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Books Section > The Golden Deeds of Islam by Maulana Muhammad Yakub Khan > When a Muslim's Word was his Bond
When a Muslim's Word was his
by Muhammad Yakub Khan
Taken from: The Golden Deeds of Islam
By the side of the sandy track that ran from Makkah to Madinah, there rose a lovely grove of palm trees. Underneath these flowed springs of cool crystal water. Caravans that wended their weary way across the bleak desert thanked Allah as they came upon this boon. Unloading their camels, they halted there, enjoyed the cool refreshing water and spent the noon-tide in the thick shades of the trees. Their animals, in the meantime, roamed about and helped themselves to whatever came their way. Scattered among these trees were humble huts in which the tenants of the Sheikh, who was the master of the oasis, dwelt. In the centre of this hamlet and surrounded by rich orchards there stood a nice little villa, the residence of the Sheikh himself.
Peace and content reigned in this lonely habitation. Life went on smoothly until one fateful day when a young man on camel-back chanced to pass that way. As usual, he dropped at the oasis to have a little rest. Letting his camel loose to graze about, he stretched his weary limbs under one of the trees by the side of the stream. The breeze was cool, he was tired and before long he was fast asleep.
Meanwhile, his animal moved about freely, chewing on every bush or bramble that it came across. As ill luck would have it, it broke at length into the Sheikh's garden and spoiled the rich vineyard. The keeper of the garden, a pious old man, was busy making a matting for the mosque. As he looked up, he saw the beast damage his master's property. Taking hold of his club, he rushed at the animal and drove it out. A short while afterwards the beast found another way in. The old man again turned it out, but the animal repeated the raid a third time, and a third time the keeper brandished his club at it. This time, however, the blow fell on a tender spot and the camel fell with a thud! It was dead.
The young man, the owner of the camel, was fast asleep while all this went on. Little did he dream what fate his old camel had met. When he woke up, the shadows had already lengthened. The rays of the sun had lost much of their heat. It was time to start. Like a good Muslim, however, his first concern was to say his afternoon prayers. Taking a dip in the cool brook and making the necessary ablutions, he spread his prayer carpet and in solemn bows and prostration thanked Allah for the cool shade, sweet water, rest and comfort He had vouchsafed him in that desert place. This done, he promptly made ready to resume his journey. He looked about for his camel, but the animal was nowhere to be seen. "Where on earth has it gone?" he said to himself. However, as he proceeded further and entered the Sheikh's garden he saw the camel lying stiff and cold. A bolt from the blue could not have caused him greater shock. The death of the beautiful beast which was to him as dear as a friend caused him much grief.
The gardener who had done it came up to explain the whole thing. "Please pardon me, O son," said the old man. "It was an accident. I meant no harm. The camel was spoiling the garden. I just wanted to drive it out. Twice I turned it out but it came in a third time. That time the blow proved fatal. It was an accident pure and simple, and I am so very sorry."
The young man was too upset to listen to any explanations. His rage knew no bounds. "You old fool!" he shouted, and with his big brawny hands he caught the poor old man by the throat. "You old fool! How dare you touch my beast?" And in the fit of anger he gave the old man such a violent shake that his weak age-worn body could not stand it. His heart failed, and in the twinkling of an eye, the keeper of the Sheikh's garden was no more. He fell down dead.
Now, when the excitement of the moment had passed, the young man stood aghast at what he had done. He was filled with remorse. He had taken the life of a fellow man and had violated the sacred law of Islam. Had not the Prophet said: "The life, honour and property of one Muslim is sacred and inviolable unto another"? Was this not the very parting message of the Prophet to the world of Islam on the eve of his departure from this world? The words kept ringing in his ears. He was overwhelmed with shame. He was an unworthy son of Islam, he said to himself, a traitor. In taking the life of a brother man, he had betrayed the very last trust the Prophet had reposed in every Muslim.
It was, however, too late. What was done was done. The question now was: What was he to do? There was nobody about. Must he slip off to save his neck? To stay there was to court the hangman's rope. What was he to do? Thus did he muse within himself and was almost on the point of giving way to the instinct of self-preservation and taking to his heels, when there came a sharp and firm voice from within. "No! Never!" said this voice. It was un-Muslim-like to have given way to his wrath. It was sheer madness. But even a mad Muslim must not be a mean Muslim. To escape the law of the land would mean deception and it was not for a Muslim to deceive. Straightway he made for the Sheikh's villa and gave himself up as the murderer of the old gardener.
