Rain and Tears (Ibrāhīm ibn Muḥammad)
Companion #11: Rain and Tears (Ibrāhīm ibn Muḥammad)
A light sprinkling of rain cools the streets of Khorāsān as Ibrāhīm walks toward the masjid for Friday prayers. Ibrāhīm always rejoices at the feel of rain on his skin; he has learned from his Imāms (ʾa) that rain is Allah’s way of showering the world with His mercy. He tucks his book under his cloak to protect it. It will be difficult to give the khutbah without his notes!
After the muʾadhdhin gives the adhān, Ibrāhīm ascends the pulpit and begins his Friday sermon. Every face is turned eagerly toward him, ready to hear whatever wisdom he has to offer. The people know Ibrāhīm for his powerful sermons, not because of his ability to craft beautiful sentences, but because of the value of his words. Ibrāhīm’s speeches overflow with the teachings of the Imāms (ʾa). His gentle voice washes over the crowd as it carries the words of the Imāms (ʾa) to every listener’s heart. Every now and then, a pair of eyes sparkles with tears, or a teardrop traces its way down someone’s cheek.
As Ibrāhīm speaks, people in the gathering begin to hear the clatter of hoofbeats approaching the masjid from outside. They hear a harsh voice barking orders. Suddenly, a group of soldiers bursts through the back doors of the masjid. The commander’s voice rings out across the neat rows of worshippers as he bellows, “That’s him--arrest him at once!”
The soldiers jab their way through the crowd, unashamed of using their boots to shove people aside. Two of them climb the pulpit, and each grabs hold of one of Ibrāhīm’s arms. They drag him down from the pulpit and tie his hands before weaving their way through the masjid and the worshippers assembled in it.
As soon as the people recover from their shock, the whole masjid is in an uproar. The worshippers rise to their feet and turn against the soldiers, fighting to free Ibrāhīm. One man grasps Ibrāhīm’s bound hands and tries elbowing the guards to force them to release their grip. The people are on the verge of overpowering the first band of soldiers sent into the masjid when the commander sends in a second wave. The soldiers are ruthless. They do not hold back. They form a ring around Ibrāhīm and his captors and threateningly flail long whips at those attacking them. When the people still do not give up, the soldiers lash out at children and grown men alike. Once they successfully carry Ibrāhīm outside, they hoist him onto a horse, and the commander gallops away at full speed with Ibrāhīm in tow while the soldiers finish fending off the enraged crowd.
At last, the masjid is silent again. The crowd is devastated. They have failed to save their wise teacher from the clutches of the khalīfah, Hārūn, and his soldiers. One man holds a bound stack of papers tightly in his hand: Ibrāhīm’s notes--his handwritten record of some of the teachings and ḥadīth from the Imāms (ʾa). The man presses the papers to his chest as tears leak out from the corners of his eyes. This is all he has left of his teacher, Ibrāhīm. This is all he was able to save from the soldiers’ iron grip. He promises himself that he will keep it safe, and that the khalīfah will never lay his hands on it. It is the least he can do.
Ibrāhīm is now the khalīfah’s prisoner. He is made to suffer grave consequences for his speeches from the pulpit. Even though he has only ever called the people toward goodness and truth, the khalīfah sees him as a criminal because of his love for the Imāms (ʾa). He is beaten severely by the prison guards and is not given enough food. However, he astonishes all the guards and the khalīfah himself by never complaining even once. He praises Allah and recites dhikr over and over again. He is so used to fasting that the little food he is fed is enough to satisfy his hunger.
Ibrāhīm’s endurance only makes the khalīfah even more angry. The khalīfah wants to execute Ibrāhīm and be rid of him, but Ibrāhīm has committed no crime. There are no charges brought against him. The khalīfah has no good reason to execute him, but that doesn’t stop him from wanting Ibrāhīm dead. He vows to catch Ibrāhīm red-handed, involved in some wrongdoing. And so he hatches a plan.
The khalīfah hires a spy and sends him into prison to be Ibrāhīm’s prison mate. He tells the spy to report Ibrāhīm’s every move, his every word. He is confident that it will only be a matter of time before Ibrāhīm’s tongue slips and he says something against the khalīfah. If his spy can catch Ibrāhīm speaking badly about the government, then the khalīfah might have enough grounds to execute him.
However, Ibrāhīm continues to devote all his efforts to fasting and prayer. He never stops thanking Allah and expressing his gratitude. He finds strength in remembering the plight of his beloved Imām Kāẓim (ʾa), suffering in prison at the hands of the same tyrant khalīfah Hārūn in Baghdad. Years pass, and the khalīfah’s cruel plots never succeed. He is never able to kill Ibrāhīm. He dies while Ibrāhīm is still in prison--innocent, blameless, and pure.
