Mehdi was always inviting strangers to spend the night when he saw anyone who seemed to need a place to stay. Once, he invited a family that planned to stay overnight in the park a few blocks from Mehdi’s home, and they became so suspicious that they called the police. The police asked who invited them. When they described Mehdi, the police told them not to worry. Often we seek religious knowledge through the study of Kalam, Fiqh, Irfan, and other “religious sciences”. Recently, I visited the small town of Fuman in Iran’s Gilan province and was given an unexpected lesson in religion. I went with my family to Fuman for the 40th-day memorial commemoration of the passing away of Mehdi Shahnaz, the husband of my wife’s aunt. He was a retired employee of the public health ministry. During his retirement, he continued to serve the disabled, and it was on his way home from such charitable work that he met his death. It was late at night, but there was a tie-up. He got out of his car to help direct traffic. The driver of an eighteen-wheeler behind him was dozing, and Mehdi was run over along with his car.
Over the years, we had been Mehdi’s guests on several occasions, and he was always a warm and gracious host. He took us to the scenic mountain town of Masouleh, and to see the Caspian at Bandar Anzali. He seemed to know everyone. Once he bought fresh vegetables while we were with him by driving through dirt roads and alleys to where some people were doing little more than subsistence farming. He was providing some assistance for a couple families there without giving it the appearance of charity. Often times, when he bought things, he would buy extra and distribute it to those in need or to other friends. It seemed like he would never buy a single loaf of bread, for example, but twenty loaves. He would ring doorbells and leave a couple loaves for those he knew.
Mehdi was a good mechanic, and he was known at the automotive shops. Once he went to a shop for a few days in a row and saw a stranger there every time he went. He asked the man what he was doing there. The man told him his car was being repaired, and it was taking longer than expected. Mehdi asked him where he was staying and concluded the conversation by insisting that he come to his own home. He was so insistent that the man became suspicious, but he finally accepted the invitation. When he got to Mehdi’s house, he became more suspicious, because no one was home. He imagined that he would be robbed or killed, but Mehdi apologized that his wife was visiting relatives and served him a meal himself. The next morning, the man was surprised when Mehdi left him in the house alone, while he went out to buy bread. The man suspected that Mehdi was going to bring accomplices to do him in. Mehdi arrived a little while later with bread and cheese, and when his wife arrived, she also welcomed the stranger in such a way that he understood that such hospitality was not unusual in this house. The friendship between the two families continued through the course of many years.
Mehdi was always inviting strangers to spend the night when he saw anyone who seemed to need a place to stay. Once, he invited a family that planned to stay overnight in the park a few blocks from Mehdi’s home, and they became so suspicious that they called the police. The police asked who invited them. When they described Mehdi, the police told them not to worry. Another time, Mehdi stopped because a stranger was by the side of the road with his head bent under the hood of his car. Mehdi stopped and asked where the man was from and what his problem was. The man was a Kurd, and he was having engine problems. Mehdi stood in the rain with him for two hours until he fixed the car. The Kurd told him he was willing to pay him one hundred thousand Tomans for the work, or whatever Mehdi would ask. Mehdi responded that he would ask only for a prayer. The man was astounded and asked why he had helped. Mehdi told him that he saw that he was a stranger and had come to his town and so, he simply thought he should help.
Mehdi also was known for having a “clean look”, meaning that he did not look at women inappropriately. Because of this, he was welcomed in many homes and was exceptionally trusted. It seemed like the entire town showed up for his funeral. We pray with them for the repose of his soul, and we beseech Allah that we may learn from his example.
Hajj Muhammad Legenhausen teaches at the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute in Qom, Iran. His blog can be accessed at http://peacethroughunderstanding.blogspot.com.
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