The story of Habib the Persian

The story of Habib the Persian The story of Habib the Persian

(Habib al-`Ajami)

Taken from Tadhikurut al-Awliya, by Abu Nu`aym al-Isfahani

Habib ibn Mohammad al-‘Ajami al-Basri, a Persian settled at Basra, was a noted traditionist who transmitted from al-Hasan al-Basri, Ibn Sirrin, and other authorities. His conversion from a life of ease and self-indulgence was brought about by al-Hasan’s eloquence; he was a frequent attendant at his lectures, and became one of his closest associates.

Habib to begin with was a man of property and a usurer. He dwelt in Basra, and every day he made the rounds to collect from his clients. If he got no money, he would demand payment for his shoe leather. In this manner he covered his daily expenditure.

One day he had gone to look for a certain debtor. The man was not at home; so failing to find him; he demanded shoe leather payment. “My husband is not at home,” the debtor’s wife told him. “I myself have nothing to give you. We had slaughtered a sheep, but only the neck is left. If you like I will give you that.” “That is something,” the usurer replied, thinking that he might at least take the sheep’s neck off her and carry it home. “Put a pot on the fire.” “I have neither bread nor fuel,” the woman answered. “Very well,” the man said. “I will go and fetch fuel and bread, and it can be charged to shoe leather.” So he went off and fetched these things, and the woman set the pot. When the pot was cooked the woman was about to pour its contents into a bowl when a beggar knocked at the door.

“If we give you what we have got,” Habib shouted at him, you will not become rich, and we will become poor ourselves.”

The beggar, despairing, petitioned the woman to put something in the bowl. She lifted the lid of the saucepan, and found that its contents had all turned to black blood. Turning pale, she hurried back and taking Habib by the hand, led him towards the pot. “Look what has happened to us because of your cursed usury, and your shouting at the beggar!” she cried. “What will become of us now in-this world, not to mention the next?” On seeing this, Habib felt a fire within him which never afterwards subsided.

“Woman,” he said, “I repent of all I have done.” Next day he went out to look for his clients. It happened to be a Friday, and the children were playing in the street. When they sighted Habib they started to shout. “Here comes Habib the usurer. Run away, lest his dust settles on us and we become as cursed as he!” These words hurt Habib very much. He took his way to the meeting ball, and there certain phrases passed Hasan of Basra’s lips which struck Habib straight to the heart, so that be fainted. Then he repented. Realizing what had happened, Hasan of Basra took him by the hand and calmed him. As he returned from the meeting he was spotted by one of his debtors, who made to run away. “Do not run away,” Habib called to him. “Till now it was for you to flee from me; now I must run away from you.” He passed on. The children were still playing. When they sighted Habib they shouted again. “Here comes Habib the penitent. Run away, lest our dust settles on him, for we are sinners against God.” “My God and Master!” cried Habib. “Because of this one day that I have made my peace with Thee, Thou hast beaten the drums of men’s hearts for me and noised my name abroad for virtue.”

Habib then issued a proclamation. “Whoever wants anything from Habib, come and take it!” The people gathered together, and he gave away all his possessions so that he was left penniless. Another man came with a demand. Having nothing left, Habib gave him his wife’s chaddur. To another claimant he gave his own shirt, and remained naked.1

He repaired to a hermitage on the banks of the Euphrates, and there gave himself up to the worship of God. Every night and day he studied under Hasan, but he could not learn the Quran, for which reason he was nicknamed the Barbarian (al-`Ajami).2 Time passed, and he was completely destitute. His wife asked him for housekeeping money constantly. So Habib left his house and made for the hermitage to resume his devotions.

When night came he returned to his wife. “Where have you been working, not to bring anything home?” his wife demanded. “The one I have been working for is extremely generous,” Habib replied. “He is so generous that I am ashamed to ask him for anything. When the proper time comes, he will give. For he says, ‘Every ten days I pay the wages.’ ” So Habib repaired daily to the hermitage to worship, till ten days were up.

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