Many years before the time of Prophet Muhammad and Prophet Isa (peace be upon them), there was a man among the Bani Israa’eel (The Children of Israel) who was an extremely devout person. Nowadays, we think we are pious and righteous Muslims if we just pray 5 times a day, read the Quran sometimes and fast in Ramadan. Would you believe that this man had been worshipping Allah (عز وجل) for over 60 years nonstop?! This man had a small temple or monastery for himself, where he would live, worship and remember his Lord.
He was known as the zaahid (ascetic), the ‘aabid (worshipper), and the saajid (prostrator). His regular routine would be to fast and pray for forty days, and then rest for one day. After that, he would then again pray and fast for forty days and rest on that one day. It was said that this man was the greatest worshipper (of Allah) in the whole world! And for all of these long years, the cunning Shayaateen (devils, satans) were unable to misguide or tempt him. The name of this man was Barsees [or Birsees].
60 years had passed, and Iblees (لعنه الله), nor any of his workers, was able to overpower this worshipper. Therefore, Iblees gathered his soldiers of shayaateen and the evil Jinns. The Prophet Muhammad told us, as was authentically reported from him, that “Verily, Iblees has a throne over the ocean. There he gathers all of his workers and the evil Jinns. Then, he sends them on the Children of Adam.” Basically, this means that he appoints them with various missions; ‘You go to this person, you go to that person.’ And they all return to the same place to report to him. And occasionally, he awards the best one with a prize. So he called all of his workers to a meeting and asked: “Which one of you can take care of this worshipper? For 60 long years, we have been unable to misguide him!” None of the satans came forward. Then, one Satan walked forward. He has been described as, ash-Shaytaan al-Abyad (the White Devil). It was the job of this satan to go and bother the Prophets/Messengers of Allah. Some tafaaseer mention that he even came to Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and tried to confuse him. But Jibreel came and smacked him away with his hand. Anyway, the White Devil told Iblees, “Barsees is mine.” And Iblees told him to go.
In the town of Barsees, there were 4 young men from the youths of Bani Israel. The brothers had a young sister who was extremely beautiful. These 4 brothers were called to go for Jihaad in the way of Allah. So they all sat down and began to think, “What are we gonna do with our sister; she is a youth and is very beautiful, and we will be away from her for days, for weeks, or even months.” One of them said: “There is no one whom we can trust with our sister except for Barsees, for he is the most righteous of mankind. He worships Allah the most.” And so the other brothers agreed to this idea. They all went to the temple of Barsees and asked him: “Could you please keep our sister with you, until we return from fighting in the way of Allah?” Barsees immediately refused and said: ”I seek Allah’s refuge. I am a person who is busy with worship, and I simply cannot keep you sister with me!” The 4 brothers kept on asking and asking and asking. They said: “Soon we will have to go for Jihaad – to fight the enemies of Allah. So please, be a helper for us. Assist us by taking care of her – because we simply cannot entrust our sister with anyone from this town but you.” Barsees, seeing their desperate situation, agreed with one condition. He said: “She cannot stay with me. Make for her a tent [a place where she will stay] and put a wall in front of it, with a door. So I will place food for her at the doorstep, and I will guard her from far away.”
The youths agreed and they did what Barsees told them. Then they went for Jihaad. Many days passed, and every day Barsees would place food at the door of the wall in front of the tent. He would then leave so she could come and get it. On one of these days, the White Shaytaan came and whispered to Barsees: “O Barsees, look. You just place the food for this young girl at the door of the tent. And then you leave. Perhaps, some people pass by and they eat the food! And this poor girl does not say anything to you [informing you of the situation], because her shyness and modesty prevent her.”
