With a water bag on her shoulder, gasping for breath, a poor woman met a stranger who took the water bag from her and carried it on his shoulder. The woman’s innocent children, with their eyes fixed on the door, awaited their mother’s arrival. The door opened, the children saw a stranger with the water bag on his shoulder enter the house, along with their mother.
The stranger placed the water bag on the ground and asked the woman, “It seems you do not have a man to help you and that you fetch water by yourself. Why are you so melancholy?”
“My husband was a soldier. Ali sent him to the battlefront where he was killed. Now I am all alone with these small children.”
The stranger said no more, bowing down his head and bidding farewell to her, he left. For the rest of the day, he was not able to stop thinking of the woman and her children. Night fell, but he could hardly sleep. Early the next morning, he took a basket, put some meat, flour and dates in it, went straight to the woman’s house and knocked at the door.
“Who is it?”
“I am the man who carried the water bag for you yesterday. I have brought some food for the children.”
“May Allah be pleased with you and judge between us and Ali ibn Abi Talib!”
The door opened and the stranger went in and said, “I wish to do some good deeds, if you permit me. I will either knead the flour and bake bread or look after the children.”
“Very well, but I know better how to knead flour and bake bread, so it would be better if you take care of the children until I finish cooking.”
She started kneading the flour. The man immediately roasted some meat which he had brought with him and started feeding the children. He put the meat and dates in each one's mouth and said, “My son, forgive Ali ibn Abi Talib if he has failed in his duty towards you.”
When the flour was ready, she called the man, “O servant of Allah, could you start the fire in the furnace?”
The man went and started the fire in the furnace. When the flames of fire rose, he brought his face close to the fire and said, “Taste the heat of the fire, for such is the chastisement of those who failed in their duty towards orphans and widows.”
At this moment, a neighbour arrived, and, recognizing the stranger, she said to the widow, “Woe betides you! Don’t you recognize this man who is helping you? He is Amirul Mu’minin (Commander of the Faithful) Ali ibn Abi Talib (‘a)! The woman came forward and said, “A thousand shames on me! I beg your forgiveness.”
The Imam (‘a) said, “O it is I who must beg you to forgive me, for I have failed in my duty towards you!”1
- 1. Bihar ul-Anwar, v. 7, Chapter 103, p. 597.