Sufi Biography: Malek ibn Dinar

Sufi Biography: Malek ibn Dinar

Malek ibn Dinar al-Sami was the son of a Persian slave from Sejestan (or Kabol) and became a disciple of Hasan of Basra. He is mentioned as a reliable traditionist, transmitting from such early authorities as Anas ibn Malek and Ibn Sirin. A noted early calligrapher of the Koran, he died c. 130 (748).

How Malek-e Dinar came to be so named, and the story of his repentance

When Malek was born his father was a slave; yet though he was a slave’s son, he was free from bondage to both worlds.

Some say that Malek-e Dinar once embarked in a ship. When the ship was far out to sea the mariners demanded,

“Produce your fare!” “I do not have it,” he answered.

They beat him till he was senseless. When he recovered, they shouted again.

“Produce your fare!”


 “I do not have it,” he repeated.

They beat him unconscious a second time. When he came to, they demanded a third time.

“Produce your fare!”

“I do not have it.”

“Let us seize him by the feet and throw him overboard,” the sailors shouted.

All the fish in the water at that moment put up their heads. Each one held two golden dinars in its mouth. Malek reached down his hand and, taking two dinars from one of the fish, gave it to them. Seeing this, the crew fell at his feet. He walked on the face of the waters and vanished.

That is why he was called Malek-e Dinar.

Now his conversion came about as follows. He was a very handsome man and fond of worldly things, and he possessed great wealth. He lived in Damascus, where Mo’awiya had built the cathedral mosque, endowing it liberally. Malek was very eager to be appointed in charge of that mosque. So he went and threw his prayer rug down in the corner of the mosque, and there for a whole year continued in devotion, hoping that whoever saw him would find him at prayer.

“What a hypocrite for you!” he would say to himself.

A year passed in this way. By night he would leave the mosque and take his amusement. One night he was enjoying music, and all his companions had fallen asleep. Suddenly a voice came from the lute he was


“Malek, what ails thee that thou repentest not?”

Hearing these words, Malek dropped the instrument and ran to the mosque in great confusion.

“For a whole year I have worshipped God hypocritically,” he communed with himself. “Is it not better that I should worship God in sincerity? Yet I am ashamed. What am I to do? Even if they offer me this appointment, I will not accept it.”

So he resolved, and he put his conscience right with God.

That night he worshipped with a truthful heart. Next day people assembled as usual before the mosque.

“Why, there are cracks in the mosque,” they exclaimed. “A superintendent ought to be appointed to keep it in order.”

They reached the unanimous view that no one was better fitted for the post than Malek. So they came to him. He was at -e prayer, so they waited patiently until he was finished.

“We have come to plead with you to accept this appointment,” they said.

“O God,” cried Malek, “I served Thee hypocritically for a whole year, and no one looked at me. Now that I have given my heart to Thee and firmly resolved that I do not want the appointment, Thou hast sent twenty men to me to place this task on my neck. By Thy glory, I do not want it.”

And he ran out of the mosque and applied himself to the Lord’s work, taking up the life of austerity and discipline. So 18 respected did he become, and of such excellence of life, that l when a certain wealthy citizen of Basra died, leaving behind a lovely daughter, the latter approached Thabet-e Bonani.

“I wish to become the wife of Malek,” she announced, “so that he may help me in the labour of obedience to God.” Thabet informed Malek.

“I have divorced the world,” Malek replied. “This woman belongs to the world I have divorced. I cannot marry her.”

Malek and his licentious neighbour

There was a certain youth living in Malek’s neighbourhood who was extremely depraved and dissolute in his ways. Malek e was constantly pained on account of his bad behaviour, but he endured patiently waiting for someone else to speak. To be brief, in due course others came forward to complain about the young man. Malek then arose and went to him to bid him mend his ways. The youth reacted in a very headstrong and overbearing manner.

“I am the Sultan’s favourite,” he told Malek. “No one has the power to check me or restrain me from doing as I please.”

“I will talk to the Sultan,” Malek threatened.

