Abu Uthman al-Hiri lived in the Persian town of Nishapur during the late 9th and early 10th centuries. One day, as he was walking through the town, he came upon a drunken youth who was ecstatically strumming upon a lute. When the youth noticed the Sufi Sheikh approaching him he stopped playing his lute and tried to look sober, for he feared that at the very least the Sheikh would either reprimand him or report him to the religious authorities. But Abu addressed the youth kindly, saying, "Don't be afraid of me young man. We are all brothers."

The youth was so taken with the Sheikh's gentleness and the light that shone in his eyes that he instantly apologised for his drunkenness and asked to be accepted as a disciple. Abu took the youth by the hand and led him to his house, where he bathed the boy and dressed him in the garments of a dervish. Then raising his face towards heaven he cried: "Lord, I have done my part. Now you must do the rest."

Immediately the youth passed into such an exalted state of spiritual ecstasy, which utterly amazed Abu Uthman. Later in the day another Sufi Sheikh arrived at Abu's house and was equally astonished by the divine grace that radiated from the youth. When he was told of the simple act of repentance that had brought this change about, the visiting Sheikh said: "I am so envious! I have spent my whole life in yearning for God's grace, but in a single instant he has bestowed it upon this wayward youth."

"God is so near to man, although man may so often appear to be far from God," replied Abu. "Man makes a proposition, but God grants a disposition. We should not count upon our efforts. Grace arises not from effort, it arises from a pure heart."

They both leant close to the youth. The smell of stale wine was still carried upon his breath.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

One day a merchant of Nishapur approached Sheikh Abu Uthman with a request. The merchant had just purchased a Turkish handmaiden for the large sum of a thousand dinars, and now being short of cash he needed to travel to a distant town in order to recoup some money that was owed to him. Abu was the only person in Nishapur that he trusted to look after the girl while he was away. At first Abu refused, but the merchant was so persistent in asserting that only he could safely protect her that the Sheikh eventually conceded to the merchant's request.

As soon as the merchant had departed Abu cast his eyes upon the maiden and was immediately blinded by the arrows of desire. The girl possessed such an unworldly beauty that the Sheikh's heart burst into a flaming passion that he had never known to exist before. He was completely lost and he knew it.

Abu ran straight to his teacher to ask for advice, but his teacher said: "I cannot really help you with this problem. You must travel to the town of Raiy and seek the advice of a Sufi named Yusuf bin Hussain."

When Abu arrived in Raiy he asked various people for directions to Yusuf's house, but was consistently told: "You appear to be a righteous man. You should not go anywhere near Yusuf bin Hussain. Although once he may have appeared to be a dervish, he is now a lecherous seducer of young boys, a drunkard and a heretic." Abu was so disappointed after hearing such terrible tales about Yusuf that he decided to return to Nishapur and his teacher.

"What advice did Yusuf give you?" asked his teacher.

"None," replied Abu: "I didn't meet him. The people of Raiy seemed to be so disgusted with his behaviour that none would direct me to his house. So I returned"

"You must go back again," said his teacher. "You really must seek his advice."

Abu returned to Raiy and was again confronted with the same animosity towards Yusuf. However, after much persuasion, he eventually found someone who agreed to take him to Yusuf's house. But as he approached the house his heart sank, for outside sat a man in the garb of a dervish, with a beautiful young boy, a wine jug and an overturned goblet. Abu sat down before this man with a heavy heart, but soon he began to perceive a divine light in the man's face, and when Yusuf began to speak Abu was amazed at the profound beauty of his words.

"Tell me, for I am confused," said Abu, "There appears to be such a divine light in your face, and your words are full of God's sweetness. But why have you taken to drinking wine? And why have you befriended this beautiful boy, who is still even too young to shave?"

"It is water, not wine in the jug and goblet," began Yusuf. "My water-pot broke some time ago, and I found this old wine jug and goblet on the rubbish tip. I leave them outside my house in case any passer-by is thirsty. But none come to drink. This boy is my son, though no one in Raiy knows this. I am teaching him the Koran."

"For God's sake," said Abu in amazement. "The people of this town speak of you with venom and derision. They accuse you of the most outrageous acts of indecency, of being a drunkard and a heretic. Why do you not enlighten them as to your true worth? Why do you even appear to encourage their estrangement by your deceptive behaviour?"

Yusuf replied: "I maintain such deceptive behaviour in order to avoid being asked to take care of beautiful young Turkish maidens, whilst the lecherous merchants who bought them have to go away on business!"