Traits of Nobility - Part I
Mistaken Concept of a Ruler
One day a nomadic Arab entered Medina. He went straight to the mosque to meet the Holy Prophet (s) and demand gold, silver and other forms of wealth from him. The Holy Prophet (s) was sitting, as usual, surrounded by friends and companions, discussing religious issues or the personal problems of some Muslims.
The Arab walked up to him and boldly asked for financial support. The Holy Prophet (s) took out some money and gave it to him. The uncouth Arab scoffed at the amount received and insolently demanded more as his right. The Muslims, exceedingly annoyed by the disrespectful behavior of the uncivilized nomad, decided to punish him. The Holy Prophet (s) raised his hand to restrain them from any reaction.
He (s) took the nomad to his house and tried giving him something else that could satisfy his needs. Meanwhile, the nomad looked around and realized that there was no similarity between other rulers and him (s). He (s) actually did not possess what he was demanding from him (s). He was embarrassed and thanked the Holy Prophet (s) for his generous help.
The Holy Prophet (s) said, ‘You spoke very insolently in the mosque and angered the Muslims present there. I’m afraid they will harm you if you do not go back to the mosque and declare your satisfaction in their presence.’
The nomad agreed. The Holy Prophet (s) returned to the mosque and said, ‘Friends, the Arab is now satisfied with me and has no complaints. He would like to ensure you all.’
The Arab then thanked the Holy Prophet (s) as he had done earlier, and all the Muslims were relieved.
After his departure, the Holy Prophet (s) addressed the gathering, “Such people can be compared to the camel which, annoyed with his owner, started running towards the wilderness. His owner started running after him. Those who happened to be watching, tried to help, and shouting loudly, started chasing the already scared animal. Frantic, it ran even faster. The owner stopped running and cried loudly, ‘Please stop running after my camel. I’ll manage it myself. I know how to deal with it.’ Everyone stopped running.
The owner then took some fodder in his hand and walked towards the camel. The camel, too, stopped running. The owner placed the fodder near its mouth, took hold of the bridle and returned, with the camel totally calmed down.
Had I not prevented you from reacting severely, the unfortunate man would have lost his life in a state of idolatry. You have witnessed today, the result of affection and kindness, as opposed to force and harshness.”
Friends and Foes Alike
After the martyrdom of Imam Ali (‘a), Muawiya ibn e Abu Sufyan finally acquired total dictatorial control over the Islamic state. He often met with the followers of Imam Ali (‘a) and teased them so that they should say something against their Maula, but he remained unsuccessful.
He wanted them to admit that they were foolish in following and obeying Ali (‘a); had suffered immense losses because of adhering with his principles; had gained nothing of value by associating with him; were sorry to have sided with him and opposed Muawiya; wished to make amends and befriend Muawiya; but, in vain. Not one faithful believer could he find saying anything against him (‘a). Each one mourned his (‘a) loss, terming it as ‘indescribable, eternal grief’.
The love and regard of the faithful for their Commander (‘a) grew even stronger after his martyrdom. They made greater sacrifices to establish the teachings of Islam as learnt from their Master, now that he was no longer among them. His loss created a greater sense of responsibility in them and inflamed them with a desire to lay their lives down for him (‘a), his teachings and practice. Muawiya’s efforts to suppress them only helped ignite and strengthen their resolve to follow their Imam (‘a).
One of Imam Ali’s (‘a) renowned followers was ‘Adi ibn e Haatim. He was the chief of the tribe of Taee. He had many sons. He, his sons and his tribesmen were considered Ali’s (‘a) gallant warriors. His three sons named Turfa, Tareef and Taarif were martyred in the battle of Siffin, fighting alongside their Imam (‘a).
After Imam Ali (‘a), Muawiya occupied the seat of ruler by force and deceit. He summoned ‘Adi ibn e Haatim to Damascus. With the intention of causing pain, he asked him, ‘What happened to your sons?’
‘They were martyred in the battle of Siffin fighting alongside Imam Ali (‘a).’
‘Ali did not treat you fairly.’
‘What makes you say that?’
‘He sent your sons into the front line of battle and kept his own sons in the rear.’
‘On the contrary, I think I have not served Ali (‘a) fairly.’
‘Why do you say that?’
‘I should have died and saved him, but he got martyred while I still live.’
Muawiya was disappointed again for the umpteenth time. He decided to change his tactics, and asked ‘Adi to describe Ali (‘a) as he had known him from very close quarters.
‘Excuse me, I’d rather not praise him in your presence,’ said ‘Adi, knowing full well how envious he was of his Maula, Ameer ul Momineen, Ali ibn e Abi Talib (‘a).
‘I assure you I’m interested,’ insisted Muawiya.
‘Adi then began his favorite discourse: ‘Allah be my witness, Imam Ali (‘a) was very far-sighted and supremely courageous. He exemplified justice, fairness and truth. He judged with knowledge and conviction. His greatest assets were knowledge and wisdom. Worldly pomp and show, glitter and glory, disgusted him. His favorite time was the night, with its solitude and quiet. He wept profusely while worshipping his Lord, and spent his time in meditation, observation, and introspection. He preferred a simple lifestyle and wore inexpensive clothes. He behaved like one of us whilst among us. He never turned down anyone’s request for anything he possessed, and sat next to us when we went to visit him, never maintaining a distance. Despite his affectionate demeanor, everyone was awe-struck, and did not dare speak in his presence.
