Seeking Knowledge Spiritual Purification

I’m Better Than You by Abdul Alim Abdullah

The following story is an extract from ibn al-Jawzī’s Ocean of Tears.

It has been related through some reports that there was a man who was from amongst the Islāmic jurists of Baghdād. He was a source of knowledge and authority for the people in addition to being a great and noble shaykh.

One time he desired to perform Hajj to Allāh’s Sacred House and to visit the grave of His Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him). He gathered some of the students who used to study with him and they set out for the journey placing their full trust in Allāh, Exalted is He.

During their travels they came upon a Christian monastery. They had become exhausted and fatigued from the heat of the sun and thirst. The students said to the shaykh, “Our dear teacher, let us take refuge at the monastery until the weather becomes cooler and then we’ll set out again.” The shaykh said to them, “Do as you please.” They then went to the monastery and settled at its walls. The students slept, but the shaykh did not.

The shaykh left the students sleeping with no other concern except to search for some water to perform wuḍū’. As he was searching for the water he raised his head and saw a young woman whose beauty emanated like the sun. At this moment Iblīs gained control of his heart and he forgot about the water and wuḍū’. He did not have any concern now except for this young woman. He went to the monastery’s gate and knocked upon it intensely. A priest came out and asked, “Who are you?”

The shaykh introduced himself.

The priest said, “And what do you want, O jurist of the Muslims?”

The shaykh said, “Dear priest, that young woman who appeared at the top of the monastery. Who is she?”

The priest said, “She is my daughter. What’s your business with her?”

The shaykh said, “I want you to marry her to me.”

The priest said, “That is something not permissible in our religion. If it were permissible, I would marry her to you even without consulting her. However, she made a covenant upon herself that she would not marry anyone whom she is not pleased with. I will go to her and inform her about you, and if she is pleased I’ll marry her to you.”

The shaykh said, “My warmest love and honor to you.”

The priest then went to his daughter and informed her of what transpired as the shaykh listened nearby.

She said, “My dearest father, how could you marry me to him? I am a Christian and he is a Muslim. No marriage will occur until he becomes a Christian.”

When she said that, the priest replied, “So if he accepts your religion will you marry him?”

She said, “Yes.”

As these events were unfolding, the noble scholar was becoming overly passionate. Iblīs began to beautify all of this to him while his companions were in deep sleep with no knowledge of what had happened to their teacher.

The shaykh approached the young woman and said, “I have rejected Islām and have accepted your religion.”

She said to him, “A marriage destined to happen! However, it is from my rights of marriage that there is a dowry payment. So, where is my dowry? I see you as someone poor, but if you herd these pigs over here for one whole year, I will accept that as a dowry.”

He said, “Sure, I will do that. But I have a condition that you do not conceal your face from me so that I may look at you throughout the day and night.” She agreed.

He took his cane that he used to lean upon during his public sermons and went to the pigs, driving them towards the pasture.

All of this happened while his companions were asleep. When they awoke they began to look for their teacher, but with no success. They asked the priest about him, and he told them what happened.

Some of them fell down unconscious, others cried and wailed. Others felt great regret for what happened to him.

They then asked the priest, “Where is he?”

He said, “He is herding pigs.”

They went to him and found him leaning upon his cane—the one on which he used to lean during his public sermons. This time around he was herding pigs with it. They said to him, “Our dear teacher, what is this misfortune that has happened to you?” They began to remind him of the virtues of Islām and the Qur’ān, and the virtues of Muḥammad ﷺ. They proceeded to recite some verses of the Qur’ān to him, as well as Prophetic traditions.

He said to them, “Get away from me! I am more knowledgeable with what you are reminding me with. This ordeal of mine is from the Lord of the Worlds.”

His companions said, “We tried convincing him to come with us but we were not able to. Thus, we left him and proceeded to Makkah with a feeling of regret for him in our hearts.