So Barsees began to, instead of dropping the food outside her door, put the food inside the tent and then would immediately leave. Many days later, Shaytaan came to him. And he whispered to him: “O Barsees! O most righteous of the people of earth, the one who has worshipped Allah for so long, why don’t you just give salaams to this poor girl? Because no one ever talks to her, and now for a whole month she has not heard anyone. Furthermore, you will get good deeds when you say the salaams.” So Barsees did that. The next time he dropped the food at her tent, he said as-salaamu ‘alaykum to the young girl [from behind the wall], and she replied with the salaam. When Barsees heard her voice, his heart was captivated. He was totally mesmerized and enthralled. For as a worshipper in his monastery for 60 years, he had never heard such a voice. He immediately began to think about the appearance of the owner of this beautiful and soft voice.
Some weeks later, Shaytaan came to Barsees and whispered to him: “O Barsees! O most pious of the people of earth, shouldn’t you …i mean, isn’t it your duty to.. ask this young girl if she needs anything? If she has any need? Isn’t this the promise you gave to those 4 brothers? And won’t this be added to your account of good deeds [caring about this girl and asking if she needs any assistance]? So go into her tent and talk to her for a while, becauze she’s very lonely and no one has spoken to her for many months now! O Barsees, what do you have to fear? You have worshipped Allah the most, out of all the people on earth. You are the ‘aabid, the saajid, the zaahid. What do you have to fear?”
So Barsees entered in the tent of the girl after a few days of contemplating. He went and placed the food in front of her and said: “Do you need anything?” She said: “Thank you. You are very considerate and kind.” Barsees looked at her and heard her voice and talked to her. Then Shaytaan came to him and said: “Barsees, one who has worshipped Allah the most in your time – shouldn’t you eat with this young girl just one time, for she has not eaten with anyone from many months. And this will be added to your account of good deeds, with your Lord. Barsees, this poor girl is by herself, alone, and has not spoken to anyone from many months! O Barsees! Fear Allah regarding this young girl.” Barsees thought about it and decided to do it. He made food for the girl and some food for himself, and he went to the tent and told the girl that today they should eat together.
While they were eating, when Barsees extended his hand to a plate and the young girl was also extending her hand to that plate, the arm of Barsees converged with the arm of the girl. Barsees looked at her and succumbed to the temptation. And he committed zina [illegal sexual intercourse]. Barsees, the one who had worshipped Allah the most from all mankind (for nearly his entire life), committed zina with this girl.
Months later, the young girl became pregnant and she gave birth to a child. The brothers were still away fighting in the battle since Jihaad requires a lot of time, a lot of traveling, and many hardships, etc. During this period, Shaytaan came to Barsees again. He said: “What will you do, O Barsees, when the brothers of this young girl return? What will you say to them? They will ask, ‘Where did this child come from?!’ O Barsees, just kill the child and cover this matter up. If you don’t, you will be exposed and everyone in the village will ridicule you. Just get it over with and everything will be good. Take the child far away and kill him, and then you repent sincerely to Allah and seeking his forgiveness for your sin.” So Barsees went to the young girl and asked her for her child. Then he took the child far away and killed him, and buried him in the ground. He returned to his temple and began to repent to Allah.
Shaytaan came to Barsees and whispered: “Do you think, O Barsees, that this young girl is going to leave you, once she finds out what you did to her child? You killed her child, took him away from her. Soon she will inform her brothers and they will get revenge on you! Go ahead and kill the girl, O Barsees. I mean, think about it carefully. What will happen if you leave her? When her brothers come, she will tell them and they will find out about how you committed zinaa with her. And from now on, people will speak bad about you, and about other worshippers like you. You will be stoned out of here!” So Barsees said in desperation, “What should I do?” He said: “Just do this last deed and then do Tawbah to Allah. He is the Ghafoor [most-forgiving] and the Raheem [the most merciful].” So Barsees went to the girl and took her to the place where he had buried her son. He said to her: “I will take you to where your son is.” She became so happy and overjoyed and she came towards Barsees. Barsees killed her and then buried her next to her child.
