."
The judge looked at the sick man and knew that he could not order the dervish to hit him in retaliation as it could cause his death. So, he advised the dervish, saying, "Friend, you can't hit this sick old man because he might die, and then his blood would be on your head. Beating and imprisonment are for strong and healthy men, not for such as he. He's barely alive as it is. Come, forgive him. They say that there is a pleasure in forgiveness that is not to be found in revenge. Forgiveness is appropriate in a situation like this."
"Why should I forgive him?" responded the dervish angrily. "What sort of an unfair verdict are you delivering? If people hear about this, it will give an excuse to people to assault anyone they please. For every crime, there must be a punishment! I'll never forgive him! You must punish him!"
The judge shook his head. "It is as I've said. This man is ill and sick. He's on the point of death. You must withdraw your complaint."
The judge turned to the sick man and asked him, “How much money do you have?"
Sick man, "Nothing."
Judge, "What did you eat this morning?"
Sick man, "Nothing."
Turning to the dervish, the judge said, “Do you see?" “He is a poor and destitute man.” “I have to let him go.”
Then the judge asked the dervish, “How much money do you have?"
"Six dirhams," said the dervish. "Good," said the judge. “Give three dirhams to this sick man so that he may go to get something to eat. God will reward you for it."
"What a strange predicament I've fallen into!" protested the dervish. "He slaps me, and now I should pay him? This is unjust! What kind of judgment are you giving?
The judge and the dervish started to argue. While they were doing so, the sick old man was thinking. “It's clear that one slap is worth three dirhams."
Just then, the sick man’s eyes fell on the judge's neck and saw that it was brighter, smoother, and nicer than the dervish’s. Once again, he felt the urge to slap the neck. While the dervish and the judge were still shouting at each other, the sick man went around the judge's back and slapped the neck.
At this turn of events, the judge was very upset, but the dervish was delighted. He took out his six dirhams and said to the judge, "Take this. Three dirhams for the blow to you and the three for the blow he gave me.”
"What are you saying?" cried the judge. “Are you paying to have me beaten?"
"Yes," replied the dervish. "If a slap on the neck is right for one, it is right for all. If it is wrong for one, it is wrong for all. It's too bad I don't have any more money on me. If I had, I would have paid a hundred dirhams for him to hit you again. That would be right and just for such an unfair verdict! Then you might learn that whatever you don't approve of for yourself, you shouldn't approve of for others."
Adapted from "Rumi Stories for Young Adults from the Mathnawi."