The Tale of Many Jerusalems

What would a peaceful Middle East look like? A fable about politics, culture, and commerce.


Two elderly men with long gray beards were exhausting themselves beating on the door of Abu Simsim, a small-time confectioner of Jerusalem. Just how long the old men had been there they themselves could not have told you, but it was long enough so that their dignity was gone, their palms were sore, and their voices cracked and tired. Even so, Abu Simsim wouldn't answer.

"In the name of all that is righteous, Abu Simsim, open your shop! May God favor you and make you the father of many sons, but only if you unlock this door now!" Thus called the increasingly desperate Abu Zeid, a lifelong student of the mysteries of the spirit, a seeker of the truth, and a follower of the Path. Abu Zeid had followed the Path all his life, never dreaming that it would someday lead him to the door of a maker of sweets, much less one who was as lazy and good for nothing as this one. Indeed, one who would actually lock the door in his face. Abu Zeid groaned in frustration.

"We beg you, Abu Simsim, for love of Abraham our father, to let us into your shop!" So beseeched Rabbi ben Ezra, the other old man, who was a finder of hidden meanings, a mathematician of the universe, and an initiate of the cabalistic Tree of Life. Through many years Rabbi ben Ezra had pondered the meaning of this Tree, never imagining that perched at its top would be a shop of sweets, much less one run by such a dog as this one. The rabbi tore at his beard and rattled the door by its handle. "Abu Simsim, for the sake of Jerusalem, sell us your halawa!"

"My halawa? For the sake of Jerusalem? Have you both awakened mad on the same morning?"

Abu Simsim was leaning out the second-floor window of his shop, staring down on the white hairs of the old mystics. At the sound of his voice they started, looking first left, then right, then finally craning their necks. At the sight of him, their eyes grew wide, and they embraced, murmuring, "God be praised." Abu Simsim slammed his shutters closed and disappeared again.

"Wait!" they shouted together. "Come back!" It was Rabbi ben Ezra, younger by a few seasons, who had the strength to call out, "Open up, dear Abu Simsim, or we'll break into your shop and steal your halawa."

The shutters slammed open again. "Tell me, oh fathers of wisdom, what is so wondrous about my halawa that you must steal it from me, lose your honor, and force my children to go hungry?"

Halawa in the Hashemite Kingdom

Ben Ezra and Abu Zeid exchanged glances. In fact, much depended on their obtaining some of his halawa, the more of it the better. But how could they tell him that? How could they tell him that they had had it in their grasp to transform Jerusalem, and make it at last into a city of peace! A dream of ages was at hand. All that was necessary was some of Abu Simsim's halawa.

"It's my fault," Abu Zeid said uneasily. "I…I cannot live without your halawa. It's like the nectar of Paradise!"

"May God favor you for saying so," answered the maker of sweets, "but you are lying. It is not at all like the nectar of Paradise. It is only crushed sesame, a lot of honey, and yet more sugar. Every confectioner in Jerusalem makes it the same way, though the Jewish ones call it 'halvah.' It leaves your mouth so coated that nothing quenches your thirst, and your fingers so oily that you dare touch nothing of value for hours. Everyone who gorges on it soon regrets his lack of judgment. And yet two worthy scholars threaten to break into my shop to obtain it. How can this be?"

"Truly," offered the rabbi while searching for his words, "your halawa is…unique. Only last night my daughter was praising it."

"But I know your daughter well, rabbi. May God grant her many years. She hates halawa more than I do. In any event, the shop is closed today."

"But how can you say such a horrible thing!"

"How? You know how, my learned teachers. Are we not in Jerusalem?"

"Of course we are."

"And have we not been part of the United Hashemite Kingdom of Greater Jordan lo these many years, thanks to our teachers the British?"

"We have been," responded the rabbi, "though it was a great surprise to my neighbors to find themselves Western Jordanians after the Second Great War, when after the First Great War they thought they'd be Southern Syrians."

"As you say," continued the confectioner. "And is not our kingdom in everlasting strife with our royal neighbors the Sauds?"

"It is," answered Abu Zeid while glancing around. "Our king, may he rule long and wisely, covets Hijaz, the land of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina ruled by his ancestors. He says that the kingdom was stolen from his family with the connivance of our teachers the British and given to a band of unworthy desert dwellers. In response, the Saudis send raiders across the Jordan border. These raids are supported by the Egyptians, who dislike the prospect of Hashemite power. Hashemite counterstrikes are likewise supported by Egypt, because Cairo distrusts Saudi influence. In return, both the Hashemites and the Saudis support the rebels in Sudan, or what Cairo calls the Southern Nile Valley."

