by Dr. Saleh As-Saleh
This story is recorded in the book “Gems and Jewels”published by Dar-us-salam Qazi
Abu Bakr Muhammad bin Abdul Baqi Ansari is an illustrious personality of Islamic History. He was the most pious person of his time. Even after the lapse of nine centuries, his exemplary life is a source of guidance to Muslims. His biographers tell a number of tales of his honesty and reliability but the one that affected his whole life is full of strange and unique events. He has narrated this story in his own words and it adorns the pages of history books. “In the middle of the 5th century Hijri, I was a student of the Holy Quran and Hadith in Makkah. During that period, I once became jobless and my means of income came to an end. I managed, somehow, to subsist for a few days but soon it became hard to obtain even two square meals. My studies were discontinued and I had to sell a few of my books to support myself. I was at the edge of starvation but my feelings of self-respect did not allow me to borrow or beg from anybody. One day, I was hungry, as usual. I went to the Holy Ka’bah to pray to Almighty Allah to save me from my sad plight.
On my way back, I saw a velvet cloth pouch lying near the road edge. I picked it up. It was nicely sewn and neatly tied with a silk cord. I looked around to find its owner but the road was deserted and nobody was in sight. I carried the pouch to my house. I was curious to know the contents of the small bag. As I untied the cord, a very precious necklace of pearls slipped into my hand. The luster of the spotless pearls almost lit my room. The pearls of different sizes were nicely put together in a string of crimson colored silk. It was a radiant beauty and I was thrilled to hold the valuable ornament. For a moment, I altogether forgot the hungry and pitiable state in which I was. My thoughts went to the unfortunate owner who had lost the precious jewelry. He must be unhappy and very worried due to his great loss. The course of action which I instantly decided on was to look for the owner and give him back his necklace to relieve him of this mental suffering. It never came to my mind to keep it wrongfully in my possession. So I set out to search for him. Leaving the bag behind, I went straight to the place were it was found.
A group of excited men were standing there and were busy in anxious conversation. I went close to them. Their topic of discussion was the missing pouch of pearls. An old man whose nobility and magnanimity was evident from his imposing personality, was standing amidst them. He was explaining the loss of his pearls to the attentive audience and was announcing a reward of five hundred gold coins to the person who could help him in recovering the lost necklace. I listened to his account of the loss very carefully. When I was sure of his ownership, I held his hand gently and requested him to come alo
ng with me. He looked at me very hopefully and without asking any questions, he followed me. On the way back to my house, I was delightfully thinking that a handsome amount of five hundred dinars would be mind after a short while. The very thought of getting a reward of that much money was very pleasing. I was wondering whether my miseries would be over. I would no longer be a hungry or poor person. With such happy ideas in my mind, I entered my house and also invited the old man to come in. When we sat down, I asked my perplexed guest about some marks of identification of his lost bad, so that his ownership could be established beyond doubt. He readily explained the shape and color of the pouch. He told me about its contents and gave an exact count of the pearls. He even described the tying cord. It convincingly proved that he was the rightful owner of the bad and the necklace of pearls. I silently rose and brought out the necklace pouch. As he saw it, his gloomy expression at once changed. His shining eyes beamed with joy and he looked at me with sincere gratefulness. His pleasant glance of thanks impressed me, and my own mode of thinking suddenly changed. A little earlier, I was enjoying the idea of getting a good reward but now my mind was reasoning as to what I had actually done to deserve it. It was by sheer chance that the bag had came into my possession. I had exerted no efforts to obtain it. Therefore, why did I expect to get a reward for returning it to its rightful owner? But I was actually in dire need of money. My poverty and the grim realities of life were looking me in the face. Why shouldn’t I accept the reward? It was absolutely legitimate and surely there was no harm in taking it. A painful conflict of indecision was going on within me and I was in an uneasy state of double mindedness.
The noble old man was looking at the necklace again and again as to assure himself of its recovery. He then looked at me and said, “O dear me, you are a virtuous person and I thank you from the core of my heart. I am unable to express fully my feelings of gratittude for your act of praiseworthy conduct. Nevertheless, I offer you a purse of five hundred dinars as a humble present and request you to kindly accept it.” He then placed in front of me a purse full of gold coins. A conflicting struggle of ideas was still going on in my mind. The sight of money which was within my easy reach was very tempting but I checked myself and said, “Sir, I thank you for offering me a substantial amount as a reward but it is impossible for me to accept it.” “Why not?” asked my noble guest, “You justly deserve the reward because I am giving it entirely of my own free will. I gladly give it to you as a humble token of my gratitude. Please do not dishearten me by refusing it.” I replied, “Sir, I cannot even think of being rude to decline your kind offer, but it is certainly improper for me to take it without doing anything to earn it. The necklace is yours and I happened to find it only by chance. Its restoration to you does not entitle me to take anything in return. Please do not insist on me to accept what is not morally due to me.” He was rather surprised by my firm refusal. Normally people yearn for money but I was adamantly declining it. He said, “My son! It is a virtue to be an honest person but the money is which is being offered to you is not disallowed by our faith. It is not prohibited to offer or accept such presents. Therefore, I request you to reconsider your unrealistic stand and keep that purse for the sake of my pleasure if not for anything else.” I said, “Sir, I do not at all intend to displease you, but the pleasure of Almighty Allah is more important to be reckoned with than your or my pleasure. If there is any good in my action, I will prefer to leave the matter to His Grace for compensation, which I do not wan tot risk for all the riches of this world. Kindly do not insist because I am determined not to accept any undue reward.” My guest collected his pouch and purse and stood much dejectedly to leave. He patted me on the back and left without a word.
