On the first night, he says to her, “Bir varmış bir yokmuş, Allahın kulu çokmuş. Zaman zaman içinde, kalbur saman içinde, cinler cirit oynarken eski hamam içinde…
“Once there was, once there was not; God’s servants were plentiful. In time within time; In the grain sieve in the hay; In the old hammam when the Jinn were dancing the jirit; When camels were orators; When fleas were barbers; When I was rocking, tıngır mıngır, tıngır mıngır, my Nene’s cradle; We went near, we went far, we passed streams and hills and reached the recesses of Mount Qaff… And looked back to find, that we’d travelled only the length of a grain.”
“Will you waffle on much longer?” She interrupts him.
“This is not waffling, daughter of Adam.” His is a superior tone but playful. “The beginning of a story is no light matter. In the endless cycle of life, which has resumed ever since the ‘Be’-moment, nothing begins any more. We can only tune in. The auditorium lights are dimmed, stage lights illuminated. Your first father encounters the divine breath. In which case, human history began with the first sneeze. If you prefer more poignancy, I will tell you about the moment Adam encountered the world and the world encountered Adam: And then there was utter darkness and that timeless articulation of remorse, ‘I can’t hear the Angels.’”
She asks, “And what about the time before Adam and human history? What about before the beginning?”
“You’ll want to hear of the Jinn then.” The hint of a boastful smile on his handsome features. “Made not from light, as were the angels, but from naar as-samoom –a frenzied and smokeless fire of the scorching Simoom winds. It was they who inhabited the Earth first; who cultivated Her; who riddled Her face with curious signs and raised their cities and fortresses from the sands. Some say that they were nature’s mischievous spirits. Others say that before the fall, the Jinn were an angelic tribe charged by God with the guardianship of the earthen skies and lower-most gates of heaven.
“But the Jinn are wayward by nature. In time they grew haughty, corrupt, and thirsted for each other’s blood. There was conflict. Wave upon wave of armies clashed to destroy one another, until God sent an army of Angels to quell their rebellions and to purge the world of their evil. Out of this battle was born the child that would be Azazeal, the First. The angels found him in the aftermath of war, picking through the refuse of corpses, a pure and worthy pupil. They returned to heaven with the Jinn child under their wings, where he was raised and schooled in their care. He grew to become an esteemed instructor and a forerunner among them. His wisdom was peerless, his devotion so deep, that there was no place in heaven or on earth and that Azazeal had not prostrated in worship. God ordained him as leader of his people on earth. He was dubbed Al-Hakam –the arbitrator- to settle their disputes.”
He stops. Struck suddenly by a tender appreciation for her enthusiasm, her keen anticipation. He stops on an unexamined impulse to drink it in.
“Then what happened?”
His smile is benevolent this time, “There are variations to this tale.”
“Aren’t there always?”
“I heard it said, that Azazeal reigned justly for a thousand years. But for all his wisdom, and for all his piety and devotion, he hid in his heart a ravenous pride. Thus, his rule became severe. He took to governing his subjects, not with kindness, but with fear. And like a spreading poison, terror and desperation whispered through the land. It bred discord until another great conflict was born among the Jinn. When the war broke out, the carnage was so great that their horses swam in rivers of blood that surged without end.
“So God bid Azazeal to take up arms, and sent him with an army of angels, to suppress the violence of his kind. This he did. The battle ended. The world’s balance restored. And the Jinn were driven to the furthest islands in the oceans and to remotest mountainsides of the earth.
“Victorious, Azazeal withdrew to paradise, where the great general and devoted servant of God was celebrated. He took his place with the angels, and in time, rose among them as imam. Revered by all, the many names by which he was known throughout the seven heavens were epithets to his virtue. On the first level of heaven he was known as Abid; on the second, Zahid; on the third, Arif; on the fourth, Wali; on the fifth, Taki; on the sixth Hazin; and on the seventh, Azazeal.
“But on the Preserved Tablet, the Lawh Mahfuz, wherein is written the divine knowledge of all that was, is and will be in wait of its time… there, Azazeal’s name was Iblis -the one who despairs.
“And God, in His infinite wisdom, knows best.”