Skip to content
For literary responses to COVID-19 from writers around the world, check out our Voices from the Pandemic series.
from the February 2020 issue

The Sunni and His Friend

A pious merchant confronts a difficult business decision and an untrustworthy friend in this Qatari folktale, translated by Tariq Ahmed.


Once upon a time, a Sunni man in Qatar had an ungodly friend who was a seasoned merchant. The Sunni was just an ordinary person. One day, the Sunni inherited a large estate with which he bought a large ship named Saphar.

Saphar was built for long voyages, and had sailed to Oman and Aden, then from Aden to Mombasa, and from there to as far as India.

One day, the Sunni visited his ungodly merchant friend and said, “I bought Saphar. What’s your advice? What goods and merchandise shall I take with me to sell in Africa and exchange for others on my way back to Doha?”

“Well. Let me think about it. Give me one day and I will come up with a great idea!” the friend replied. However, he didn’t really want to help; instead, he had a will to harm.

Two days later, the Sunni came back and asked, “Any luck?”

“Yes, of course.”

“So what sort of goods shall I take aboard?”

“Cats. Carry cats!”

“Cats?!” the astonished Sunni wondered.

“Yes! Go and catch as many as you can, load them onto your giant vessel, and sail to Africa. There you’ll see the benefit.”

The Sunni gathered workers to help him catch a load of cats, and once the ship was full, he set out on the long journey.

In Africa, naforje traders populated the high seas. Whenever the traders caught sight of a flag, they would approach the ship to see what it carried.

The traders stopped the Sunni’s ship and asked, “Where do you come from? What do you have on board?”

“From Qatar,” he answered. “I brought cats.”

“Welcome, you’re welcome,” said the traders. “God has brought you to us! How did you know that rats have been bothering us, eating our harvests and stocks, and emptying our stores?”

The Sunni started out selling his cats at ten riyals per head, and then the price rose to as high as fifty. It was a lucrative deal, and the man took the money and bought wood, robes, and a variety of goods for the people of Doha.

The Sunni returned to Qatar, where his envious friend had been waiting. The friend was startled when he saw the vessel full of fine cargo. Curious to investigate, he shook hands with the pious sailor and asked, “How was your journey?”

“May God reward you for your sincere advice,” said the happy Sunni. “Believe me, the moment I arrived in Mombasa, I was warmly welcomed, and the men asked about my merchandise and then said that Allah had sent me, because rats had been troubling them! I sold my cats until the price reached fifty riyals per head.”

The friend was taken by surprise. “Well then, next time I will travel on your behalf, and you can stay here and collect rent. What do you say?”

“Of course,” said the Sunni. “You’re my friend, and your advice was so kind.”

The ungodly man gathered friends and collected cats from Qatar and abroad until the vessel was full, then started the long journey. Off Mombasa, naforje traders stopped his ship and asked, “What do you have on board?”

“Cats,” he said.

“Stop where you are!” they shouted at him. “The cats we bought last time befriended our rats and now they play with one another.”

“Impossible!” he said. “It took me a whole month to get here.”

“You can’t enter the town,” they insisted. “Go back now!”

“If so,” said the ill-intentioned sailor, “give me proof of my arrival, so my people believe me.”

“We will give you the letter, but we don’t want your cats!” they replied.

The man returned to Doha, and the Sunni owner asked him about the experience.

“Not good. When the traders learned I had cats, they stopped me and complained about the cats befriending the rats. Here is the proof.”

The Sunni said to him, “Indeed, he who digs a pit for his brother often falls into it!”

 

Told by Khalifa Al Sayed. Translation © 2020 by Tariq Ahmed. All rights reserved.

Read more from the February 2020 issue
Like what you read? Help WWB bring you the best new writing from around the world.