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Story 71: In Quest Of Truth

His passion for truth and his search for the root of certitude did not allow Unwan al-Basri to rest. He covered a great distance to reach Madinah, which was a center for the spread of Islam and for the meeting of Islamic jurisprudents and narrators of Prophetic traditions.

He became an assistant to Malik ibn Anas, the famous narrator of traditions and jurisprudent of Madinah. As was their custom, the traditions of Prophet (S) were narrated and transcribed in his presence. Unwan al-Basri, along with the other students of Malik, devoted himself to the narration, transmission, and recording of the traditions, as well as the memorization of their references, that is, the names of transmitters of the traditions, so that he might quench his inner thirst.

In those days, Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a) was not in Madinah, and, when he came back, after some time, Unwan al-Basri decided to serve as a student and apprentice to the Imam (‘a), just as he had done with Malik. In order to fan the flames of his passion, the Imam (‘a) rejected his proposal to be his apprentice and one day said to him, “I am a busy man. I have supplications (zikr) and invocations to recite day and night. Do not take up my time and do not bother me! Go back to Malik’s course and assist him as you had done before!”

The following day, Unwan al-Basri left his house, went directly to the Shrine of the Holy Prophet (S), performed two rakats of prayer, putting his trust in Allah, and said, “O God! O You the Owner of all hearts, I beseech You to soften Ja’far ibn Muhammad’s heart towards me, and make me meet his approval, and benefit from his knowledge, so that I may find Your straight path.”

The following day, he left his house again, went directly to the Shrine of the Holy Prophet (S), performed two rakats of prayer, putting his trust in Allah, and said, “O God! O You the Owner of all hearts, I beseech You to soften Ja’far ibn Muhammad’s heart towards me, and make me meet his approval, and benefit from his knowledge, so that I may find Your straight path.”

After the prayer and supplication, he returned to his house without going anywhere else. He began to feel his affection towards Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a) increase with each passing hour. This made him suffer more from his own loneliness, and this made him feel like a prisoner in his own home. He did not leave his home except to perform his prayers. There was no alternative before him.

On the one hand, the Imam (‘a) had officially told him not to bother him anymore, and on the other, his love and hope were so impassioned that he was no longer desirous of anything else other than him. His suffering and affliction increased further. He was completely exhausted and was not able to wait patiently anymore.

Dressing himself, putting on his shoes, he went to the Imam’s (‘a) house. A servant came out, opened the door and asked, “What do you want?”

He said, “Nothing, I only want to pay my respects to the Imam (‘a).”

“The Imam is busy performing his prayers.”

It did not take long before the same servant came back and said, “Come in please!”

Unwan entered the house, and as he saw the Imam (‘a), he greeted him.

The Imam (‘a) replied to his greeting with an extra ‘du’a’ and asked him, “What is your nickname?”

“Abdullah!”

“May Allah preserve you this nickname, and bestow upon you His blessing.”

On hearing this supplication, he felt overjoyed. He thought that this would suffice him, even if he did not benefit anything else from this meeting.

Then the Imam (‘a) asked, “What do you want? What is the problem?”

“I have beseeched Allah to soften your heart towards me, so that I might benefit from your knowledge. I wish that He would answer my prayer.”

“O Abu Abdullah, the knowledge of Allah and the light of certitude is acquired not by knocking at this or that door, nor by going to this man or that one. No-one can give you this light. This knowledge is not acquired in a class, but rather it is a light that, whenever Allah wants to guide someone, illuminates one’s heart. If you aspire to such a light and knowledge, then look for true submission to Him deep in your own soul. Find it within yourself, search for knowledge through your deeds and beseech your God. He Himself will inspire it in your heart.”1

  • 1. Al-Kuna wa al-Alqab, Muhaddith al-Qummi, v. 2, under the title "Al-Basri" and Bihar, v. 1, p. 224, tradition no. 17.