Hazrat Inayat Khan told the story more than once of the man who was travelling with a caravan, and, fearing an attack by robbers, went away from the caravan until he came upon a man sitting on a carpet, to whom he entrusted his gold. After thieves did indeed strip the caravan of all they could find, the man went back to the stranger, but to his chagrin, found he had entrusted his money to the chief of the robbers. He was about to return empty-handed when the man called him to approach. “Why are you going away?” he said. “You asked me to look after something for you, and I have done as you requested. Now take it back!”
The robber chief who displayed such integrity in this story did not remain a robber. His name was Fozayl-e Ayaz (d. 803 CE) and he lived in Khorosan, but at a certain point in his life he heard a verse of the Koran being recited (“Is it not time for your sleeping heart to awaken?”) and the words struck him so deeply that they caused him to abandon his life of robbery and become a Sufi ascetic.
Although he preferred to go unnoticed, the reputation of Fozayl-e Ayaz’s wisdom grew and spread, and it happened once that Haroun-al Rashid, the Caliph of the time, asked his minister to take him to visit the Sufi.
It was evening when they knocked on Ayaz’s door; from within, Ayaz asked who it was. The minister called, “The Caliph and his minister want to see you.”
Instead of immediately coming to open the door, Ayaz called, “What does the Caliph want with me?”
“Are you going to invite us in, or do we have to break the door?”
“Do not threaten or instruct me,” Ayaz replied. “My door is open to anyone who has a question.”
The Caliph and the Minister entered the house, but as Haroun-al Rashid came in, Ayaz extinguished the light so that he could not see the Caliph’s face. Haroun-al Rashid then asked Ayaz for advice.
“Treat the old like your own parents, and the young like your daughters and sons. Fear God, because He will ask you about your justice and generosity. If a person is in need and you do not help, if an old one goes hungry and yo do not provide, if injustice and unhappiness occur in your land and you do not care, then you are responsible. On the Day of Resurrection, you will be asked about all these injustices.”
Out of appreciation, Haroun-al Rashid offered a purse of gold to Ayaz, but Ayaz became angry. “You did not learn anything from what I said. I invite you to freedom, and you invite me to the heavy load of the world. I instruct you to give to the needy for the sake of Allah, and instead you give me money as if I am in need of you. You serve me instead of God. You will never learn!”
And Ayaz went out of his own house, and refused to see the Caliph again.