It was the decree of Allah that right at that moment, the 4 youths came back from the battle. Despite their tiredness and exhaustion, they did not forget about their sister. They immediately went to Barsees and asked him about her. Barsees had to think fast. He shed some tears and said to them: “I am very sorry. Your sister was the best youth, and the best of all girls, but she died because of a terrible disease that inflicted her. So be patient and hope for the rewards from Allah.” The four brothers became soo sad when they heard this news. So they went to their homes crying and weeping.
That night, Shaytaan came to them in their dreams and informed them of what had really happened. One of them woke up in terror (in the middle of the night), and stood up and said: “I saw this really strange dream.” The second brother said: “Yea, I also saw this weird dream.” The third and fourth said the same thing. So they said: “What’s going on, what is this? We all saw this same dream.” They were very confused and simply could not believe it. The next morning, they all went to Barsees and said: “Last night, all of us saw this extremely strange dream.” So Barsees said: ”What did you see?” They said: “We each saw in our dreams that you committed zina with our sister and then murdered her.” Barsees was taken aback and had to think fast. He exclaimed: “You are doubting me, while I am the worshipper? You ignorant people are saying this about me, and I am the one who prays, bows, and prostrates? How can you say this to me? How dare you?!!” So the brothers, in shame, said: “No, by Allah, we are not doubting you. May Allah forgive us. Please pardon us for thinking about such an evil thing.” So they forgot about the dreams and went back home.
The next night Shaytaan came to each one of them, in their dreams, and said: “Verily, Barsees has lied to you a second time. Go to such and such a place, and you will find some of your sister’s clothes.” The next morning the brothers talked about the new dream that they had seen. They said: “O.k., why don’t we go to that place and see where our sister supposedly is.” They hurried to that place and saw some pieces of cloth over the earth. They began to dig and dig, and finally – to their horror and shock – they saw their sister’s dead body and her child next to her!! They realized that the dream they had been shown was true. So they immediately ran to the temple of Barsees. They yelled: “You lied to us. May Allah kill you.” And they grabbed him and began to beat him severely, until he confessed what he did. The brothers tied him and crucified him [cut his limbs, etc] and tied him to a tree. And since it was still night, they agreed that they would kill him tomorrow at noon, while all the people of the city were present and witnessing.
That night, the White Shaytaan came in his true form before Barsees, who was very injured and in pain. Shaytaan smiled and said: “O Barsees, I am Satan. I am the one who did all of this to you. I’m the one who got you in this mess. And I’m the only one who can get you out of it.” Barsees, in this state of sorrow, anxiety, remorse, and desperation, said: “Please, save me from what I am in.” Shaytaan said: “First you must pray the price, otherwise no deal.” Barsees said: “Didn’t I already do what you want [zina, murder, etc]?” Shaytaan said: “No.” So Barsees said: “So what do you want?” Shaytaan said: “Just one thing. Simply do one sajdah to me and you will be saved.” Barsees said: “How can I do sajdah [prostration] to you, while I’m hanging from this tree, injured as you can see?” Shaytaan said: “Just do sajdah to me with your head [i.e. just lower your head to me], and I will rescue you.” So Barsees did that. He did just one sajdah to Shaytaan with his head. When he had humbled himself to Shaytaan, prostrated to him with his head, and was waiting to be saved, hoping in Shaytaan — Shaytaan looked at him and began to laugh. And he shouted in joy: “Barsees disbelieved in Allah! Barsees disbelieved in Allah! Barsees disbelieved in Allah! Hooray!” Barsees cried out: “Please don’t leave me. Help me! I need your help.” Shaytaan smiled, turning towards him, and said: إني بريء منك “I have nothing to do with you.” And he instantly disappeared. The next morning, Barsees was executed in front of the whole community, for his crimes. And the great worshipper died in a state of kufr.
