Ma’ruf the Shoemaker

Grade Level: 
9, 10, 11, 12
Generosity of Spirit
Ma’Ruf the Shoemaker
A Tale from Palestine: A poor shoemaker is angry and abandons his wife after she mistreats his generosity. He ends up in Egypt where he carelessly gives away money given him by a friend, weaving a web of lies to protect himself. The story follows him on his adventures.

Tell me a story...

Once there was a shoemaker—a poor man with his wife and children, just like the son of Yusif il-Xatib (a shoemaker in the storyteller’s village), who is new to the craft. All day he mended shoes—save the listeners!—so he could make two or three piasters and buy bread for his children. I mean, he was making ends meet. One day his wife said to him, "You know, husband, I have a strong craving for knafe (a famous Palestinian baked dessert made with sheep's cheese and finely shredded dough). It's a long time since we've had it, and we want you to bring us a platter full of knafe with honey."

"Wife," he asked, "how are we going to do that?"
"I don't know how," she answered, "but get it you must!"

Every day the poor man saved a piaster or two until in a week or two he had saved thirty, forty piasters and gone to the market, where he bought her a platter of knafe. Carrying it along, he brought it home and gave it to her. But when she tasted it and found it was made with sugar rather than honey, she took hold of the platter and tossed the knafe out.

"I told you I wanted a platter of knafe with honey, not with sugar syrup!" she complained.

Now, Ma’ruf, he was short-tempered, and he became furious. Reaching for the stick, he [shook the stick at] her, turning her this way and that until the stick was broken. Out she came running, and she went straight to the cadi (a magistrate who interprets Islamic law) to bring her case against her husband. The cadi sent after Ma’ruf, and he came and found her there.

"Why, my son," asked the judge, "do you [run after] your wife and insult her? And why don't you satisfy her needs?"

"Your excellency," answered Ma’ruf, "may Allah give you long life! I'm a poor man. My condition's such and such, and my occupation's such and such. She asked for a platter of knafe, and for two weeks I scrimped until I was able to save its price. I went to the market, bought it for her, and brought it home, but when she tasted it and found it was made with sugar she said she didn't want it. So she took it and threw it out."

"It's all right, son," said the cadi. "Here's half a pound! Go buy her a platter of knafe, and make peace between you!"

The judge made peace between them, giving them the half-pound, and they went to the market and Ma’ruf bought his wife the platter of knafe. Giving it to her to carry, he said, "Go!" She went home, and he stayed behind.

"By Allah!" he swore, "no longer am I even going to stay in the same country where this woman is to be found!"

He stayed away till sunset, then found a ruined house where he leaned against a wall and waited for daylight so he could run away. And, by Allah, while he was inside the house, toward morning he felt a giant come upon him before he even knew what it was.

"What are you doing here?" asked the giant.

"By Allah," answered Ma’ruf, "I'm running away from my wife, and I want to get as far away as possible."

"Where do you want to go?"

"I want to go to Egypt."

Reaching for him, the giant, who was from the jinn, picked him up and set him down in Egypt. Earlier he was in Damascus, but before day broke he was in Egypt. Now, he used to have a neighbor in Damascus called Ali who had since moved to Egypt, where Allah had blessed him and he was now a big merchant. As Ma’ruf was wandering about early in the morning, people saw him. He was a stranger, they could tell.

"Where are you from, uncle?"

"From Damascus."

"When did you leave Damascus?"

"I left this morning," he answered, "and I arrived this morning.”

"Crazy man, crazy man, crazy man!" they shouted, gathering behind him and clapping. "Crazy man, crazy man!" they taunted him, following him around, until they passed in front of the merchant Ali's. Looking carefully at Ma’ruf, Ali recognized him. He chased away the boys following him and called him over.

"Come here!" he said, although Ma’ruf had not yet recognized his old neighbor. "Where are you from?"

"I'm from Damascus."

"When did you come from Damascus?"

"I left this morning."

"What!" exclaimed Ali, "You left Damascus this morning, and you're now here in Egypt! Are you crazy? By Allah, those boys were right to follow you around. Don't you recognize me?"


"Do you remember you used to have a neighbor in Damascus called Ali?"


"I'm your neighbor Ali."

"You're Ali!"

"Yes, I'm Ali. Come with me."

He went and bought Ma’ruf a suit of clothes, a fez, and (saving your honors!) a pair of shoes. He also bought him socks and fitted him out properly. It was as if Ma’ruf had taken a different shape. He was quite a sight now! And on top of all that, Ali gave him a hundred pounds.

