The Perfect Banquet

Submitted by Professor Nazeer Ahmed

There lived in the fabled city of Samarqand a prince who was a big spender. He spent lavish fortunes on fast horses, luxurious chariots and grandiose parties.

The notoriety of this prince travelled far and wide until a well known shaikh in far away Shiraz in ancient Persia heard . “I must reform this prince before he squanders all his wealth on pomp and pleasure”, said the Shaikh to his followers. “I will travel to Samarqand and speak to him personally”. So saying, the Shaikh set off on foot for Samarqand with two of his companions.

The news of the journey of this great Shaikh preceded him. People flocked to hear his discourses on ethics all along the thousand mile route.

The prince of Samarqand heard of the travel plans of the great Shaikh. “I must throw a big banquet to honor this learned sage”, said the prince to his courtiers. “As soon as he arrives in our town, bring him to me with all honors”.

The courtiers met the Shaikh on the outskirts of the town and brought him in a decorated chariot to the palace. The royal kitchens were ordered to prepare the choicest dishes for the banquet. Invitations went out to all the dignitaries in town to come and dine with the Shaikh.

A large carpet was spread out and the sumptuous dishes were arranged with regal decorum. The Prince greeted the Shaikh in the Hall of Ambassadors and ushered him into the grand dining hall. The dignitaries in their flowing robes followed the Prince. The Shaikh was seated at the head of the table. Dishes of rice, wheat, vegetables garnished with aromatic herbs and spices, and a variety of melons and juices were served on silver plates and goblets of crystal.

The Shaikh said Bismillahir Rahman nir Rahim (In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful). He tasted some of the food but consumed very little. The dignitaries gorged themselves with on the sumptuous courses and were all praise for the variety, the taste, and the dazzling display of the gold and silver dishes.

When the banquet was over, the Shaikh said Shukr Allah. Waiting for a compliment, the prince turned to the Shaikh and asked him: “Sire, how was the food?”

The Shaikh smiled and said, “Oh for the banquet of Shiraz.”

The prince was baffled. He thought that the Shaikh was dissatisfied with the banquet. So, a few days later, he invited the Shaikh again. No effort was spared in the preparation of the food or the service. The number of dishes were far greater, the portions were bigger, the spicing was more subtle, yet delicious, the aroma was heavenly and the display grand.

The Shaikh was ushered into the dining hall followed by the dignitaries. The food was served with the utmost care. No effort was spared in serving the Shaikh.

When the dinner was over, the prince turned to the Shaikh and asked in a gentle voice, “How was the food, Sire?
“Oh for the banquet of Shiraz”, exclaimed the Shaikh.

The prince was baffled once again. His ego would not accept that someone in far away Shiraz was superior to him in grand displays. So, he threw a third banquet. This time, he invited not only the chefs from his own kingdom but brought in the best chefs from the neighboring kingdoms as well.

The banquet was held with great pomp. The kingdom had never witnessed a banquet of such splendor, When the dinner was over, the prince was convinced that the Shaikh would congratulate him on the banquet.

“How was the food, Sire”, asked the prince.

“Oh for the banquet of Shiraz”, replied the Shaikh.

The prince was completely frustrated. He wanted to know the secret of the banquet of Shiraz.

“Most respected Sire,” said the Prince. “I have served you the best dishes prepared by the most celebrated chefs on plates of gold and silver. What is it about the banquet of Shiraz that is better than what I have done?”

“My prince”, replied the Shaikh. “The perfect banquet is one that does not inconvenience either the host or the guest. The banquet of Shiraz is one where the host and the guest say Bismillah together and partake of whatever is available in the house. There is no showmanship, no pomp and no glitter.”

The prince understood the secret of a perfect banquet: Serve a guest what Allah has given you. Do not stretch yourself to put on a show to please anyone.

“Verily, Allah does not love those who waste.” (The Qur’an)