Legend goes that once there was a very rich merchant in Baghdad who had four wives. The wealth had to be spent on something after all! The old man loved his young and beautiful fourth wife the most and adorned her with rich and beautiful clothes and treated her to all types of delicacies. He took great care of her and gave her nothing but the best. He also loved the third wife a lot. He was very proud of her and always wanted to show her off to his relatives and friends. However, the merchant was always in great fear that she might run away with a younger and more handsome man.
He loved his second wife too. A middle-aged lady by then, but her intelligence made up for her age. She was a very considerate person, always patient and in fact she was the one who knew the intricacies of the trade and acted as the merchant's confidante. Whenever the merchant faced some problems, he always turned to his second wife and she would always helped him tide over the difficult times. Now the merchant's first wife - by now frail and neglected - was a very loyal partner. She had stood by her husband through thick and thin and braved the rough times along with her husband. But this was when they were not as rich. She had made great contributions in looking after his wealth and business as well as taking care of the household. However the merchant did not love his first wife any more and although she loved him deeply he hardly ever took notice of her. Like all good things the opulent and luxurious life of the merchant neared its end.
One day the merchant fell ill. A physician was sent for but he didn't find much hope for the patient's life. Judging by the somber mood of the men and women gathered around him, the merchant knew that he was going to die soon. He reflected on the good times, thought of his luxurious life and mused: “I have four wives but when I die, I will be alone. How lonely I will be.”
He asked his wives to come sit by his side.
He addressed his fourth wife: “I love you the most, have showered on you diamonds, jewels, perfumes and the finest of clothing and have taken great care of you, follow me and give me company in the loneliness of my grave?” “No way,” replied the youngest wife. And she walked away without another word. The answer cut like a sharp knife right through the merchant's heart.
The sad merchant then asked his third wife. “I have loved you so much for all my life. Now that I am dying, will you follow me and keep me company?” “NO!” Replied the third wife “Life is so good over here, after your burial I am going to marry my cousin in Basra. But I promise to arrange a very good funeral for you.” The merchant's heart sank and he turned cold.
He then asked the second wife “I always turned to you for help and you have always helped me in my difficult times. This is a real crisis and now I need your valued help again. When I die, will you follow me and give me your company, you know like the good old days?” “I am sorry, I can't help you out this time.” replied the second wife. “At the very most I can accompany you up to your grave.” The answer came like a bolt of thunder and the merchant was devastated.
Then he heard a weak and frail voice: “You are my first and my last. I will be with you all the time. I will follow you wherever you go.” The merchant then looked up and saw a frail figure - his first wife. Years of neglect showed on her face. She looked pale and skinny and it was obvious that she suffered from malnutrition. Greatly grieved, the ailing merchant said, “I should have taken much more care of you while I could have.”
We all have four wives in our lives. The fourth is our body. No amount of health, food, vitamins and visiting the gym and effort we lavish in making it look good will be of any real help, it will leave us when we die. Regarding our third wife? Look beyond your nose - our possessions, status and wealth. When we die they all go to others. The second wife is our family and friends. No matter how close they had been during our good times and bad, the furthest they can stay by us is up to the graveyard. The first wife is in fact our soul, often neglected in our pursuit of material wealth and sensual things that follows us wherever we go.
Perhaps it's a good idea to cultivate and strengthen it now rather than to wait until we are on our deathbed to lament.
(KHANQAH SHEIKH ZAKARIYYA, Lenasia, South Africa.)