Allah said: كمثل الشيطان إذ قال للإنسان اكفر, فلما كفر قال إني بريء منك, إني أخاف الله رب العالمين – فكان عاقبتهما أنهما في النار خالدين فيها, وذلك جزآء الظالمين “Remember when Shaytaan said to the human: ‘Disbelieve’. And when he had disbelieved, Shaytaan said [to him]: ‘I have nothing to do with you. I fear Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.’ And so the end of both of them, was that they entered the [Hell] Fire, and remained therein forever. And that is the recompense of the wrongdoers.” [59:16]
This incident is one not to be forgotten. This incident, dear Muslim, is one that must pondered over and reflected upon. The lessons to be learned from it are of paramount importance! He is truly deprived the one who has not learned from the story of Barsees.
Before I end this article, I want you to seriously think about and reflect on the following points:  Barsees was the most righteous man on earth. This is one of the main lessons from this incident. This man has been worshipping Allah for nearly his entire life. 60 years in fact. He was almost in Jannah! But now he fell, right before he died. Rasoolullah (may Allah send peace & blessings on him) stated in part of a hadeeth: “I swear by Allah, besides whom there is none worthy of worship, certainly, one of you will definitely perform the deeds of the People of Paradise until there is not between him and Paradise except an arm’s length. And then he will be overtaken.. and he will perform the deeds of the People of Hell and enter it.” [Bukhari and Muslim] In reality, this is a very scary thought . It means that every Muslim must be on guard at all times. One cannot look at his present deeds and feel assured, because it could be that he changes his ways and starts performing the deeds of the People of Hell. In another hadeeth recorded by Al-Bukhari, the Prophet told us that a person may be doing the deeds of the People of Paradise, while in fact he is going to enter Hell. Then he said his famous statement: “Surely, the deeds are based on their final [deeds].” Meaning, the thing that’s really gonna count is, the deeds you do before you die. Your final actions. And who amongst us knows when death will knock on his/her door? Hence, O Muslim, this is a clear indication to you, that you must continue fighting till death. Allah said: “Worship your Lord until ‘the certainty’ comes to you.” Certainty, in this verse, refers to “death”. So the first lesson, is to never be satisfied and think that you’re good, and you’ve got one foot in Jannah. Many people think that being a president or leader or Imaam or pious worshipper (etc) makes you infallible. For such people they have a lesson to learn, from Barsees who worshipped Allah for his whole life. But in the end, he was deceived. May Allah make our final deeds in this world, deeds of the People of Jannah.
 This brings us to the 2nd extremely important lesson. The question is, “Why did Barsees fall?” Why did he fall in the end and become one of the People of Hell? Because of what is known as, خطوات الشيطان “the footsteps of the devil”. You see, it wasn’t all at once. It took a long time. It took steps. Satan is a trickster, a deceiver, a cunning crafty enemy. He is extremely patient. He has all the time. He’s not in a hurry. He has time till the Day of Judgment. So he takes you step-by-step. He knows what your nafs (soul) desires. And he works with it to lead you astray. He triggers it and uses it, to slowly lead you to destruction. Look! For over 60 years, Satan didn’t really push Barsees. He waited for the perfect opportunity. When the brothers had to go for Jihaad he saw this as the best chance.
Notice Satan’s cunning. First he told Barsees to simply leave the food at her door. Then he encouraged him to give her the salaams. Then he told him to ask her if she needed anything. Then he brought him inside. Each step took weeks upon weeks. Dear Muslim! Satan will give you reasons and justifications. He may tell you, as he told Birsees, “this is good, you will get good deeds if you do this”, etc. Be extremely cautious. He won’t come to you and say, commit zina, steal, lie, do kufr – no! And that is why, in the case of zina, Allah warned us: ولا تقربوا الزنى “And don’t come near zina.” Meaning, don’t follow the steps that will lead you to it. This applies to all sins and evil.
Lastly, as Ibn al-Qayyim stated: “From the evil consequences of a sin, is that one sin leads to another sin (and so on), until they accumulate and destroy a man, making it too hard for him to turn back.” First, Satan got Barsees to commit zina. Then he lead to him commit murder. And finally, to the greatest sin which is kufr (disbelief). One sin will lead you to another. Therefore, if you commit one sin, immediately follow it up with sincere tawbah [repentance to Allah]. Never follow it up with another sin, no matter what. These are the steps of satan!
