One of the former kings of the Children of Israel had a number of sons. Whenever one of his sons would reach the age of manhood, he would attire himself in coarse clothing, join worshipers who live in mountains, and continue to worship Allah until death overtook him. The king did not prevent his sons from going; he recognized that it was Allah Ta’ala who guided them to the truth and that he himself could do nothing to change their hearts.
But the king had a change of mind when, in his old age, he had his last son. Having gathered his ministers and close advisors for a meeting, the king said, “I indeed love this son (more than I do the others), and I feel that death is approaching me. I fear that, if he joins his brothers, those from outside of our family will then try to take over this kingdom. So take him while he is yet small and instill into him a love for this world and its pleasures. Perhaps he will then want to be your king after I die.”
The king’s advisors immediately came up with a plan and put it into action. They chose a huge chunk of land and enclosed it with a wall; inside, they surrounded the child with all of the luxuries they could gather. He lived within the bounds of the four walls until he became a man. Then one day, he looked around and said, “I deem there to be another world on the other side of this wall. Take me out of here, so that I can increase in knowledge and certainty.”
“There is nothing other than what you see,” his guardians said to him. He didn’t argue; instead, he continued to live there for another year; nonetheless, he spent a lot of his time riding his horse alongside the inner sides of the walls. He then repeated the same request that he made the previous year: “I deem there to be another world on the other side of this wall. Take me out of here, so that I can increase in knowledge and in certainty.” His guardians gave him the same reply that they gave the previous year.
But this time, the young man remained adamant and said, “I must leave.” His guardians could hold him back no longer, yet they could not simply allow him to leave, and so they took the matter to the king. The king said to them, “Take him out, for we want what we want, but Allah brings about only that which He wills.”
They returned to the king’s son and opened the gate of his sanctuary for him. For the very first time in his life, he stepped outside and had a look at the world. Yet he was not totally free of constraints, for the king’s advisors went where he went and supervised his every move. Though the king’s son had become a man, he knew nothing of the world save for the closed and limited life of luxury he led since he was a child. Thus the king’s advisors felt it necessary to accompany him and observe his reaction to what he was about to learn from the world; after all, they still nurtured hopes of him becoming their king.
While they were walking, they came across a man who was clearly afflicted with a serious illness. “What is the matter with him?” the young prince asked.
“He is afflicted with a serious sickness,” they said.
“Does every person become afflicted with his sickness,” asked the naive prince. “Or do only some people become afflicted with it?”
“It afflicts only a group of people, those upon whom Allah decreed for it to befall them,” said the king’s advisors.
“Oh, so those people know that it is coming and then prepare for it?” asked the prince. “Or is there no prior warning, so that everyone is afraid of being afflicted by it?”
“Actually, everyone is afraid of being afflicted by it,” they said.
“Even I, with all of the control I have (as a prince)?”
“Even you,” they answered.
“Therefore,” said the prince, “This life of yours is tainted and not pure.”
They continued to walk until they came across a man who was old, decrepit, and frail. Since he had no control whatsoever of his bodily functions, he drooled inadvertently, so that saliva flowed down onto his chest. Never having seen an old person before, the young prince asked, “What is this?”
“A man who is so advanced in his years that he has become decrepit,” they said.
“Does this afflict only some people, or is every person afraid that, if he reaches old age, he will be afflicted with the same frailty that this man is now afflicted with?”
“Actually, everyone is afraid of this eventuality,” they answered.
“Therefore, this life of yours is tainted and not pure,” said the young prince.
They continued to walk until they passed by a corpse that was being carried by a number of men. “What is this?” asked the prince, to whom the concept of death was completely foreign.
“A man who has died,” they answered.
“Ask him to sit up,” said the prince.
“He cannot sit.”
Then ask him to speak.”
“He cannot speak.”
“Does this condition afflict only certain people?” the prince asked. “Or is everyone afraid that it will befall them?”
“This is the end of every person, including both those who fear it and those who don’t fear it,” they said.
“Is this what you were hiding me and protecting me from?” the prince asked.
“No person can flee from this ending, and no person, no matter what the abilities are that he is endowed with, can ward it off.”
“(Had I not left to see the world,) I would have died upon a sudden without knowing what was happening to me,” said the prince, expressing his hurt at being deceived for such a long time. “Verily, you will have no control over me after this day.”
He tried to bolt from their company and run away, but they were too many, and soon they had him surrounded.
“We will not leave until you go to your father,” they said. When they met with the king, they recounted to him everything that had happened with the prince.
“Did I not tell you,” said the king resignedly, “We want what we want, but Allah brings about only that which He wills. Let him go, for you can no longer hold any sway over him.”
Source: Glimpses of the Lives of Righteous People