Serving the Guest: A Sufi Cookbook
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The Story of Ben Rahisa

The great Ben Rahisa was said to perform miracles - he could change sand into fragrant couscous, pine cones into sweet figs, and boulders into flocks of fat sheep. One night Ben Rahisa fell into a ravine and broke many bones; unable to walk, he lay there as the jackals wailed about him. Their cries roused the villagers from their sleep. They took their torches, went to investigate, and found Ben Rahisa lying patiently on the rocks. The villagers carried the saint home triumphantly, and he recovered with amazing speed.

Detail of Maghreb Qur'an from Cairo

When he could walk again he invited his rescuers and their families to a thanksgiving feast. On the day of the feast those rescuers and throngs of their cousins, nephews, nieces, uncles, and aunts gathered at his house all waiting to be fed. In groups of twelve Ben Rahisa invited them in. He gave them silver spoons and urged them to take their places around a large wooden tray, six feet wide. On the tray rested a mountain of rice, decorated with fried almonds and pieces of chicken. He invited them to eat from the sides of the tray, but never from its middle. All the guests ate to their satisfaction from the edge of the tray, then left, to be replaced by the next dozen. Finally all had eaten their fill, but the mountain of rice was no smaller than before the first bite had been taken. The last guest, however, was a young man known for his avarice and ruthlessness. Maliciously, he thrust his spoon deeply into the center of the rice — and it vanished. He ran from the room and was later found in the mountains, a wandering madman.