Retold by Sarah Conover and Freda Crane in Ayat Jamilah: Beautiful Signs; A Treasury of Islamic Wisdom for Children and Parents (Boston: Skinner House, 2010). Used with permission.
Kan ya ma kan: (“There was and there was not…,” the Arabic version of “Once upon a time…”) there was and there was not a man known far and wide for his generosity. One day, sitting with his friends sipping coffee in the village square, a poor woman approached him with a small request for money to feed her child.
"Of course!" he replied, and without hesitation plucked coin after coin out of his pocket, piling them into the woman's hand until they spilled on the ground.
Overwhelmed with this show of kindness, the woman began to weep. She bowed her head in gratitude. "May Allah bless you, Sir. You have saved my child's life." She carefully placed the coins in a small cloth sack. Glancing up a last time, she thanked him with a frail half-smile.
When she was out of earshot, the man's friends probed him with questions: "Why did you give her so much money?" asked one.
"That was foolish. Don't you think she will tell all her friends?" asked another.
"A line of beggars will be at your door tomorrow morning!" warned a third.
"Just yesterday, you gave your zakaat, your charity," said a fourth. "You weren't obliged to give her any. Why did you do it?"
The generous man kept silent until their indignation ran its course. At last they quieted down.
"While such a poor woman may be pleased with just a little money from me," said the generous man, "I couldn't have been." He looked from friend to friend. "Unless I give her what I am able to, I won't be happy. She may not know me, but I know myself."
And the group of men, thoughtful and contrite, said no more about it.