Be Careful What You Ask For

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A person from the Bani Isra’eel once approached Hazrat Moosa (Alaihis Salaam) and asked to be taught the language of animals. Hazrat Moosa (Alaihis Salaam) advised him to concentrate rather on human speech, but the man insisted, pleading, “Speak to Allah Ta’ala since you are His Converser, and ask Him to teach me the language of animals.” Hazrat Moosa (Alaihis Salaam) told him that it is better that he does not understand the language of animals, as he went up to Mount Sinai. But Allah Ta’ala addressed him saying, “O Moosa, I have accepted the plea of that servant who wishes to learn the language of animals. Henceforth he will understand all their tongues. However, he should be very careful.”

Hazrat Moosa (Alaihis Salaam) came back down from Mount Sinai, found the man and told him that his wish had been granted and reminded him that he must observe moderation. The following morning, as the man was on his way to the barn to start the day’s work, he heard a conversation going on between his ox and his donkey. The ox was telling his troubles to his stable-mates. “Oh my brother donkey,” he said, “Don’t ask how I am! In winter they drive me to the village, in summer to the fields, in autumn they yoke me to the cart. They make me work year in and year out, though I am only half fed. I will soon be too old to be useful anymore and they will send me to the butcher to be slaughtered. Then they will use my hide to make shoes, my horns to make handles for knives and my flesh will become roast beef. Oh, those human beings! I cannot tell you what I have suffered at their hands!”

The donkey replied, “You must be crazy. Your own stupidity has brought all those troubles on your head. Why do you go everywhere you are driven? Pretend to be sick now and then and our master will give you a break. Why don’t you give it a try? Next time he comes to put you in harness, you must refuse to budge but keep calm even if he beats you and kicks you. He will assume you are sick and will leave you in peace, so that you can lie here and chew the cud all day long.” Overhearing this cosy conversation, the peasant said to himself, “I’ll show the pair of them! He then went into the stable and approached the ox in the usual way. He tried to make it get up but the beast followed his friend’s advice and pretended to take no notice. In spite of a couple of blows and several kicks, he laid low and refused to budge. The peasant laughed up his sleeve as he said, “Oh dear, this animal seems to be sick! What am I going to do? His friend had better do his work today.” He then led the donkey out to the fields, put him in harness and made him work without a break right through till evening. The poor donkey paid the price for being such a loudmouth and wiseacre. He regretted giving the ox such advice but it was to no avail. Evening came at last. The poor donkey came back to the stable exhausted, where he found his friend as he had left him that morning, contentedly chewing cud. Placing a bale of straw in front of each animal, the peasant went out and eavesdropped on their conversation through a hole in the door.

Looking angrily at the ox, the donkey said, “I’ve done my bit, my friend. Tomorrow morning you’d better be ready for work.” The ox replied, “Oh no, I’ve just gotten comfortable and I fully intend to relax like this for a few days.” Shaking his head, the donkey again offered advice, “I wouldn’t think of playing this game again if I were you. When the people in the field saw me being harnessed instead of you, they asked our master about you and he said, “Our ox is sick. If he is not better tomorrow I shall have him slaughtered. He is very lazy and I am not going to feed him for nothing.” So you will find the butcher waiting for you if you pretend to be sick again tomorrow morning.”

When the ox heard these words, he came to his senses. Preferring to work than die, he got up as soon as his master came into the stable the next morning, and willingly set off for the fields. As for the peasant, he was thinking to himself along the way, “How useful is it to know the language of animals. How valuable it has proved in these first two days alone. Who knows what else I shall learn and how I shall benefit from it.” The next morning he woke as usual when the cock crowed, but this time he heard the following conversation between the crock and the dog. “Congratulations,” the bird was saying, “There is going to be a banquet for you.” “What banquet?” asked the dog. “Our master’s ox is going to die. They will skin it and leave the meaty bones for you. Could there be a bigger feast than that?”

As soon as the man heard this, he took his ox straight to the market and sold it, supposing that he had avoided a great loss. The next morning after that, he jumped out of bed when he heard the cock and the dog conversing again. The dog was reproaching the cock. “What about the banquet then? They went and sold the ox and you said it was going to die.” The cock now gave him a new story. “I told you there would be a banquet for you and you will certainly enjoy a feast. Our master did sell his ox, but today his slave will die and they will have to provide a funeral meal for friends and neighbours. The leftovers will make you a perfect banquet.” On hearing this, the peasant took his slave to the market and sold him too. He said to himself, “Had I not understood the language of animals I would have suffered a serious loss.” However, his peace and comfort were short-lived as he left all his work to listen to everything the animals were talking about.

Since the slave had also been sold, the dog had been deprived of a second anticipated banquet and was accusing the cock of lying, “You sit there on your perch concocting a thousand and one falsehoods! What happened to the banquet this time?” The cock said, “Is it a fault of mine? I said the ox would die and they went and sold it. I said the slave would die and they sold him too. This time however, our master himself will die and they are bound to provide a meal for his children and neighbours. Don’t worry, you’ll get the feast you’ve been waiting for.”

The peasant wondered what had hit him. In great alarm and agitation he ran to Hazrat Moosa (Alaihis Salaam), told him everything that had happened and asked him what he ought to do. Hazrat Moosa (Alaihis Salaam) asked him, “Why, in the first place, did you ask for something you did not really need? The fate that now awaits you would have befallen your property and left you unscathed. If you had not understood the language of animals you would have remained in blissful ignorance. You would have lost your ox but you yourself would have been saved. Death is a just reward for one who seeks to obtain prosperity and security through the misfortunes of others.”

The peasant did eventually die, but not before learning that it cannot profit a man to know all there is to know in this world. Some things are better not known to us and Allah Ta’ala knows what is truly in our best interest. We also learn from this incident that the Prophets have been granted the Knowledge of the Unseen by Allah Ta’ala, which is why Hazrat Moosa (Alaihis Salaam) had told the peasant beforehand that it is better that he does not understand the language of the animals. We further learn that we should obey whatever the Prophet commands us and by insisting on something which goes against their command, it can only lead to our destruction.

May Allah Ta’ala grant us the Taufeeq to obey His commands and those of His Beloved Rasool (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam), Allahumma Ameen.

[Compiled from Irshad: Wisdom of a Sufi Master by Shaikh Muzaffer Al Jerrahi]

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