In the story "Zaabalawi," why can’t the local sheik help the narrator find Zaabalawi? In what ways is the local sheik's advice useless?

In the story "Zaabalawi," the local sheik cannot help the narrator find Zaabalawi because Zaabalawi does not have a permanent address. His advice is useless, because the narrator is as likely to "bump into him" outside as he is if he spends "days and months in fruitless searching." This story contains an allegorical journey of faith, which is the metaphorical reason that the local sheik's advice is not useful.

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The short story “Zaabalawi” by Naguib Mahfouz follows an unnamed narrator as he searches for Sheik Zaabalawi. The narrator searches for the sheik to help him cure “that illness for which no one possesses a remedy.” This short story is an allegory. The narrator is on a spiritual journey, and the characters he meets on the journey represent specific perspectives. Throughout his journey, no one is able to tell the narrator where Zaabalawi lives and exactly how to find him.

When the narrator asks the local sheik to help him find Zaabalawi, he shows the “same astonishment” as the others that the narrator has encountered. Unlike many others, the sheik is sure that “he is still alive.” The sheik also tells the narrator,

You might well bump into him as you go out of here, on the other hand you might spend days and months in fruitless searching.

He then suggests going “about it systematically” by breaking the city down into districts that can be searched one at a time.

Literally, the local sheik cannot help the narrator find Zaabalawi, because the sheik doesn’t know where Zaabalawi lives and notes that Zaabalawi is always moving. Allegorically, his advice is useless, too: you cannot systematically search for and find a goal of having faith. The narrator needs to have faith that Zaabalawi will be with him when he really needs him. If you are searching for something everywhere, you do not have faith that it will find you when you really need it. Therefore, the local sheik’s advice will not help the narrator find Zaabalawi, because the narrator must go through the allegorical journey to find the cure that he is looking for.

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