The Pearl Necklace

Qazi Abu Bakr Muhammad Bin Abdul Baqi Ansari is an illustrious personality of Islamic history. He was one of the most pious persons of his time. His biographers tell a number of stories about his honesty and reliability but the one that affected his whole life is full of strange and unique events. He has narrated this story in his own words and it adorns the pages of history books:

IN the middle of the 5th century Hijrah, I was a student of the Qur’an and Hadith in Makkah. I once became jobless and my means of income came to an end. I managed to subsist for a few days but soon it became hard to obtain even two square meals. My studies were discontinued and I had to sell a few of my books to support myself. I was at the edge of starvation but self-respect did not allow me to borrow or beg.
One day, hungry as usual, I went to the Ka’ba to pray to Allah to save me from my sad plight. On my way back I saw a velvet cloth pouch lying near the road edge. I picked it up and looked around to find its owner but the road was deserted and nobody was in sight. I carried the pouch to my house.
I was curious to know its contents. As I untied the silk cord, a very precious necklace of pearls slipped into my hand. The luster of the spotless pearls almost lit my room. It was a radiant beauty and I was thrilled to hold the valuable ornament. My thoughts went to the unfortunate owner who had lost the precious jewelry. He must be sad and very worried. The course of action which I instantly decided on was to look for the owner and give him back his necklace to relieve him of this mental suffering. Leaving the bag behind, I went straight to the place were it was found.
A group of excited men were standing there, busy in anxious conversation. Their topic of discussion was the missing pouch of pearls. An old man whose nobility and magnanimity were evident from his imposing personality, was standing amidst them. He was talking about the loss of his pearls and was announcing a reward of 500 gold coins to the person who would recover the lost necklace.
I listened to him very carefully. When I was sure of his ownership, I held his hand gently and requested him to come along with me. He looked at me hopefully and followed me. On the way back to my house, I was delightfully thinking that a handsome amount of 500 dinars would be mine after a short while. I was wondering whether my miseries would be over. I would no longer be a hungry or poor person. With such happy ideas in my mind, I entered my house and also invited the old man to come in.
When we sat down, I asked my perplexed guest about some marks of identification of his lost bag. He readily explained and also told me about its contents and gave an exact count of the pearls. I silently rose and brought out the necklace pouch. As he saw it, his gloomy expression at once changed. His shining eyes beamed with joy and he looked at me with sincere gratefulness. His pleasant glance of thanks impressed me, and my own mode of thinking suddenly changed.
A little earlier, I was enjoying the idea of getting a good reward but now my mind was reasoning as to what I had actually done to deserve it. I had exerted no efforts to obtain it. Then why do I expect a reward for returning it to its rightful owner? But I was actually in dire need of money. My poverty and the grim realities of life were looking me in the face. Why shouldn’t I accept the reward? It was absolutely legitimate and surely there was no harm in taking it. A painful conflict of indecision was going on within me when the noble old man said, “O dear me, you are a virtuous person and I thank you from the core of my heart. I am unable to express fully my feelings of gratitude for your praiseworthy conduct. Nevertheless, I offer you a purse of 500 dinars as a humble present and request you to kindly accept it.”
He then placed in front of me a purse full of gold coins. The sight of money which was within my easy reach was very tempting but I checked myself and said, “Sir, I thank you for offering me a substantial amount as a reward but it is impossible for me to accept it.”
“Why not?” asked my noble guest, “I am giving it entirely of my own free will. Please do not dishearten me by refusing it.” I replied, “Sir, I cannot even think of being rude to decline your kind offer, but it is certainly improper for me to take it without doing anything to earn it. The necklace is yours and its return to you does not entitle me to take anything in return. Please do not insist on me to accept what does not morally belong to me.”
He was rather surprised by my firm refusal. He said, “My son! The money which is being offered to you is not disallowed by our Shariah. It is not prohibited to offer or accept such presents. Therefore, I request you to reconsider your unrealistic stand and keep that purse for the sake of my pleasure if not for anything else.”
I said, “Sir, I do not at all intend to displease you, but the pleasure of Allah is more important to be reckoned with than your or my pleasure. If there is any good in my action, I will prefer to leave the matter to His Grace for compensation, which I do not want to risk for all the riches of this world. Kindly do not insist because I have decided not to accept any undue reward.” My guest collected his pouch and purse and stood much dejected to leave. He patted me on the back and left without a word.
After a week or so, I got back my previous job. My days of deprivation and hunger were over. I rejoined my classes and forgot all about the incident in my busy schedule of daily routine. I exerted all my energy to acquire knowledge of the Qur’an and Hadith. My main subject of interest was Islamic Jurisprudence. I completed my studies with a distinction.
On the recommendation of my tutor, I was offered an appointment as Qazi of Qurtaba (Cordova), the capital city of Andalusia (Spain). I readily accepted the post and started to prepare myself happily for the long journey. I took leave of my colleagues and went to the port of Jeddah to embark on the ship for my destination. I boarded a merchant ship to carry me to the land of my future hopes.

