A Short Story: The Ink of the Scholar

By: Rebecca Masterton

Since his retirement from teaching, Ibrahim had taken to studying the great figures of Islamic history and to writing about them in a way that might be easy for his grandchildren to understand.  This task had becoming all-absorbing and only the sound of the adh?n took his attention away from his work.  The adh?n emanated from the sanctified precincts of Sayyeda Zaynab’s shrine and resonated through the streets, almost stirring the dust, penetrating the thin walls of Ibrahim’s apartment, and he noticed, too, that the birds were always silent at that time.

Since he had retired, he had been able to concentrate on prayer.  His son deposited a little salary into his bank account, which he was able to live on if he was careful.  These days the world had ceased to mean very much to him, and even if some rude young boys might bump into him in the street, or someone might impatiently beep their horn at him when he was crossing the road, none of it seemed to matter; and soon he would be gone, and soon he would be forgotten.

He had noticed, too, that there was often a brilliant light in front of his eyes, when his forehead was pressed to the ground in suj?d.  He did not tell anybody about this, for fear of sounding as if he was bragging.  Then sometimes when he entered the shrine of Sayyeda Zaynab, with its crystal-like ceiling of fractured mirrors that echoed with the sobbing of women, he would sit quietly in a corner, contemplating, and a tremendous power would enter him, which melted his heart utterly and he would press his hand to his forehead as tears soaked into his cotton shirt.

What was to happen next to Ibrahim, however, he was unable to keep to himself.  It was one morning, after fajr, as the sky was turning blue and the air was growing hot, and he sat at his wooden desk, head bent closely over the page, stacks of history books and papers piled up around him, that he arrived at the moment where Sayyedna ‘Ali was about to be martyred.  It was a terrible thing to write about.  He felt his whole being gripped with apprehension.  He wanted to put it in simple language.  It was important to make it clear and easy to understand.  Ibn Muljam, the assassin, was sitting amongst the men as Sayyedna ‘Ali came out to lead the fajr prayer.  In an instant, before anyone knew what was happening, Ibn Muljam had leapt to his feet, at the same time raising his sword high above his head.  He brought it with full force down upon Sayyedna Ali’s skull and blood gushed down Sayyedna ‘Ali’s face.

And blood gushed down Sayyedna ‘Ali’s face As Ibrahim wrote these words his pen appeared to leak suddenly.  A pool of ink poured from the nib and smeared across the page.  Then he realised that it was not ink, but blood, for it was red.  He cried out, threw down the pen and flew back from the desk so quickly that he knocked his chair flying.

Without any further thought he rushed to living room, picked up the phone and dialled his son’s number.  His son was just about to leave for work.

"Ahmed!" Ibrahim cried. "Come quickly!  Something’s happened!"

"Baba what is it?  Are you all right?"

There could be no denying that the substance smeared across the page was blood.  When Ahmed saw it, his whole body went cold and he shivered violently.

"Ahmed", whispered Ibrahim with eyes wide, what does this mean, do you think?

But Ahmed could not reply, for at the sight of the blood, the full impact of Sayyedna ‘Ali’s assassination hit him as it had never done before in his life and he hurried from the room, choking.

News of the incident spread quickly throughout the neighbourhood and Ibrahim found that there was a constant knocking on his door by those who wanted to see what had happened.  He let people in to look at the sight of the pen left abandoned, the pool of blood, still strangely red, smeared across the page, and it had the same effect upon them as it had done Ahmed.  It was as if they were experiencing the event of Sayyedna ‘Ali’s assassination for the first time, and they left, covering their eyes with the ends of their scarves or their hands, crying as if their hearts had broken.  There were others, however, who came and looked at Ibrahim strangely.  They did not return his greeting, and once, one of them whispered to him: You are a liar, old man, and you will pay for your lies.

 Upon these words, he reflected, a few days later, that he must put the pen and page in safe keeping with Sidi Abu Zayn, the imam of Sayyeda Zaynab’s shrine. And as he was reflecting, he heard somebody knocking on his door.  He opened it to find two men with kind, smiling faces.  They said that they had heard about the extraordinary event and humbly asked if they might come to see the pen and the blood on the page for themselves.  Ibrahim welcomed them warmly and invited them in, leading them upstairs to his simple study, which was filled with morning sunshine.

"Here, my brothers, you can see for yourselves.  Sayyedna Ali’s blood..."

Those were the last words that Ibrahim uttered, for, in a flash, one of the men pulled a knife from his sleeve. Ibrahim felt as if his body was filled with a burning light.  He saw the face of his assassin: eyes like black ice, mouth pulled in a grimace filled with hatred.  As he lost consciousness, he felt himself enveloped in somebody’s arms and he was carried away to an ocean, where he heard the gentle recitation of the Qur’?n: ‘wa illallah il-mas?r’: ‘and to God is the return’.