After a week or so, I got back my previous job. My days of deprivation and hunger were over. I rejoined my classes and forgot all about the incident I my busy schedule of daily routine. I exerted all of my energy to acquire knowledge of the Holy Qur’an and Hadith. My main subject of interest was Islamic Jurisprudence. I completed my studies with a distinction. On the recommendation of my tutor, I was offered an appointment as Qazi of Qurtaba, (Cordova) the capital city of Haspaniyah (presently known as Spain). I readily accepted the post and started to prepare myself very happily for the long journey. I took leave of my colleagues and went to the port of Jeddah to embark on the ship for my destination. I boarded a merchant ship to carry me to the land of my future hopes. For the first few days, the voyage was smooth and very enjoyable. Then suddenly a violent storm of severe intensity overtook us and the ship was engulfed by stormy waves. The mountain high waves tossed the ship around like a tiny toy. The masts were broken and the sails torn. A mighty wave crushed the ship and wrecked it completely. A few screams were heard and it was all over. I saw some floating boards and a few victims of the crash swimming around trying to save their lives. They were the only survivors of the hapless ship who were drifting over the ocean surface. When I recovered from the shock, I found myself clinging to a plan and moving with it at the mercy of the waves. After drifting for two days, in a semi-conscious state, the waves tossed me upon the shore.
I thanked Almighty Allah for saving me from the jaws of death. I was so weak that I couldn’t move. I helplessly lay there exposed to the scorching heat of the burning rays of the sun. I crawled to the dim shadows of a thorny bush. I lost track of time and was in a state between dizziness and heavy slumber. After some time, I slightly opened my eyes and saw a few strange faces staring at me. They poured a few drops of water into my mouth and I came out of my oblivion but was still unable to speak. They made up a stretcher and carried me to a nearby town. When we approached near it, the first man-made thing which caught my eye was a towering minaret of a Masjid. I thanked Allah for being among my own brethren of faith.
They took me to a house belonging to one of them and laid me on a comfortable bed. With proper care, feeding, and treatment, I soon regained my lost energy. I told my kind host all about myself and the mishap of the ship wreck. My host, whose name was Faleh Hasan, informed me that I was in Hodeida, a coastal town of Yemen. The tract where I was luckily found was a desolate region and was a less treaded part of the coast. Faleh Hasan and his friends noticed a few vultures circling over the area, so they went to investigate and found me there in an unconscious state. He introduced me to his friends and I expressed my heartful thanks for saving my life.
Due to their loving concern, I was soon normal, both mentally and physically. I began to attend Masjid to offer my regular prayers and there I came to know many persons of nobility and of high-ranking positions. They all knew my unhappy episode through my host and treated me with understanding and respect. One of them was the aged and pious Sheikh Ahmad bin Suhail who usually led the prayers. He always greeted me with fatherly affection which touched me to the heart. One day, he was a little late to arrive to the Masjid, so the people requested me to lead the prayers. My hesitation and excuses proved to be useless before their sincere appeals.
That day I performed the duties of Imam. I did my best to recite clearly the Verses of the Holy Qur’an during the prayer and afterwards delivered a brief sermon on Islamic Law. Everyone seemed to be highly impressed. Sheikh Ahmad bin Suhail came forward and congratulated me on my excellent performance. I thanked him for his appreciation and encouragement. I came back to the house of my host filled with delight and self-confidence. But later, I had sometimes thought that I had overstayed my welcome. So after the evening prayers, I stated my intention of leaving, but my host disagreed with me. He wanted me to stay for a few more days to recoup my health fully.
At night, when I was going to bed, Sheikh Ahmad bin Suhail came with a few respectable people of the town. The friends of Faleh Hasan, who were my saviors, were also with them. When the preliminary formalities of greeting each other were over and all were comfortably seated, Sheikh Ahmad turned his eyes towards me and said, “Dear Abu Bakr, I have been honored by these gentlemen to speak to you, on behalf of them, about their commendable wish. I expect, you will please assent to it.” I was perplexed by that kind of address. So I said nervously, “Sir, you are very helpful and kind to me. I cannot disregard any of your commands or wishes. You can order me to do anything and it will be an honor for me to obey it.” He said, “Dear son, we all earnestly desire you to stay here with us forever. The regular Imam of our Masjid had died last year. We still mourn his death and perhaps will do so forever. His respect is deeply rooted in our hearts. He had enlightened our lives with the torch of knowledge. We wish you to take his place and consent to be our Imam. We may not be able to offer you a better paid position than that of the Qazi in Qurtaba, but we will surely give you our love, affection, and respect.” “But Sir,” I protested, “I am a fresh, inexperienced student and feel small to carry out the sacred duties of the high office of Imam.” The Sheikh said, “My son, do not underestimate yourself. We all have heard your recitiation and sermon, and are fully convinced of your ability to fulfill those responsibilities.” Before I could think of any evasive answer, my host, Faleh Hasan, and his friends vehemently backed up the proposal. I was left with no other alternative but to nod in affirmative.
