Abou Ben Adhem - Introduction

A miniature depicting the visit of angels to Sultan Ibrahim Ibn Adham of Balkh between 1760 and 1770.

Ibrahim ibn Adham also called Ibrahim Balkhi is one of the most prominent of the early ascetic Sufi saints.

The story of his conversasion is one of the most celebrated in Sufi legend, as that of a prince renouncing his throne and choosing asceticism closely echoing the legend of Gautama Buddha. Sufi tradition ascribes to Ibrahim countless acts of righteousness, and his humble lifestyle, which contrasted sharply with his early life as the king of Balkh (itself an earlier centre of Buddhism).

Abou Ben Adhem
A Poem by Leigh Hunt (1784-1859)

“Abou Ben Adhem” is a poem that tells a story of Ibrahim’s conversation about the importance of loving one’s fellow human beings.

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
“What writest thou?”—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still; and said, “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.

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