The Slave who became a Teacher, to King (d. 104 A. H 225)The characteristic typical of all the Muslim heroes was their effort to direct their work for one and only one purpose; i.e. The pleasure of Allah. Whether in the Battle or in the mosque, in the royal courts or in the market-place those heroes conduct never faltered.
‘Ata-Ibn-Rabah’ was an eminent personality of the second generation of Muslims who met or attended many Companions of the Prophet (pbuh). ‘Ata-Ibn-Rabah was once at the doorsteps of the Umayyad; Caliph ‘Hisham-ibn-Abdul Malik’ in Damascus. Let us listen to what goes on between him and the Caliph.
The Caliph: ‘What can we do for you, Abu Muhammad?’
‘Ata-Ibn-Rabah’: ‘The people of the two ‘Harams’ (Mecca and Madinah), the guests of Allah (i.e. pilgrims) and the neighbors of the Messenger, give them their allotted annual gifts.’
The Caliph: ‘We will (Turning to Secretary): ‘Write a decree to that effect. What else, Abu Muhammad?’
‘Ata-Ibn-Rabah’: ‘The people of Hijaz and Najd are the heart of the Arabs and leaders of Islam, request that you return to them the surplus of their charity.’
The Caliph: ‘Yes, anything else?’
‘Ata-Ibn-Rabah’: ‘Yes. leader of the faithful, the soldiers at the frontiers of the Muslim lands. They are there in the face of your enemies, fighting whoever attempts to attack the land of Islam or hurt the Muslims. These people deserve generous salaries and supplies to be sent to them. For if they are lost our frontiers are gone.’
The Caliph: ‘Yes. (Addressing the Secretary) Write a decree to that effect. Anything else I can do for you?’
‘Ata-Ibn-Rabah’: ‘The Non-Muslim subjects living in the Muslim State who, in return for paying tax, enjoyed protection and safety) should not be asked to do things beyond their means. For whatever tax they pay you is a help against the State's enemies’.
The Secretary was ordered to write a decree to that effect.
The Caliph asks: ‘Anything else, Abu Muhammad?’
‘Ata-Ibn-Rabah’: “Yes. Fear Allah for your own sake. Remember that you were born alone; you will die alone, will be raised on the Day of Resurrection alone, and you will receive the Judgment alone. No one of your friends or relatives can be of any help at those times."
With these words ‘Ata-Ibn-Rabah’ bid farewell to the Caliph.
Before going out a man sent by the Caliph offered a pouch full of money for him.
‘Ata-Ibn-Rabah’, declined to take the money, quoting from the Qur’an: "I ask you no reward (for the advice). For my reward is with the Lord of the universe."
Now let's go back to the earlier day’s life in Mecca. ‘Ata-Ibn-Rabah’ was an Ethiopian, born a slave to a Mecca lady. Since his childhood he became interested in learning.
He divided his time into three portions:
*One third he spent in the service of his mistress carrying out his duties as a faithful servant.
*The second portion he devoted to worship and prayers, and;
*The third he devoted to learning whatever he could from the former companions of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him).
The Mecca lady was impressed with her bondsman's devotion. So she set him free, giving him the chance to spend all his time in the Sacred Mosque of Mecca, learning first then teaching and engaged in devotions.
His knowledge and piety earned him a high place in the hearts of the rulers and the ruled alike. Of his knowledge we are told that a great man like 'Abdullah-Ibn-Umar’ was reported to have been surprised that people in Mecca needed to seek religious guidance from anyone while they had a man like ‘Ata-Ibn-Rabah’ amongst them.
In the presence of ‘Ata-Ibn-Rabah’ even the greatest of Muslim Caliphs humbled themselves as we saw in the incident mentioned earlier (where we witnessed the encounter between ‘Hisham-Ibn-Abdul Malik’ and ‘Ata-Ibn-Rabah’).
In Mecca, another Umayyad Caliph, ‘Sulaiman-Ibn-Abdul Malik’, accompanied his two sons to sit humbly in the presence of the ex-slave to listen to his teachings in the sacred Mosque.
When he was asked about the man by his sons.
The Caliph answered, "This was '‘Ata-Ibn-Rabah."
Then he said, "My children seek knowledge. For through knowledge and learning the humble becomes great. The fool becomes wise, and slaves become superior to kings."
He lived about one hundred years and performed pilgrimage (Hajj) no less than seventy times.