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Luqman (‘a) The Wise

The story of Luqman (‘a) is that of a very wise man. Allah (SwT) Almighty has said,

“Certainly We granted Luqman wisdom” (Qur’an, 31:12).

Such wisdom is evident when we read the following beautiful verses from the Holy Qur’an wherein the Almighty quotes Luqman (‘a) admonishing his son:

Luqman said to his son while admonishing him: O son! Do not associate aught with Allah; most surely polytheism is a grievous iniquity. And We have enjoined man regarding his parents - his mother bears him with weakness on weakness, and his weaning is in two years - saying: Be grateful to Me and to both your parents; to Me is the eventual return. And if they contend with you that you should associate with Me that of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them, and keep company with them in this world kindly, and follow the way of one who turns to Me, then to Me is your return, then will I inform you of what you did. O son! Surely if it is the very weight of the grain of a mustard-seed, even though it is in (the heart of) a rock, or (high above) in the heavens, or (deep down) on earth, Allah will bring it (to light); surely Allah is Knower of subtleties, the Aware. O son! Keep up prayers and enjoin goodness and forbid evil, and bear patiently that which befalls you; surely these acts require courage. And do not turn your face away from people in contempt, nor go about in the land exultingly; surely Allah does not love any self-conceited boastful. And pursue the right course in your going about, and lower your voice; surely the most hateful of voices is the braying of the asses. (Qur’an, 31:13-19)

His name is Luqman (‘a) son of Ba’oor son of Na’oor son of Tarih. The latter was father of Abraham (‘a), peace with him. Mujahid has said that Luqman (‘a) was a black man with huge lips and cuts on his face. He was from the Nubia1 of Egypt, a black man with very thick lips. He is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an by name twice, and Chapter 31 of the Holy Qur’an, from which the quotation above is excerpted, bears his name.

Some scholars concede that he was a wise man, not a prophet, with the exception of ‘Ikrimah who used to say that Luqman (‘a) was a prophet. ‘Ikrimah was the only one who said so. Abu Mansoor al-Khamshawi, through a chain of narrators, has informed us that Luqman (‘a) was a prophet, while other scholars have said that Luqman (‘a) was given the choice between Prophethood and wisdom and that he chose wisdom.

Imam Abu Abdullah‎ Ja’far al-Sadiq (‘a) was asked once about Luqman (‘a) and his wisdom mentioned by Allah (SwT) in His Book, the Holy Qur’an. The Imam said,

By Allah (SwT)! Luqman (‘a) was not granted wisdom on account of his descent, wealth, offspring, physical prowess, or beauty. Rather, he was a man whose belief in Allah (SwT) was very strong. He was pious, quiet, silent most of the time, far-sighted, meditative, sharp in insight, wealthy with morals.

He never slept during the day, nor did anyone ever see him using the toilet or even bathing due to his being extremely bashful, to his deep thinking and reservations. He never laughed at anything at all for fear of sinning, nor was he ever seen angry. He never joked with anyone. He never expressed his delight at something of this life’s wares which he earned, nor did he ever grieve about anything.

He married a number of women and had a number of children, but many of his children died before coming of age, yet he never wept over the death of any of them. He hardly passed by two men contending or fighting without reconciling between them, and he never left them before resolving their dispute or coming to peaceful terms. Whenever he heard someone saying something which he appreciated, he asked for its explanation and who he had learned it from.

He quite often attended the meetings of faqihs and men of wisdom. He often visited judges, kings, and sultans, so he would pity the judges because of their trials and seek Allah (SwT)’s mercy for the kings and sultans because of being deceived about Allah (SwT) and because of their taking Him for granted.

He derived wisdom and taught himself that which would help him overcome his own inclinations and struggle against his own desires and seek refuge through it from Satan. He used to heal his heart with meditation and console himself with moral lessons. He never travelled to a place except for a cause that concerned him.

This is how he was granted wisdom and protection against sinning. Allah (SwT), Blessed and Exalted is He, ordered certain groups from among the angels at midday, when most people slept2, to go and address Luqman (‘a). He could hear but not see them.

They said to him,”O Luqman (‘a)! Would you like Allah (SwT) to make you a vicegerent on earth so you may judge between people with justice?” He answered,”If Allah (SwT) permits me to make a choice, I prefer good health over the affliction (of government); but if He has already decreed the matter, then I shall listen and obey, for I know that if this is His will, He will surely help me and protect me.”

The angels asked him why so. He said,”It is so because the ruler is in the most precarious and agonizing of all situations: pressure overwhelms him from everywhere if he is right; so I hope he can save himself. But if he is wrong, he will miss the path to Paradise. Anyone in this life is better off humiliated rather than being in a position to humiliate others.

Whoever prefers the life of this world over the life to come will be rejected by life itself, and only the hereafter is the one that remains forever.” The angels admired his eloquence, so he slept and was granted wisdom as he slept, making him the wisest man of his time. When he woke up, his speech was indicative of wisdom.

