To consider the good, the welfare and happiness of others and to prefer them above one’s own, to feel compassion for their misfortunes as if they were one’s own, to take on the responsibility for the problems of all mankind and to pray continually for their salvation - these are virtues of the Prophets. Yet some people, while not Prophets, do attain the highest ranks in the estimation of Allah because of the depth of the grief they feel at the loss which others have inflicted on themselves.
Bayezid-i Bestami gives an account from his experience:
In my time there were thousands of saints. They prayed intently, and trained and disciplined themselves in the way of Allah, living an austere routine; some had even been workers of miracles. But the leading saint of the age was a blacksmith. There seemed to be nothing extraordinary about him. He had been doing nothing but shaping metal, hammering at his anvil to make his living. I asked myself how such a person could be kutb, the leading saint, of the age. Out of curiosity, I went and visited him in his shop. When he saw me he became extremely happy, held my hands, kissed them repeatedly, and begged me for a special prayer for himself. Since he did not enter that realm where miracles are possible or experience anything of it, he was unaware of how great a saint he was. When I earnestly asked him to pray for me, he replied: ‘I cannot be relieved from my own worries and troubles by praying for you.’ When I asked for an explanation, he said, ‘I wonder at and am troubled about how the people will manage when they are to give account of their lives before Allah on the Day of Judgement; I am deeply concerned and sorrow for those who will not easily be able to do so. Other than this, I have no worries or troubles.’ Even as he said this he burst into tears. His demeanor and sincerity caused my own tears to flow too. And I heard a voice within my self, proclaiming, ‘This man is not of those who say “my self, my self” but of those who say “my people, my people, my people”.’ And then I understood why he was so great and why he was the leading saint of the age. He seemed to me to be directly on the path of the Prophets. ‘But the people, the account they give of themselves, and their chastisement, these are not your burden.’ I said. He answered: ‘The most inward part of my being, the very nature of my self, was kneaded by compassion. I can only be happy and free from the burden of worries and troubles if all people in Hell are forgiven and only then if I could suffer in Hell on their behalf.’ I sat and conversed for hours with the blacksmith in his shop. He knew only enough verses of the the Qur’an to perform the obligatory prayers. However, I realized while in his presence that I received such Divine Blessings and attained such a station as I had been unable to acquire for years. I also realized that being a kutb was not a matter of only prayers, knowledge, and asceticism, but also a matter of such profound understanding, and depth of feeling and dependence upon the blessings of Allah.
How fortunate are those who show concern for, sensitivity to, and understanding of, the sufferings of the ummah and all mankind. And how blessed are those who suffer on account of others’ sufferings. How lucky, too are those who try to be with such people and share in their feeling.