Nur the Fire-Maker & the Five Tribes

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following story is told by the Sufis to illustrate a point.  In ancient times, a man named Nur discovered how to make fire.  He traveled to various places and shared his discovery to five tribes of people.  They all had different reactions to him: some embraced his discovery, and others regarded him with aversion and fear.  Eventually, Nur was killed by a group of people that were terrified of him and his fire.

A few centuries later, each of the five tribes had a unique viewpoint towards Nur and fire making, and these subjects accounted for a major part of each tribe’s cultural and religious practices.  The first tribe had a priest class that kept fire-making a closely guarded secret that gave them leverage over the other citizens.  The second tribe did not care about fire making, but they worshipped the tools used to make fire.  The third tribe was entirely unconcerned about fire making, and instead worshipped Nur.  The fourth tribe had legendary tales about Nur and fire making ingrained in their cultural folklore — and some people believed the legends, while other rejected them.  The fifth tribe used fire throughout their community for various useful purposes.

One day, a master and his disciples were traveling in the lands where these tribes lived.  After observing the tribes, the disciples said to each other, “It is very surprising to see how all these tribes differ so greatly in the way they regard fire making and Nur.  Let us visit the tribes, and tell them the truth about fire making.  After when we tell them, their lifestyles will surely change dramatically.”

So the traveling master and disciples went to the first tribe, the one where fire was a closely guarded secret used among the priest class.  After receiving a warm welcome by the tribe, they attended one of their fire making religious ceremonies headed by the priests.  When the ceremony finished, one of the traveling disciples said, “I can duplicate the fire making that you people regard as Divine and restricted only to the priests.  If I do this, will you admit that you have been wrong for all these years?”

When the priests heard this, they immediately shouted out, “These travelers are heretics — seize them and take them away at once.”

The people immediately did as they said, and the travelers ran away.  They moved on to the second tribe, the one that worshipped fire-making tools.  One of the traveling disciples announced to the tribe, “I come here to inform you that you are worshipping these tools, yet you are unaware that their use is simply to make fire.”

The people heard this and responded, “We are hospitable people and welcome you to our land, but we must inform you that you are a stranger to our customs, and you do not understand what we are doing.  Your statements are mistaken, and you are not acting in accordance with our religion.  Hence, we will not listen to you.”

So the travelers went to the third tribe, the one that worshipped Nur.  They observed the tribe’s various Nur statues and ceremonies.  Later, they approached the tribe’s leaders and said, “The Nur that you worship is actually just a person like the rest of you.  He discovered a fire making skill that you can learn and use.”

The tribe leaders replied, “Even if that is true, such knowledge is reserved only for a select few like us, not for the entire community to know.”

“But why not spread this knowledge to all?” the traveler replied.

Upon hearing this, the tribe leaders replied, “We have had enough from you!  You are sacrilegious and unfamiliar with our culture!”

So the travelers left, and went to the fourth tribe, the one where fire making and Nur were legendary folklore that some people believed and others did not.

One of the travelers announced to the tribe, “The fire making stories and legends you speak of are indeed true, and I can show you how to make fire.”

This announcement caused much division among the tribe.  Among them, some people desired to learn how to make fire from the travellers, but were only concerned with using it to take advantage of others.  They also did not learn to make fire properly because they were still fixated on their inaccurate legends about fire making.

Another group of people said, “These travelers are duping us and trying to take advantage of us; and we will have nothing to do with them.”

And another group of people said, “Whether these travelers speak the truth or not, we do not want to hear from them.  We prefer to retain our current legends as they are, which forms the foundation of our culture and community.”

So the travelers left and went to the fifth tribe, where they used fire, and observed the people’s ways.

The travelers then said to their master, “What are we to make of all of this?  We tried to teach the four other tribes to make fire the way this tribe does, but our efforts have gone in vain.”

The master replied, “Most people don’t really want to be taught.  So you have to know the proper way to teach them.  Although they have the capacity for learning, this is not enough.  You have to teach them that there is something to learn.  They imagine they are ready to learn, but they are really concerned with learning what they imagine is to be learned, and not what they first need to learn.  Understand this, and then you will find the proper way to teach.”

This ‘Nur’ is a prophet.  That ‘fire’ is Revelation.  And the five tribes are the five kinds of people we encounter when we engage in da’wah.


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