People who are involved in Islamic work can become well-known in their communities and even around the world. This is one of the perils of Islamic work. Those who involved in it must be prepared for fame… and they must also be prepared to be forgotten again after having it.
During a training course, the coach asked the participants to write a letter someone who had been influential in their lives. One man recalled an elementary school teacher of his and he wrote a very moving letter to her that impressed the other participants.
He decided to send her the letter, but he did not find her very easily. She had moved, and it took him a while to locate her address. Finally, he sent her the letter, and received a reply from her a month later.
His letter reached her at a very difficult and lonely time in her life. Her husband had recently died and her children were living in various countries overseas. No one remembered her and she felt isolated and depressed. When she read the letter, she burst out in tears. She wrote: “Before reading your letter, I was feeling that my life’s efforts had amounted to nothing. I have taken your letter, put it in a wooden frame, and hung it on my wall.”
The best people to visit are those who had been influential in society, trend setters in their day, but then fell into obscurity.
I went along with `Abd al-Wahhāb al-Turayrī and `Āyid al-Qarni to visit the famed Sheikh `Alī al-Tantāwī in his old age. He was immensely pleased with his visitors. He was not comfortable being alone. He mentioned to us that another visitor wrote an article about his visit in a popular cultural magazine.
Fame is an asset is like wealth or status. It should never be sought for its own sake. Otherwise, it distracts us from our work and from who we really are.
The prophets were the most famous people of all time. Allah says: “and we made you al leader among the God-fearing.” [Sūrah al-Furqān: 74]
Being famous means that everyone knows your business. The great scholar of Islam Ahmad lb. Hanbal lamented: “I have become famous. O how famous I have become. I wish to be in a place where I don’t know anyone and no one knows me.”
Prophet Muhammad said: “Many a dishevelled person who is turned away at the door, if they were to swear an oath by Allah, Allah would fulfil their oath.” [Sahīh Muslim]
Some of the Pious Predecessors used to refrain from some things in order to avoid fame. Ma`mar tells us that Ayyūb’s shirt sleeves hung low on his arm. When asked about it, he said: “The popular style today is to roll the sleeves up.”
Famous People in Sūrah al-Kahf
This chapter of the Qur’an showcases three stories of people who were famous in the Prophet’s time.
One of these is the story of Dhū al-Qarnayn, a famous historical figure who made his mark on many lands in the east and west of the known world at the time. He was a believer in Allah and a just ruler. This is why he declared to the people after building the wall for them to protect them from Gog and Magog: “This is a mercy from my Lord; but when the promise of my Lord comes to pass, He will lay it low, for the promise of my Lord is true.” [Sūrah al-Kahf: 98]
Mercy was one of Dhū al-Qarnayn’s most famous traits, whatever the achievements he was making in the world.
Then we have the People of the Cave. They were young men who fled from their homes on account of their faith and who were content to live in a cave where they would find Allah’s mercy, far removed from the luxury the once enjoyed at the king’s court.
Then there is the story of Khidr and Moses, two prophets blessed with knowledge and to whom Allah spoke directly. Each of them learned from the other. Allah rebuked Moses for claiming that he was the most knowledgeable person on Earth and informed him of Khidr. Moses sought Khidr out and observed him doing inexplicable things. Each time, Moses called Khidr to account for his deeds and each time Khidr advised him to be patient. Finally, Khidr explained everything to him and told him: “And I did none of it upon my own command.” [Sūrah al-Kahf: 82] By this, he meant he was acting upon Allah’s command.
This story is a lesson in patience, humility, and seeking knowledge.