"It is so," answered the confectioner. "And has not our king, may God grant him health and judgment, now declared himself Caliph and called a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in place of the one to Mecca?"

"He has," agreed the learned Abu Zeid. "He has based his act on the work of the sage Ya'qubi, who records that the Dome of the Rock was built as a place of pilgrimage by the Caliph Abd Al-Malik, who then forbade the pilgrimage to Mecca. Ya'qubi describes this as a power struggle between the Damascus caliphate and rebels in Arabia, and claims that for decades pilgrims circumambulated the Dome. But Ya'qubi wrote long after Abd Al-Malik ruled and is alone in making such a claim. Perhaps he made the story up."

"The issue," said the sweets maker, "has escaped from the mouths of scholars and is today in our streets, for the pilgrims are here, are they not?"

"They are," answered Abu Zeid, "though this Jerusalem Hajj is considered a great blasphemy by many. Indeed, many have come from beyond the kingdom."

"From where, oh father of answers?"

"Some are surely agents of our royal neighbors the Sauds and have come to spread discord in the land of their Hashemite rivals. Others are surely members of the Sura 17 Movement."

"And who are they?"

Dangerous Days

"They are a curious group," answered Abu Zeid, "opposed both to the Hashemites and to the Sauds, who say they want to save Jerusalem from religion and Islam from political intrigue. They call themselves after the Koranic chapter that describes the journey to Heaven of the Prophet, peace be upon him. Of course, the sura says that this Night Journey to Paradise begins at the 'further mosque,' and the understanding of the sages is that the 'further mosque' is here. But the Movement always demands to be shown where Sura 17 says anything about Jerusalem. The true 'further mosque,' they insist, transcends mere space. Anyway, they are here to spread disorder as well. They spread trouble wherever they go."

"And will anyone else be spreading trouble, oh men of understanding?"

"My expectation," said Ben Ezra, "is that the Zionist underground will stage an attack. Zionists have felt betrayed since our teachers the British handed Palestine over to the Hashemites in advance of the expected partition. The British realized that the promises they'd made to all the region's parties were hopelessly irreconcilable. When the Hashemite Amir of Transjordan offered the Jews an autonomous region, our teachers the British jumped at it. Noting that their Balfour Declaration promised only a "national home" for the Jews, and not a state, they declared their commitment fulfilled. Besides, they argued, a newborn Israel would never survive the inevitable attack from all sides. In this spirit, they helped Jordan's king subdue the armed Zionist groups who had been terrorizing British forces. Immigration ceased, and most Jews gradually moved to their ancestral lands in Jericho, Hebron, and elsewhere on the West Bank. This pacification was so successful that there are Zionist bombings nearly every week, along with continual strikes, civil disobedience, and all manner of disruptions aimed at achieving a sovereign state. The underground will almost surely take advantage of the king's Jerusalem Hajj to make a major strike here in the city."

Abu Simsim applauded sarcastically. "Bravo, my teachers. Because you are men of sagacity, you have explained better than I ever could why my shop will remain shuttered. The city is packed with pilgrims, all of whom may be agents. Between one good tiding and another, this is the most dangerous day in Jerusalem since Richard the Lionheart was born."

"But that is precisely why you must let us into your shop without further delay!"

"Each man must respond to adversity as he deems best. You are learned men, and you believe you should eat dessert. But I am a simple confectioner, and I have been packing my bags. I'm taking my family to safety."

"May you find peace, oh sweets maker without equal. But before you go, for the sake of our beloved city sell us your halawa!"

"There is no more halawa. For weeks, you have bought every slab that I could make, though I worked day and night. I have no idea what you are doing with it, but I now have enough money to take my family to Detroit. I'm finished with halawa."

"Finished? Don't joke like this. What will become of us?"

Abu Simsim smiled. "May God look after you as he looks after all fools and madmen. Peace be with you." He slammed the shutters.

The two old men stood dumbstruck. "This is not auspicious," said the rabbi.

"It is in God's hands," answered Abu Zeid. "Let us return and ask our…our 'colleague' to fulfill his pledge anyway."