This was in the time when Umar the Great reigned in Madinah as the Caliph of Islam. The fame of his even-handed justice had spread far and wide. It spared neither high nor low, friend nor foe. He had ordered his own son, when found guilty, to be flogged to death. To such a court was the young man sent by the Sheikh to stand trial. The old man's two sons accompanied him.
After a weary march, the party, prosecutors as well as the accused, arrived at the capital of Islam. The suit was duly lodged before the Caliph. Umar's court was nothing like our modern courts with so much of pomp and ceremony but with so little of justice. Simplicity was the badge of Islam in that golden age. The court was no other than the thatch-roofed mosque; nor was the judge bedecked with any wig, hood or gown. In his patched yet clean garments sat the mighty Caliph on a bench of no other than a palm matting. Nevertheless, the wrong-doer trembled at his sight. His stern justice was the protector of the weak and the terror of the oppressor. The jury was equally simple. It consisted of the pious congregation of Muslims who had come to say their prayers. God-fearing folks, they were all lovers of justice and fair-play. Before such a judge and such a jury was the young man brought, charged with the murder of the old man, the keeper of the Sheikh's garden.
"Amir-ul-Muminin," said the elder son. "This man stopped at our oasis for rest. As he was having a nap, his camel strayed into our Sheikh's garden and did much damage to the vineyard. Our father twice drove the beast out, but it came in again. The third time the blow fell on some vital organ and the animal died. It was just a mistake. He meant no harm. He was only doing his duty. That was his job and that was what the Sheikh paid him to do. This young fellow was lying asleep all this while and knew nothing about it. My father could have denied any knowledge of the incident if he had so chosen. There was no eye-witness to the incident. But he was a true Muslim and a true follower of the Prophet. He would not sully the name of Islam and the Prophet by telling a lie. He often told us that a Muslim must be truthful, no matter what the consequences. Truthfulness, he would tell us, was the brightest gem in the Prophet's character. Even before he was made a prophet, he was nick-named al-Amin, the Upright. A man of such pure Islamic sentiments could not stoop so low as to tell a lie merely to save his skin. He came up to this man and frankly told him all that had happened and expressed his sorrow. But this fellow, rather than appreciate his candid Islamic confession and regret, rushed at his aged throat and killed him outright."
Total silence reigned in the courtroom as the old man's son related the sad story.
"What have you to say to this, young man?" came the firm clear voice of the judge, breaking the silence.
"Sire," said the young man, his head hanging low in shame and remorse. "I have nothing to say, no defence to offer. I am filled with shame and sorrow at what my hands have wrought. I care not if I pay for it with my life, which I am here to do. What pains me most is that I have been a traitor to Islam. I turned my back on the noble teachings of Islam. The Prophet has enjoined that a Muslim must respect old age. The Prophet in his very last will to the world of Islam made the life, property and honour of one man sacred unto another. I turned my back on all this and rather than show respect due to a grey-bearded man, I lost my head and took his life. I have nothing to say but submit to the law. I plead guilty."
The audience in the mosque was visibly moved by this candid confession of the young man. They all admired his Islamic courage to tell the truth, even in the face of death. "Well done," said the Caliph. "Well done, my boy. This is how a Muslim lad must behave. It is never too late to repent and feel ashamed of one's evil conduct. Though a murderer, I must congratulate you on your high sense of truthfulness. That is what Islam expects from every one of its sons. What if death should stare him in the face? A Muslim must never be so mean as to tell a lie. It is a coward who tells lies. He is afraid of consequences. Whatever else a Muslim may be, he is never a coward. Fear is not a word in the dictionary of Islam. I am glad that at this critical juncture you have behaved as a worthy son of Islam. Nevertheless, I am so sorry. It cannot be helped. The law must have its course. You shall die."
