Sufi Biography: Ahmad ibn Harb

Sufi Biography: Ahmad ibn Harb

Ahmad ibn Harb al-Nisaburi was a noted ascetic of Nishapur, a reliable traditionist and a fighter in  the holy wars. He visited Baghdad in the time of Ahmad ibn Hanbal and taught there; he died in 234 (849) at the age of 85.

Ahmad-e Harb and the Zoroastrian

Ahmad-e Harb had for neighbour a Zoroastrian named Bahram. Now this neighbour had sent a partner
out on a trading mission, and on the way thieves had carried off all his goods.
“Rise up,” Ahmad called to his disciples when he heard the news. “Such a thing has happened to our
neighbour. Let us go and condole with him. Even though he is a Zoroastrian, yet he is a neighbour.”
When they reached the door of his house Bahram was kindling his Zoroastrian fire. He ran forward and
kissed his sleeve. Bahram, thinking that perhaps they were hungry, though bread was scarce made to lay the


“Do not trouble yourself,” Ahmad said. “We have come to sympathize. I heard that your goods had been
“Yes, that is so,” said Bahram. “But I have three reasons to be grateful to God. First, because they stole
from me and not from someone else. Second, that they took only a half. Third, that even if my worldly goods
are gone, I still have my religion; and the world comes and goes.”
These words pleased Ahmad.

“Write this down,” he told his disciples. “The odor of Islam issues from these words.” Then he added,
turning to Bahram, “Why do you worship this fire?” “So that it may not burn me,” Bahram replied.
“Secondly, as today I have given it so much fuel, tomorrow it will not be untrue to me but will convey
me to God.”
“You have made a great mistake,” commented Ahmad. “Fire is weak and ignorant and faithless. All
the calculations you have based on it are false. If a child pours a little water on it, it will go out. A thing
so weak as that—how can it convey you to One so
mighty? A thing that has not the strength to repel from itself a little earth—how can it convey you to
God? Moreover, to prove it is ignorant: if you sprinkle musk and filth upon it, it will burn them both and
not know that one is better than the other—that is why it makes no distinction between filth and frankincense.
Again, it is now seventy years that you have been worshipping it, and I have never worshipped it;
come, let us both put a hand in the fire, and you will see that it burns both our hands. It will not be true to
These words struck the Zoroastrian to the heart. “I will ask you four questions,” he said. “If you
answer them all, I will accept your Faith. Say: why did God create men? And having created them, why did He
provide for them? Why does He cause them to die? And having caused them to die, why does He raise
them up again?” “He created them that they might be His servants,”
Ahmad replied. “He provided for them that they might know Him to be the All-provider. He causes them to
die that they may know His overwhelming Power. He makes them to live again that they may know Him to
be Omnipotent and Omniscient.” As soon as Ahmad had finished, Bahram recited the attestation.
“I bear witness that there is no god but God, and I bear witness that Mohammad is the Apostle of God.”
Thereupon Ahmad cried aloud and fainted. Presently he recovered consciousness.
“Why did you faint?” his disciples asked.
“The moment that he raised his finger in attestation,”
Ahmad replied, “a voice called to me in my inmost heart. ‘Ahmad,’ the voice said, ‘Bahram was a
Zoroastrian for seventy years, but at last he believed.

You have spent seventy years in the Faith; now at the end what will you have to offer?’”
Ahmad-e Harb and Ahmad the Merchant There lived in Nishapur two men, one named Ahmade
Harb and the other called Ahmad the Merchant. Ahmad-e Harb was a man so wrapped up in the recollection
of God, that when the barber wished to trim his moustache he kept moving his lips.
“Keep still just while I trim these hairs,” said the barber. “You busy yourself with your own affairs,”
answered Ahmad-e Harb.
And each time the barber trimmed, some part of his lips was nicked.
On one occasion he received a letter and for a long while intended to answer it but did not find a spare
moment. Then one day the muezzin was chanting the call to prayer. Just while he was saying “It is time”
Ahmad called to a companion.
“Answer my friend’s letter. Tell him not to write to me any more, because I have
not the leisure to reply.
Write, ‘Be busy with God. Farewell!’ “ As for Ahmad the Merchant, he was so wrapped up
in love of worldly things that one day he asked his maidservant for food. The maidservant prepared a dish
and brought it to him, but he went on with his calculations until night fell, and he dropped off to sleep.
When he woke next morning he called to the maid. “You did not make that food.”
“I did make it. But you were so taken up with your calculations.”
She cooked a dish a second time and laid it before her master, but again he did not find the leisure to eat
it. A third time the girl prepared food for him, and still he found no opportunity. The maid came and found
him asleep, so she rubbed some of the food on his lips. Ahmad the Merchant awoke.
“Bring the basin,” he called, thinking that he had eaten.

Ahmad-e Harb and his son

Ahmad-e Harb had a little son whom he was training to trust in God.
“Whenever you want food or anything,” he told him, “go to this window and say, ‘Lord God, I need
bread.’ “

Each time the child went to that place, the parents had so arranged to place in the window what the child
desired. One day they were out of the house when the child was overcome by the pangs of hunger. As usual he
came under the window and prayed. “Lord God, I need bread.”

Immediately food was sent down to him by the window. The household returned to find him sitting down
and eating. “Where did you get this from?” they asked. “From the one who gives me every day,” he replied.
So they realized that he was well established in this way.