"He won't be pleased," said the rabbi.

"He already knows," answered Abu Zeid.

The Djinn of Jerusalem

The learned sheikh was right. As the old men entered the house of Abu Zeid, a hole opened in space, and the head of a lavishly decorated elephant poked out. It wore a gold ring in its flapping left ear and a great red fez atop its head.

"I see," said the elephant, "that you have returned empty- handed."

"As you foresaw that we would even before we left," answered Abu Zeid.

"Yeah," agreed the beast. "That's true." He trumpeted loudly, and the hole in space suddenly closed. The next-door neighbor banged angrily on the wall.

"In fact," Abu Zeid continued, "you probably put it into the confectioner's head that he should leave, so as to cancel our arrangement. You types are nothing but trouble."

"Maybe I did," came a voice behind the old sages. When they turned they saw a great ape, with earring and fez, smoking a hubbly-bubbly. "But if so, it was not to cancel our arrangement so much as to sharpen it."

"I don't understand you," said the unhappy rabbi. "I never do."

"No doubt you would understand me better," replied the beast, "if I emerged each day in a cloud of smoke from an Aladdin's Lamp, wearing pointy shoes. That is because you are, at heart, an Orientalist. Look, you have something I want very much. To obtain it, I have agreed to grant you any three of your desires, as is the custom of my 'types.' But I have a lot of experience in this game. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that you guys can never make up your minds. For weeks, you have been arguing about exactly what to ask of me. You agree only that you want me to create an alternate Jerusalem, one that is peaceful and happy. But how?"

"By removing the colonialists from its history," cried the sheikh. "The mess we're in is their fault."

"Nonsense! By subtracting the Ottomans from its past," insisted the rabbi. "They left us all backward and ignorant."

"You see?" said the beast wearily. "It's everybody else's fault. Gents, much as I've enjoyed hearing you argue over the finer points of historical causality for the past several weeks, I need to hurry things along a bit. That's why I stipulated that you must supply me with Abu Simsim's singularly tasty halawa. But this time I'll overlook my disappointment."

"And what has halawa to do with historical causation?" asked the sheikh.

"If I may give you a hint," the ape replied while adjusting his fez, "I suggest that you ask for a Jerusalem where I can obtain the best halawa whenever I please. Order me to create a Jerusalem where Abu Simsim longs to remain, rather than one he seeks to flee."

"Don't listen to him!" cried the rabbi. "It's more trickery!"

The house was suddenly rocked by an explosion. The street outside quickly filled with screaming pilgrims running in one direction, and soldiers running in the other.

The ape raised his brows. "Gentlemen?"

Abu Zeid looked at ben Ezra. "Syria?" Ben Ezra rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders.

The ape looked at Abu Zeid. "You want a Jerusalem that is part of Syria?"

"That would have been its post-Ottoman fate had not outsiders intervened, wouldn't it?"

"Is that what the Palestinian leadership expected?" asked the ape between puffs.


"You know, the people who live here."

"Except for the Zionists, yes."

"So to you Jerusalem's fate is an issue of political geography?"

"To me and to the rest of the world," answered Abu Zeid, "it's a question of nationalism. Thus, I command you to reshape the history of our city in that manner."

"No more details than that, oh sheikh?" asked the beast calmly.

"Wait. Perhaps religion should be a private matter this time. But no outside influences! It is a city true to its traditions."

The ape smirked. "That's it?" Another bomb exploded.

"Yes. Hurry."

"Calm yourself, Abu Zeid. We'll all take a nap, now. When we awake, it will be this morning again, but in the city you have described. I ask only one reward for my backbreaking labors."

"Oh no!" the old men cried together.

"Oh yes. When we awake, you will please obtain for me a slab of Abu Simsim's unparalleled halawa." Sirens could now be heard wailing throughout the city.

"Agreed. Hurry."

"In that case, gentlemen," said the beast, spreading hands that were much more like feet, "your wish is my command."

A Day in Great Syria

"But Abu Simsim," asked a forlorn ben Ezra, "why won't you open your shop?"

It was, as promised, again the morning of the same day. The confectioner again stared down from his second-story window at the two old men on the sidewalk below. They again stared back. They were, again, crestfallen.

"Why?" Abu Simsim replied. "But how can you ask why? I'm taking my family out of harm's way. You worthy scholars should leave as well."