"Amir-ul-Muminin," rejoined the young man. "You need not be sorry. A Muslim is one who submits to the will of Allah. It is His will that I should die and I cheerfully submit to His will. I just have one last request to make. Back at home I have some debts to clear off. This is what rankles in my mind. How shall I face God with my obligations to my fellow-men unfulfilled? I may be a murderer, but let it not be said that I was dishonest. I vividly recollect how the Prophet, when on the point of death, had just this one anxiety in his mind. He expressly asked if he owed anything to anybody so that it might be paid. He asked if he had offended anybody, so that he might make amends for it while he was yet alive. He did not wish to leave this world but with a clean sheet. Better ashamed before man than ashamed before God, he said. I would be unworthy of his illustrious name and a slur on his noble memory, should I leave behind my debts unpaid. Please, therefore O, Amir-ul-Muminin, allow me just enough respite to go home and clear off these debts. This is my last, my only wish."
The congregation, as well as the Caliph, was once more filled with admiration for the young man. "What a high sense of honesty!" they all said. "Just at the threshold of death, only one anxiety troubles his heart -- his unfulfilled obligations to man! What a pity that such a worthy son of Islam should have to die!"
There was, however, no way out of it. The law was no respecter of persons. Die he must. But everybody wished that his last request might be granted.
"So be it," declared the Caliph. "Your wish is granted. But you must produce someone to stand surety for you and be responsible that you duly turn up at the appointed hour for execution."
"Amir-ul-Muminin!" submitted the young man. "My word of honour is the only surety I can give and a Muslim's word of honour is his bond."
"You are right," rejoined the Caliph. "That is what is expected of every son of Islam. He must be true to his word even if it should cost him his life. But the procedure of the law must be observed and the law does not recognise a mere word of honour as surety. You must produce someone to stand surety for you."
This cast a gloom over the young man. He was a stranger to the place. Who would stand surety for him and endanger his own life for a mere stranger? He was at a loss what to do. It was a critical affair. In case he failed to turn up at the appointed time, the surety ran the risk of his own life. This was too much for a stranger to expect. He cast a helpless look of despair all around, but he could not take heart to ask anyone. He knew it would be asking too much.
Thus stood the young man there, the very picture of gloom and disappointment, when, to the joyful surprise of all, from a corner of the mosque, an elderly man sprang to his feet. "Amir-ul-Muminin!" he announced, "I offer myself as a surety for this young man." This was Abuzar Ghaffari, the well-known Companion of the Prophet.
The young man was forthwith released. Promising to return in time for his execution, he hastened home to set his affairs straight. Before he faced God, he must square up his dealings with man. His home was a long way off. He travelled day and night. The time at his disposal was short and he had to be back in time to meet his doom. So he hurried and went as fast as he could. At last he reached home. The whole family was filled with joy. His little children ran up to him. Each vied with the others to reach him first, throw their tiny arms around his knees and win the first kiss from him. His wife and old parents were transported with joy as they saw this cheer and sunshine brought back to the family after many days of absence. The aged mother advanced and imprinted a warm kiss on her son's forehead. This scene of love and joy was, however, too good to last long. A cloud soon passed over it. The young man looked unusually agitated and sad emotions seemed to swell up within him. The older members of the family could not fail to sense that all was not well.
"What is the matter with you?" exclaimed the mother anxiously, "You look so agitated, so upset. What is wrong?" Silence prevailed. The young man buried his head in his hands. He did not know how to break the news to his family. To his dear old mother and father, these brief moments of suspense seemed ages. This was the first time that a ripple of anxiety had ever crossed the forehead of their son. It foreboded something serious. The young man at last raised his head, and summoning courage, thus broke the silence:
"My dear mother! While I was yet a boy, you told me stories of the bravery of Muslims of the time of the Prophet. They bore great hardships, but a murmur never came to their lips. It was the will of Allah and their joy lay in doing His will. They had to encounter great dangers but they were never daunted. It was the will of Allah. At the field of battle they wrought deeds of valour and if duty called, they plunged into the very jaws of death. Fearless, dauntless, death itself was to them a doorway to Heaven. Didn't you tell me all this, my dear mother?"
As, however, the young man went on in this strain, talking of dangers, daring, death and all that, his parents listened with bated breath. Their anxiety knew no bounds. With their eyes riveted on their son's lips, they trembled as all sorts of conjectures crossed their minds. What was he about to divulge? they wondered.
"Well, my dear mother," continued the young man, "you have always told me how brave Muslim mothers and fathers were. At the call of duty they would rouse the spirits of their dearly loved sons to brave all dangers. Duty or death -- that was to be their motto in life, they told them. Now listen! The moment has come when our Islamic mettle shall be put to the test. Be brave and I will tell you."