"Take this hundred pounds," he said, "and spend from it until you're able to find some kind of work. And if anyone should ask you, don't say, ‘I left Damascus this morning and arrived here this morning.' Say you're a merchant, and you came ahead of your merchandise, which is following you by sea." He wanted to make Ma’ruf look important. Giving him the hundred pounds, he said, "Take this, and go in Allah's safe keeping!"

Ma’ruf went on his way. Upon meeting Safi, he would give him some money. When he met another person, he would give him some money.

"Where are you from, uncle?" people would ask.

"I'm from Damascus."

"What are you doing here in Egypt?"

"By Allah," he would answer, "I'm a merchant, and I arrived ahead of my merchandise, which is following me by sea."

"`What's this?" people wondered, seeing him squander his money. We've never seen anything on this scale before. What a generous man! If he weren't really an important merchant, he wouldn't be throwing money around like this!"

His reputation spread, and when he had used up the hundred pounds, he came to another merchant and borrowed two thousand, saying, “I’ll pay you back when my merchandise arrives.”

Again he went around, casting his money like seeds, distributing it among the poor. Whomever he met, he would just reach in and give him a handful, until the money was gone. He then went to another merchant and borrowed four thousand, distributing it the same way. What a reputation he achieved! Whichever way he turned, people said, “The merchant Ma’ruf! The merchant Ma’ruf! What a merchant this is, who just appeared in our country! We’ve never seen, we’ve never heard of anyone so great.”

Who heard about him? The king. And the king had a daughter—you should see that daughter!

“Councillor!” he called.

“What do you want, O Ruler of the Age?” asked the vizier.

“A merchant has arrived in our country, the like of whom we’ve never heard of or seen. He’s made the city rich with the money he’s distributed, and his merchandise has yet to arrive. He’s come here ahead of his goods. I want to send after him and invite him to dinner, and I want to marry my daughter to him. This way we’ll gain him and his merchandise. What do you think?”

“Yes, O Ruler of the Age!” answered the vizier. “This is your business. Who am I to raise objections?”

“Go see him,” said the king, “and say to him, ‘You’re invited, and you must have dinner with the king.’”

The vizier went, searched for him, and found him.

“Mr. Merchant Ma’ruf!” he said.


“The king sends you his greetings, and says your dinner tonight will be with him.”

“Of course,” answered Ma’ruf. “Why not? Am I too good for the king?”

Pulling himself together, he went to the king, who had prepared him a table—brother, what a spread! They turned their attention to it and ate dinner. Everything was just fine. They brought desserts. Anyway, they ate till they had had enough. After they had finished, washed, and sat down, the king said, “You know, Merchant Ma’ruf.

"Yes?" answered Ma’ruf.

"I want you to be my son-in-law," said the king. "I want to give you my daughter in marriage. What do you say?"

Ma’ruf mused over this, then he said, "O Ruler of the Age, would anyone hate to be the king's son-in-law?"

"Councillor," said the king. "Call the official here!”

The vizier called the cadi. A marriage contract for the king's daughter was drawn up, and the king prepared a feast for them. He bought her a handsome trousseau, vacated one of his palaces, and brought Ma'ruf in to her. After they had been together as man and wife, the king said to his son-in-law, "This is the treasure chest of the kingdom, you can take what you want. And this money lying outside the chest is for you to spend as you like. You can replace it when your merchandise arrives." And so saying, he handed him the key to the treasury.

Now, brothers, every morning Ma’ruf would visit with the king, stay awhile, then go up and fill his pockets with money, which he distributed in the city before coming back home. This went on for ten, fifteen, twenty days, till the money outside the chest was gone. Reaching for the treasury then, Ma’ruf opened it and gave away from that money too.

By the time the king had realized his mistake the treasury was nearly empty, and the money outside it had already vanished.

"My vizier," said the king, "save me!"

"The owner saves his own property, O Ruler of the Age!" replied the vizier. "What happened?"

"This man has squandered all the spare money outside the treasury, and now even it is nearly empty. It's already been two months, and we haven't seen his merchandise or anything else. We're afraid he's a liar. What have we gotten ourselves into?"

"By Allah, it's not my fault," said the vizier.

"And now, what are we to do?" insisted the king.

“By Allah, O Ruler of the Age," answered the vizier, "no one can expose a man better than his wife. To your daughter, then!"

Sending for her, the king said, "Daughter, the situation is such and such, and we're afraid your husband may be a liar. Why don't you sound him out and see if he really does have goods coming or not, then send me word?"

"Fine," she said, and went home.