Later on, David (‘a) (prophet Dawud) was addressed likewise, and he accepted what Luqman (‘a) had rejected. Luqman (‘a) used to assist him with his wisdom, so David (‘a) used to say to him,”Congratulations, O Luqman (‘a)! You have been granted wisdom and affliction was turned away from you!” David (‘a) was granted authority, so he was tested with many trials and tribulations.3

The Messenger of Allah (S) is quoted as having said,”The truth is what I say: Luqman (‘a) was not a prophet; rather, he was a servant of Allah (SwT), and Allah (SwT) Almighty protected him against sinning. He used to meditate a great deal. His belief was very good, so Allah (SwT) loved him and bestowed the favor of wisdom on him.”

Ibn Fathawayh, through a chain of narrators, quotes Khalid al-Rabi’ saying,”Luqman (‘a) was a black Ethiopian slave who worked as a carpenter. Once his master told him to slaughter a she-camel, which he did. Then he told him to bring him two of its choicest parts. He brought him the tongue and the heart. He asked him, ‘Is there really anything in it tastier than these pieces?’ ‘No,’ Luqman (‘a) answered, so his master remained silent. Then he told him to slaughter another she-camel.

This time he asked him to bring him the very worst parts of it, whereupon Luqman (‘a) brought him the tongue and the heart. He, therefore, said to him, ‘I ordered you to bring me the two most tasty parts of it and you brought me the tongue and the heart, then I ordered you to bring me the very worst two pieces of it and you still brought me the tongue and the heart...!’ Luqman (‘a) said, ‘There is nothing tastier than them if they are good, and nothing is worse than them when they are bad.’

Abdullah‎ ibn Hamid, through a chain of narrators, informs us that Muhammad ibn ‘Ajlan has said that Luqman (‘a) the wise had said,”No wealth is better than good health, and no bliss is like good-heartedness.”

A man passed by Luqman (‘a) and saw how people were surrounding him. He asked him,”Are you the black slave who used to tend the sheep in such-and-such a place?” Luqman (‘a) said,”Yes.” He asked him again,”Then what caused you to be in this status [of prominence]?” He answered,”Speaking the truth, giving the trust back to its rightful owners, and staying away from anything which does not concern me.”

Al-Husayn ibn Muhammad quotes his father as saying that Luqman (‘a) has said,”The beating by the father [as a disciplinary act] of his son is like water for the plants.” Abdullah‎ ibn Dinar is quoted as saying that Luqman (‘a) once came back from one of his trips and was met by a boy on the highway, so he asked him,”What has my father done?” He answered,”He has died.” Luqman (‘a) said,”Praise to Allah (SwT)!

Now I am in charge of my own affairs.” Then he asked him,”What has my wife done?” He answered,”She has died, too.” He said,”Now my bed has been changed.”“What has my sister done?” asked he.”She has also died.” Luqman (‘a) said,”My honor has been safeguarded; what has my brother done?”“He, too, has died,” came the answer. There must have been a plague over there, folks! To this, he answered saying,”Now truly my spine has been split...”

Al-Husayn ibn al-Hassan ibn Muhammad, who quotes a chain of narrators ending with Shaqeeq, has said that Luqman (‘a) was asked once,”Who is the most evil of all people?” He answered,”The one who is indifferent when seen erring.” Someone once said to Luqman (‘a),”How ugly your face is!” He asked that person in turn,”Are you finding fault with the inscription or with the Inscriber?”

Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (‘a) has informed Hammad ibn ‘Isa al-Juhni4, one of his faithful disciples, that Luqman (‘a) had said the following to his son Natan:

O son! Ever since you came to this world, you left the life of this world behind you, turning your face in the direction of the life hereafter; so, an abode to which you are going is nearer to you than one from which you are departing. O son! The life of this world is like a deep sea in which many people have indeed drowned.

Let your boat be the fear of Allah (SwT), your ration the belief in Allah (SwT), and its mast the reliance on Allah (SwT), for then you may be secured. So if you reach the haven of safety and security, it is only because of Allah (SwT)’s mercy on you, but if you perish, it will be due to your own sins.

O son! How can people not dread their decree while their lives are shortened every day? O son! Choose from this world its wisdom, and do not indulge in its affairs too much else you should harm your life hereafter, nor should you reject it else you should become a burden on others.

Fast in a way that would sever its desire, and do not fast in a way that would render your prayers void, for the prayers are greater in the sight of Allah (SwT) than the fast. O son! Do not seek knowledge just to boast of it before others, nor make a pretense of it before the fools, nor seek eminence at gatherings.

And do not abandon knowledge out of underestimating its value or desiring ignorance. O son! Choose the assemblies through discerning them carefully; so, if you see people mentioning the Name of Allah (SwT), seek their company, for if you then learn something from them, your knowledge will benefit you, and they will thus increase your share of knowledge.

If you are worthy of achieving knowledge, they will not hesitate to teach you, and Allah (SwT) may look at them mercifully, so His mercy may then include you, too. If you see people not mentioning the Name of Allah (SwT), do not seek their company, for if you learn from them, your knowledge will not avail you in the least, and if you do not know, they will only increase your ignorance, for Allah (SwT) may look at them angrily, and His Wrath may include you, too.

