The everlasting gift of kindness

  • Over the Top
  • Tuesday, 31 Mar 2020

More than 1,400 years ago, a woman decided to be kind to an infant despite no promise of a reward. It’s a story whose lesson continues to resonate today.

THIS week, I wish to tell the story of a woman who received blessings after helping a simple orphan boy.

This is to highlight our present predicament in which many hardworking Malaysians and others face economic and life-sustaining issues. Suddenly, they find themselves at the mercy of a virus that surfaced a few months ago.

I am happy to see that the Federal Government, Employees Provident Fund and banks, among others, are putting effort into making life easier in these times of uncertainty. These institutions must be given due recognition for their humanity.

However, more is needed and this can only come about when Malaysians look deep into their hearts and avoid questions of race, political partisanship and other selfish considerations to assist any and all that need a helping hand.

I relate the story of the woman and the orphan to make us think with our hearts and reason with our souls.

It took place more than 1,400 years ago in the barren desert of Arabia. The woman was Halima, daughter of Dhu’ayb. She, her husband Al-Harith and their three children were Bedouin nomads. They were part of a small tribe living in a time of famine and destitution.

As was the tradition of the Arab people then, the tribe would have their women travel several days to the city of Mecca and offer to suckle children of noble tribes for two years.

This tradition not only benefited the women’s tribe through the forging of important blood ties with the stronger and nobler ones in the city, but it also brought financial rewards in the form of gifts, but not as fees. Such was the tradition.

It also helped the infant children as they grew up in the clean air of the desert instead of the foul and often stagnant air of a crowded city.

Carrying their youngest child, Halima and her husband set out for Mecca. She was astride a donkey that was moving slowly because it was old and tired. The other tribe members complained that Halima was holding up the journey.

Her husband was astride a female camel whose udders were as dry as the desert sand. The nights during the journey were sleepless due to the crying of the youngest child because Halima did not have much breast milk. The three often went hungry on the way to Mecca.

When the group arrived in the city, several infants were paraded to the women of the tribe. One baby caught the eye of many women but when they heard that he was an orphan, everyone, including Halima, refused to take him. What rewards could they hope from the child’s father when he had already died?

When all the infants except the orphan boy were taken, Halima was without a suckling. She told her husband, “I do not like to go home without a suckling and I will take this orphan boy with us.”

Her husband shrugged and said, “Do as you wish. Perhaps God will give blessings to us for taking him.”

As soon as Halima took the orphan boy and put him to her bosom, her breasts flowed with so much milk that both the orphan and his new foster brother drank their fill and slept contentedly. Halima was pleasantly surprised and gave thanks to God for this blessing.It was not to end there. The donkey Halima rode suddenly had so much energy and went so fast that the tribe’s other women complained about her leaving them behind!

The next morning, when Al-Harith started milking their camel, its udders were filled with milk and Halima and her husband had their fill and more. They gave thanks every night for the new bounty.When Halima and the other tribe members reached home, more blessings came to her family. Her goats and camels suddenly became well-fed and full of milk. Many of the tribespeople were surprised and sent their animals to wherever Halima’s herd was seen grazing. But their animals came back thin and milkless, while hers were fat and bountiful of milk.

The blessings never ceased until two years passed, when Halima had to return the child to his mother. When she reluctantly did so, she told the mother of her good fortune. The orphan’s mother said when she delivered him, she felt little pain and dreamed of a light that shone brightly on a distant city.

Although the boy would experience the loss of his mother at the age of six, his name is uttered by billions of people to this day at least five times a day, as well as through 14 centuries of history.

The lesson from the story of the orphan boy is that we should help others without asking for any benefits in this world. We do not know which of our acts of kindness God will consider when judging the whole of our lives later in the spiritual world.

We may have high stations in life as deemed by society, but in the eyes of God, that may matter the least. What matters more is how we extend our bounty to others in the hope that our physical charity may help our spiritual destiny.

In economic terms, a nation can come about not only in the sense of economic power and strength, but also through the more important ties of citizenhood that cross race and religious boundaries and put petty political partisanship to shame and to naught.

The story of Halima, a poor woman in need, and the orphan she took in, must give all of us pause to reassess and restructure our thoughts, our fate and the destiny of our nation.

Prof Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor of Architecture at UCSI University. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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