“So this is one story that really stuck with me, because I love animals. There was once a man who was very, very thirsty. And he walked and walked until he found a well. And there was no bucket and only a rope. So he climbed down into the well and drank and drank and then pulled himself up. And he saw a dog. And it was like dying of thirst. Really skinny, you know. So he took off his shoe and climbed back into the well and filled his shoe and brought it back up. And let the dog drink. But the dog was still thirsty. So the man went down and back up, down and back up, refilling his shoe for the dog. Until it finally wasn’t thirst anymore. And I think the end is that the Prophet said that the man’s deeds were forgiven and he went straight to heaven.”
The informant told me that she liked this story specifically because it was an animal fable, and that the man made such an effort to make sure that the dog was satisfied – “Because he put an animal’s needs before his own.”
Interestingly enough, there is a version of this very same story in the many Panchatantra tales. It plays out exactly the same way, but instead of the dog transforming into an Islamic holy figure, it transforms into a Hindu deva (demigod), and blesses the man with nirvana. What is most intriguing is that the only substitution is the religious figure. All the other elements remain intact, which makes it seem as though the story existed for a long time across the Indian subcontinent before it was ever given a particularly religious context. The main idea portrayed in the story is essentially – “Always do good things, because you never know who’s watching!” In this case, the skinny, starving, thirsty dog turned out to be a divine figure. This is probably meant to be metaphorical rather than taken literally, in that the man’s selfless deeds cleansed his soul and garnered him favor with the man upstairs. Therefore, the story seeks to demonstrate that no good deed is left undone.