O son! Do not do a favor except to someone who is worthy of it, for just as there is no truce between the lamb and the fox, there can be no friendship between the virtuous and the sinners.

Whoever relishes to be praised in public will be taunted; whoever drags his feet to the avenues of mischief will be accused thereof; whoever seeks the company of the wicked will never be safe, and whoever has no control over his tongue will always regret. O son! Opt to be a slave of the righteous rather than a friend of the wicked.

O son! Be trustworthy, so you will be wealthy, and do not give people the impression that you fear Allah (SwT) while in your heart you are a sinner. O son! Seek the assemblies of the scholars and crawl to them on your knees; do not argue with them else they should deprive you of speaking to you; be nice to them when you ask them else they should ignore you; and do not embarrass them else they should be bored of you.

O son! Do not run away from a matter, nor should you be reluctant to face it, for that will cause you to be weak in thinking, feeble of mind. O son! If you are disciplined when young, you will benefit when old. O son! Do not enjoin people to do good deeds while forgetting it yourself else your similitude should be like a lamp that lights for people while burning its own self.

O son! Do not underestimate small matters, for the small shall tomorrow become big. O son! Beware of telling lies, for telling lies will corrupt your creed and make people despise you. You will then lose your modesty, glory, and dignity; you will be subjected to insults, and nobody will care the least about what you say. There is nothing good in living like that.

O son! Beware of bad manners, bickering, and impatience, for then nobody can befriend you, and everyone will avoid you. Train yourself to be gentle in all what you do, patient no matter what, and treat everyone with a good conduct, for whoever improves his conduct and smiles to others will be preferred by the good ones, loved by the righteous, and shunned by the bad ones.

O son! Do not bury your mind with distress, and do not let grief occupy your heart. Beware of greed and be satisfied with your destiny and with what Allah (SwT) has allotted for you; your life will then be worry free; you will be pleased with your own self, and you will find life enjoyable!

If you want all the riches of the world to be yours, do not ever covet what others have, for the prophets and the righteous did not reach their status except after cleansing themselves of coveting what others had. O son! The wares of the life of this world are but few, and your life-span in it is short, and what remains thereof is a little of very little indeed! O son! Do favors to those who appreciate them, and do not do them for those who do not, else you should lose them in the life of this world and be deprived of their rewards in the life to come. Be frugal and do not be extravagant.

Do not hold wealth as though you do not want to part with it, nor should you give it away extravagantly. O son! Uphold wisdom so that you may be dignified thereby, and esteem it so that you, too, will be held in high esteem. The best of wise manners is the religion of Allah (SwT), the most Exalted One, the Great. O son! There are three marks of the spiteful one: he backbites his friend in his absence, flatters him in his presence, and is pleased when trouble afflicts him!5

There is a great deal of literature available on Luqman (‘a) and the pearls of his wisdom collected by the great mentor ‘allama Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi and incorporated in Vol. 13 of his 111-volume encyclopedia titled Bihar al-Anwar al-Jami’a li Durar Akhbar al-A’immah al-Athar بحار الأنوار الجامعة لدرر أخبار الأئمة الأطهار to which we refer the reader who seeks precious knowledge and rich wisdom. It is one of the main sources for writing this and other books bearing this author’s name. Truly Allah (SwT) has said the truth when He said,

“And whoever is granted wisdom, he indeed is granted a great deal of good” (Qur’an, 2:269).

May Allah (SwT) Ta’ala bestow wisdom on all of us, Allahomma Ameen.

  • 1. Nubia is an ancient region in northeastern Africa extending from the NileValley eastward to the Red Sea, southward to the Sudanese capital Khartoum, and westward to the Libyan Desert. Under the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, it was called Cush (or Kush).
  • 2. It is a custom in hot climate countries to take a midday nap to ward off the heat. Luqman (‘a) was born and grew up in a hot country. According to some, he is regarded as”Black".
  • 3. al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 13, pp. 409-411.
  • 4. His full name is Hammad ibn ‘Isa ibn al-Tufayl, Abu Muhammad, of Kufa‎, then of Basra. He was more than ninety years old when he died in 208 or 209 A.H. (824 or 825 A.D.) by drowning in the Juhfa in a valley called Wadi Qanat which flows from al-Shajara to Medina as he was on his way to perform the pilgrimage. He learned two hundred traditions from Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, and he was contemporary also of Imams al-Kadhim, al-Rida, and al-Jawad, peace with them. He wrote about zakat, prayers, and a book containing maxims and morals. He is one of a very small number of Shi’a reporters of hadith accepted unequivocally by Sunnis and Shi’as alike. For more information about this great man, refer to pp. 221-223, Vol. 6, of A’yan al-Shi’ah by the renown Imam al-Sayyid Muhsin al-Amin (Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Ta’aruf lil Matbu’at, 1406 A.H./1986 A.D.).
  • 5. al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 13, pp. 411-412.