“The Sultan will never swerve from his approval of me,” the youth retorted. “Whatever I do, he will approve.”

“Well, if the Sultan cannot do anything,” Malek proceeded, “I will tell the All-merciful.”

And he pointed to heaven.

“Ha,” the youth replied. “He is too generous to take me to task.”

This floored Malek, and he left him. Some days went by, and the youth’s depravity surpassed all bounds. People came again to complain. Malek rose up to rebuke him; but on the way he heard a voice.

“Keep your hands off My friend!”

Amazed, Malek went in to the youth.

“What has happened,” the youth demanded on seeing him, “that you have come a second time?”

“I have not come this time to chide you,” Malek answered. “I have come simply to inform you that I heard such a voice.”

“Ah,” the youth exclaimed. “Since things are like that, I dedicate my palace wholly to His service. I care nothing for all my possessions.”

So saying, he cast everything aside and set out to wander the world.

Malek relates that after a certain time he saw the youth in Mecca, utterly destitute and at his last breath.

“He is my friend,” he gasped. “I went to see my friend.” And with that he expired.

Malek and his abstinence

Years passed without anything sour or sweet passing Malek’s lips. Every night he would repair to the baker’s and buy two round loaves on which he broke his fast. From time to time it happened that the bread was warm; he found consolation in that, taking it as an appetizer.

Once he fell sick, and a craving for meat entered his heart. For ten days he controlled himself; then, unable to restrain himself any longer, he went to a delicatessen and bought two or three sheep’s trotters and put them in his sleeve. The shopkeeper sent his apprentice after him to see what he would do. After a little while the boy returned in tears.

“From here he went to a desolate spot,” he reported. “There he took the trotters out of his sleeve, kissed them twice or thrice, then he said, ‘My soul, more than this is not meet for you.’ Then he gave the bread and trotters to a beggar, saying, ‘Weak body of mine, do not think that all this pain I impose on you is out of enmity. It is so that on the resurrection morn you may not burn in Hell. Be patient for a few days, and it may be that this trial will come to an end, and you will fall into bliss that shall never pass away.’”

Once Malek said, “I do not know the meaning of the statement that if a man does not eat meat for forty days, his intelligence is diminished. I have not eaten meat for twenty years, and my intelligence increases every day.”

For forty years he lived in Basra and never ate fresh dates. When the season of ripe dates came round he would say, “People of Basra, behold, my belly has not shrunk from not eating them, and you who eat them daily—your bellies have not become any larger.”

After forty years he was assailed by a mood of restlessness. However hard he tried, he could not withstand the craving for fresh dates. Finally after some days, during which the desire daily increased whilst he constantly denied his appetite, he could resist no more the importunity of his carnal soul.

“I will not eat fresh dates,” he protested. “Either kill me, or die!”

That night a heavenly voice spoke.

“You must eat some dates. Free your carnal soul from bondage.”

At this response his carnal soul, finding the opportunity, began to shout.

“If you want dates,” Malek said, “fast for a week without breakfasting once, and pray all night. Then I will give you some.”

This contented his carnal soul. For a whole week he prayed all night and fasted all day. Then he went to the market and bought some dates, and betook himself to the mosque to eat them. A boy shouted from the rooftop.

“Father! A Jew has bought dates and is going to the mosque to eat them.”

“What business has a Jew in the mosque?” the man exclaimed. And he ran to see who the Jew might be. Beholding Malek, he fell at his feet.

“What were those words the boy uttered?” Malek demanded.

“Excuse him, master,” the boy’s father pleaded. “He is only a child, and does not understand. In our quarter many Jews live. We are constantly fasting, and our children see the Jews eating by day. So they suppose that everyone who eats anything by day is a Jew. What he said he said in ignorance. Forgive him!”

When Malek heard this, a fire consumed his soul. He realized that the child was inspired to speak as he had.

“Lord God,” he cried, “I had not eaten any dates, and Thou didst call me a Jew by the tongue of an innocent child. If I eat the dates, Thou wilt proclaim me an unbeliever. By Thy glory, if I ever eat any dates!”