I was on my journey to Hajj. Travelling through the lands of Iraq and Syria, I came across an old woman all on her own. I greeted her and she answered me with the verse, “Peace! is the word from the Lord All-Compassionate” (Ya Sin 36:58). “What are you doing here?” I asked her. She replied, “Whomever God leads astray there is no one to guide him; and He leaves them wandering blindly in their rebellion.” (A’raf 7:186). I realized that she was lost. Asked where she was travelling to, she answered me with the verse, “All-Glorified is He Who took His servant for a journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque the environs of which We have blessed, so that We might show him some of Our signs. Surely He is the One Who hears and sees” (Isra’ 17:1). I realized that she had fulfilled her duty of Hajj in the previous group and now was travelling to Quds (Jerusalem).
“How long have you been lost?” I asked her. “For three nights” (Maryam 19:10) was her Qur’anic rejoinder. I offered her food. She replied with, “Observe the Fast until night sets in” (Baqarah 2:187). “Yes, but we are not in the month of Ramadan,” said I. “Whoever does a good work voluntarily, surely God is All-Responsive to thankfulness, All-Knowing” (Baqarah 2:158) was her response. “It is permissible to break fast on a journey,” I informed her. “Yet better it is for him who volunteers greater good, and that you should fast (when you are able to) is better for you, if you but knew (the worth of fasting)” (Baqarah 2:184) she responded.
I asked her why she did not converse in the way I conversed. “Not a word does he/she utter but there is a watcher by him/her, ever-present,” (Qaf 50:18) recited she. I put a question to her: “Where do you belong?” “Do not follow that of which you have no knowledge, and refrain from groundless assertions and conjectures. Surely the hearing, the sight, and the heart – each of these is subject to questioning about it” (Isra’ 17:35) was her Qur’anic response. “I sinned; please forgive me,” I pleaded. “No reproach this day shall be on you. May God forgive you; indeed, He is the Most Merciful of the merciful” (Yusuf 12:92) said she. I offered to let her ride on my camel so as to deliver her swiftly to her convoy. “Whatever good you do, surely God has full knowledge of it” (Baqarah 2:215) she thanked me. I brought my camel and as she was about to mount on the animal, she said, “Tell the believing men that they should restrain their gaze” (Nur 24:30). I cast my eyes down. Just as she was about to climb on the camel, the animal shied and moved forward, and her clothing was torn a little. “Whatever affliction befalls you, it is because of what your hands have earned,” (Shura 42:30) she murmured. “Be patient, let me hold the camel!” said I. Reciting the verse, “We made Solomon understand the case more clearly. We granted each of them sound, wise judgment and knowledge” (Anbiya 21:79) she said, implying that I was more successful at controlling the camel. She mounted the camel and recited the verses, “So that you sit secure on their backs, (and), then remember and reflect on the favor of your Lord when you settle securely on them, and say: All-Glorified is He Who has subjugated this to our use. We were never capable (of accomplishing this by ourselves). And surely, to our Lord we are indeed bound to return’” (Zukhruf 13–14). “Come on!” said I, so as to urge the camel on. “Be modest in your bearing, and subdue your voice. For certain, the most repugnant of voices is the braying of donkeys,” (Luqman 31:19) she warned me. While walking, I began to recite poetry. “Recite from the Qur’an what is easy for you!” (Muzzammil 73:20) was her advice. “But reciting poetry is not forbidden in Islam!” I protested. “He grants the Wisdom to whomever He wills, and whoever is granted the Wisdom has indeed been granted much good. Yet none except people of discernment reflect and are mindful” (Baqarah; 269) was her reply.
We travelled for a long while; later I asked her whether she was married. “O you who believe! Do not ask about things which, if made manifest to you, would give you trouble” (Maidah 5:101) she snapped back. Soon, we caught up with her convoy, and I asked her, “Do you know anybody in the caravan?” “Wealth and children are an adornment of the present, worldly life!” (Kahf 18:46) said she, and I realized that she had children. I asked her their names. “God accepted Ibrahim as a friend; spoke to Musa; O Yahya! Hold fast to the Book!” (Nisa 4:125, 164; Maryam 19:12) was the answer. I called towards the caravan, “O Ibrahim, O Musa, O Yahya!” Three saintly-faced youths quickly appeared. She gave them money, reciting the verse, “Send one of you to the city with this coin of yours: let him see what food is most pure there (and so lawful), and bring a supply from it. But let him behave with utmost care and guarded courtesy,” (Kahf 18:19). When her children brought the food, she recited the verse, “Eat and drink to your hearts’ content for all that you sent ahead in advance in days past” (Haqqah 69:24).
I told her children that if they would not tell me the reason why their mother talked in that way, I would not touch even the smallest part of the food. ‘Our mother,’ they said, ‘for fear that she might blurt out some foul words that would call down God’s wrath, has been speaking through the Holy Qur’an for the last forty years.’”
Abdullah bin Mubarak (d. 797 AH) was an important figure from the second generation after the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
Suat Erguvan is the Academic Coordinator of the Rumi Forum, Islamabad.