"You're going to Detroit?" asked ben Ezra.

"No, to El Paso. Why Detroit?"

"Never mind," interjected Abu Zeid. "But why would anyone harm your

respectable family?"

"Oh men of lofty wisdom, lift your noses from your books. Do we not live in Great Syria?"

"Do we?" wondered Abu Zeid. "Ah, good. Of course we do."

"And are we not bombarded daily with the lessons of 'Syrianism' as opposed to 'Arabism'?"

"Are we?" asked Abu Zeid. "Well, perhaps we are. Wait! Great Syria isn't under the influence of that troublemaker Anton Sa'adeh, is it?" Abu Zeid turned to the rabbi. "We've been tricked again! It's another catastrophe!"

Abu Simsim continued. "But esteemed gentlemen, Anton Sa'adeh is the father of Great Syria, because he has saved us from the Arabs! Did he not teach us that we of the Fertile Crescent are a people unlike our worthless neighbors the Arabs?"

"So he did," nodded Abu Zeid. "He insisted that by history and culture we are a separate race, different from and superior to the people of the Arabian peninsula, who are the only 'real' Arabs. Are such ideas believed?"

The confectioner stared down at him. "Happy is he who can withdraw his spirit so completely from a world as troubled as this one. The rest of us, however, must find a way to survive in it."

"Tell me more, oh father of sons yet to be born," said Abu Zeid courteously.

"Is this the time for lectures? The world is ending. The Sa'adist party says we are natural Syrians, not only in the Fertile Crescent, but in Iraq and even in Cyprus. But many Christians of the Lebanon deny this, and argue that they are really Phoenicians, in their poetry as in their politics. As for the people of Amman, they have decided they are actually the same Nabaeteans who built Petra. Meanwhile, in Egypt, there has been much talk of Pharoanism as the true genius of Nile culture, as is argued in the esteemed work of Tawfiq al-Hakim."

"So the Syrians are not Arabs?" asked Abu Zeid.

"Obviously not," answered the confectioner.

"And the people of Egypt, Amman, Iraq, and the Lebanon, they are not Arabs, either?"

"No, they are not."

"Are there no Arabs at all?" asked Abu Zeid.

"Of course there are. According to the Sa'adists, there are too many Arabs. They live in their oil-rich peninsula. The Sa'adists call them 'jackasses with moneybags.'"

Abu Zeid blanched. "But that's…racism!"

"They think so, too. And now the Arabs are on their way here with their armies."

"The Saudis are invading?"

"Why should the Saud tribe invade? It is the Hashemite kingdom of the Holy Places that is marching to reinstall its dynasty in Damascus."

Abu Zeid was startled. "You mean, because the Hashemite King Feisal ruled Syria for two years after the First Great War?"

Abu Simsim smiled wanly. "Is that when you last read the newspapers, uncle?"

"And have the invading Hashemites any support?"

"Indeed they do. The fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood believes that Sa'adism, Phoenicianism, Nabaeteanism, and Pharoanism are all threats to the faith because they seek pre-Islamic roots. They believe that the Hashemite Guardian of the Holy Shrines will put an end to such movements. In support of the invasion, they have been terrorizing the city from within. Cairo, on the other hand, dislikes the prospect of Hashemite hegemony spreading from the Peninsula to the Levant and is expected to move in support of Sa'adist Damascus. In other words, between one glad tiding and another, this is the most dangerous day in the city since the birth of Humphrey the Hammer."

"Who?" asked ben Ezra. "Oh, never mind. Just one more thing. I assume you have no more halawa in your closed shop, and that for weeks we have been buying all you could make, even though you worked day and night. Now that you are leaving, you are finished with halawa forever. Right?"

"How is it," answered the confectioner, "that even as the world crumbles, the one subject on which you are well informed is my halawa?"

"Peace be with you," answered the rabbi. "May God grant your family refuge."

"And may He guide your steps into the future," replied Abu Simsim.

"Would that He had guided our steps into the past," answered Abu Zeid.

The confectioner looked at them quizzically. But then his wife's angry voice could be heard berating and hurrying him, and he slammed his shutters. The old men slouched toward the house of Abu Zeid.

Worlds Without End, Amen

"I warned you," the rabbi finally muttered as they entered the house, "not to bother with Syria."

