There is a beautiful narration, reported by Abdul Malik Mujahid in his Gems and Jewels (p. 20) that ‘Abd ar-Razzāq reported that a female servant of Imam Zayn al-‘Abidīn ‘Alī ibn al-Husayn (ر), the Prophet (ص)’s great-grandson, was once pouring water for him so that he could make wudu when she accidentally dropped the jug onto his face, fracturing one of his bones. He raised his head to look at her (presumably out of anger), and she started to recite the following āyah (the 134th of Surah ‘Āli Imran in Quran Majeed): “…who restrain their anger…” He immediately said, “I have indeed controlled my anger.” She continued, “…who pardon people…” “May Allah forgive you,” he responded. She finished off the āyah: “And Allah loves al-muhsinūn (the doers of good).” He replied, “You are free for the countenance of Allah.”
Understanding the Quran
This story is amazing for several reasons. The first and foremost is the understanding of the Quran that the unnamed servant had. Between the moment she dropped the jug and the moment he looked up at her, she was able to recall the perfect āyah that she could remind him of in that situation. This indicates that even at the lowest level of the social structure, in the position of servant, she not only had at least a portion of the Qur’an memorized, but she also had the hikmah (wisdom) to understand when and how it could be applied. This is a profound level of attachment to and appreciation of the Qur’an that Muslims today must strive to achieve. The Qur’an, as this story demonstrates, is not irrelevant or otherworldly, but applicable and appreciable in the simplest situations in our everyday lives. Beyond her understanding of the Qur’an, she must have also realized that only an āyah of the Qur’an would be the most effective way to calm Imam Zayn al-‘Abidīn down. She did not say “I’m so sorry” and then recited the āyah. She realized that she did not have to say anything more or less than what Allah (‘azza wa jal) Himself, in this āyah, was describing as the characteristics of al-muhsinūn, or those who do good. The reference to the Qur’an gave her not only forbearance and forgiveness, but her emancipation as well.
Lesson from Imam Zayn al-Abidin Story
The lesson from the perspective of Imam Zayn al-‘Abidīn is something that many Muslims are aware of and yet do not do enough of – applying our understanding of the Qur’an. This āyah is not a very long one, but yet he did not even wait for her to finish reciting all of it before he applied what he heard and understood of it. There are some āyāt in the Quran that need deeper, more intensive study to be made applicable for the ordinary Muslim in his/her daily life. Others, such as this one, are more straightforward in their instructions for the Muslims, leaving little excuse for us to even delay their application (much less remain passive, as we often do).
Important Lesson From the Story Of Imam Zayn al-Abidin
Another important lesson is that he did not question the instructions due to the means through which he was reminded of them. This is another prevalent problem in Muslim societies today. An elderly person has difficulty accepting the reminder from a younger person, or a scholar has difficulty accepting the reminder from a non-scholar, even if a reference to the Qur’an has been provided. Not only can this be a pretty sure indicator of arrogance, but it is also very disrespectful to the Quran. The truth should is the truth, regardless of the source through which it comes to you. The Imam did not start to think of why his servant felt the need to remind him of the Qur’an when his own knowledge was so vast (or anything of the sort). He heard the Qur’an, he understood it, and he applied it. This is not to say that we shouldn’t contemplate the Qur’an at a deeper level or be careful about our sources of knowledge. But it is to say that we shouldn’t use those qualifiers as excuses for not reacting to such reminders in the appropriate way.