The King who renounced his Throne

By Fahim Munshi

Fahim_MunshiIbrahim Abu Ishaq was a Persian King who renounced his throne to become a Sufi saint who came to be known as Abou Bin Adham (may Allah accept him).

It is said that once the Persian King, Ibrahim Abu Isahq was pompously seated on his throne when a well built young man walked into his royal chamber and looking all around the kingly surroundings said to Ibrahim, “This sarai is no good.” Astonished at his behavior, the king told the intruder, “This is not a sarai. It is my Royal Palace in which you are standing.” Hearing this the intruder inquired of the king, “Who occupied this before you?” “My father!” replied the king. “…and before him, who?” asked the man, “My grand father, and before him my great grandfather!” answered the king. “So you see a place where people constantly keep coming and going is nothing but a sarai, isn’t it?” intervened the young man. Soon after having said that, the man walked away.

The strange intruder’s words made the king ponder over the wisdom the man had just imparted. King Ibrahim soon realized that life is truly nothing but a sarai, a place similar to a highway inn where people pause for rest on their onward journey. With this realization, Ibrahim gave up all worldly aspirations and devoted himself more to prayers, charity and other acts of benevolence.

One night as the king lay on his royal bed after his meditation, he heard someone parading on the terrace of his chamber. He asked, “Who is there?” A voice from the terrace replied, “I have lost my camel and I am trying to search for it.” Hearing this absurd response, the king replied, “You stupid man, if your camel has been lost why are you searching it on my chamber terrace… go and search for it in the jungles!” “I am not foolish, it is you who are senseless,” said the voice from above, “If you are in quest of Allah (glorified and exalted is He), you must step out and search for Him in the jungles for you can’t find Him in the luxuries of your royal palace which as such is nothing but your temporary abode.”

It is said that soon thereafter, King Ibrahim Abu Isahq relinquished his throne and all the comforts of his life and went away to live by himself in a cave in total seclusion. He spent his time in the cave praying to Allah and made his living by collecting wood and every Thursday went to the town to sell the wood, earnings from which he made a small living but donated major part of it in charity every week. His life had now become totally saintly unconcerned with any worldly desires. He lived for Allah and devoted much of his time in the service of his fellowmen with the sole intention of earning Allah’s favors.

It is reported that once he found a drunken man fallen by the roadside. The erstwhile king by now known as Abou Bin Adham approached the man and carried him to his abode, wiped his face and advised him, “Friend,  why do you spoil your tongue with haram instead fragrance it with the remembrance (dhikr) of Allah to whom belong all that is in heavens and the earth and everything in between.” Four days passed by and Abou Bin Adham learnt that this same man whom he had met had turned a new leaf and was now a pious, revered person admired by all for his generosity and profound kind nature.” Totally surprised at this transformation, Abou Adham inquired of Allah the reason of this occurrence, and he was told by Allah, “You cleaned his mouth to please Me, I cleaned his heart to please you.”

Once Abou Bin Adham was meditating by the seashore when the subjects of his (earlier) kingdom approached him and requested, “Why not come over and take charge of your kingdom, it will delight us all to be ruled by a just and kind hearted king?” Hearing this Abou Adham threw a metal needle into the flowing seawaters and asked the men who had come to invite him “Fetch me my needle.” Surprised the men said, “How is that possible? The needle must have floated away in the sea current!” Hearing this Abou Adham looked at the waters and said, “Fishes get me my metal needle.” All present were surprised to see many fishes emerge out of the water with golden needles to which Abou Adham said, “No I don’t need these.” Soon a fish appeared with his lost needle. At this Abou Adham told those gathered, “You see to one whom Allah has bestowed the friendship and   obedience of even fishes, why would I then need any other kingdoms to rule!”

Once a person approached the Sufi saint Abou Adham and said, “I have been praying and asking Allah for help but none of my dua’s are answered, what could be the cause for this?” To the satisfaction of the person, Abou Bin Adham cited the following main reasons for this. Abou bin Adham said: “We believe in Allah, but not worship Him in the way we should; we recognize Allah’s Prophet but we don’t follow his ways; we enjoy all His bounties but don’t thank Him for them; we desire Jannah (heaven) and fear Jahannum (hell) but don’t mend our incorrect ways; we recognize shaytan as our enemy but don’t protect ourselves from him; we know death as a reality but remain attracted to life; we bury our own parents but don’t learn lessons from it; we know our own faults and shortcomings yet busy ourselves in the quest of searching faults and shortcomings in other people. If we are devoid of all of this Allah in His ever-lasting Mercy will answer our prayers even before we think of them.”

Abou Bin Adham (erstwhile King Ibrahim Abu Ishaq) lived for 102 years and according to some scholars he is buried in Medina while some say his grave is in Sham.


Abou Bin Adham (Ibrahim ibn Adham) also called Ibrahim Baikhi (718-782) is among the prominent early Sufi saints. The story of his conversion from the life of a sultan to that of a saint is among the most celebrated Sufi legend that narrates countless acts of his righteousness. His humble lifestyle of a saint was in total contrast to his early life as the king of Balkh. Rumi has extensively described Ibrahim’s legend in his Masnavi.

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