We had a neighbor whose name was ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Ash‘ath. Handsome and well-formed, he was a stand-out among his family, and a quintessential man of his day. He had been in the presence of [the first and second caliphs,] Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, may God be pleased with them.
It happened that this man fell prey to a melancholic imbalance that scorched his wits and sent them flying. When he went out, groups of boys delighted in hooting at him and calling him "Rahmawayh!" to which he would never respond. But if he were addressed as ‘Abd al-Rahman, he would answer, "I am ‘Abd al-Rahman." I saw him one day when boys were pelting him with rocks, and I said, "Fight back, and get them off you!" He responded, "Two things prevent me from reacting: fear of God, and fear of being just like them."
He passed by one day as I was conducting a lecture of Muhammmad ibn al-Hasan's treatise on prayer. Seated next to me was my saintly brother, who was much older than me and had lost his vision. I said, "O ‘Abd al-Rahman, why don't you join the group and listen?" He said: "How can I, when [as the proverb says (no. 771)] 'Every bird hunts according to its ability'?"
He then said, "O Ibn Jabir, if it pleases you to be at the center of this company, then your brother will certainly be pleased with the place God has for him on the Day of Resurrection." At this, my brother fell face down, weeping, while ‘Abd al-Rahman stood regarding him. "O Ibn Jabir," he said, "when I look at you I seem to see the angels rejoicing; your brother, on the other hand, I see covered up and hauled away." Then he said to me: "O Sayf ibn Jabir, store your tongue the way you store up dirhams, and cultivate a love of silence before you speak again. As long as speech is what you love, stay silent."
"Sit [with us]!" I said to him. "In the spirit of pure friendliness, I enjoin you." He said: "Ask God to forgive you, and ask Him: 'With whom must You exercise greater mercy than Your mercy towards me?'" He then said: "O Ibn Jabir, I say what the prophet Job said, peace be upon him: 'I am touched by adversity, and You are most merciful of the merciful.'
"While we remain alive, not one of us goes without weeping. What causes you to weep? [Consider] what was taken from me: is it not inferior to what remains? namely, my love for Him and for His prophets and His pious servants? and [my memory of] the presence of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar?" Then as he turned away he said [to God], "If the ordeal comes from You, so does the healing. And if You take away, so do You allow to remain."
Muhammad told us: al-Hasan told us: Abu Musa told us: Abu ‘Awana related to us, saying that Abu ‘Ali Muhammad ibn al-Husayn [sic] related that Sayf ibn Jabir said:
One day I set out for the cemetery to attend a funeral. After the interment, I went wandering among the graves, where I came upon ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Ash‘ath. He was seated between two tombs with his cheek upon his knee, saying, "You who have caused me to wander the earth have driven me to this cemetery, and made me an intimate of the graves." Then he said, "I beg for God's forgiveness! I know very well that you were ordained [as my tormentor], and that if you were to disobey, you would be put back onto me by an even harsher master."
I said to him, "‘Abd al-Rahman, who are you talking to?" He said, "To a mistress that was imposed upon me." I asked, "Who is she?" "Melancholia," he said. I said: "Why don't you pray to God, and ask Him to dispel her from you?" He said, "It may be that I do pray, Ibn Jabir, and that I attain my wish. My call for God's help is my prayer, and what I attain is submission to His command and joy in His judgment."
I said to him, "Shall I sit with you and keep you company?" He said, "No. For companionship, God gave me solitude, just as He gave you the company of law students." And then he said, "O Sayf ibn Jabir, is it not taught that Mu’arriq al-‘Ijli said: 'I asked God for a thing twenty years ago, and He has not given it to me, and [yet] I have not given up hope'?" "Of course," I said. He then said to me, his voice raised in anger, "O Sayf! If God were to make an amputee of me, or a leper, I would know Him to be the cause, and I would know Him to be a just arbiter who does what He will."
From Madmen Who Were Intelligent by Abu 'l-Qasim al-Nisaburi