There is a story of Hatim al-Asamm and the knowledge that he acquired from his teacher, Shaqiq al-Balkhi. It is reported that Shaqiq asked Hatim how long he had been with him. Hatim replied that it had been thirty-three years. Shaqiq then asked, “And what have you learnt during this period?” Hatim said, “Eight things.”

Shaqiq exclaimed, “We belong to Allah and to Him we return! I have spent my life teaching you and you have only learned eight things!?” Hatim stated, “I have learnt nothing else and I do not like to lie about it.”

Shaqiq said, “So tell what these eight things are then.”

Hatim replied, “I looked around and saw that everyone has something or someone he loves and with whom he remains until the moment he dies. Then they part. Therefore I made good actions the object of my love so that when my hour of death comes, that which I love will accompany me to the grave.”

Shaqiq said, “You have done well, Hatim. So what is the second thing you have learned?”

Hatim said, “I reflected on the words of Allah, ‘As for the one who fears the station of his Lord and holds his self back from passion, the Garden will be his dwelling-place.’ (79:40-41) I know that what Allah said is the truth. Therefore I struggled with myself and strived to repel passion (hawa) until I was well settled in obedience to Allah.

“As for the third point, I looked at people and found that everyone treasures and exalts whatever valuable things he has in his possession. Then I examined the words of Allah, ‘That which you possess will vanish and that which is with Allah will go on’ (16: 98). I then began to give to Allah anything valuable which came into my possession so that it would remain in His preservation.

“As for the fourth item, I looked around at people and saw that everyone places his trust in wealth, descent, honour and lineage. When I examined these things, I found them to be without substance. Then I considered the words of Allah, ‘Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the one who has the most fearful awareness (taqwa).’ (49:13) Therefore I devoted myself to fearful awareness of Allah so that I could have honour in the sight of Allah.

“Fifthly, I looked at people and saw them slandering and cursing each other out of envy. Then I examined the words of Allah, ‘It is We who distribute the livelihood they have in the life of this world.’ (43:31) So I abandoned envy and I befriended people, knowing that one’s portion comes from Allah. Therefore I no longer harbour enmity for people.

“Sixthly, I saw men fighting each other and oppressing each other, so I turned to what Allah said, ‘Shaytan is an enemy to you, so take him for an enemy.’ (35:6) So I took shaytan alone to be my enemy and strove hard to be on my guard against him because Allah has testified that he is my enemy. Accordingly I ceased to hate anyone else.

“The seventh thing was that I saw everyone running after their daily bread and debasing themselves and entering into all sorts of haram things to obtain it. Then I examined the words of Allah, ‘There is no creature on the face of the earth but that its provision is Allah’s responsibility.’ (11:8) I knew that I was one of those creatures whose provision is Allah’s responsibility, so I occupied myself with what I owe Allah and left my property with Him.

“The eighth thing was that I looked at people and saw that they all put their trust in something created – one in his estate, another in his wealth, another in his work and yet another in his physical health. They all put their trust in things which are created just as they are created. I referred back to Allah’s words, ‘Whoever puts his trust in Allah, He will be enough for him.’ (65:3) So I placed my trust in Allah and He is enough for me.”

Shaqiq exclaimed, “Hatim, may Allah make you prosper! I have studied the sciences of the Torah, the Gospel, the Psalms, and the Immense Qur’an and I have found that every variety of good and religion revolves around these eight things. Whoever practises them practises all four books.”