One of the methods the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to explain Islamic principles and values was to relate a short story. A story can be very effective in explaining the idea in question. It is always easier for people to remember a story, particularly if it is short and to the point. This is how the Prophet told his stories.

When the Prophet wanted to stress the importance of good deeds, and the effect they may have on a person, he told a story about three friends who met a real difficulty and were saved only by virtue of their past good deeds. Here is the story as it is told in Muslim’s authentic anthology of hadiths: “Three people were walking together, when they were impeded by heavy rain. They went into a cave on a nearby mountain. A large rock fell off the mountain and landed at the entrance of their cave and closed it. They said to each other: Remember some good deeds you have done for God’s sake and pray to God on account of these deeds. He may relieve your difficulty.

“One of them said: I had my two parents at old age, and I had my wife and young children. I worked as a shepherd to earn our living. When I returned in the evening, I would milk a sheep, then I would start by giving my parents to drink before I gave my children. One day, I went far into the woods, and I did not return home until the night had fallen. I found my parents asleep. I milked a sheep as it was my custom and brought the milk to them. As I stood close to their bed, I did not wish to disturb their sleep. Nor did I like to give my children to drink before my parents. The children were fretting near my feet. We remained in this situation until the break of dawn. My Lord, if You know that I did this only to earn Your pleasure, please give us an opening so that we can see the sky. God removed a portion of the rock to give them an opening and they could see the sky.

“The second man said: My Lord, I had a cousin whom I loved as much as any man could love a woman. I tried to take her to bed, but she refused. She said that she would not give me what I wanted until I have given her 100 dinars. I worked hard until I managed to raise the money. I took it to her. When I sat between her legs, she said to me: ‘You, servant of God! Fear God and do not open this ring except in a legitimate way’. I stood up and left her. My Lord, if You know that I did this only to earn Your pleasure, please give us an opening through this rock’. God gave them an opening.

“The third man said: My Lord, I once hired a laborer for a small sack of rice. When he finished his work, he asked me to pay him. I gave him the sack of rice, but he did not wish to take it. I planted it, time after time, until I raised out of its income some cows and their feed. The man came to me later and said: ‘Fear God and do not deny me my right’. I told him to take those cows and their feed. He said: ‘Fear God and do not ridicule me’. I said: ‘I am not ridiculing you. Take the cows and their feed’. He took them away. My Lord, if You know that I did this only to earn Your pleasure, please remove what is left of the rock. God removed the rest of the rock”.

This is the story told by the Prophet. It is not difficult to remember, and its moral is very clear. It tells us that a good deed, done purely for God’s sake, could easily be our savior from difficulty. We will discuss this more fully next week, God willing.