When Hārūn’s son, Maʾmūn, comes into power, Ibrāhīm is finally released from prison. Darkness settles across the city as he limps home. The streets are oddly silent. His legs ache, and he keeps rubbing his wrists, which are sore after years of being in shackles. However, his first thought is not of his pain, but of his Imām (ʾa), and of gratitude to Allah for allowing him to go free at last.
As Ibrāhīm nears his street, he finds himself disoriented, and the darkness makes it even harder to see. His neighborhood looks different. There are some new, unfamiliar buildings, and some buildings that used to be there seem to be missing. Ibrāhīm’s gaze shifts from one home to the next as he searches for his own. Then he spots it. A couple more houses down, there is a raised rectangle of a crumbling mud-brick wall. The roof has collapsed, and much of the front door has rotted away. The only recognizable feature is a small grove of pomegranate trees, but even those have wasted away, crowned with withered leaves and shrivelled fruit. It is clear that they have not been looked after all these years, and they are on the verge of death.
Ibrāhīm tiredly places his palm against one of the tree trunks and thanks Allah for bringing him safely home. He knows that Allah is the manager and restorer of all things. Just as He has the power to set an aging prisoner free, He has the power to rebuild ruined houses and nurse dying fruit trees back to life.
Just then, Ibrāhīm hears a door open, and someone steps out from one of the nearby houses. The man looks vaguely familiar. His gaze sweeps the street and then falls upon Ibrāhīm. He utters a small cry and hurries toward Ibrāhīm.
“Shaykh Ibrāhīm! Shaykh Ibrāhīm--is it really you? Alḥamdulillāh! You are back. All these years… we did not know if you were alive or dead. We did not know what they might have done to you!” He glances at what is left of Ibrāhīm’s home, and then takes Ibrāhīm’s hand in his own. “Please, grant my family the honor of hosting you. Our home is your home.”
“Thank you for your kindness and generosity,” Ibrāhīm replies. “I am sorry, but I do not remember your name.”
“My name is Nāṣir, Shaykh. I don’t think we have ever met before, but I remember your beautiful sermons very well. We all remember, and we have all missed you very much.”
As they walk together toward Nāṣir’s home, Ibrāhīm asks, “I know nothing of what has happened in the outside world all these years. How is our beloved Imām Kāẓim (ʾa)?”
Nāṣir stops in his tracks and turns toward Ibrāhīm. Ibrāhīm can see the sorrow in his eyes, and knows what Nāṣir is about to say a split second before it is said. “He is no longer with us; he has left this world to meet his Lord. He was poisoned in Baghdad shortly after you were imprisoned.”
“Surely we are from Allah, and to Him we shall return ,” Ibrāhīm whispers. Tears trickle down his face, and his shoulders shake with sobs. Still, he does not complain. Instead, he recites Allah’s name and begs through his tears to be given the honor of meeting the martyred Imām’s successor.
Nāṣir places a hand on Ibrāhīm’s shoulder to console him, and the two loyal followers of the Imāms grieve together for a few moments in the darkness of night on an otherwise silent street.
Nāṣir opens up his home to Ibrāhīm and shares with him all he has. Right after the night of Ibrāhīm’s return, Nāṣir reveals a buried treasure. He takes Ibrāhīm to a large wooden chest stored safely in a corner and presents it to him as a gift. Ibrāhīm opens the chest to find all of his writings and collections of ḥadīth, intact and unharmed. At the very top sits the bound stack of papers from which he had recited some ḥadīth during that fateful Friday sermon.
“My father rescued your book that day you were arrested,” Nāṣir explains. “He was so upset that he had been unable to rescue you, and so he vowed to guard your books and writings with his life. I remember helping him carry all these papers out of your house and storing them away here. Just a few days later, we watched soldiers come and search your house. Of course, they returned to the khalīfah empty-handed.”
Ibrāhīm kneels beside the chest and then looks up at Nāṣir. “You and your family have done so much for me. I don’t know how I can ever repay your kindness.”
Nāṣir shakes his head. “You owe us nothing. It is our duty as Shīʿah to do what we can to preserve and spread the teachings of our Imāms (ʾa). You taught us so much all those years in the masjid. Allah granted us this opportunity to serve that same cause.”
After several years pass, Khorāsān comes alive with rumors of the coming of Imām Riḍā (ʾa). Soon enough, the rumors prove to be true. From his capital in Merv, Maʾmūn, the new Abbasid khalīfah has summoned the Imām (ʾa) to his court. Although he has offered to make the Imām (ʾa) crown prince, his true intentions are revealed when he forces the Imām (ʾa) to accept against his will.
