The Parable of The Prostitute

by Ubah

Photo: Giulio Nesi

As provocative as the title sounds, the following narration is one that constantly inspires me and expands my mind. I relate to you the following:

Abu Huraira radi allahu `anhu (may God have mercy on him) reported Allah’s Messenger ﷺ (peace be upon him) as saying: “There was a dog moving around a well whom thirst would have killed. Suddenly a prostitute from the prostitutes of Bani Isra’il [Children of Israel] happened to see it and she drew water in her shoe and made it drink, and she was pardoned because of this.” (Sahih Muslim, 2245 b)

In another narration:

Narrated Abu Huraira (ra): The Prophet ﷺ said, “While a dog was going round a well and was about to die of thirst, an Israeli prostitute saw it and took off her shoe and watered it. So Allah forgave her because of that good deed.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, 3467)

Let that sink in.

Where do I begin with this amazing narration? Within it is a tale of animal rights, female empowerment, and the beautiful ability of our Lord to forgive, regardless of the person or the sin.

We must ask ourselves: how would we treat a woman whom we knew was a sex worker in this day and age? Indeed, these women are greatly looked down upon in our societies. The elephants in the room, they usually shoulder the majority of the blame and stigmatization, regardless of the countless males who fund and take advantage of their line of work.

In Muslim communities in particular, there is a huge (and in my opinion, rather unhealthy) emphasis placed on the chastity and “purity” of a woman. If anything at all, even if it be a rumor, compromises a woman’s reputation or puts her in a tight situation, she is typically isolated, looked down upon, abused, and in extreme instances, even murdered, regardless of whether she was sexually assaulted, taken advantage of, or sells her own body out of a desperate attempt at survival.

This classification and shaming of women within both our greater communities, and specifically our Muslim communities does nothing more than further isolate and abhor women who are already disenfranchised. Rather than considering their context, circumstances, and stories, many people assume, judge, and label. Symbolically and literally disposing of women who, for whatever reason, have already put their bodies out there for disposal.

Is this the Islamic way? No. Is this the human way? No. Take another look at the narrations above.

Firstly, the Prophet ﷺ relates to those around him the story of this woman. We learn that this was a woman of the former people—the Children of Israel. In doing so, he has given voice to a person that may have been perceived by the generations as being unworthy of mention.

Secondly, we must ask ourselves: why does he ﷺ do this? What is it about this woman that made her mention so great and worthy of our time? So much so that I am sitting here today relating it hundreds of years later?

It was what she did—her act. An act that stemmed from a place of selflessness, a place of mercy.

She used the means she had—in this case, her shoe—to nourish a thirsty dog that was on the verge of death. Clearly this was an unsolicited act; the dog did not ask her, nor was she asking for anything in return from it. Instead, she put in the effort to extend the dog mercy, compassion, and life. This is amazing, considering that human beings may have possibly denied her these things due to her “profession”. She gave to an animal what others could not or would not give to her.

And what did this earn her? Forgiveness from her Lord. Paradise. Regardless of the fact that she was a prostitute, it was this act alone that elevated her from amongst her people.

From this story, I derive five major points:

1. Do not belittle deeds

I wonder how many people had walked past that dog ignoring it completely. Maybe they viewed it as unworthy of their time or help. Yet she was able to identify its need and take part in a seemingly small act which led to a mighty reward. We should never overlook the small deeds like picking up litter or smiling at your neighbor. What we view as small may be great in the sight of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exhalted is He).

2. His mercy encompasses your sins

She was a prostitute engaged in a major sin in the eyes of Allah (swt). And yet He forgave her, just like that. This is easy for Allah (swt). Don’t ever lose hope in the mercy of Allah: He is Ar-Rahman (the Merciful), after all! Yes, your sins may be great, but his mercy is far greater. Indeed:

Narrated Abu Huraira (ra): The Prophet ﷺ said, “When Allah created the Creation, He wrote in His Book—and He wrote (that) about Himself, and it is placed with Him on the Throne–‘Verily My Mercy overcomes My Anger.’” (Sahih al-Bukhari, 7404)

Subhan’Allah (glory to God).

3. Stop judging others negatively

This speaks for itself. We never know the rank that someone has in the sight of Allah (swt). Our problem is that we judge based on the exterior; we lack the ability to peer into another’s soul. But He can. And that’s why when we see our brother and sister, whether in faith or humanity, engaged in some type of sin, we make excuses for them, pray for them, and BE there for them. Besides, who are we to judge others just because they sin differently from ourselves? Leave the judging to The Judge.

4. The Standard of Allah (swt)

Last weekend one of my shuyukh (religious scholars) mentioned something very interesting: he said that it is scary to consider that on the Day of Judgment, Allah (swt) will reward/punish us according to His own standard. That is, the deeds that we were very pleased with in this life may mean very little in the next. Likewise, the deeds that we neglected or brushed off as unimportant may very well be the ones that mean the most. Reflect on this and prioritize.

5. The importance of animal rights in Islam

Another reason why I love this narration is because it highlights a very important aspect that we Muslims often neglect or belittle: animal rights. Now, this could be due to our culture and/or upbringing; indeed, in many societies, animals are greatly looked down upon or not even noticed at all! We need to change this way of thinking. We need to honor animals, for they, too, are a creation of Allah (swt). They do not deserve our abuse and neglect. They have feelings; they know.

I hope this reflection has opened your minds in new ways. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what your sin is, do not ever forget that your Lord is ever watching and considering. Do not ever forget that your deeds, both good and bad, are being recorded and that one day, you will be judged according to them.

And lastly do not ever forget to be human. Extend your humanity to all people and all animals. For it is from this extension of your humanity that you may find the forgiveness and mercy that matters the most, His.

And Allah (swt) knows best.

Aside: May Allah (swt) be pleased with Abu Hurayra; through my research for this piece, I kept finding ahadith (narrations) that were narrated by him. And fittingly, his nickname is “Abu Hurayra” or “Father of the Kitten” because he used to keep a kitten in his sleeve. An animal activist from among the Companions, may Allah (swt) be pleased with them all.

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