Scheherazade in the land of the evil riddle: Combatting patriarchal authority

Tales of 1001 Arabian nightsScheherazade and the Tales of 1001 Arabian Nights is a story of a young queen betrothed to a bloodthirsty king, the Sultan Schahriar, who has killed all his previous wives for their supposed faithlessness. To save herself, Scheherazade invents stories so compelling the murderous Sultan is tricked into sparing her life. In resisting the murderous Sultan, Scheherazade exemplifies the value of a resolute spirit in dealing with tyranny. She also provides an example of feminine resourcefulness in the face of patriarchal authority. Her determination in the face of adversity encourages us to consider our own sense of purpose in a sometimes cruel and contrary world. The tales she uses to dissuade the Sultan inspire us to consider creativity as a solution to our own problems.

Symbolic stories such as Scheherazade help us explore concepts of good and evil without actually having to put ourselves at risk. One of the unique aspects of being human is the ability to learn lessons from rhetorical examples. That is the value of literature, the arts, our history, and religions. But if by choice we limit the meaning of stories to a literal interpretation of the events they describe, their significance may be diminished. Without tools of metaphor, the story of Scheherazade conveys little more than a woman affecting a change of heart in a stubborn man. What lessons can be drawn from such dry fare? Justice and inspiration deserve better role models.

Beyond the literal viewpoint, a host of worthwhile questions await: Do we want to be like the Sultan–full of wrath, suspicion and dogmatic anger? Or should we strive to be more like Scheherazade who is a brave and creative soul in refusing to submit to injustice. In the end, Scheherazade saves her own life even as she saves the Sultan from himself. Eventually she is able to conquer both their fears.

And if the idea of conquering fear and saving souls sounds familiar, perhaps we should consider the notion that universal truths come to us from many sources. The story of Scheherazade and the “Tales of 1001 Arabians Nights” may not be found in the Bible, but we can still learn valuable lessons about human nature from its rhetorical example.

Certainly no one source of knowledge or tradition, even the Bible, holds all the answers. It may be difficult for some people to imagine, but the kingdom of God might actually benefit from a belief system that does not require denial of key forms of practical knowledge to sustain the faith. One could argue that people who develop their faith in concert with reason have the most faith of all.  They have the courage to face down questions about life along with fears about the world and still choose to seek a spiritual relationship with God.

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