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Translated by Raphael Cohen
A carpenter made a door. He carved it skillfully, ornamented it, decorated it, varnished it and polished it with oil. But as soon as he had hung it at the front of the house, the door marked a forbidden zone that he wasn’t allowed to approach. It became the divider between the secret, mysterious interior and the visible, public exterior. The carpenter was tortured because he made the door and now cannot pass through it to one he loves.
Doors in the Emirates have changed over the last thirty years, as has their function. In the past, doors were left open all day and only shut at night. Children in family neighbourhoods would be in and out of their friends’ and relatives’ houses without needing to ask. Adults never looked into houses when the door was open, and if someone went and knocked on a door, he would stand to one side not directly in front, a pleasing social habit to respect privacy. Of course, none of that happens now. The houses have changed: walls have gone up, doors are closed all day long. The neighbour’s cat no longer slips underneath; birds no longer find a perch in the heat.
There are many symbolic doors. First of all is the mother’s womb we pass through to life, expelled from innocent paradise to desolate chaos, chasing after existential questions. The final door is the grave, the mouth of the earth which, at the fateful moment, gapes for us to enter – a bolus rapidly swallowed up by time. The mouth is the doorway to speech; speech the gateway to meaning and questions; questions the portal to infinity.
* * *
In our Arab life, there are thousands of locked doors, big and small, but the biggest one of all is the doorway to freedom that opens from the heart and mind. At this door, thousands of dogs, executioners and murderers stand guard to prevent thought, hunt down words, slit truth’s throat and scourge every true human expression. They live among us, and we see their effects everyday everywhere: in the newspaper columns that deceive themselves; in the curl of a newscaster’s lip when he reads a report he knows is false; in the silence of a poet ignored on the pavement of fear; in the despair of minds ossified in skulls; in the word ‘no’ when it is crammed into generations that it means ‘yes’.
* * *
For man to realise the deep meanings of the door, first he must try to pause on the threshold, not entering or leaving.
Hakeem the Wise sat on a boulder and wrote the following lines:
However big the lock, it can easily be broken.
Keys still work even when covered in rust.
The thief hates the door more than the wall.
People’s hearts are easily accessed through the doorway of love.
THE STATIONS OF HAKEEM
The first station
Hakeem the Wise used to sit on a boulder in a far-off village, addressing the people on virtue, morality and the forsaking of worldly pleasure. But the inhabitants, together with their wise man, abandoned the villages years ago and settled in the suburbs, dazzled by the neon lights of the night and the mixed, hybrid forms of incomers from all over the Earth seeking wealth, fame and status. But after five years of contemplating the city, its people and its architecture, Hakeem the Wise wrote the following note:
The greatest city in the world is a sheet of paper
The greatest lighthouse is the pen
The greatest temple is labour
The greatest grave is effacement
The greatest street is a line
The greatest vehicle is to look
The greatest television is dreaming
The greatest radio is silence
The second station
An ordinary man in the city was seeking the essence of his individuality, so he went into isolation in a far-off village where he contemplated the meaning of the cycle of the moon, the twinkling of stars in the dark nights, the whistling of the wind blowing from the north, the murmurings from behind the hill that nobody understood. After five years the big-city man became wise in the small village and addressed the people:
The greatest ink is rain
The greatest labour is meditation
But the inhabitants had wearied of the words of the wise. So they picked him up and threw him into the sea. Afterwards their lives were peace and quiet, not disturbed by ringing speeches or hollow words.
The third station
Hakeem the Wise abandoned the village and the city and chose to dwell alone, fasting, in a cave beyond a far-off mountain. After five years of total isolation, he realised that understanding the world begins with silence and remoteness from others. Only then is the secret of life gradually revealed and disclosed. Before he died Hakeem the Wise wrote on the wall of his cave:
In being alone lies your perfection
Close your eyes to see infinity
Listen to your core to hear the universe echo
Cleanse your mind of every thought, black or white
It’s an illusion to believe that your homeland is this minor world,
forgetting, like the rest,
that your greater homeland is all creation.