Wahab ibn Amr –commonly known as Bahlool– is a person whose stories has graced us with intellectual gems that masqueraded behind a genius mask of folly. What I am about to discuss is an attempt to place Bahlool on the high pedestal he deserves.
We have accounts of so many real characters throughout history –maybe even more fictional characters in pop culture– who faked their own insanity. In literary fiction, for example, William Shakespeare has a special type of complex characters named after him who are known for their theatrical comic relief. They’re referred to as Shakespearean fools. From recent history, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is also a classic fictional example and a personal favourite. However, the common plot for such characters to act cuckoo is to dodge doing some jail time for having a nonwashable reputation of being master crooks. They wisecrack their way out of murder basically.
Bahlool’s stories are on a whole different level though. They are timeless for two reasons:
1. They are non-fictitious.
2. They turn the common wise-fool plot on its head. Bahlool faked insanity to do good. He wore insanity as a way to expose injustice, help others and propagate knowledge through comical yet sharp wit.
Before acting crazy, Bahlool was a man of stature; a prominent judge, a well-known scholar, and a poet. People flocked to attend his lectures. It all started when the Abbasid caliph of the time Haroon Al Rashid ordered a crackdown on anyone following the Ja’fari school of thought. To conceal his ideology and stay away from the wrath of the caliph, Bahlool wore rags and started riding a stick on the streets of Baghdad, pretending it was his horse. The plot thickens. Haroon and Bahlool are actually cousins.
To be historically fair, Bahlool wasn’t the first nor the only person to play the crazy card to manoeuvre tyranny. Al-Naysaburi’s Uqala’a Almajaneen –Wise Madmen– niche of a book lists a collection of reports about men and women in Islamic history who were thought of as mad. Still, Bahlool remains the most popular and the master of this genre for his truly wise and awe-inspiring stories. His stories are many, but like anything historical, some are credible and some are not. In 2007, a Syrian media company turned his stories into a 3-seasons TV series. A collection of Bahlool’s stories has also been beautifully illustrated into a comic book by Sufi Comics.