A story of true gratitude
Imam adh-Dhahabi mentions a story of one of the righteous men of the past- Abdullah ibn Muhammad. He got lost during one of his travels and ended up on a hillock. On the hillock he came across a tent. The tent was really battered, and torn all over, and there was a lot of wind blowing into the tent. So, the righteous man, Abdullah, peered in and saw a very old man. The man had no hands and was blind. On top of that, he was paralyzed. All he was saying as he sat there was:
الحمد لله الذي فضلني على كثير من عباده تفضيلا
“All Praise is due to Allah who has preferred me (in blessings) to so many of His slaves.”
The righteous man, Abdullah ibn Muhammad came closer and put his head inside the tent. The man kept repeating the same dua over and over again.
Abdullah said, “Assalamu alaykum.”
The old man asked, “Who is that?”
Abdullah: “I am a traveller who got lost, but I have a question for you.”
Old man: “I will respond to your question, but you must do a favour for me.”
Abdullah agreed, and then asked, “Why is it that I see you in this situation that you are in, that you are not able to walk, you do not have hands and you are blind. You do not have any wealth whatsoever, and you are thanking Allah for preferring you over so many of His slaves.”
Old man: “Do you not see that I am of sane mind?”
Old man: “How many of the slaves of Allah are insane?”
Old man: “Then Alhamdulillah, (All Praise is due to Allah) who has preferred me over so many of His insane slaves. Do you not see that I am able to hear?”
Old man: “How many of the slaves of Allah are deaf?”
Old man: “Then Alhamdulillah who has preferred me over so many of His deaf slaves.”
The man goes on and mentions about how he can still speak while so many of the slaves of Allah are mute. He goes on to mention of how he has been blessed with Islam while other people are worshipping idols, trees, humans, etc. Then Abdullah ibn Muhammad said, “You have spoken the truth. So what is the request that you have?”
Old man: “All my family members have died. And the only one person I have is a small boy who brings food and helps me with everything as I cannot bring food or even feed myself. Yesterday the boy went out, and he hasn’t come back until now. So please go out and find him for me.”
So Abdullah ibn Muhammad went out in search of the boy. After a period of time, he came on top of a hill. In the horizon he noticed vultures circling. Abdullah knew that vultures only circle around a dead body.
Abdullah went to that area, and found the dead body of the small boy. A wolf had attacked him, killed him and eaten most of his body. Abdullah looked at the corpse and wondered, “How do I go back and tell this old man who has nothing in this world, that the only person he did have has been eaten by a wolf?”
Abdullah thought of not going back to the old man, However, he couldn’t bring himself to do that. So, he started making his way back to the old man and on the way, Abdullah remembered about the Prophet of Allah, Ayyub, alayhi salam. He entered the tent.
Abdullah greeted him.
Old man: “Where did you find him?” (He was very sure that the boy had been found.)
Abdullah: “I will ask you a question first. Who is more beloved to Allah, you or His Prophet Ayyub?”
Old man: “No doubt it is Prophet Ayyub.”
Abdullah: “Then who has had a more difficult test, you or His prophet Ayyub?”
Old man: “No doubt His prophet Ayyub
Abdullah: “Seek the reward then from Allah. I have found your boy on the top of the hill; the wolf had found him, attacked him, and eaten him.”
Old man: “La hawla wa laa quwwata illa billah. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raajioon. Ash-shadu alla ilaha illa Allah.” (There is no power or might except with Allah. Indeed to Allah we belong and to Him is our return. I testify that none is worthy of worship but Allah.)
And the man kept repeating these phrases over and over again. He kept remembering Allah and then starting taking deep breaths. Abdullah felt as though the man would die. He picked up the man’s head and kept giving him water.
The man kept repeating Ash-shadu alla ilaha illa Allah, Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raajioon (I testify that none is worthy of worship but Allah. Indeed to Allah we belong and to Him is our return) until he finally died.
Abdullah ibn Muhammad waited until he found a group of travellers along that valley. He asked their help in washing the body, wrapping it in the burial shroud and to dig a grave for that man. They buried the man and prayed Janazah over him.
Abdullah thereafter went on in his journey. That night Abdullah ibn Muhammad saw the old man in a vision. The old man was looking good, seemingly in excellent health and condition. In the dream Abdullah conversed with the man.
Abdullah: “How did you get to here? How did you become better? How did you change so much?”
Old man: “My Lord entered me into paradise and it was said to me, ‘Peace be unto you for what you have been patient upon, and what a good end you got.’
That is the story of an old man. Someone whose name we do not know, who was hardly known, and who hardly had a life to live. And yet, one of the righteous men of our ummah was given a vision confirming his entry into paradise. He truly embodied the verse of the Quran:
If you are thankful, then I will increase you. [Quran 14:7]
(Story mentioned in Siyar a’lam an-Nubula by Imam adh-Dhahabi)
Lesson: What is the first word of the Qur’an – the word Allah(SWT) chose to begin the most-oft repeated Surah of all – al Fatihah? It was to the command to praise him. Contemporary self-development practise recommends the exercise of gratitude – appreciating that each of us has abundance, and thereby giving perspective to our challenges and reducing the endless desire for wanting more and more.