Tahir Shah’s “The Caliph’s House”

by Andrew Stein

Shah’s book helped me understand some of the culture that was surrounding me. It demonstrated the religious and often superstitious nature of the Moroccan people, and it highlighted the importance that all of the artistic disciplines played in their society. Shah explained much about ridding a house of Jinns and bringing in baraka. Jinns are the spirits mentioned in the Qur’an and created by God from fire. They inhabit houses that have been abandoned and cause considerable trouble for their new human dwellers.

A couple pearls of wisdom that I enjoyed while reading through this novel were the following. First, when it comes to bargaining, Shah provided the following insight:

“In the East, the tradition of bargaining is an honorable one, and Moroccan society has one of the most developed bartering economies I have come across. I am usually satisfied with chipping in a few cents more if it saves time and secures the purchase. But to a native Moroccan, shirking on the bargaining front is seen as falling short of responsibility. There is honor at stake. Forget the bargaining and you are bringing shame on the shop.

“The guidebooks always say it’s best to take a local person with you when you go shopping in Morocco. But they don’t tell you that the local is likely to veto all purchases, and even liable to get you into a fistfight with the shopkeeper as he strives to protect your honor.”

In addition, near the end of the book, Tahir nicely describes his experience settling into a new country and new culture and specially with his family.

“Live in a new country and you find yourself making compromises. Make them, and you are rewarded many times over. Morocco has an antique culture, one that’s still intact, with the family at the core. For me, the greatest thing about living here has been that Ariane and Timur [Tahir’s two children] can play against an inspiring backdrop, teeming with a full spectrum of life…. I encourage Ariane and Timur to be loud, to shout, to dance in the streets, to be themselves.”

Horse in Fez