In the days of the Caliphate of his brother, Ali (‘a), Aqil arrived as a guest at his house in Kufah. Ali (‘a) signaled to his eldest son, Hasan ibn Ali (‘a), to present some garments to his uncle. Imam Hasan (‘a) offered a robe and a cloak to his uncle from his own personal property. Night fell and the weather was warm. Ali (‘a) and Aqil sat on the roof of the Government House and were busy talking until it was time for dinner.
Considering himself as a guest of the Caliph, Aqil naturally expected a lavish meal, but contrary to his expectations, it was a very simple and plain one.
He was surprised and said, “Is this all the food you have?”
Ali (‘a) said, “Is it not a blessing from Allah? I praise the Almighty Allah wholeheartedly for all these Divine gifts.”
Aqil said, “I should tell you my needs quickly and be on my way. I am in debt. Issue an order to wipe out my debt immediately. Help your brother as much as you can so that I do not disturb you any longer and can return to my house.”
“How much is your debt?”
“One hundred thousand Dirhams!”
“Oh, one hundred thousand! That is a huge amount! I am sorry, brother, I don’t have enough money to pay off your debt, but wait until the time comes for the disbursement of stipends. I shall deduct my personal share and give it to you so that I will fulfil my duties as your brother. If my family did not have their own expenses, I would have given you my own personal share.”
“What? I have to wait until the salaries are paid? The public treasury and the revenue of the state is at your disposal and you still ask me to wait until the time of disbursement, and then you will give me only from your personal share? You can withdraw any amount you want from the public treasury. So why are you making me wait until then? Besides, how much is your share from the public treasury? Supposing you give me your whole share, how far will it relieve me of my problem?"
“I am surprised at your proposal, whether there is money in the public treasury or not! That is none of my business, and we both are equal to any other fellow Muslim. It is true you are my brother and I must help you from my own personal money as much as possible, but not from the public treasury.”
The discussion continued and Aqil insisted obstinately that Ali (‘a) should give him money from the public treasury so that he could look after his personal affairs. The place where they sat had a view of the market of Kufah, and the cash boxes of merchants were visible from there.
While Aqil was persistently pleading, Ali (‘a) said, “If you reject my proposal and insist upon your request, I have another proposition for you. If you accept it, you can pay off your debts and have plenty of money left.”
“What should I do?”
“Down over there are the cash boxes. As soon as the market is closed and everyone has left, go down and break open the boxes and take as much as you wish.”
“Whose boxes are they?”
“They belong to the merchants of this market. They keep their money in them.”
“How strange! Are you suggesting to me to break into peoples’ boxes and take the money of those poor people who have earned it with their hard labour, while they left it there and went home, trusting its safekeeping with Allah?”
“Then how could you suggest to me to open the box of the public treasury for you? To whom does it belong? This also belongs to the people who are asleep in their houses. Now I have another suggestion for you. If you like, you can accept this proposal.”
“What is that?”
“When you are ready, take your sword, and I will mine. In the vicinity of Kufah, there is the old city of Hirah where the great merchants and the wealthy live. We will go together there and in the dark of the night we will ambush one of them, and bring home with us enormous wealth.”
“Dear brother! I have not come here to steal, as you are suggesting. I say, order your official to pay me the money from the public treasury which is at your disposal so that I can wipe out my debts.”
“Is it not better to steal the property of one person than to steal from millions of Muslims? That is to say, to steal the property of all Muslims? You consider taking the property of one individual by force, using a sword, as theft. What about usurping the property of all innocent people? You think that theft is confined to attacking someone and taking their property by force? This baseless type of theft is the same as you are suggesting to me at present.”1
- 1. Bihar ul-Anwar, v. 9, p. 613.