When the Imām (ʾa) enters Khorāsān at last, he is greeted by a joyous crowd. Despite the evil of Maʾmūn’s schemes, the majority of the people are sincere in their love. Ibrāhīm is among those who welcome Imām Riḍā (ʾa) He thanks Allah for allowing him to see the Imām (ʾa), though he is upset that he has been brought against his will.
During Imām Riḍā’s (ʾa) years in Khorāsān, Ibrāhīm devotes his time to acting as his scribe. He records the Imām’s (ʾa) every word and does his best to preserve the Imām’s (ʾa) wisdom in writing. With the passage of time, Ibrāhīm, already an elderly man when released from prison, becomes older and weaker. However, his love for the Imāms (ʾa) and his passion for learning and teaching the truth is as strong as ever.
One day, Imām Riḍā (ʾa) invites Ibrāhīm to come to his home. Ibrāhīm respectfully enters the Imām’s (ʾa) house. As always, he is prepared to write, with pen and parchment in hand.
“Salāmun ʿalaykum, Ibrāhīm,” the Imām (ʾa) says warmly. “I am glad you could come.”
“Wa ʿalaykum salām,” Ibrāhīm replies. “I am here to serve you in whatever way I can.”
“I know you are a faithful scholar and scribe,” the Imām says. “I know you have devoted your life to recording and spreading the teachings of the Ahlulbayt, and that you have suffered because of your devotion. May Allah reward your efforts! I wish to entrust you with this letter. It is for my son, Muḥammad (ʾa), who will be the Imām after me. Will you keep it safe, and give it to him after my death?” The Imām (ʾa) holds out a tightly scrolled letter for Ibrāhīm to take.
Ibrāhīm is speechless for a moment as he reaches out a trembling hand to take the letter. He does not know if he should feel honored to be trusted with such a task, elated at being able to meet the next Imām (ʾa), or grief-stricken to know that Imām Riḍā (ʾa) is already making plans for when he will leave this world.
The Imām (ʾa) sees tears well up in Ibrāhīm’s eyes and smiles reassuringly. “Allah has decreed death for all his creatures. If we live an upright life and prepare ourselves for it, death should not be something we fear. InshāʿAllāh, we shall meet again in the hereafter.”
Within a short while, Imām Riḍā (ʾa) is martyred at the hands of Maʾmūn, the son of Hārūn, who killed Imām Kāẓim (ʾa) before him. When Imām Muḥammad al-Jawād (ʾa) comes to bury his father, Ibrāhīm knows it is time to fulfill the promise he had made to the now-martyred Imām.
Imām Jawād (ʾa) is barely eight years of age, yet he carries himself with all the dignity of his fathers and grandfathers before him. Ibrāhīm approaches him, and kisses the Imām’s (ʾa) hand before gently placing Imām Riḍā’s (ʾa) letter in the young Imām’s (ʾa) palm.
“Salāmun ʿalaykum, my Imām (ʾa),” Ibrāhīm says. “This is your father’s letter to you.”
“Wa ʿalaykum salām,” replies Imām Jawād (ʾa). He reads the letter and smiles. “Thank you,” he whispers. “Thank you--these are truly the words of my beloved father!” He kisses the letter and holds it to his chest. Soon, the letter is wet with tears.
Ibrāhīm moves closer to the Imām (ʾa) and says, “O son of Allah’s messenger, may I be sacrificed for you. Please, do not cry; I cannot bear to see you in pain!”
The Imām gives Ibrāhīm a small smile. “My father sends you his final salāms,” he tells Ibrāhīm, “and he asks Allah to make you his companion in paradise.” He continues, “I also pray to Allah to make you my companion in paradise.”
Ibrāhīm’s face shines with light from within, all the more radiant because of his tear-streaked cheeks. “May I be sacrificed for you--will I truly be your companion in paradise?” he asks.
Imām Jawād (ʾa) replies, “Yes. By Allah’s will, yes, you will.”
Ibrāhīm kisses the Imām’s (ʾa) hand one last time before they exchange their farewell salāms, and Ibrāhīm turns to leave. He steps out onto the streets of Khorāsān. As he walks home, Ibrāhīm exalts Allah’s names and thanks Him for all his blessings.
Once again, a refreshing rain cools the earth, a grove of pomegranate trees draws strength from the life-giving water that soaks into the ground, and the tears on Ibrāhīm’s wet cheeks mingle with the small droplets of water falling from the sky above.