Sincerity and the Perfume Seller
When I think back to my time in Damascus an array of images, experiences and faces march before my mind’s eye. From among them, a few people – with whom I never even had a conversation – stand out and make themselves known.
One of them was a perfume seller. We first heard of him a few days after we moved to Damascus. Needing help in finding an apartment, a sister directed us to a few real estate agents in the area and then told us, “Go by that square of shops next to the school, and look for the perfume shop. There is a brother there who may be able to help you.”
“A perfume seller?”
“Trust me,” she smiled. “He’s known for being very helpful.”
This was made clear to us very soon. While we were able to find an apartment without asking for his assistance, we soon learned that he was helping out many students there in a number of different capacities. Almost everyone we spoke to, as our circle of acquaintances among the foreign students grew, had asked for his help or sought his advice at one time or another. He would go with some students to help them negotiate the exorbitant rent of their apartment with their obstinate landlord; act as translator for someone else who needed to converse with officials and get certain documents filed; advise others on where the best places were to buy things for their apartment and how much they should pay.
He owned a small perfume shop, that sat across from a number of internet cafes which students often visited to stay in touch with their families. I would see him on occasion there, reading Quran or sitting in pleasant conversation with some of the Malaysian or Western students. Yet, it seemed that most of his time was spent in these small services for others, and I do not know of any time when he asked for compensation.
A few sisters I knew went on a sight-seeing trip to Turkey, and on the way back one sister found herself stranded on the border between Turkey and Syria, with the officers refusing to allow her back in the country. Her roommates did not know where to turn, and in the end it was this kind brother who traveled the distance from Damascus to the Turkish border, dealt with the guards, and arranged for her transportation and safe return. He asked for no special payment, but simply told them to be more cautious in the future and warned against traveling alone.
What makes such a person go to such lengths to be in the khidmah [service] of others, others who could really do nothing for him in return?
Another incident comes to mind, when my husband and I were in the souq on an especially hot and dusty day. We were carrying many bags of groceries, and with my husband’s cap and thaub and our generally disheveled appearance we must have looked like poor, foreign students of knowledge making our way home. A man in his 30s, wearing a suit and nice shoes and probably on his way back from work, crossed our path and then stopped to greet my husband. This happened on occasion in Damascus, as the people there tended to have a special affection and respect for students. As the man released his hand, my husband realized that he had slipped something into it. A bill – a rather large bill of 1000 lira (which is about twenty dollars – quite a lot in Syria). Before my husband realized what had happened the man had stepped away. Following him my husband politely thanked him and tried to return the money, but the man insisted firmly, and then simply faded into the crowd.
We do not know the hearts of people, but I am reminded by these experiences of the description of certain righteous people in Surat al-Insaan:
As to the Righteous, they shall drink of a Cup (of Wine) mixed with Kafur,-
A Fountain where the Devotees of Allah do drink, making it flow in unstinted abundance.
They perform (their) vows, and they fear a Day whose evil flies far and wide.
And they feed, for the love of Allah, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive,-
(Saying),”We feed you seeking only Allah’s Countenance: no reward do we desire from you, nor thanks. We only fear a Day of distressful Wrath from the side of our Lord.”
I feel like these are small snapshots into the beautiful quality of Ikhlaas (sincerity)- someone doing something with no other desire, vested interest, hope or objective than seeking His Countenance, azza wa jal. How simple these acts were, but how potent they became by the evident intention behind them.
True sincerity towards Allah is a rare and precious gift. One of the knowledgeable people of old said that his sole desire was to “take just one step with absolute sincerity before I die.” How many of our actions have been lost because of this critical missing element? How many or our good deeds have been diluted, and others washed away? And how many small deeds, done in secret or without fanfare, hoping only for Allah’s pleasure, have raised one’s rank in Allah’s sight by incalculable degrees?