Long ago, in the city of Tangiers, in Morocco, there lived a proud and haughty princess. Many suitors came to ask for her hand in marriage, but the princess refused every one. “No one is good enough for me,” she said. “I will marry only the man who brings me a bouquet of stars from the sky.”
In a nearby village, there lived a young man who was in love with the beautiful princess. El-Mehdi was his name, and he was a scholar and a teacher. He had spent his life in study and in prayer. El-Mehdi was a kind man, and many people loved him. But no matter how he tried, he could not stop thinking of his desire to marry the princess. He thought about her day and night.
“She is too arrogant,” his friends cautioned him. “Do not think about her. She will be your ruin. She loves no one but herself, and no matter what you do, she will never love you.”
Still, El-Mehdi could not sleep at night. He lay awake in bed, thinking of ways he might win the princess’ love. At last he decided he would use his knowledge to win her hand in marriage. He believed that his life would be worth nothing if he could not marry her.
He sat in his study and thought long and hard about how to capture her heart. He spent 40 days fasting and studying his books. When his fast was complete, he walked into the desert, sat in the sand, and drew with his hand a circle around his body. Inside this circle, he began to burn incense, and then he threw himself upon the ground. He held his breath, for he knew what he was about to do was wrong. Still, his desire for the princess overcame him, and he called out to the demons of the underworld with all the magical words he had learned in his studies.
“Oh jinn,” he cried, “lend me your wings so that I may fly to the stars. If you will, I will greet the sun and moon in your name.”
The jinn, eager to make mischief in the world and pleased to think of this mortal man spreading their name throughout the sky, lent El-Mehdi a pair of wings.
The next evening, just as the sun was beginning to set and the world was awash in a golden glow, El-Mehdi again walked into the desert. This time he wore his wings, borrowed from the wicked demons, the jinn.
He looked up at the stars, closed his eyes, and a moment later he rose into the sky.
At first he was cautious, but when he knew he was truly aloft, he spread those wings and soared. He smiled at the sight of the beautiful moon gleaming above him. “I come in the name of the jinn,” he called, and he reached out for a glistening star. Filled with joy, El-Mehdi glided through the sky, selecting one star after another, holding them in his arms.
After a few hours of flying through the sky, he held the most dazzling bouquet anyone had ever seen.
“I have my gift for the princess,” he shouted happily. He looked down, searching for the shimmering path of the angels, the path of whiteness that the angels made when the world was first created.
Down, down, down, El-Mehdi flew, soaring toward the earth, heading directly toward the palace in Tangiers where his beloved sat in her chamber. “She will love me,” he cried as he flew.
And then, suddenly, as he neared the earth, a tremendous wind rose up and caught the tips of the stars in El-Mehdi’s arms. The stars lit up, and sparks flew from their tips. The sparks drifted through the sky, but some of them fell upon El-Mehdi’s clothing and on his wings. Soon his clothing and his wings were on fire, and the wind blew harder still.
El-Mehdi cried out to the princess, “I did this for you,” but she never heard his words. His clothing and his wings burned to ashes, and without those wings, El-Mehdi plunged to earth, landing between the beach and the tall sand dunes just beyond the princess’ palace.
Sometimes, to this day, when the sky is clear, people can see the body of El-Mehdi, a stone of blackness rising into the sky.
“There stands the body of the man who dared to try to steal the stars for the love of a mere princess,” they say.
This ancient Moroccan tale has Hindu, Semitic and Greco-Roman origins. This tale is reminiscent, too, of the Greek legend of Icarus, who constructed wings to escape captivity and attempted to fly to the sun.