Masnavi 2A

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STORY IV. The Purchase of Bilal.
To illustrate the rich recompense that is awarded to those who are faithful in
tribulation, the story of Bilal is next recounted at length. Bilal was an Abyssinian
slave belonging to a Jew of Mecca, and had incurred his master's displeasure in
consequence of having embraced Islam. For this offence his master tortured him
by exposing him to the heat of the midday sun, and beating him with thorns. But
notwithstanding his anguish, Bilal would not recant his faith, and uttered only
the cry, "Ahad, Ahad!" "The One, the One God!" At this
moment Abu Bakr, the "Faithful witness," happened to pass by, and was
so struck by his constancy that he resolved to buy him of the Jew. After much
higgling and attempts at cheating on the Jew's part he succeeded in doing so,
and at once set him free. When the Prophet heard of this purchase he said to
Abu Bakr, "Give me a share in him;" but Abu Bakr told him, somewhat to
his annoyance, that he had already set him free. Notwithstanding this Bilal
attached himself to the Prophet, and was afterwards promoted to the honourable
post of the Prophet's Mu'azzin.
This is followed by the story of Hilal, another holy man who, like Bilal and Luqman
and Joseph, served a noble in the capacity of groom. His affections were set on
things above, and he was ever pressing upwards towards the high mark of
spiritual exaltation, and saying, like Moses, "I will not stop till I
reach the confluence of the two seas, and for years will I journey on."
1 Herein he presented a great contrast to ordinary men, who are ever
giving way to their lusts, and so being dragged down into the state of mere
animals, or even lower. Hilal's master was a Mosalman, yet one whose eyes were
only partially open to the truth. He was in the habit of asking his guests
their age; and if they answered doubtfully, saying, "Perhaps eighteen, or
seventeen, or sixteen, or even fifteen," he would rebuke them, saying, "As
you seem to be putting yourself lower and lower, you had better go back at once
to your mother's womb." These guests are a type of men who lower
themselves from the rank of humanity to that of animals. This master, however,
was blind to Hilal's spiritual excellence, and allowed him to drag on a
miserable existence in his stables. At last Hilal fell sick; but no one cared
for him, till the Prophet himself, warned by a divine intimation, came to visit
him, and commiserated his wretched condition. Hilal proved himself to be
faithful through tribulation; for, instead of grumbling at his lot, he replied,
"How is that sleep wretched which is broken by the advent of the Sun of
prophecy? or how can he be called athirst on whose head is poured the water of
life?" In truth, Hilal had by degrees become purified from the stain of
earthly existence and earthly qualities, and washed in the fountain of the
water of life, i.e., the holy revelations of the Prophet, till he had attained
the exalted grade of purity enjoined on those who would study God's Word
aright. 2
Growth in grace is accomplished by slow degrees, and not per saltum.
Since you have told the story of Hilal (the new moon)
Now set forth the story of Badr (the full moon).
That new moon and that full moon are now united,
Removed from duality and defect and shortcomings.
That Hilal is now exalted above inward defect;
His outward defects served as degrees of ascension.
Night after night that mentor taught him grades of ascent
And through his patient waiting gave him happiness.
The mentor says, "O raw hastener, through patient waiting,
You must climb to the summit step by step.
Boil your pot by degrees and in a masterly way;
Food boiled in mad haste is spoiled.
Doubtless God could have created the universe
By the fiat 'Be!' in one moment of time;
Why, then, did He protract His work over six days,
Each of which equaled a thousand years, O disciple?
Why does the formation of an infant take nine months?
Because God's method is to work by slow degrees,
Why did the formation of Adam take forty days?
Because his clay was kneaded by slow degrees.
Not hurrying on like you, O raw one,
Who claim to be a Shaikh whilst yet only a child!
You run up like a gourd higher than all plants,
But where is your power of resistance or combat?
You have leant on trees or on walls,
And so mounted up like a gourd, O little dog rose;
Even though your prop may be a lofty cypress,
At last you are seen to be dry and hollow.
O gourd, your bright green hue soon turns yellow.
For it is not a natural but an artificial color."
This is illustrated by an anecdote of an ugly old hag who painted her face to
make it look pretty, but was detected and exposed to scorn.