That evening, after visiting with the king, Ma’ruf went home. His wife became coy with him, teasing him with questions: "By Allah, cousin, when's your merchandise arriving?" and "What's become of it?" and "How . . ." She kept up this coyness until he fell for her trick and chuckled.

"What's the matter?" she asked.

"By Allah," he answered, "I don't have any merchandise or anything else. I'm a poor man whose life story is such and such," and he told her his story.

"What!" she exclaimed.

"By Allah," he replied, "I've told it to you as it is."

"What can I say to you?" she answered. "We've been together as man and wife, and it would be a shame for me to betray you. But if my father were to find out, what might he not do to you? You tricked him, took his daughter, and spent his money. And even if my father doesn't kill you, those merchants whose money you took will do so. So, better get up! Let's go!"

Going down to the stable, she made a horse ready for him, putting provisions in the saddlebags. "Take care," she added, "not to stay in this country, where someone may bring up your name. Wherever they hear of you, they'll want to kill you. If my father asks me in the morning, I'll say, ‘He got news of his merchandise and had to go see about it.' As for you, run as fast as you can! Beware of staying in this country!"

What was Ma’ruf to do? Mounting the horse, he sped out of there. Brother, he stayed here one day and there another until he had been going for Allah knows how long. One day his provisions ran out, and hunger pricked him. Traveling on a road by a village, he saw a farmer planting the fields below the village and parallel to the road. As he passed by him, he greeted him, "Hello!"

"Welcome!" answered the farmer.

"O uncle," he asked, "would you happen to have a loaf of bread for me to eat?" Ma’ruf was something to look at! Seeing a man with royal robes, a horse, and a saddle—it was like another world to the farmer, and he said, "Yes, brother. Stop by and honor me with your presence.”

When Ma’ruf joined him, the plowman halted his team, took his rough cloak, spread it on a rock, and said, "Sit down here until I go bring you some food. My house is right over there." Going up to his house, he said to his wife, "Woman, such and such is the story. Make us a bit of lentil soup and crumble some bread into it!" Ah! What was he to do? That was all he had. His wife was lively, and she made the food quickly.

Meanwhile, Ma’ruf said to himself, "This poor man—I've held up his work. I might as well get up and help him out with the team until he comes back with the food." Taking hold of the plow, he shouted at the animals. He plowed a furrow, and in the course of the second the plow hit against something. He prodded the animals with the goad, and they pulled against the root that snagged the plow. And behold! it gave way to a door leading to a tunnel. Stopping the team, Ma’ruf went down into the tunnel. And what, my dears, did he find but sealed pots full of money! Seeing a ring by the mouth of one of the jars, he took it up. Now, the ring was dirty and covered with dust, and he wanted to wipe it off, but no sooner had he done like this with it than a being shook himself up.

"Your servant, master!" he said. "Order and wish, and it will be done!"

This being was the [genie] residing in the ring.

"I want all this treasure outside," said Ma’ruf, "loaded on mules and camels."

No sooner had he said this than it was all outside, loaded on camels and mules.

"I want a hundred camels loaded with cloth," continued Ma’ruf. "I want a hundred mules loaded with sugar. I want this, I want that. I want gold, I want precious stones. I want soldiers. I want, and I want ..."

Now, that poor plowman—he had barely come down with the food when he looked, and behold! he saw a king with his army. It was as if all hell had broken loose. Eh! Eh! He took one step back and one forward, but Ma’ruf, seeing him, called him over. "Come, come!" he said, "Bring me that tray!" Putting the tray in front of him, he ate the food, then he scooped handfuls of gold into the tray until he had filled it. After that he turned around and marched in front of his merchandise, dear brothers, till he reached his father-in-law’s territory.

In the morning, the king sent for his daughter.

"So, daughter?" he asked.

"By Allah, father," she answered, "the other night while we were sleeping word came that the merchandise was on its way, and he went to pick it up."

Eh! How pleased was the king! The poor daughter, on the other hand, was only trying to let her husband escape so no one could catch and kill him.

Meanwhile, Ma’ruf, as he approached his father-in-law's domain, sent a messenger out to let the king know his son-in-law was on his way with the goods.

Gathering the army and his cabinet, the king came out to receive his son-in-law. And behold! What a shipment it was, my dears! Look, it was like asking for what you want with your own tongue. Whatever you could possibly want was to be found there.

Coming into the city, Ma’ruf paid back four thousand pounds to those from whom he had taken two, and eight thousand to those who had given him four. The rest he sent away for keeping in his father-in-law's storehouses—the gold in one room, the jewelry in another, the rice here, the sugar there, the goods, the cloth . . . It was like the end of the world! He filled the whole place with goods.

