“Jalal-ud-Din Rumi used to tell a story about a far-distant country, somewhere to the north of Afghanistan. In this country there was a city inhabited entirely by the blind. One day the news came that an elephant was passing outside the walls of this city.
“The citizens called a meeting and decided to send a delegation of three men outside the gates so that they could report back what an elephant was. In due course, the three men left the town and stumbled forwards until they eventually found the elephant. The three reached out, felt the animal with their hands, then they all headed back to town as quickly as they could to report what they had felt.
“The first man said: ‘An elephant is a marvellous creature! It is like a vast snake, but it can stand vertically upright in the air!’ The second man was indignant at hearing this: ‘What nonsense!’ he said. ‘This man is misleading you. I felt the elephant and what it most resembles is a pillar. It is firm and solid and however hard you push against it you could never knock it over.’ The third man shook his head and said: ‘Both of these men are liars! I felt the elephant and it resembles a broad pankah (fan). It is wide and flat and leathery and when you shake it it wobbles around like the sail of a dhow.” All three of the men stuck by their stories and for the rest of their lives they refused to speak to each other. Each professed that they and only they knew the whole truth.
“Now of course all three of the blind men had a measure of insight. The first man felt the trunk, the second the leg, the third the ear. All had part of the truth, but not one of them had even begun to grasp the totality or greatness of the beast they had encountered. If only they had listened to one another and meditated on the facets of the elephant, they might have realized the true nature of the beast. But they were too proud and stead preferred to keep their on half-truths.
“So it is with us. We see Allah one way, the Hindus have a different conception, and the Christians a third. To us, all our different visions seem incompatible and irreconcilable. But what we forget is that before God we are like blind men stumbling around in total blackness…”
-William Dalrymple, City of Djinns (280)