The parents, now prepared for the worst, assured their son that he might break the news. He would find them worthy of the traditions of Islam. The young man then recounted the whole story how, while he was taking a nap at the oasis, his camel was killed by the gardener; how he got enraged, lost his temper and caused the death of the old man; how he was taken to the court of the Caliph, tried and condemned to death; how he implored the Caliph to let him pay off his debts; how he had been released on bail; how a stranger, trusting his mere word of honour, had stood surety for him. "I am now here," he continued, "not as the son of this house, to live under this dear old roof and share your joys and sorrows, but I am here to pay my last respects to you and to bid you farewell for good. Let the money-lenders whom I owe money be sent for. I must be quick. I have just enough time to settle the account and be back in time for my execution."
As the young man thus delivered himself, the parents were dumb-founded. Streams of tears trickled down their cheeks, on which age had drawn deep furrows. It took them some time to recover from the shock.
"Allah's will be done," said the mother. "What is written is written and you must keep your word. Let it not be said that the son of a Muslim mother was untrue to his word to save his life."
The money-lenders came. As a class, these money-lenders are devoid of all humane feelings. They are notorious for their pound of flesh. But now, when they came to know that the young man had but a few hours to settle the account, they saw their opportunity. They must extort more than their due from him, they thought. He had no cash. He could only pay in kind and live-stock and it was for these hard-hearted money-lenders to fix the price. They did it at a very low rate, less than half the market value. But there was no helping it. The debt had to be paid, there and then. Much of the young man's property was thus made over to the creditors.
The most crucial time was yet to come, the hour of departure. The camel was duly brought and saddled. The young man must bid eternal farewell to his sweet home and leave. The wrench was by no means easy. Between sobs and tears and kisses, the parents embraced their darling, one after the other. The young wife fainted as the parting of ways came and her beloved husband, the sweet companion of her life, advanced towards her. There on the ground she lay unconscious, her rich beautiful hair dishevelled and rolling in dust. The young man bent over her and gave her a parting kiss. So far he kept up his courage. But when he turned to the dear little ones standing by, lost in amazement at all this, his iron resolve seemed to give way. He sat in their midst and warmly hugged and kissed each one.
"Daddy!" said the eldest of the three. "Is Mummy dead? Who will take us to the fair? Please Daddy, don't go."
The younger two clung to his knees as he got up. "We would also go with you, Daddy," they began to cry.
For once the young man's courage seemed to fail him. The sight of these sweet little things who thought their mother was dead and father was leaving them too, unnerved him. There was no policeman about. A word of honour was all that bound him. Besides, living in the heart of the desert, it would be no easy thing for the arm of the law to reach him. Why, for a mere word of honour, kill the joy and happiness of a whole family for life? Why break those tiny innocent hearts? He was the offender, not they. Why doom them to the miserable lot of orphans? As he thus mused within himself, for a moment, it seemed, the flesh in him was about to get the better of the spirit. But the last moment had come. To be in time for the execution, he must put his foot in the stirrup at once and be off.
There at the most crucial cross-roads of his life, the young man stood, lost in thought about which course to take. Honour called him back to execution. Love of parents, wife and children nailed him to the ground there. There was a severe conflict within him -- conflict between the flesh and the spirit. But this lasted for just one brief moment. His Muslim sense of honour re-asserted itself. Let not your wealth or your children divert you from the path of God! came the clarion call of the Quran to his ears. And his choice was made. To a Muslim, his word of honour must be more than his father, his mother, his wife, his children. So, in the midst of tears and cries, he jumped on his camels back and was off to Madinah and his doom. The dear ones left behind followed him with wistful looks till he was lost in the distance.
At full speed the young man hurried to Madinah and his own execution. Yes, his own execution! A very strange thing indeed, but such happens to be a Muslim's code of honour. When once he has pledged his word he never goes back upon it, not even if it should cost him his life. The history of Islam is rich in promises kept under the most trying circumstances. A worthy son of Islam, the young man acted up to these noble traditions of Islam. Death stared him in the face, but it was not for a follower of the great Prophet to play false and go back upon his word. On and on he sped towards the capital. In spite of himself, however, he was unavoidably detained on the way. His stirrups gave way and he had to drop at a way-side hamlet to get them mended. This took some time. The appointed hour of execution came and he was still on the way.
