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The Tongue of Gratitude

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Abu Qilaabah (rahimahullah) was an illustrious Taabi‘ee from Basrah who passed away in the year 104 A.H.

Imaam Awzaa‘ee (rahimahullah) narrates the following incident from ‘Abdullah bin Muhammad (rahimahullah), explaining the manner in which Abu Qilaabah (rahimahullah) passed away. ‘Abdullah bin Muhammad (rahimahullah) says:

I once went to the coast to engage in ‘ribaat’ (guarding the borders of the Islamic lands). At that time, I was posted to the border which was near the city of Arish (a city in Egypt). As I arrived at the coast, I came to an open plain in which a tent was pitched. In the tent, I found a man who had lost the use of both his hands and feet. Furthermore, he was hard of hearing and could barely see, and he did not have any servant to attend to him. However, his tongue was moving and saying:

اَللَّهُمَّ أَوْزِعْنِيْ أَنْ أَحْمَدَكَ حَمْدًا أُكَافِئُ بِهِ شُكْرَ نِعْمَتِكَ الَّتِيْ أَنْعَمْتَ بِهَا عَلَيَّ وَفَضَّلْتَنِيْ عَلَى كَثِيْرٍ مِّـمَّنْ خَلَقْتَ تَفْضِيْلاً

O Allah! Enable me to praise You in such a manner that my praise will suffice as gratitude for Your favours which You have showered upon me, and indeed You have favoured me immensely over many of Your creation.

Hearing the man recite this du‘aa, I said to myself, “By Allah! I must go to this man and ask him regarding these words!” I thus approached him, greeted him with salaam and said, “I heard you making du‘aa, asking Allah Ta‘ala to enable you to praise Him in such a manner that your praise will suffice as gratitude for His favours upon you. (When you seem to be undergoing so much of hardship and difficulty, then) which favour from the favours of Allah Ta‘ala are you praising Him for, and which virtue over others has He given you for which you are thanking Him?”

The man replied, “Do you not behold how kindly Allah Ta‘ala has dealt with me? By Allah! Even if Allah Ta‘ala commanded the sky to rain fire on me and it reduced me to ashes, and He commanded the mountains to crush me and they reduced me to smithereens, and He commanded the oceans to drown me and they suffocated me with water, and He commanded the earth to swallow me and it pulled me into its depths, I would only increase my praise of Allah Ta‘ala on account of this tongue with which He has blessed me!”

He then said to me, “Now that you have come, I have a need to ask of you. You can see the condition that I am in, where I can neither benefit nor harm myself (as I am helpless). I had a young son with me who would care for me and look after me. At the time of salaah, he would assist me to make wudhu, when I would be hungry, he would feed me, and when I would feel thirsty, he would help me to drink. However, I have not seen my son for the last three days. Please find him for me – may Allah Ta‘ala have mercy on you.” I replied, “By Allah! No creation of Allah Ta‘ala, who set out to fulfil the need of another creation of Allah Ta‘ala, will gain a greater reward from Allah Ta‘ala than the one who sets out to fulfil your need (as you are absolutely helpless and unable to fend for yourself).”

I then set out in search of the young boy. I had gone just a short distance when I found myself between some sand dunes and suddenly discovered the boy. He had been killed by wild animals that had fed on the flesh of his body. Seeing this pitiful sight, I immediately recited, “Innaa lillaahi wa innaa ilaihi raaji‘oon”. I then began to ponder over the gentlest possible way in which I could break the news to the man that his son was no more, and had been killed and eaten by wild animals.

As I returned, the story of Nabi Ayyoob (‘alaihis salaam) came to mind. On arriving back at the tent, I greeted him with salaam. He replied to the salaam and asked (as he could barely see), “Are you the same person with whom I was speaking earlier?” “Yes,” I replied. He asked, “Did you manage to fulfil my need?”