Though the lessons and fawaa’id (benefits) from this story are many – eg. the fact that a simple nodding of the head or lowering of the head constitutes as a sajdah, if the person has a feeling of humblessness in his heart (I only stated this to give you a taste of the many benefits to be learned from this story) – I would like to conclude this article by citing to you a narration about Imaam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (d. 241 A.H.). His son, ‘Abdullah, narrates that when his father was on his deathbed, he thought that he should help his father to say the shahaadah (testification of faith) before he passes away. So he told his father: “Say لا إله إلا الله (there is no god but Allah).” His father, Imaam Ahmad, said: “No, not yet, not yet.” His son was shocked and thought that his father must be hallucinating. When he came to, ‘Abdullaah asked Imaam Ahmad: “Dear father, I was telling you to say لا إله إلا الله and you were saying “not yet”. Why was this?” Imaam Ahmad said: “No my dear son. I was not speaking to you. I was speaking to Shaytaan. Shaytaan came to me in my mind, and he began to say: ’You have won O Imaam Ahmad, you have escaped me, you have won.’ And I was telling him: ‘No, not yet, not yet.’ ” He meant that he had not won yet. He was still not safe from Shaytaan. The Scholars say that on your deathbed, Satan will come to you in the form of your parents or someone dear to you, and he will say: ‘O son/daughter! Become a Christian. I have been there (in the hereafter). This is the truth. Christianity is the true faith. Just become a Christian before you die, or else you will enter the Fire.’ And you will be shocked, because your own parents are telling you this. And some people are deceived at that last moment, and they die in a state of kufr. * Hence, Imaam Ahmad was telling Satan: “No, I haven’t won yet. The battle is not over yet. As long as I am still breathing, the battle continues!”
And I tell you the same, my dear Muslim brother/sister – the battle is not over. As long as you draw breath, you are in a war zone. Satan and his soldiers are restless, tireless, cunning, crafty, and deceptive. They will not stop fighting you till you die. They will come from where you never expected; from above, from beneath, from the left, from the right, from all directions. Are you ready to fight this battle, or will you fall like Barsees?
Footnotes: The story of Birsees, the greatest worshipper of the Tribes of Israel, is a narration that was well-known among our Salaf (predecessors). The story was recorded in many books of Tafseer. And the Scholars of Tafseer mention this story under Ayah 16, in Surah 59 [i.e. Surah al-Hashr]. It was mentioned by Al-Haafizh Ibn Katheer in his Tafseer (in the original Arabic). I don’t think it is found in the english version. And Ibn Jareer At-Tabari also recorded it, with an authentic chain that goes up to the Companion, ‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ood (رضي الله تعالى عنه). He also narrated it with a saheeh chain that goes up to ‘Ali Ibn Abu Taalib (رضي الله عنه وأرضاه). Furthermore, there is also a narration of this story from Ibn ‘Abbaas. So when people ask, “who mentioned this story and its details?” we say that it was not explicitly stated by the Prophet Muhammad himself, but we have 2 saheeh isnaads to 2 Companions of the Prophet, in which they mentioned this story. But just FYI, Al-Qurtubi mentions a chain of narration going up to the Prophet himself, wherein he mentioned this story (but in lesser details). Regarding where the story may be found in english references, sadly, I could not find any location. * However, a number of well-known speakers have mentioned it. From them are included Imam Anwar al-’Awlaki, Imam Karim Abu Zaid, Shaykh Nabeel Al-’Awdee (arabic only), etc.
Lastly, there are 2 main riwaayaat of this story. The one which was mentioned in this article, is a summary of the one cited by Ibn Katheer. You can read the story in its original arabic, either the narration cited by Ibn Jareer or Ibn Katheer or al-Qurtubi, right here at http://quran.al-islam.com/arb/ . And if you’re looking for the most detailed narration, then read al-Qurtubi’s tafseer.