Sufi Biography: Hatem al-Asamm

Sufi Biography: Hatem al-Asamm


Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman Hatem ibn Onwan al-Asamm (the Deaf), a native of Balkh, was a pupil of Shaqiq al-Balkhi. He visited Baghdad, and died at Washjard near Termedh in 237 (852).


Anecdotes of Hatem the Deaf

Hatem the Deaf’s charity was so great that when a woman came to him one day to ask him a question and at that moment she broke wind, he said to her, “Speak louder. I am hard of hearing.” This he said in order that the woman should not be put to shame. She raised her voice, and he answered her problem. So long as that old woman was alive, for close on fifteen years Hatem made out that he was deaf, so that no one should tell the old woman that he was not so. After her death he gave his answers readily. Until then, he would say to everyone who spoke to him, “Speak louder.” That was why he was called Hatem the Deaf.


 One day Hatem was preaching in Balkh.

“O God,” he prayed, “whoever in this congregation today is the greatest and boldest sinner and has the blackest record, do Thou forgive him.”

Now there was present in that congregation a man who robbed the dead. He had opened many tombs and stolen the winding-sheets.

That night he went about his usual business of robbing the dead. He had actually removed the earth from a grave when he heard a voice proceeding out of the tomb.

“Are you not ashamed? This morning you were pardoned at Hatem’s gathering, and tonight you are at your old business again?”

The grave-robber jumped out of the tomb, and ran to Hatem. He told him what had happened, and repented.

Sa’d ibn Mohammad al-Razi reports the following.

For many years I was a disciple of Hatem, and in all that time I only once saw him angry. He had gone to the market, and there he saw a man who had seized hold of one of his apprentices and was shouting.

“Many times he has taken my goods and eaten them, and does not pay me the price of them.”

“Good sir, be charitable,” Hatem interposed.

“I know nothing of charity. I want my money,” the man retorted.

All Hatem’s pleading was without effect. Growing angry, he took his cloak from his shoulders and flung it to the ground there in the midst of the bazaar. It was filled with gold, all true coin.

“Come, take what is owing to you, and no more, or your hand will be withered,” he said to the tradesman.

The man set about picking up the gold until he had taken his due. He could not contain himself, and stretched out the hand again to pick up more. His hand immediately became withered.

One day a man came to Hatem and said, “I possess much wealth, and I wish to give some of this wealth to you and your companions. Will you accept?”

“I am afraid,” Hatem answered, “that when you die I shall have to say, ‘Heavenly Provider, my earthly provider is dead.’”

Hatem recalled, “When I went out to the wars a Turk seized me and flung me to the ground to kill me. My heart was not concerned or afraid. I just waited to see what he would do. He was feeling for his sword, when suddenly an arrow pierced him and he fell from me. ‘Did you kill me, or did I kill you?’ I exclaimed.”

When Hatem came to Baghdad the caliph was told, “The ascetic of Khorasan has arrived.” The caliph promptly sent for him.

“O caliph the ascetic,” Hatem addressed the caliph as he entered.

“I am not an ascetic,” replied the caliph. “The whole world is under my command. You are the ascetic.”

“No, you are the ascetic,” Hatem retorted. “God says, Say, the enjoyment of this world is little. You are contented with a little. You are the ascetic, not I. I will not submit to this world or the next; how then am I an ascetic?”

Ebrahim ibn Adham’s saintly career began in the following manner. He was king of Balkh, and a whole
world was under his command; forty gold swords and forty gold maces were carried before and behind him.

One night he was asleep on his royal couch. At midnight the roof of the apartment vibrated, as if someone was walking on the roof.

“Who is there?” he shouted.
“A friend,” came the reply. “I have lost a camel, and am searching for it on this roof.”
“Fool, do you look for the camel on the roof?” cried Ebrahim.
“Heedless one,” answered the voice, “do you seek for God in silken clothes, asleep on a golden couch?”

These words filled his heart with terror. A fire blazed within him, and he could not sleep any more.

When day came he returned to the dais and sat on his throne, thoughtful, bewildered and full of care. The ministers of state stood each in his place; his slaves were drawn up in serried ranks. General audience was proclaimed.

Suddenly a man with aweful mien entered the chamber, so terrible to look upon that none of the royal retinue and servants dared ask him his name; the tongues of all clove to their throats. He advanced solemnly till he stood before the throne.