In the meantime, there was much sensation in Madinah. People had gathered at the mosque. Abuzar Ghaffari, the surety, was also there. The young man was expected back at any moment. The time fixed for execution came and went but the young man did not turn up. This caused much anxiety on account of Abuzar, whose life was now in the balance. There were all sorts of surmises. Perhaps the young man had lied.
"Poor Abuzar!" everybody said. "He must die for nothing."
Abuzar, on his part, was cool and calm. "What is written is written," he said. "A Muslim must cheerfully submit to the decree of Allah. It is His will that I should die. I am ready for it."
All that Abuzar asked for was that before leaving this world he might be allowed to say his last prayers. He made his ablutions and said his prayers. Then he made ready for the execution. When, however, all was ready, there, on the distant horizon, was seen a moving speck in a cloud of dust.
"Wait! Wait!" ordered the Caliph, as the executioner was on the point of doing his job. "Wait! It may yet be the young man."
The executioner stayed his hand. All eyes were now turned towards the advancing speck. At first it was dim and indiscernible. As, however, it drew nearer and nearer, it brought added hope to the anxious crowd. It was someone on camel back riding along at full speed. The figure gradually became more and more distinct. To the immense relief of everyone present, it turned out to be the condemned young man. Abuzar was the recipient of congratulations from all sides and excitement ran high. The young man arrived at last.
"I am sorry," he said, as soon as he stepped into the mosque, "that I could not turn up at the right moment and kept you waiting so long. I must specially ask pardon of my unknown benefactor who stood surety for me at the risk of his own life. It must have been a great worry to him. But I could not help it." And he explained at length what had detained him on the way.
Everybody admired the young man's sense of honour, no less than Abuzar's spirit of self-sacrifice. The Caliph was deeply touched, too, and allowed the man to take rest before he should prepare for execution. As they all sat down in the mosque, the young man, Abuzar, the murdered old man's sons, the great Caliph, Umar, with the eager crowd around them, the Caliph thus questioned Abuzar:
"Abuzar. What made you risk your own life for the sake of this young man?"
"Amir-ul-Muminin!" replied this great Companion of the Prophet. "When the young man cast a helpless glance at the Muslim congregation, wondering whether someone would come to his assistance and stand surety for him, I was filled with shame that in a crowd of Muslims, a fellow Muslim should feel so helpless and find himself a stranger. Let not people say, I said to myself, that the Islamic teaching, that all Muslims are brothers, is mere platitude and that in time of distress one Muslim does not come to the help of another. Come what may, I said, the good name of Islam must not be sullied, and so I stood surety for him."
Everyone was greatly touched at these words. The Caliph then turned to the young man: "What was it, O young man, that made you come back to your own execution?"
"Amir-ul-Muminin," replied the young man, "it was not an easy thing for me to do. Great was the temptation in my way. My home is in the trackless heart of the desert, which the hand of justice can hardly penetrate. There was nobody about to force me back here. Then there were before me the age-worn faces of my dear old mother and father streaming with tears, as I was coming away. My lovely young wife fell down unconscious at the thought of life-long separation. My three sweet little children clung to my feet, clamouring, Dad! Dad! Where are you going? It was not easy to wrench myself away from these dear ones. But every time the flesh within me was about to get the upper hand of the spirit, I said to myself, What would people say of it? A Muslim breaking his solemn word of honour! Let not the name of Islam be sullied through me, I resolved, and in the midst of tears and shrieks of those dear ones, I jumped onto my camel's back."
The audience was once more moved to a high pitch of excitement. They greatly admired the young man's sense of honour. A perfect Islamic atmosphere prevailed which could not but move the gardener's sons.
"Amir-ul-Muminin!" they spoke out. "This young fellow has killed our father and we have come all the way to see that he is made to pay. But now it seems to us that in avenging our father's death we would be ignoring the higher Islamic teaching of forgiveness. A tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye was the ancient law. But Islam has given us the higher gospel of forgiveness. To forgive an offender, teaches the Quran, is more meritorious in the eye of God than to punish him. Let it not be said that two unworthy sons of Islam were too petty-minded to forgive and forget. Islam's name shall not be sullied through us. We forgive the young man."
"Allah-o-Akbar!" went up the enthusiastic shout from the crowd. There was great joy that all ended so well.
This page was printed from the 'Official Website of the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha'at-e-Islam Lahore (Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement for the Propagation of Islam)'
located at http://aaiil.org or http://www.aaiil.org