The story of Habib the Persian

“Habib,” remarked the astonished Hasan, “you are a worthy man. If only you had some knowledge, it would be better. You took the bread from under the nose of your guest and gave it all to the beggar. You ought to have given a part to the beggar and a part to the guest.” Habib said nothing. Presently a slave entered with a tray on his head. A roast lamb was on the tray, together with sweetmeat and fine bread, and five hundred silver dirhams. He set the tray before Habib. Habib gave the money to the poor, and placed the tray before Hasan. “Master,” he said when Hasan had eaten some of the roast, “you are a good man. If only you had a little faith, it would be better. Knowledge must be accompanied by faith.”

One day officers of Hajjaj were searching for Hasan.5 He was hiding in Habib’s hermitage.

“Have you seen Hasan today?” the officers demanded of Habib.

“I have seen him,” he answered. “Where was he?” “In this hermitage.” The officers entered the hermitage, but for all their searching they did not find Hasan. (“Seven times they laid their hands on me,” Hasan afterwards related, “but they did not see me.”)

“Habib,” Hasan remarked on leaving the hermitage, “you did not observe your duty to your master. You pointed me out.”

“Master,” Habib replied, “it was because I told the truth that you escaped. If I had lied, we would both have been arrested.” “What did you recite, that they did not see me?” Hasan asked. “I recited the Throne-verse ten times,” Habib answered. “Ten times I recited The Messenger believes, and ten times Say, He is God, One. Then I said, ‘O God, I have committed Hasan to Thee. Watch over him.”‘6

Hasan once wished to go to a certain place. He came down to the bank of the Tigris, and was pondering something to himself when Habib arrived on the scene. “Imam, why are you standing here?” he asked. “I wish to go to a certain place. The boat is late,” Hasan replied. “Master, what has happened to you?” Habib demanded. “I learned all that I know from you. Expel from your heart all envy of other men. Close your heart against worldly things. Know that suffering is a precious prize, and see that all affairs are of God. Then set foot on the water and walk.” With that Habib stepped on to the water and departed. Hasan swooned. When he recovered, the people asked him, “Imam of the Muslims, what happened to you?” “My pupil Habib just now reprimanded me,” he replied. “Then he stepped on the water and departed, whilst I remained impotent. If tomorrow a voice cries, ‘Pass over the fiery pathway’-if I remain impotent like this, what can I do?” “Habib,” Hasan asked later, “how did you discover this power?” “Because I make my heart white, whereas you make paper black,” Habib replied. “My learning profited another, but it did not profit me,” Hasan commented.

Bibliography

Abu Nu`aym, op. cit., VI, 149-55. Ibn Hajar, o p. cit., II, 189. Notes on Anecdotes

Notes

1“The Story of Habib”: T. A., 1, 49-52. The source appears to be the account of Habib’s conversion in Abu Nu`aym, VI, 149-50, where (as throughout that article) Persian phrases are quoted. 2The statement that Habib could not learn the Quran is Attar’s explanation of his nickname al-’Ajami (one who cannot speak Arabic); Abu Nu`aym gives his surname as al-Farsi (the Persian). “The Miracles of Habib”: T.A., I, 52-54.3The statement that Habib miraculously travelled from Basra to Arafat (near Mecca) in one day is based on Abu Nu`aym, VI, 154. 4The story of the famine is based on Abu Nu`aym, VI, 150; cf. al-Qushairi, P.198. 5Hajjaj was the notoriously severe governor of Iraq who died in 95 (714). 6The “Throne-verse” is Quran, II, 256. “The Messenger Believes” is Quran, II, 285. “Say, He Is God, One...” is Quran, CXII, I.

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