"Don't talk to me that way," snapped Abu Zeid. "Anyway, we both know what alternate you'd choose, and it's not going to happen!"

They stopped in their tracks. In the kitchen was a man preparing halawa. He bent at his work with his back to the door, but they recognized the shape of Abu Simsim.

"Ahlan wa sahlan," said a surprised but pleased Abu Zeid. My house is your house.

The man in the kitchen turned to greet them. With true horror, the old men saw that he had the features of Abu Simsim, except that in the place of the confectioner's nose there was the trunk of an elephant. He smiled, raised his trunk, and emitted an ear-splitting trumpeting. The next-door neighbor pounded the wall.

"Oh. It's you."

"Indeed it is," came the answer. The djinn put on his red fez and turned his head to show his dangling earring. "It occurred to me that the only way I'd ever get any of Abu Simsim's tasty halawa is if I created it myself, so of course I have assumed his shape for the time being. Certainly, you would never come back with anything to eat."

"And is that our fault?"

"Of course it is. But here, the first batch is ready. I've made enough for us all. No, I insist! Just take one bite."

Ben Ezra slumped into a chair and took a square. His eyes lit up. "You're right!" he said with a full mouth. "This is wonderful. How is it I've never had any before?"

"But you have!" replied the creature. "In most alternate Jerusalems, you are a veritable connoisseur. Just not in this one. Anyway, it's important that you relax and be in a good mood, so you can think clearly. This Jerusalem is not at peace, either, is it? You have only one more chance."

"One?" shouted Abu Zeid, spewing his second halawa square. "You said we have three chances. We should have two more."

"You did have three chances," said the djinn. "You've already used two."

"What are you talking about? So far, we asked only for this Syrian debacle." Abu Zeid reached for yet more halawa.

"No," answered the beast calmly. "You asked for the Hashemite debacle, too. You started out in the surviving Crusader kingdom of Outremer. You were both born there."

Abu Zeid was dumbfounded. "Born in a Crusader kingdom? Me? I remember no such thing, though I recall the Hashemites clearly. This is another of your tricks to cheat us and get Solomon's Ring with less trouble!"

"Simsim" wagged his trunk impatiently. "Not that you'll understand this, but your memories are dependent on timestream crossover. You've lost Outremer because you are so far from its timestream, yet you are knowledgeable of each different world you enter because you exist there. Anyway, I'll ignore your unworthy accusation despite my hurt feelings. Besides, if I wanted to cheat you, why wouldn't I simply claim that you'd used up all your chances?" He looked at the old men. "You have one scenario remaining," he repeated.

"So who chose the Hashemite scenario?" asked the rabbi.

"You did. It was a compromise with your friend," answered the djinn, nodding to Abu Zeid. That venerable old man chewed and looked on silently with drooping eyes. "You thought that at least Islam would be more tolerant than unsecularized Crusaders, and you were right. There had been neither a Renaissance nor an Enlightenment nor modernization in Outremer. Things are difficult there. The Latin Christians and the Greek Christians are always in conflict. They even hide each other's saints. The Coptic clergy is forced to sleep on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which the Protestants don't accept as authentic anyway."

"And were we forced to ask for a different Jerusalem by yet another impending crisis?" asked ben Ezra.

"Yes. On your last day in Outremer, the Christians had claimed that the Dome of the Rock, overseen by all parties in a hopelessly complicated arrangement, was built originally as a Byzantine church."

"How could they claim that?"

"Because it is octagonal, a known Byzantine shape shared by no other early Islamic structures."

"So what? The Arab conquerors used local Byzantine builders."

"I see that you remember more of your first world than you think. But some Muslims threatened to blow it up rather than be turned out of it. Anyway, it was good to get away because in that Jerusalem Abu Simsim makes his halawa in the Greek style, which is far too dry and crumbly."

Abu Zeid began snoring loudly.

The rabbi raised his brows and nodded toward his old friend. "The halawa?"

"Simsim" nodded his trunk.

"Why?" asked ben Ezra.

"Because you have the Ring."

The rabbi nodded in return. A bomb exploded nearby. "How many Jerusalems are there?" the rabbi asked.

"Far more than even I could ever see. I visited many in my search for one Jerusalem in which the Ring survived."

"And how is it that I have it?"

"The Knights Templar found it; your ancestors received it from them. The details must remain a secret between myself and my colleague Baphomet, who befriended the Templars."