They performed their Hajj and began their journey back to Baghdād. When they came across the same monastery on the way back, they said, “Let us go see what our teacher has done. Perhaps he felt regret over his actions and repented to Allāh, Exalted is He, and returned to his previous state.”

They went to him and found him in the same situation, herding the pigs. They conveyed their salām to him, gave him reminders, and recited some Qur’ān to him, but he gave no response. They left him and the regret for him in their hearts intensified.

As they distanced themselves from the monastery in a state of mourning, someone began to come from the direction of the monastery crying out to them, and they stopped. It was their shaykh and he joined them once again.

He said, “I bear witness that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allāh, and I bear witness that Muḥammad is the Messenger of Allāh. I have repented to Allāh and have abandoned what I was upon. All of this has happened because of a sin between me and my Lord, and He wanted to punish me and thus you witnessed the ordeal I was in.”

The students were happy beyond belief and returned to Baghdād. The shaykh engaged in acts of worship and self-struggling far more than what he used to do. One day while they were reading to the shaykh, there was a knock at the door and it turned out to be a young woman. The students asked her, “What do you need, young lady?”

She said, “I want to speak to the shaykh.”

They went to the shaykh and told her that she was so-and-so, the daughter of the priest. She came to accept Islām at his hands. He permitted her to enter and she said to him, “My master, I have come to accept Islām at your hands.”

The shaykh said, “What is your story?”

She said, “When you left me, I became weary and fell asleep. I saw in my dream `Alī b. Abī Ṭālib, may Allāh be pleased with him, and he said to me: ‘There is no religion except the religion of Muḥammad, may Allāh’s peace and blessings be upon him.’ He said that three times and then said: ‘And Allāh will not test one of His righteous servants through you.’ So now I have come to you, standing here in front of you to say that I bear witness that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allāh, and I bear witness that Muḥammad his the Messenger of Allāh, may Allāh’s peace and blessings be upon him.”

The shaykh rejoiced that Allāh blessed her with Islām upon his hands. He then married her based upon the law of Allāh and His Messenger ﷺ.

The students asked him about the sin that he committed that was between him and Allāh.

He replied, “One day I was walking in a path when a Christian man grabbed a hold of me. I said: ‘Get away from me! May Allāh’s curse be upon you!’

He asked, ‘Why?’

I told him: ‘I am better than you.’

The Christian man turned to me and said, ‘And how do you know that you are better than me? Do you know of the matters with Allāh that would lead you to say such words?’

After some time, news reached me that this Christian man accepted Islām, lived it in a beautiful manner, and was persistent in his worship. Thus, Allāh tested me because of this as you have witnessed.”

We ask Allāh for a state of spiritual well-being in this life and the Hereafter.

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  • Salam Alaikum,

    Thank you for this story. I had heard it somewhere before – Does it have a factual basis?

    Does it surprise anyone that the question never arose as to whether he should be put to death for his apostasy? In all seriousness, if this event had happened in some Muslim countries today, such an event would lead to immediate imprisonment or vigilante violence – murders or riots. Yet this event seems to be set in a land undoubtedly controlled by the Muslim caliphate of the time, and the students knew how to respond constructively (reminding with the Quran but letting Allah guide or leave astray whom He wishes).

    It seems some Muslims today are quick to make exceptions to “La ikraha fi d-deen,” and this story is a lesson against that.

  • May Allah protect us from these tests. Such a scary story but alhamdullilah with a good ending. Reminded me to never have self admiration or arrogance. Allah is Al Hadi, He is the One that guides, it is never from ourselves. May Allah makes us among the steadfast and allow us to have a good ending, ameen.

  • Actually, this story has been recounted in an autobiography titled “Aap Beeti” it is of Shaykh Maulana Zakariyah Rahmatullah Alayh. The story is a little different here though (??). Where did the write come across this story and I recommend reading the above autobiography as this Shaykh is undoubtedly highly respected. May Allah shower His peace and choicest blessings upon the Prophet Muhammed and bless all Shuyookh of our time and of times gone. May Allah guide us all on the right path. Aameen.

  • Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    JazzakAllahu khair

    Inshaa Allah I will take this as a lesson to not consider myself better than a kaffir because Allah might guide him one day and bring him to the highest rank in Paradise and I might….ma’adhallah the thought is too horrific.

  • JazzakAllah Khairan! This is a beautiful reminder about the complexity/severity of Allah’s test on His believers!

  • As Salamu Alaikum,

    This story really, really hit home. I would like to share my experience, because it shows that what happened in this story can really happen to any of us.

    (This is an edited version of my post in the article, ‘Battling Temptations Part II’, which I posted around October 2012).

    I am a Muslima who is trying to practice her deen; I wear hijab, pray five times a day, spend about an hour reading/memorizing Quran each day, make dua, etc.

    But Allah knows best what is in our hearts: and clearly my heart has not been pure. I have fallen for a non-Muslim co-worker who is completely not available and haram for me.

    Alhamdhulillah, there has been no zina, and there is no question about leaving the Deen.

    We both try our absolute best to have no contact. This is not always 100% successful in the work environment, and has been very trying – paradoxically, I love him even more because I know his feelings are similar yet he tries so hard to be respectful and do the right thing.

    Never in my dreams did I imagine this would happen to me.

    Unlike the Shayk, I made many mistakes. But the scary part is, just like the Shayk, I thought I was better than others. In my case, I smugly thought I was better than some relatives of mine, who were also struggling with illicit love. I recall we’d sit as a family gossiping about them.

    Anyway, I am leaving the job in a few months, in no small part due to this situation. And Allah has so far in His tremendous mercy has kept all this secret.

    Strangely, the way this story ends makes me hope that perhaps in the future, Allah will make this man halal for me, although that will require miracles.

    But if not, I trust that if we give up something for the sake of Allah, Allah will give us something better.

    Please make dua for me.

    And please, please don’t read this story as some abstract theory on Allah’s justice, or something that only happens to ‘other people.’

    We have to always keep to the straight path and keep our hearts pure and humble.

    • waalaikumsalam dear sister,

      Though we go through bad times in our life due to our own doings & Allah controls all that, just keep faith that whatever bad He allows to happen to us, at the end of it all , there is goodness for us – He will never let you drown in darkness. There is always, Alhamdullilah, light at the end of the dark tunnel & it is no ordinary light – it is the NOOR of Allah. I love you sister for the sake Allah & may Allah help you with courage & wisdom to deal with your situation for the sake of His pleasure – Ameeen

      • Thank you so much and Jazak Allahu Khayran, RKhan. Your kind words and dua are so helpful during this difficult time.

        Indeed, I feel like I am crawling in a dark tunnel – there is a light somewhere ahead, I don’t know exactly where it is and what it leads to, but I am trying to go towards the light, which I know is from the Noor of Allah.

        • Your choice makes your character. May Allah help you stay that way. Let me tell you, you have shown bravery and you won’t be let down.
          I am impressed. I can imagine what you must have gone through emotionally. Reward is indeed your way eventually. Indeed all the tests from Allah ends up as blessings.
          We get closer to Him.

          – Azhar

  • Thank you so much for posting this article and opening my eyes to what I have been blinded by all this while. I have been unemployed for few months now and have always discreetly felt that I am better than my peers as I always performed academically well in school compared to them. I was questioning to a great deal why my peers were hired to work in established companies with very handsome pay while I was left with not even a call for a job interview. Reading this article has me reflecting my inner thoughts on how I perceive myself among others. It has made me realize, no one is above others, a quality which can only be attributed to God the All- Mighty. One should always try to be humble and Istigfar if such feelings start to develop. Thank you for the reminder.

  • in my mind. This thing brings us backward that “I am better than you” nothing is great in this universe but Allah. but in this world every human thinks in his mind that he is better than others. Jazak-Allah good work is done by you. This article has got a place

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