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Story 1: The Better Offer

Adapted from a historical Islamic tale.

Uthman ibn Affan was one of the very first followers of the prophet Muhammad, who started the Muslim religion. He was a very wealthy man who was known far and wide for his generosity. In fact, he was so generous with his money and possessions that people still tell stories about him today, more than a thousand years later!

Uthman lived in Medinah, which is in modern day Saudi Arabia. This is a very dry part of the world where there isn't a lot of rainfall. One year, in the year 640, to be precise, the rains did not come and there was a drought.

Without any rain, food crops withered. There were no figs on the fig trees, no olives on the olive branches. The people of Medinah and all of their animals were running out of food. In fact, things got so bad that the people had to eat the leaves from the trees in order to survive. Without food, the people knew they could starve.

You can imagine how happy the people were the day they learned that a caravan of 1,000 camels was approaching Medinah. Each camel was laden down with food. The people began to imagine the smells that would fill their kitchens when they were cooking their favorite meals. Their mouths watered as they imagined the tastes of their favorite foods. Best of all, they imagined going to bed with full bellies for the first time in weeks.

Knowing that the caravan belonged to Uthman ibn Affan made the people rejoice even more, for they knew of his reputation for generosity. Surely he would give them a good price on the food he had for sale.

The merchants also rejoiced to hear that the caravan was approaching. For months business had been slow because they had no food to sell. The people of Medinah had stopped spending money in their shops. The merchants began to imagine their shops filled with hungry people, willing to spend any amount of money in order to eat and feed their families.

Knowing that the caravan belonged to Uthman ibn Affan was not welcome news for the merchants, however, for he had a reputation for being a very sharp businessman. Although he was fair, Uthman ibn Affan drove a very hard bargain.

Nonetheless, the merchants immediately went to Uthman ibn Affan. They wanted to buy the food from his caravan from him so they could sell it in their shops. They knew that in this time of famine, they could re-sell the food in their shops for two or even three times its usual price. So they were ready to pay any price Uthman ibn Affan asked.

Uthman ibn Affan received all of the merchants graciously. No one was surprised, however, when he rejected their first offers.

"I am afraid I cannot do business with you," he said, "for I have already received a better offer."

The merchants had expected they would have to offer him more money for the food, and they did. They raised their offers, again and again, but each time Uthman declined, repeating, "I am afraid I cannot do business with you, for I have already received a better offer."

The merchants began to grumble among themselves. At this rate, they would barely make any money when they sold the food. Besides, they would have to charge so much money for the food the people of Medinah would barely be able to afford it. Perhaps Uthman's reputation for generosity was exaggerated. By refusing the prices they offered, he was driving the price for the food higher and
higher. Some folks in Medinah might not even be able to afford it at all.

Finally the merchants made their best offer: five times the value of the cargo. Surely Uthman would accept. Who could possibly have offered more?

"I am sorry," Uthman responded. "I cannot do business with you. You see I have received a better offer from Allah, from God, for Allah has said that anyone who gives away wealth in Allah's name will get back far more than he gave away."

So it was that Uthman ibn Affan refused all of the money the merchants offered him. Instead, he gave away all of the food carried by the 1,000 camels in his caravan. He gave it away in Allah’s name for free to the starving people of Medinah.

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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