One day in the courtyard of the mosque, Abu Yazid al-Bistami, the great Sufi sheikh, the flower of Bastam also known as the Qutub al-‘Arifin (the central pillar of Divine knowledge) of his time, was making his ablutions in preparation for prayer. Across the courtyard, he saw a very old man. Today we have taps that can be turned on, and the water simply flows, but in the old days they used heavy clay pitchers for water, and if you were strong enough, you picked one up and washed yourself. Often the person next to you would help you pour the water, and in turn you did the same for him. What Abu Yazid al-Bistami saw was that no one was helping the old man. He walked over to the old man and said, “Old man, what could you have done in your long life that you do not have one friend, no one has come to help you?” The old man looked at him and said, “The ones who serve are served. And if I had not served Allah and His creation, how would the Qutub al-‘Arifin, the man of the highest knowledge, come now to serve me?”
Excerpted and adapted from:
“The Ones who Serve, are Served” by Shems Friedlander