Retold by Sarah Conover and Freda Crane. From Ayat Jamilah: Beautiful Signs: A Treasury of Islamic Wisdom for Children and Parents (Boston: Skinner House, 2010).
Kan ya ma kan: there was and there was not a time when Joha and his son set out for the market with their donkey walking along behind them. They passed several men sitting outside a shop drinking tea and heard some of their remarks.
"Look at that man! How can he be so mean as to make his child walk all the way to the market when he has a donkey the child could easily ride?" Joha immediately picked up his son and put him on the donkey's back. They continued this way for a while, until they passed several women who were also on their way to the market.
"For shame," said one woman to another. "Look at that child, riding the donkey while he makes his father walk. Doesn't he have any respect for his elders?" Right away, Joha took his son off the donkey, and got on himself. They had traveled only slightly farther, when someone else criticized the father for being so selfish—riding on the donkey while making his son walk. In response to this criticism, Joha picked up the child and placed him on the saddle directly in front of him.
Alas, this maneuver also brought forth criticism. "How mean they are to overload the donkey like that!" cried an old man to his friend.
There is only one thing to do, thought Joha in despair. He and his son dismounted. After a great deal of effort, Joha managed to heave the donkey upon his own back. Only a little way down the road, everyone was laughing at the stupid man carrying his donkey instead of riding it.
Shamefaced, Joha put down the donkey, and they continued to the market exactly as they had started—with all three walking. Some minutes later, Joha looked at his son: "So you see," he said with a wise nod, "it is clearly not possible to please all people. It is better to do what you know is right and please God."