A Question of Identity

The rabbi shrugged sleepily. "And are any of your other Jerusalems happy and at peace?"

"That depends on things that you and I cannot agree on. Some Jerusalems think themselves quite happy but are headed for disasters that they cannot see but that I can. Still, there is an interesting class of Jerusalems that have something in common."

"And it is?"

"A state of being; a tale the people tell themselves about themselves. A question of identity."

The rabbi was surprised. "Of identity?"

"Yes. Or, more properly, identities. In these Jerusalems, the people don't define themselves in opposition to others whom they consider their mortal enemies. Rather, each citizen defines himself on his own terms."

The rabbi shook his head and tried to keep his eyes open. "No, there is something you cannot know. In Jerusalem, the people always define themselves according to revealed Truth. You wouldn't see that."

There was another explosion; the djinn winced. "But the problem isn't a matter of revealed Truth, it's a matter of exclusionism. The challenge is to separate the two."

"And how is that done?"

"That's what I've been trying to tell you! In my search for you, I visited many Middle Easts. In one, the Egyptian dynasty of Muhammad Ali Pasha had survived."

"The 19th-century khedive under the Ottomans?"

"Yes, in your memory, the dynasty that freed Egypt of Ottoman control in all but name. These autocrats began to modernize the country. True, their reforms gave them the control of the whole nation and everyone in it, but despite their malevolent intentions, the logic of their reforms might have led to interesting alternatives."

"But one of them borrowed so heavily from our teachers the British that London ended up in control of the country. Then the British wouldn't leave."

"In your world, yes. The result was that emerging Egyptian nationalism, which had been anti-Ottoman and, by implication, modernist, naturally became anti-British instead. But in an alternate Cairo, there were no British overseers controlling the country, and it is very different there. Egypt eventually became a prosperous Mediterranean power. You see, the Middle East turns on the axis of identity and opposition. Why, in your world, do most Christian Maronites lean toward the West, while many Greek Orthodox Christians do not?"


The Last Wish

"Both groups had outside 'protectors' from Europe looking after their interests and their holy places. But the European 'protectors' of the Orthodox didn't protect them at all; they rejected them as brethren. The result was that many Orthodox ended up identifying with the other local interests against the West. With the Maronites, outside protectors really did serve their interests against their local enemies. Opposition and identity. Identity and opposition."

"And you can put an end to all that?" asked the wary rabbi.

"Not me, no," came the answer. "That's Abu Simsim's work. The real one, with his own nose, who keeps leaving Jerusalem. Or I should say, it is the work of many Abu Simsims. A city filled with Abu Simsims is a nation of shopkeepers, busy pursuing their ends and perceiving their neighbors not as the embodiment of enmity but with quite a different attitude: Call it bourgeois empathy."

Ben Ezra struggled to keep his eyes open. "There's one possible Jerusalem that I want to ask you about, but I've suddenly become so tired."

"I know, old man. You want to know if there are any Jerusalems ruled by Jews. Yes, there are several. One of them is the leading military power in the region."

Ben Ezra started. "Is that good?"

"They'd tell you that it's necessary." The beast was about to say more, but when he looked at the rabbi he saw that ben Ezra was now fully asleep. He added quietly, "But that's not where I'll send you. Forgive me, but your remaining scenario is the last wish I will ever fulfill. Allow me to make it for you." His gaze shifted to the ring on the rabbi's finger, which slowly slid off his hand and rose in midair. The djinn grinned a grin so wide that it spread to his very ears and beyond. Then he adjusted his tarbouche, which began to emit light.

A moment later the next-door neighbor heard an enormous trumpeting, but this time instead of banging on the wall he put his ear to it. He heard a lot of sibilant murmuring, but could make out only a few words. At one moment, he thought he heard the words "Third Temple," while in another set of rapid whisperings he made out the phrase, "the Night of Power." The neighbor sweated through a period of silence, then heard a booming shout, "Free!" That was followed by a trumpeting so loud that it threw the neighbor to the floor.

He scrambled to his feet and ran for an imam, who didn't believe a word the neighbor was telling him. Nevertheless, the imam followed him back to the house of Abu Zeid. The two men found the building entirely empty, yet with a pan of halawa baking in the oven. The imam frowned, said prayers against the evil of darkness when it gathers, and, dodging soldiers, bullets, and bombs, returned thoughtfully home.