Everybody was pleased with my decision, especially Sheikh Ahmad who thanked me and kissed my forehead. They all rose to leave and thanking me individually, departed very happy. They left me thinking how the secret hands of fate change the course of destiny in a secret manner. Circumstances secretly take such a turn that they altogether change the plans made up by man. I had cherished the hope of being a Qazi of Qurtaba and had taken steps to attain that goal, but preordained events made me an Imam of the Masjid in Hodeida. So a new phase in my life began. I took charge of the imposed position and shifted to the assigned house of the Imam. I restarted the primary school that had closed due to the sad demise of the former Imam. I also commenced evening classes to impart lessons to explain the meaning of the Holy Qur’an.
I completely adjusted myself to the new environment and people generally accepted me as their religious leader. I was very contented and never for a moment regretted my decision to settle there. All the people, young and old alike, were happy and respected me. The feelings of any estrangement all faded away and I became as if I was one of them for ages. One day, Sheikh Ahmad came to me and after enquiring about my welfare, said, “Dear Abu Bakr, your services to or townsmen are praiseworthy and beyond our expectations. I am glad that you had accepted our offer of staying with us. Now have come to you to ask one more favor.” I said, “Sir, I am at your service. Please tell me and I will comply with your order.” He said, “Dear son, a man is not perfect without his partner of life. I want you to marry and take full advantage of life. Marriage is also a sacred Sunna of our Holy Prophet. The sweet marital responsibilities are a real blessing which have been conferred onto man.” I replied, “Sir, you have always advised me in my best interest. I take you as a father to me and in this matter also, I will follow you counsel.” The Sheikh said, “Your predecessor, the late Imam of this Masjid was a very close friend of mine. He had a daughter, and when he was sure of his end, he entrusted her to my protection and care. Since then she has been under my guardianship. She is a lovely and adorable girl of good manners. Allah has endowed her with physical and mental beauty. She is virtuous and is a suitable match for you. I wish to give her in marriage to you and I feel sure that it will be a marriage of true minds.” I had no objection to the proposal whatsoever.
A few days later, the bonds of marriage united us. After the festive ceremonies were over, Sheikh Ahmad escorted her to my house that was in fact her old abode where she had lived with her late father. I looked at her and my gaze was concentrated steadily on her. I forgot to even say welcome to her. Ie was not only looking at her beautiful and charming face, and at her downcast eyes; but my glance was riveted upon her pretty neck, which was ornamented by precious pearls. I at once recognized that necklace. It was the same necklace that I once found on a deserted road of Makkah. I looked at her in silent and open-mouthed wonder.
Sheikh Ahmad noticed my confused condition and thought that her beauty and the luster of the pearls had enchanted me. He politely said, “Dear Abu Bakr, that necklace and its wearer, both are yours now and you can take all your time to behold them. It may, perhaps, interest you to know that the necklace has a strange story of its own. Five years ago, my friend went to Makkah for pilgrimage and took that necklace with him to get it re-polished. There, he lost it. But due to the goodness of an honest young man, he recovered it intact. That commendable young man refused to sell his honesty and declined the pressing offer of a handsome reward. He left a lasting impression upon my friend who always remembered and talked about him. He once confided to me that he had a mind to go to Makkah again and ask that virtuous young man to accept the hand of his daughter, but time did not allow him to do so. Anyhow, it was destined differently. His daughter was to become your wife instead of his. The decreed decisions of fate are strange and beyond the understanding of man.”
An emotional storm erupted within me. The strange happenings of the fateful events which were unfolded by the hidden hands of destiny agitated me and drops of tears rolled down my cheeks; I looked towards Sheikh Ahmad through misty eyes and said, “Dear Sir, you are very right to say that insight into the unknown mysteries of fate is not possible. It would perhaps be a pleasant surprise to know that I am the same person who found the necklace and restored it to your friend. He, in return, offered me an amount of five hundred dinars. Although I was a pauper and was suffering from the agonies of hunger in those days, my conscience did not allow me to accept anything that was not my due. I pinned all my hopes and expectations of Almighty Allah for any reward. And here I am with His gracious and greatest reward of all.” Sheikh Ahmad was amazed and without saying a word, he held my hand and shook it was a passion. My newly wedded wife lifted her eyes and looked me full in the face. Her eyes were filled with enthusiastic love that any husband ever could desire for. Almighty Allah had bestowed upon me His favors by giving me a considerate and loving wife and nothing in life surpasses that bliss.”