The royal bed of Ibrahim bin Adham, Ruler of Balkh, was carpeted with roses each night.
One night, the maidservant, entrusted with the work, was tempted to lie down on it for a while. Unfortunately, she soon fell asleep and was shaken out of her slumber, on experiencing the whips inflicted by the Ruler.
The maidservant stood up staggering.
“What made you sleep on the.royal bed?” cried, King Ibrahim.
She was speechless for a moment and then burst into sardonic laughter. The King became furious and enquired the cause of her unusual laughter.
“Sir”, replied the maidservant, “I had hardly slept for a while on the royal bed when I received three or four whips on my tender body. I wonder what punishment you will get from God for sleeping on this bed every night”.
Ibrahim bin Adham was much struck by the blunt and satirical reply of his maidservant. He was mentally upset and disquieted; and brooded over the provocative, spontaneous remark of his maid who lashed him at his weakest spot. Under the impact of this eye-opener, he gave up many of his royal comforts and pleasures. Henceforward, he devoted much of his time to the welfare of his people and prayers to God.
One night, when he was praying, he felt someone walking on the roof of his palace. He went upstairs and found a person searching something there.
“What are you searching here?” enquired King Ibrahim.
“My camel”, was the instant reply.
Ibrahim laughed! “Are you mad?”
“You are searching your camel on the roof of the royal palace”.
“For your part, you are searching God in the Royal Palace”, retorted the stranger.
The incident produced a deep effect on the mind of King Ibrahim. He renounced his throne, became a hermit, and set out in quest of spiritual peace and Divine truth. All that he carried with him was a tumbler, a blanket, and a pillow. He had hardly gone a few miles when he observed a man drinking water with his scooped hands. Instantly, he threw off the tumbler, thinking it to be useless.
When he went further, he found a man sleeping, using his arms as a pillow. He cast away the pillow, carried by him, considering it to be equally useless. A little further, he saw, another man sleeping without covering his body with a blanket. Ibrahim, thereupon, gave away his blanket as well.
Now he had no worldly belongings left with him. He roamed about in different countries in quest of Divine truth. He now yearned for a spiritual teacher who could lead him to the path of Divine Reality.
At last, he called on the famous Sufi Saint, Hazrat Bayazid Bustami, and requested him to accept him as his disciple. Hazrat Bayazid told him that he would have to undergo a period of prayers and severe test. Ibrahim readily agreed.
He was asked by the Sufi Saint, to bring logs of firewood from the forest. One day, the Saint instructed his maidservant to inform Ibrahim that the firewood he brought was not dry and caused a lot of smoke while cooking food. This embittered Ibrahim and he cried, “Had you been in my State, I would have flogged you to death for this impertinent complaint”.
When Bayazid came to know of Ibrahim’s reaction to the complaint, he observed that he had not forgotten his regal life and required further test. A few months later, the Sufi Saint asked his maidservant to give coarser food to Ibrahim. Ibrahim took this food without grumbling but his dislike for it was visible from his facial expressions. The maidservant reported the incident to the Saint, who remarked that Ibrahim required further training.
After a few months, the Saint observed that a person unknowingly threw a basket of dust on Ibrahim, but he did not protest to it. Bayazid Bustami was much pleased with the transformation of Ibrahim and conferred on him his robe of Khilafat.
After his conversion to Sufism, Ibrahim migrated to Syria and until his death worked and lived by his labor. The anecdotes -and sayings of Ibrahim recorded by his biographers show that he was an ascetic, but believed in earning his living through hard labor and not living on charity.
Like ancient Sufis, he took every care that his food was not impure in the religious sense of the word. He condemned begging as a means of livelihood and, on the other hand, supported himself by gardening reaping, and grinding wheat, etc. He did not carry the doctrine of Tawakkul to the point of refusing to earn his livelihood. He said! “There are two kinds of begging. A man may beg at people’s doors, or he may say, ‘I frequent the mosque and pray and fast and worship God and accept whatever is given to me’. This is the worse of the two types. Such a person is an importunate beggar”.
Some of his sayings are:
(1) “Poverty is a treasure which God keeps in Heaven and bestows on those whom He loves”.
(2) “This is the sign of one who loves God that his chief care is goodness and devotion and his words are mostly in praise and glorification of God”.
In a reply to Abu Yazid al Djudhami, who declared that Paradise is the utmost that devotees can hope to attain from God hereafter, Ibrahim said: “I deem that the greatest matter, as they consider it, is that God should not withdraw from them His gracious countenance”.
He found greatest peace and joy in self-mortification and renunciation of the world. Ibrahim bin Adham died in 894 A.C. while he was taking part in a naval expedition against the Greeks. According to Yakut, “he was buried at Sukin, a fortress in Rum.”