FOR the first few days, the voyage was smooth and enjoyable. Then suddenly a violent storm overtook us. The mountain high waves tossed the ship around like a tiny toy. A mighty wave crushed the ship and wrecked it completely. I saw some floating boards and a few survivors swimming around trying to save their lives. When I recovered from the shock, I found myself clinging to a plank and moving with it at the mercy of the waves.
After drifting for two days, in a semi-conscious state, the waves tossed me upon the shore. I thanked Allah for saving me from the jaws of death. I was so weak that I couldn’t move. I lost track of time and was in a state between dizziness and deep slumber.
After some time, I slightly opened my eyes and saw a few strange faces staring at me. They carried me to a nearby town. When we approached near it, the first man-made thing which caught my eye was a towering minaret of a Masjid. I thanked Allah for being among my own brethren of faith. They took me to a house belonging to one of them and laid me on a comfortable bed. With proper care, feeding, and treatment, I soon regained my lost energy. I told my kind host all about myself and the mishap of the shipwreck. My host, whose name was Faleh Hasan, informed me that I was in Hodeida, a coastal town of Yemen.
I began to attend Masjid to offer my regular prayers and there I came to know many persons of nobility and of high-ranking positions. They all knew my unhappy episode through my host and treated me with understanding and respect. One of them was the aged and pious Sheikh Ahmad Bin Suhail who usually led the prayers. He always greeted me with fatherly affection.
One day, he was a little late to arrive in the Masjid, so the people requested me to lead the prayers. That day I performed the duties of Imam. I did my best to recite clearly the verses of the Qur’an during the prayer and afterwards delivered a brief sermon on Islamic Law. Everyone seemed to be highly impressed. Sheikh Ahmad came forward and congratulated me on my excellent performance.
But later, I had sometimes thought that I had overstayed my welcome. So after the evening prayers, I stated my intention of leaving, but my host would not agree. At night, when I was going to bed, Sheikh Ahmad came with a few respectable people of the town. Sheikh Ahmad said, “Dear son, we all earnestly desire you to stay here with us forever. The regular Imam of our Masjid died last year. We still mourn his death. His memory is deeply rooted in our hearts. He had enlightened our lives with the torch of knowledge. We wish you to take his place and consent to be our Imam. We may not be able to offer you a better paid position than that of the Qazi in Qurtuba, but we will surely give you our love, affection, and respect.”
My protest went in vain and I was left with no other alternative but to agree to their request. They left me thinking how fate changed the course of life. I had cherished the hope of being a Qazi of Qurtuba, but preordained events made me an Imam of the Masjid in Hodeida.
So a new phase in my life began. I took charge of the duties thrust on me and shifted to the assigned house of the Imam. I restarted the primary school and also commenced evening classes to impart lessons to explain the meaning of the Qur’an.
One day, Sheikh Ahmad came to me and after enquiring about my welfare, said, “Dear son, a man is not perfect without his partner of life. I want you to marry and take full advantage of life. Marriage is also a sacred Sunnah of our Noble Prophet.”
I replied, “Sir, you have always advised me in my best interest. I will follow your counsel.”
The Sheikh said, “The late Imam of this Masjid was a very close friend of mine. He had a daughter, and when he saw his death approaching, he entrusted her to my protection and care. She is a lovely and adorable girl of good manners. Allah has endowed her with physical and mental beauty. She is virtuous and is a suitable match for you. I wish to give her in marriage to you and I feel sure that it will be a marriage of true minds.”
I had no objection to the proposal whatsoever. A few days later, the bonds of marriage united us. After the festive ceremonies were over, Sheikh Ahmad escorted her to my house that was in fact her old abode where she had lived with her late father. I looked at her and I forgot to even say welcome to her. I was not only looking at her beautiful face and at her downcast eyes; but my glance was riveted upon her pretty neck, which was ornamented by precious pearls. I at once recognized that necklace. It was the same necklace that I once found on a deserted road of Makkah. I looked at her in silent and extreme wonder.
Sheikh Ahmad noticed my confused condition and thought that her beauty and the luster of the pearls had enchanted me. He politely said, “Dear Abu Bakr, that necklace and its wearer, both are yours now. It may, perhaps, interest you to know that five years ago my friend went to Makkah for pilgrimage and took that necklace with him to get it re-polished. There, he lost it. But due to the goodness of an honest young man, he recovered it intact. That commendable young man declined the offer of a handsome reward.
He left a lasting impression upon my friend who always remembered and talked about him. He once confided to me that he had a mind to go to Makkah again and ask that virtuous young man to accept the hand of his daughter. Anyhow, it was destined differently. His daughter was to become your wife instead of his. The decreed decisions of fate are strange and beyond the understanding of man.”
An emotional storm erupted within me. The strange happenings of the fateful events agitated me and drops of tears rolled down my cheeks. I looked towards Sheikh Ahmad through misty eyes and said, “Dear sir, you are very right to say that insight into the unknown mysteries of fate is not possible. It would perhaps be a pleasant surprise to know that I am the same person who found the necklace and restored it to your friend. He had offered me 500 dinars. Although I was suffering from the agonies of hunger in those days, my conscience did not allow me to accept anything that was not my due. I pinned all my hopes and expectations on Allah for any reward. And here I am with His gracious and greatest reward of all.”
Sheikh Ahmad was amazed and without saying a word, he held my hand and shook it with passion. My newly wedded wife lifted her eyes and looked me full in the face. Her eyes were filled with enthusiastic love that any husband ever could desire for. Allah had bestowed upon me His favors by giving me a considerate and loving wife and nothing in life surpasses that bliss.

Gems and Jewels, Darussalam

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