Appointment in Samarra


Once there was a wealthy merchant in Baghdad who had a servant that he liked very much. This servant came to him one day pale and trembling, and the merchant said, “Whatever is the matter?”

“Master,” said the servant, “I saw Death in the market today, and he pointed at me. I am sure that my time has come, but I think I can outrun him. He seems a bit rickety. Please, master, give me a fine horse and the money to go to Samarra tonight, and maybe I can evade Death. I beg you, for the sake of all I have ever done for you.”

The merchant said, “Of course. Take my best horse,” and he outfitted the servant with fine clothes and food besides. He saw the servant off from the gates of Baghdad. Then, as he was returning through the city, he ran into Death at the market.

“My good fellow,” said the merchant sternly, “why did you point at my servant this morning? You scared him.”

“Oh,” said Death contritely, “I’m quite sorry. I didn’t mean to point at him — I was simply confused, and I was trying to make sure that I still see straight with these old eyes. It’s just that I was surprised to run into your servant here today, for I have an appointment in Samarra with him tonight.”


There are many versions of this fable. It’s an old Middle Eastern tale, retold as one of the The Thousand Nights And A Night, and it could be even older than that frame.

The moral of the story is, when your time is due, you cannot outrun death, for death will be waiting to meet you wherever you run.


Note: My mentor in spiritual matters first told me a similar account of this story…as he chided me….make decisions while living for when death comes it will be too late. The moral being you cannot escape death, when your time is up the Grim Reaper will find you no matter where you run.

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