"See, my vizier!" said the king. "Didn't I tell you!"

The vizier was a shrewd man; nothing was lost on him. This couldn't be mere merchandise," he thought. "So many diamonds, and so much gold! Something isn't right here!" Now, in the course of his evening visits with the king and his son-in-law, the vizier spied the ring and recognized what it was.

"O Ruler of the Age!" he said, "By Allah, we're bored, and we'd like to have a party in the orchard, just for me and you and the merchant Ma’ruf, your son-in-law. Let's take food and drink with us, and have a good time entertaining ourselves together."

"Yes, my vizier," responded the king, "why not?"

The next day the king spoke with his son-in-law. What was he to say? He accepted. But his wife, the king's daughter, saw the ring and recognized it. "Why don't you give me this ring?" she asked. "Leave it here with me."

"No," said Ma’ruf.

"Listen to me," she repeated, "and leave the ring with me. Here, give it to me right now, and let me keep it."

"No," he said again, refusing to give it to her.

By Allah, brothers, the following day they prepared themselves, taking servants with them who carried the things down to the orchard and left. Only the king, his son-in-law, and the vizier remained. The vizier acted as their servant. After they had eaten and were content, he served the king and his friend with wine, "Your cup! Your cup!" My dears, he kept pouring wine and giving to them to drink until they fell over. They were both finished—the king and his son-in-law. And no sooner had they fallen over—no sluggard he! —than the vizier snatched the ring from the man's finger and rubbed it.

"Your servant, master! Order and wish, and it will be done!"

"I want you to dump these two behind the mountain called Qaf," ordered the vizier.

Taking them up, the [genie] hauled them away. Meanwhile, as soon as he had gotten rid of them, the vizier went home. When did he go? In the evening. And where did he straightaway go? To the palace of the king's daughter. He wanted her. Of course, he wanted to have control of the kingdom and everything else there. But the moment she saw him coming back by himself the girl knew what had happened. She was a clever one. And when he called on her, she opened for him.

"Where are my father and my husband?" she asked.

"What do you need your father and your husband for?" he replied."Don't even bring them up! I'm now king, and I'm also your husband."

"Did you really get rid of them?"

"They're indeed gone!"

"I was only looking for the truth," she said. "I want the truth. Will I find anyone better than you? I wanted to be rid of them anyway. Welcome, welcome!"

Brother, she became all-welcoming for him. "One hundred welcomes!" she said again.

"By Allah," he said, "this is the most blessed hour."

Receiving him with more welcomes, she brought out whatever food she had prepared for her husband and her father and served him with her own hands. And brother, how important she made him feel! After they had finished dinner and eaten fruits and desserts, they spent some time chatting with each other and feeling contented. Then it was time for sleep, and the vizier took off his clothes and lay in bed, saying, "Take off your clothes." Removing some of her clothes, but leaving on a nightgown, she lay down next to him, but when he reached out his hand to touch her she jumped up.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

"What's the matter with you?" she replied. "You want to sleep here, but don't you know that a spirit resides in your ring. Take it off right now and leave it on that table over there! Tomorrow morning you can put it back on, but now it would be a shame. It's forbidden."

All that and I don't know what else, until he said, "By Allah, you're right." And going over to the table, he left the ring there and came back to bed, again lying down next to her. But no sooner did he reach for her than up she jumped again.

"What's the matter now?" he asked.

"We forgot to lock the door," she replied. "I want to get up and lock it. Someone might walk in on us."

Then she went straight to the table on her way to the door, took hold of the ring, and rubbed it.

"Your servant, master! Order and wish, and it will be done!"

"Take this dog," she commanded, "tie him up, and [put] him over there by the pillar." When that was done, she said, "Bring my husband and my father back from wherever you left them!"

The [genie] went and brought them back, and they found the vizier tied up by the pillar. Now, the king—he wasn't asleep, brother!—drew his sword and struck the vizier a blow, and lo! his head was rolling.

"Drag this dog away!" he commanded, and it was done. The vizier was thrown over the palace walls, and the king put his son-in-law as vizier in his place. Thereafter he and his son-in-law lived in comfort and bliss, and may Allah make life sweet for all my listeners!


“Ma’ruf the Shoemaker.” Muhawi, Ibrahim and Sharif Kanaana. Speak Bird, Speak Again: Palestinian Arab Folktales. Berkeley: University of California Press, ©1989. pp. 267-72.
Used with the permission of University of California Press