The Sage and the Cat

Filed in Society & Beliefs by on November 8, 2013
It is 2:30 in the morning and I want to share my favourite story.

There was once a sage who lived in a forest. The holy man had a number of disciples who joined him in meditation every evening.

The meditation rite was simple: they would gather under a banyan tree every evening, and sit in prayer with their legs crossed, and eyes closed in deep concentration for a few hours.

The holy man also had a cat who would run around disturbing the utensils, so every day he would tie the cat to the tree with a leash until they were done meditating. This routine never changed.

One day, the old sage fell ill and died soon thereafter.

The grieving disciples appointed one among themselves to lead the rituals, and they continued the routine of tying the cat to the tree and went about their daily meditation as always.

Then one fine day, the cat died.

The disciples solemnly gathered that evening under the tree, but there was some amount of confusion. How could they proceed with their ritual without first tying a cat to the tree? It has been done for years, as they all knew. They consulted each other and all agreed that it was unacceptable to alter their sacred routine.

And so it was decided: Every evening, just before meditation, the disciples would venture out into the woods and search for a cat to tie to the tree. Only then could the pious disciples meditate in peace.


Over the years, the not-so-subtle subtext of that story has offered me much clarity when I think about rites and rituals in general.

How often I see people lose themselves in the text and tradition, engrossed in the minutiae of it all to the extent they seem to lose all track of the underlying principle of it. And often, in my experience, the easiest way to uncover those underlying principles is by applying good old reason and common sense.

Yesterday, the story of a 11 year old who had a miscarriage made the news.Most ordinary Maldivians rightly expressed their outrage on various networks. But then, there appeared on the scene some “good Muslims” with the notion that it might not have been rape, but “fornication”, in which case the 11 year old should be punished for this crime.Some kind of sickening “debate” has sprung up around the issue, with self proclaimed Salafist “true Muslims” on Twitter and other social media declaring that any one capable of getting pregnant was technically no longer a child.Sick as it sounds, it reminds me again of the story of the sage and the cat.

While these “true Muslims” eagerly dig up the relevant clauses and hadiths to back up their appalling lack of humanity, all I can see is an 11 year old girl who has, at a tender age, undergone a severely traumatic experience – one that reveals a history of abuse.

How exactly does one accuse an 11 year old of ‘fornication’? She’s ELEVEN, for heaven’s sake. She can’t legally drive a motorbike, own any property and is not considered mature enough to contribute to the discussion of who will run her country for the next 5 years.

Given that, I wonder what kind of mental gymnastics these ‘true Muslims’ perform to arrive at the ridiculous conclusion that a child can give consent to sexual intercourse! She was raped. Plain and simple.

Child rape is not uncommon in the Maldives, nor are the denialists and apologists for child rape.

To these rape apologists, all I have to say is: It is not difficult to not be an asshole. Really, it isn’t. All it takes is the understanding that sometimes the answer is not in some dense Arabic text prescribed by the Mullah, but in about 2 minutes of thinking with your own brain.

Sadly, our country and religion is overrun by fools who cannot see what is self-evident, and are scrambling in the woods searching for their metaphorical cats.


P.S. Ever noticed how child rape is nowhere near as deserving of global Muslim outrage as a cartoon somebody drew in a faraway country? Yeah, me too.

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