Story 64: The Man Renowned By The Public

For some time, a man’s name was frequently mentioned among the common people. He had become renowned for his sanctity, piety and religiosity. Everywhere in public they were talking about his greatness and generosity. In the presence of Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a) the name of that man was frequently mentioned, as was his affection towards ordinary folk, and their devotion to him. Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a) thought to evaluate his personality from afar to see why he has so affected the masses.

Unbeknownst to the man, one day the Imam (‘a) went looking for him and saw his friends, who were all of the lower classes, gathered around him. Without showing himself, the Imam (‘a) witnessed the scene. The first thing that caught the Imam’s (‘a) attention was his demagogic manner and expression.

The man then parted from the people and made his way in another direction. The Imam (‘a) began to follow him secretly in order to see where he was going, what he was doing, and what actions he carried out that made him so interesting and favoured by others?

It was not long before the man stopped at a bakery. To the Imam’s (‘a) astonishment, the man took advantage of the baker’s inattention and snatched two loaves of bread, hiding them under his garment, and then set out on his way. The Imam (‘a) initially thought he might have purchased the bread and had already paid for it or would pay for it later on; but he (‘a) thought if such was the case, why did he take the bread and then leave when he saw the poor baker avert his eyes from him?

Still the Imam (‘a) kept following him, reflecting upon the incident of bakery. Again, the man stopped in front of a fruit seller and lingered for a while. As soon as he saw the fruit seller avert his eyes, he took two pomegranates, hid them under his garment and left.

The Imam’s (‘a) surprise reached its peak when he noticed that the man went to an ill person and gave him the bread and the pomegranate and then parted.

At this time, the Imam (‘a) walked a little faster and caught up with him and asked, “Today I have witnessed a strange incident involving you.” Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a) recounted the incident and asked him to explain.

He set his eyes upon the Imam's (‘a) face and said, “I guess you are Ja'far ibn Muhammad.”

“You are absolutely right. Yes, I am.”

“You are certainly a descendant of the Holy Prophet (S). You have nobility in your kinship. But it is a pity that you are so ignorant.”

“What ignorance have you seen on my part?”

“The question you have just asked me indicates the highest level of ignorance. It seems you cannot comprehend a simple calculation in religion. You do not know that God says in the Holy Qur’an:

مَن جَاء بِالْحَسَنَةِ فَلَهُ عَشْرُ أَمْثَالِهَا وَمَن جَاء بِالسَّيِّئَةِ فَلاَ يُجْزَى إِلاَّ مِثْلَهَا وَهُمْ لاَ يُظْلَمُونَ

"Whoever brings a good (deed), he shall have ten times its like, and whoever brings vice, he shall not be recompensed but with its like, and they shall not be dealt with unjustly." (Surah Al-An’am, 6:160).

“According to this calculation, the two loaves of bread which I have stolen are counted as two sins, and two pomegranates that I have stolen make two other sins. Together that makes four sins. On the other hand, by giving the two loaves of bread and the two pomegranates in the way of Allah, I have for each of them received the equivalent of ten good deeds, which makes a total of forty good deeds. Hence, a very simple calculation makes the result of this question quite clear. If four is deducted from forty that leaves thirty-six good deeds written to my credit. That is what you are incapable of comprehending; this simple calculation!”

The Imam (‘a) replied, “May Allah grant you death. You ignorant person. You are calculating a delusion. Did not you hear the Qur’anic verse that says:

وَاتْلُ عَلَيْهِمْ نَبَأَ ابْنَيْ آدَمَ بِالْحَقِّ إِذْ قَرَّبَا قُرْبَانًا فَتُقُبِّلَ مِن أَحَدِهِمَا وَلَمْ يُتَقَبَّلْ مِنَ الآخَرِ قَالَ لَأَقْتُلَنَّكَ قَالَ إِنَّمَا يَتَقَبَّلُ اللّهُ مِنَ الْمُتَّقِينَ

"(O' Prophet!) Recite to them the truth of the story of the two sons of Adam when they offered each a sacrifice, hut it was accepted from one of them and was not accepted from the other, (The one) said: 'I shall certainly slay you,' (The other) said: 'verily Allah accepts only from the pious ones." (Surah al-Maidah, 5:27).

Suffice it to say that this simple statement would illustrate your error. By your own confession, you have committed four sins. By giving the property of others as charity, not only you have not done a good deed, but you have also committed a sin for each of them. Therefore, four other sins are added to your first four sins, make a total of eight sins, and not even a single good deed for you.”

The man’s eyes were fixed with surprise on the Imam’s (‘a) face. Once the Imam (‘a) had given him this explanation, he left.

When Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a) narrated this event to his companions, he said, “Such ignorant interpretations and detestable justifications in religious affairs lead certain people astray and lead to others being misled too.”1

  • 1. Al-Wasa’il, v. 2, p. 57.