By Sadia Dehlvi
Sep 30, 2011
Habib Ajmi of the eighth century was once an extremely wealthy moneylender from Persia. He lent money on interest to the people of Basra. Habib collected his dues daily, known never to return without having squeezed payments. When poorest of his debtors were unable to pay on time, he levied heavy penalty charges.
One day Habib visited a woman’s house to recover the money owed to him. She told him that her husband was away and that she had no money. A small uncooked piece of meat was all that the couple had in the house.
Habib ordered her to cook the leftover meat for him. The poor woman informed him that there was no wood for fuel. Habib got the wood from the market, and told the woman that the cost of the wood would be added to the debt.
While the food was being cooked, a beggar came along. Habib sent him away saying, “If we give you what we have got, you will not become rich but we will become poor.” The hungry beggar left unfed.
When the woman looked at the saucepan containing the food, she saw that the meat had turned the colour of blood. Shrieking, she blamed Habib and his cursed practices of usury for causing the evil omen. The incident deeply impacted Habib and he decided to mend his ways.
The following day Habib set out of his house with the intention of waiving all the debts owed to him. On seeing him, a group of children on the street commented, “Look out! Here comes Habib, the devourer of interest. Be careful! Don’t let the dust under his feet contaminate you. If that happens we will become miserable and as unfortunate as him.”
These words further grieved Habib and he went straight to Hasan of Basra, one of the leading Sufis of the time. He wept bitterly, became his disciple and resolved to walk the mystic path. On the way home, Habib met one of his debtors who promptly fled on seeing him. Habib called to the debtor, “Do not flee. Now I have to flee from you.”
Habib distributed all his wealth amongst the needy, constructed a small hut on the bank of the river Euphrates and led an ascetic life. He soon became one of Hasan’s most-gifted disciples. Habib’s Persian descent hampered his efforts to speak Arabic fluently.
Once, unaware of his master’s presence, Habib was leading the ritual prayer. Hasan thought of joining in, but finding fault with Habib’s pronunciation, refrained from praying with his disciple. That night Hasan dreamt of God saying to him: “Hasan, you found My pleasure but did not understand its value. I cherish the purity of heart more than mere pronunciation.”
Source: The Asian Age, New Delhi