Imaam Shafi’i rahimahullāh went to a barber at a certain place to cut his hair. (This place was adjacent to Baghdad and was called Surra Man Ra’aa which the Khalifa inhabited and turned into a capital city.)
Upon seeing him dressed in such old clothes, the barber thought to himself that this person would not be able to pay him. Hence, he refused to cut his hair as he was accustomed to charging a high fee since he was the barber of kings and rulers. Why should he then bother about cutting the hair of this poor person?
Hadhrat Imaam Shafi’i rahimahullāh perceived this and, being a mujtahid, he was extremely intelligent and full of wisdom. He asked his slave: “How much do you have with you?” The slave replied: “Ten gold coins.” Imaam Shafi’i rahimahullāh then said: “Give it to the barber!” The slave gave it to the barber and they left without the haircut.
As Imaam Shafi’i left his company, he started reciting a few couplets of poetry:
I have on my body such clothing which,
if it had to be sold for a penny,
that too will be too much.
But within it is a soul which,
if it had to be weighed with the souls of all mankind,
then it would weigh heavier.
The corroding of the sword’s sheath
does not affect the sharpness of its blade;
If the blade is sharp, it cuts through anything.
Those who are short-sighted and are unaware of realities are always inclined to apparent grandeur and strength. They do not understand that reforming the character and purifying the soul is the actual goal. People only judge the apparent and gauge a person’s honour and respect by his beautiful clothing, whereas the reality of the matter is the total opposite. It is clear that Imaam Shafi’i Rahmatullah ‘Alayh was a Mujtahid-e-mutlaq and the undisputed Imaam of his era. Even the Khalifa of the time respected and honoured him. However, the barber saw only the clothing and expressed a dislike for him. He did not realise Imaam Shafi’i’s pure character and qualities and did not even know that the kings of the heart, many a times, appear in dishevelled clothing.
Rasulullah Sallallahu ‘Alayhi Wasallam states in a Hadith: “There are many a dishevelled person, covered in dust, chased away from the doors of people. Yet, if they take an oath on the Name of Allah Ta’ala, Allah Ta’ala will definitely fulfil it.”
[Malfoozaat, by Mufti Mahmood Hasan Gangohi rahimahullāh]