His spiritual superiority and purity of character, made it impossible to look at him straight in the eye. His smile was very attractive, exposing a perfect set of teeth, which looked like pearls in a row. He respected pious and God-fearing individuals, and was extremely caring towards the weak and downtrodden. The powerful never feared injustice from him; the weak never despaired of his justice.
With God as my witness, I saw him with my own eyes, standing in his prayer niche, late one night. The tears ran down his cheeks and beard. He was trembling as if bitten by a snake and weeping like a person extremely troubled and anxious. I feel I can hear his voice right now. Addressing the world, he said: “O mortal world, do not try to tempt me towards yourself. Leave me alone. Go and deceive someone else. I have divorced you thrice and do not wish to reunite with you. Your pleasures are insignificant in my eyes, and folly it is to revere you. Woe! O, Woe! My journey is long, my subsistence negligible, and friends, but few.”’
Muawiya was struck by the way Ali’s (‘a) admirers loved him. His eyes filled with tears, for he couldn’t deny the truth. He said, ‘May God bless Ali ibn e Abi Talib. You have certainly described him accurately. How do you feel his loss?’
‘I feel like a mother whose son has been beheaded in her lap.’
‘You can never forget him, can you?’
‘What do you think? Will present-day circumstances allow me to forget him?’
Praying for others
It was Thursday night. The mother was facing the Kaaba, praying to her Lord, while her little son sat beside her, listening carefully. In spite of his age he watched every movement of his mother, standing, bending, prostrating. He heard her pray for every Muslim man and woman he knew and did not, by name. She prayed that they be blessed with honour, contentment, goodness and piety. Now he wanted to hear what she would ask for herself.
He kept awake for as long as she prayed, only to learn what she would ask for herself. The night passed and the new day dawned. Hasan (‘a) asked his mother, Lady Fatima Zahra (‘a) why she did not pray for herself at all, and kept praying for others all night.
His mother answered, ‘My dear Son! First come your neighbours and friends, then your home, then yourself.’
Imam Hasan (‘a) and Imam Husain (‘a) were still children, when, one day, while on their way to the mosque, to offer the congregational prayers, they spied an aged person performing ablution ( wuzu) for the prayer. It struck them both that he was not performing it correctly. They stopped, realizing it was their duty to correct him.
They also realized that if they told him that his wuzu was not correct it could make him feel humiliated, and he might either refuse to admit it and stubbornly persist in doing it his way, i.e. the wrong way; or feel unhappy whenever he performed wuzu correctly, by recalling the humiliating moment when he was corrected by two children. They knew that criticism causes resistance and stubbornness, and seldom mends, thus fails to achieve the desired result. On the contrary, courtesy and humility can overpower the most ignorant, most resistant and most arrogant.
Imam Hasan (‘a) whispered something in his brother’s ear and they both took a tumbler full of water and stood within hearing distance of the old man.
‘I can perform ablution better than you,’ said Hasan (‘a).
‘No. I can perform it in the best way possible,’ said Husain (‘a).
‘Let us find somebody to judge who is better,’ said Hasan (‘a).
They walked towards the old man and greeted him, ‘Assalam o alaikum, worthy Muslim! Can you do us a favor? My brother and I want you to judge which of us performs ablution as ordained? Will you watch us very carefully and point out any discrepancy that you notice?’
‘Certainly,’ replied the old man, overjoyed to judge the Holy Prophet’s (s) grandchildren.
First Imam Husain (‘a) performed ablution very slowly, intentionally. The old man, immediately, realized how wrong he was, and decided to correct his own mistakes after observing the elder child and being sure. Then Imam Hasan (‘a) performed ablution in exactly the same way with the same speed.
The old man tearfully embraced them and said, ‘Noble children of the noblest family! Who could have pointed out my mistakes to me more affectionately and convincingly? May Allah bless you and reward you for guiding me aright.’
A caravan was proceeding towards Mecca via Medina. They stopped in Medina for a few days and proceeded on their journey again.
On the way, a friend joined them. While individually greeting them, his eye fell on one person who was generously helping everyone with their chores. He recognized him instantly and asked the travellers if they knew who he was. They replied in the negative. ‘He joined us in Medina, but after these last few days of travelling together we can easily say that he is extremely pious, virtuous and God-fearing. We did not ask him, but he is always busy helping anyone who needs assistance in some way or the other.’
The friend of the travellers said, ‘I am sure you do not recognize him, for if you did, you would never allow him to do your petty chores.’
The travellers, stupefied, asked, ‘After all, who is he?’
‘He is Ali ibn al Husain, Zain ul Abedin (‘a)’, he replied.
The entire caravan was overwhelmed with shame and regret for not enquiring who he was when he joined them. They rushed towards him to kiss the hands that had performed all those menial tasks for them.
They complained, crying, ‘Why did you hide your identity? We could have committed an act of disrespect and never forgiven ourselves for it.’
The Imam (‘a) replied, ‘I intentionally joined your caravan because you did not know me. Whenever I travel with acquaintances, they treat me with great respect and affection because of my grandfather, the Holy Prophet (s), and do not permit me to do anything at all. I, therefore try to accompany people who do not recognize me, so that I can look after myself, do my own work, and without introducing myself, earn the pleasure of serving others.’
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