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Once, during the rule of Khalif ‘Ali [r], a pearl necklace was given in Zakah by a wealthy woman to be used for the poor. Like all the other riches given in Zakah the pearl necklace was deposited in the Baytul-Mal, the public treasury. The poor and needy would come to the Baytul-Mal and be given whatever they needed, whether it was food, clothing or money to buy some necessity or the other. The pearl necklace too was to be sold and the money used to buy food and clothing for the poor.

Now Khalif ‘Ali [r] had a daughter. She came to know of the beautiful pearl necklace in the Bayt-ul-Mal and like any other girl who likes pretty little things she wondered if she could wear it, just for one single a day.

The day of ‘Id was near too and she knew how pretty she would look with the pearl necklace sparkling around her neck. “I will borrow the necklace for one day only,” she thought to herself. And so she sent a message to the keeper of the Bayt-ul-Mal to lend her the necklace.

The keeper let her have it for not just one but three days. He trusted her, for after all, she was the daughter of the Khalif and everyone knew how pious and honest she was.

The girl was delighted. She danced and skipped with the pearl necklace sparkling around her neck like tiny stars.

The day of ‘Id came and she wore the pretty necklace. All the other ladies ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ as she walked by. Oh! How beautiful she looked that day.

By chance her father, Khalif Ali [r], saw the necklace around her neck. He recognised it and was furious. “I will cut off the hand of the girl who has stolen the necklace from the Bayt-ul-Mal,” he roared. The riches of the Bayt-ul-Mal was a trust to be used for the poor and needy alone and not for the Khalif or his family. The Khalif was simply a keeper and not the owner of the Baytul-Mal.

His daughter rushed over to him to explain what had happened, “Father, I have borrowed this necklace for three days from the keeper of the Bayt-ul-Mal. I will return it tomorrow.” Khalif Ali [r] was not at all pleased.

The Khalif then called for the keeper and said, “You have not fulfilled your duty as a trustee. The Muslims have entrusted you to give their Zakah to the deserving. It is to be used for the poor and needy alone. Surely you know that!”

The keeper of the Bayt-ul-Mal was horrified that the Khalif thought him to be untrustworthy. “By Allah, I have not been untrustworthy,” he said.

“Well, then why did you give the necklace to my daughter?” the Khalif demanded to know.

The keeper replied, “She only borrowed it for three days. After all, she is the Khalif’s daughter and everyone knows that she is a pious and honest girl, otherwise I would not have lent it to anyone else.”

Khalif Ali [r] was not satisfied with this answer and said, “Is it not breaking a trust? Is the Zakah not to be used for the poor and needy alone? And why did you do a special favour to the Khalif‘s daughter alone? Is she to be treated any differently to the other Muslims? Now take the necklace back. I am very unhappy with what my daughter has done. Had she taken the necklace without your permission, I would have certainly chopped off her hand for theft.”

The necklace was returned to the Bayt-ul-Mal and very important lessons were learnt that day. Can you think of them?