In response, I asked him, “Are you more beloved to Allah Ta‘ala, or was Nabi Ayyoob (‘alaihis salaam) more beloved to Allah Ta‘ala?” “Nabi Ayyoob (‘alaihis salaam),” he replied. I then asked, “Do you know how Allah Ta‘ala tested him? Did Allah Ta‘ala not test him with the loss of his wealth, family and children?” The man replied, “Certainly!” I next asked, “How did he respond to this test from Allah Ta‘ala?” The man replied, “Allah Ta‘ala found him patient, grateful and hymning His praise.” In this manner, I continued to ask him regarding different tests which Nabi Ayyoob (‘alaihis salaam) underwent, asking him, each time “How did he respond to this test from Allah Ta‘ala?” Eventually, the man said, “May Allah Ta‘ala have mercy on you, get to the point!”

I then said, “I found the boy that you sent me to search for between some sand dunes. Wild animals had attacked him and consumed his flesh. May Allah Ta‘ala grant you a great reward and enable you to be patient.” Hearing this, the man exclaimed, “All praise is due to Allah Ta‘ala who did not create from my progeny one who would disobey Him and be punished by Him in the fire!” He then recited “Innaa lillaahi wa innaa ilaihi raaji‘oon”, emitted a shriek and breathed his last!

I recited “Innaa lillaahi wa innaa ilaihi raaji‘oon” once again and said, “What a problem this is! If I leave his body as it is, the animals will consume it, and if I remain here, I will not be able to do anything (as I cannot bury him on my own).” I thus covered him with the cloak which was on his body and remained seated at his head side, weeping in sadness.

While I was seated there, a group of four men suddenly came by. Seeing me, they stopped and asked, “O ‘Abdullah! What is your situation and what has transpired?” I thus related the entire incident to them. On hearing the incident, they requested, “Reveal his face to us so that we may look at him, for it is possible that we may recognize him.” I acceded to their request, and as soon as their gaze fell on his face, they began to kiss his eyes and hands exclaiming, “What a lengthy period passed with this eye lowered, not gazing at haraam! What a lengthy period passed with this body in sajdah every night while people were fast asleep!”

Seeing the reverence that they showed to this man, I asked, “May Allah Ta‘ala have mercy on you! Who is this man?” They answered, “This is Abu Qilaabah (rahimahullah), the student of Ibnu ‘Abbaas (radhiyallahu ‘anhuma). He had intense love for Allah Ta‘ala and His Rasul (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam).” We then carried out the ghusl, enshrouded his body, performed the janaazah salaah and buried him. Thereafter, the group resumed their journey while I proceeded to the border.

That night, when I placed my head down and went to sleep, I had a dream. In the dream, I saw Abu Qilaabah (rahimahullah) in an orchard of Jannah, clad in two splendid garments from the garments of Jannah. He was reciting the verse of the Quraan Majeed:

سَلَامٌ عَلَيْكُم بِمَا صَبَرْتُمْ فَنِعْمَ عُقْبَى الدَّارِ

Peace be upon you for what you patiently endured. How excellent is the final home!

I asked him, “How did you receive this rank and reward?” He replied, “Allah Ta‘ala has certain high ranks that can only be achieved through exercising patience over calamities and expressing gratitude in times of ease, together with constantly fearing Allah Ta‘ala, both in one’s public life and in one’s private life.”

(Kitaabuth Thiqaat libni Hibbaan vol. 2, pg. 252)

Lessons:

1. Despite all the difficulties that Abu Qilaabah (rahimahullah) was undergoing, he remained grateful for the bounty of his tongue. Out of gratitude, he kept his tongue engaged in the praise of Allah Ta‘ala. Hence, in order to express gratitude to Allah Ta‘ala for the innumerable bounties which we enjoy, we should use these bounties to please Allah Ta‘ala (perform ‘ibaadah, assist others, etc), together with verbally expressing our gratitude.

2. Every person faces difficulties and challenges in his life. Instead of looking at what we don’t have, let us look at what we are enjoying.

3. When ‘Abdullah (rahimahullah) discovered the body of Abu Qilaabah’s (rahimahullah) son, his concern was over how he could break the news to the father in the gentlest manner possible. Hence, together with monitoring what we say, we should ensure that we monitor how we say it, so that no pain or inconvenience is caused to any person.

4. On receiving the news of his son’s demise, the spontaneous response of Abu Qilaabah (rahimahullah) was to thank Allah Ta‘ala that his son had not passed away in sin and disobedience. This is indeed one of the greatest bounties – the bounty of a pious child.