A Muslim caravan that had started on a trip for Hajj (pilgrimage) heading towards Makkah, stopped for rest upon reaching Madinah. Then, after few days, it set out for Makkah again. In between Madinah and Makkah, the people of the caravan met a man who was well acquainted with them. While talking to them, the man recognized a person among the caravan whose face was of a pious man, who was willingly and happily busy serving the men of the caravan.
He recognized him immediately and asked them with amazement, “Do you know this man who is serving you and tending to your affairs?”
They said, “No, we do not know him. He joined the caravan in Madinah. He is a righteous, pious and virtuous man. No-one asked him to serve us, but it was he who volunteered to help and to assist with our affairs.”
“It is quite obvious that you do not know him, otherwise you would not be so impudent nor let him work as a servant.”
They were surprised and asked, “Then who is this man?”
“He is Ali ibn al-Husayn, Zain ul-Abidin.”
The people became flustered and stood up to kiss the Imam's hand and feet in order to apologize to him. Then they said reproachfully, "Why did you behave so? We might, may God preserve us, have committed a sin or offended you!”
The Imam replied, “I deliberately chose your group as my fellow travelers, for you did not know my identity. At times, I journeyed with the people who knew me. They were sympathetic and affectionate towards me for the sake of the Messenger of God (S). They did not allow me to do any type of work or render my services to them. This is the reason I choose, of my own desire, fellow travelers who did not recognize me, and I refrained from identifying myself to them so that I can enjoy serving my companions.”1
- 1. Bihar, v. 11, p. 21.