The strange judgment of Karakoush.”


Long ago a sultan known as Saladin appointed a man called Karakoush to be the governor of Cairo. For many years, Karakoush acted as judge in that land as well.

Now one day a thief broke into the house of a merchant to steal as many goods as he could find inside. He climbed over the wall and was prying open a window, when the window broke loose. Before he could steady himself, the thief tumbled right through that window and fell, head over heels, onto the hard floor below.

He cried out in pain, for he had fallen on his leg, and when he tried to stand, he realized his leg was broken.

When the merchant came home and discovered the thief, he caught him easily and shouted, “Come with me to the courthouse!” Off they went, the poor thief crying in agony as he hobbled along on his broken leg.

Karakoush was sitting in court, and when the two men arrived, the merchant rushed in and cried, “Hear this case.”

“One at a time,” the guards said. “One at a time!” And so the merchant told his side of the story.

Then the thief painfully hobbled before the judge. “I believe it is I who have a case, your honor,” he said. “I was only trying to climb into his house, but the merchant’s window broke, and so I fell inside. I am the injured one!”

“What is it you wish from me?” Karakoush asked the thief.

“Fine this merchant! He must pay for my medical care. After all, his house is at fault. He should be punished.”

The merchant was aghast, but he was also afraid, for Karakoush was known to make peculiar judgments. “He is the thief,” the merchant argued. “If he hadn’t tried to break into my house, he wouldn’t have broken his leg.”

“Ah, yes,” said Karakoush, “but this man is correct. The window that caused this man to fall and break his leg is your window, and so you’re at fault.”

The merchant trembled with indignation, but he knew — just as everyone knew — that there was no use arguing with Karakoush. The man had his own brand of logic. The merchant was quiet a moment, but then he had an idea.

“Sir,” he said, “that broken window is not my fault. I paid a great deal of money to the carpenter who built my house. He should have made a window that would not break. He is obviously the criminal.”

“I agree,” said Karakoush. Then he turned to his guards. “Bring the carpenter to this courthouse.”

The guards hurried to the village, and soon they returned with the carpenter.

Karakoush glared at the man. “The owner of this house claimshe paid you to construct his house,” he said.

“That is true,” the carpenter responded.

“Why did you build a window so weak it broke when a thief tried to open it?”

The carpenter also feared the judgment of Karakoush, and so he too began to tremble, but then he had an idea. “I cannot be responsible,” he said, “for as I was hammering the frame into that window, a woman in an exquisite dress walked past. She looked so beautiful I couldn’t help but be distracted by her. Surely she is to blame.”

“Bring this woman to the court,” Karakoush commanded his guards.

The guards set off to find the woman who had distracted the carpenter who had built the faulty window that had broken and caused the thief to fall and break his leg.

When the woman heard the carpenter’s accusation, she too was afraid, for she understood that Karakoush’s judgments often didn’t make sense. “Your honor,” she said, bowing, “my beauty is from Allah, but surely Allah cannot be blamed.”

“Of course not!” Karakoush boomed. “But what about that dress you wore?”

This gave the woman an idea. “Ah, that dress, yes it is indeed a marvel. The tailor made that dress. He must be to blame.”

“Bring the tailor to this court!” ordered Karakoush, and soon the tailor stood before the judge, wondering what punishment he might soon face.

“You made a dress so beautiful that this woman distracted the carpenter, so he built a faulty window on the merchant’s house, a window that was not strong enough to stop a thief from falling in and breaking his leg when he tried to pry it open.”

The tailor stared in disbelief at Karakoush. He did not know what to say. “Sir, you cannot be serious. That is a foolhardy claim!”

Karakoush was furious when he heard the tailor’s words. “No one speaks back to this judge,” he cried. “Imprison this man!”

The guards hastily led the tailor to the prison door, but the door to the cell was too low, the tailor too tall. Even when he bent his knees, he could not fit inside the prison cell. So the guards rushed back to Karakoush. “Your honor,” they said, “we apologize, but the tailor doesn’t fit inside our prison.”

“Then find a tailor who does!” Karakoush bellowed, and the guards rushed to the village. Just as the judge had demanded, they found a small tailor, and though he protested, and was of course innocent, they locked him inside the prison.

The merchant and the carpenter and the woman and the tailor hurried home. The thief, pleased to be free, hobbled away, grateful for the judgment of this strange man.

And ever since that day, whenever people hear of a foolish or silly judgment, they say it is like “the judgment of Karakoush.”


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