The Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) once visited an A’rabi (villager). He received him very well and respected the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) very much. The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) was very happy and said to him, “O A’rabi ask what you want!” He said, “Messenger of Allah, a she-camel with her saddle and a few sheep whose milk should satisfy my family members.” He made this request twice. The Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said, “Was it not possible for you to ask me as the old woman of the Bani Isra’il did ask Musa?”
The Companions (radi Allahu anhum) asked him, “O Messenger of Allah! What is the story of the old woman of the Bani Isra’il?” He said to them, “Musa (alaihis salam) decided to emigrate with the Bani Isra’il but he got lost on the way. So, their educated said to him, ‘We tell you that Yusuf (alaihis salam) had got our ancestors to promise that we would not go away from Egypt unless we took his bones with us. Perhaps, we are lost because we have not fulfilled the promise.’ Musa (alaihis salam) asked them which of them could point out his grave.
They said that none apart from an old woman of the Bani Isra’il could point out the grave. Musa (alaihis salam) sent a messenger to fetch her and requested her to guide them to the grave of Yusuf (alaihis salam). She said, ‘No, by Allah, no! I will never do that unless (you promise me that) I will live with you in Paradise.’ Musa (alaihis salam) did not like what she said. However, he was told in a revelation that he should promise her what she wanted and he accepted her demand.
The old woman took them to a small pond and said to them, ‘Take out this water!’ When the water was pumped out, she said, ‘Dig here!’ When they had dug out the earth, they found the bones of Yusuf (alaihis salam) inside. Then they continued their exile with the bones of Yusuf with them. The path was clear to them shining like day-light.” [Hakim in Mustadrak]
There are many lessons to be learnt from this hadith.
1. From the old woman we learn that those who are conscious of the hereafter do not lose any opportunity to increase their chances of having a better life in that world. She thus jumped on the opportunity to get from Musa (alaihis salam) what she most cherished: Paradise and the companionship of honourable people.
2. We also learn that one should aim high and cherish the best. When we ask, we should ask according to the stature of the giver. To ask only for petty worldly things from Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) or prophets is a waste of opportunity. This is what the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) meant when he said to the simple villager, “Was it not possible for you to ask me as the old woman of the Bani Isra’il did ask Musa?”
3. We also learn from this hadith that succeeding generations have to honour the promises made by their ancestors to prophets.
4. This hadith teaches us that when we encounter road blocks it may be that Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) is trying to warn us or caution us about something. Thus, the Bani Isra’il were made to lose their way as a reminder because they had forgotten their promise to Yusuf (alaihis salam). [“Stories From The Hadith” by Mohammad Zakariya Iqbal]