The Man, the House, and the Cat

This story is part of a work-in-progress, a book of stories for liberal religious kids. The source for this story is Tales of the Dervishes by Idries Shah (Dutton, 1967). I once used this story in worship services during the church pledge drive, but that seemed a little too heavy-handed, and I don’t think I’d do it again. In fact, since this can be a touchy story for adults, it might be best only to use this during children’s worship services.

The Man, the House, and the Cat

You probably already know that in order to be considered a Mulsim — that is, someone who follows the religion of Islam — you must do five things. First, you must confess that there is no God but Allah whose prophet is Mohammed; second, you must pray five times a day; third, you must fast during the month of Ramadan; fourth, if you possibly can, you must make the journey to Mecca, the center of Islam; and fifth, you must give money to the poor. Sheik Nasir el-Din Shah, a Muslim who was a Sufi master, once told this story about giving money to the poor.


Once there was a man who was very troubled in his mind. He faced such great troubles in his life that he could see no way out — oh, his problems were so great that I dare not tell you what they were. If you heard all his problems, you would be desparately sad for a month.

And yet his troubles kept growing worse. It got so bad, his friends gave up on him, his servants moved out, he had no one to talk to but his cat. In desperation, the man swore that if he ever found a way out of his troubles, he would sell his house, and give all the money he gained from selling his house to the poor people who lived in his city.

Soon thereafter, his troubles miraculously came to an end! Within two or three days, everything was fine once again. He sighed with relief. Once again, he could enjoy living in his beautiful house — and then he remembered. He had sworn that if he ever got out of his troubles, he would sell his beautiful house, and give all the money to the poor.

He realized he did not want to sell his house. Why, if he sold his house, and gave away all that money, he would have so little money left, he would have to live in a much smaller house. That would be most unpleasant! But he swore he would sell his house. But there was no reason for him to give away so much money; far better that he keep the money for himself.

So he told people they could buy his house for one piece of silver. However, his cat must continue to live in the house — everyone knows that cats don’t like to move — and the cat was such a valuable cat, he must sell it for no less than ten thousand pieces of silver.

A rich merchant bought the house for one piece of silver, and also bought the cat for ten thousand pieces of silver. The man gave all the money he gained from the sale of his house to the poor — which was only one piece of silver. But the money from the sale of the cat — ten thousand pieces of silver — that money, the man kept.


Sheik Nasir el-Din Shah did not say what happened to the man afterwards. But Sheik Nasir el-Din Shah did say that many people are just like the man who sold his house for one piece of silver. Many people resolve to do the right thing, but then they change things around in their minds to make it easier, and make it be to their advantage. Nasir el-Din Shah said that until we can stop doing this, we will not learn anything at all.

This is a hard story to listen to. Even today, we know we should give money away, but instead we go and spend that money at the mall. I know this is something I have a problem with — how about you?

5 thoughts on “The Man, the House, and the Cat

  1. Jean

    The story is pretty heavy handed, you’re right. Pledge drive or not. Um, and as a teacher of writing, I’d offer the well-worn advice of “show don’t tell.” I want to see this guy, his cat, his house, even his troubles. Can you write a couple of scenes? Dialogue?

    Sorry. Occupational hazard.

  2. Sian W.

    Actually, I really like this story and I think it would be a good one to talk about at pledge drive (with perhaps a clarifying intro). It seems to me that the moral of this story isn’t about a guy going back on his word and escaping his monitary commitment, it’s about someone who made a commitment he wasn’t able to make in the first place. We all get caught up in the moment, whether in times of desperation or times of joy, and make commitments – often ones we can’t keep. I think this would be a good lead in to discuss how do you make prayerful, thoughtful decisions – particularly at a pledge drive. The man’s commitment to change was based soley on his own need, not truly the needs of those who could use the money. Why do we give to our congregations? Whose needs are being met? What is giving about? These are all good questions that could be explored around this story, it seems to me. :-)

    In faith,


  3. Dan

    h sofia @ 1 — Oops. One of my most frequent typos.

    Jean @ 3 — Hate it when there’s a writing professor in the audience. Although I’d argue that fairy tales don’t show, they tell — and I think I want to move this more towards sounding like a fairy tale. “Once upon a time….”

    Sian @ 4 — Thanks, good comments to ponder when I do the inevitable rewriting….

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