I mentioned this story in class when I spoke about the manners of dua. Here’s the story:
Narrated Abdullah bin Umar: I heard Allah’s Messenger (salallahu alaihi wasallam) saying, “Three men from among those who were before you, set out together till they reached a cave at night and entered it. A big rock rolled down the mountain and closed the mouth of the cave. They said (to each other), Nothing could save you from this rock but to invoke Allah by giving reference to the righteous deed which you have done (for Allah’s sake only).’
So, one of them said, ‘O Allah! I had old parents and I never provided my family (wife, children etc.) with milk before them. One day, by chance I was delayed, and I came late (at night) while they had slept. I milked the sheep for them and took the milk to them, but I found them sleeping. I disliked to provide my family with the milk before them. I waited for them and the bowl of milk was in my hand and I kept on waiting for them to get up till the day dawned. Then they got up and drank the milk. O Allah! If I did that for Your Sake only, please relieve us from our critical situation caused by this rock.’ So, the rock shifted a little but they could not get out.”
The Prophet added, “The second man said, ‘O Allah! I had a cousin who was the dearest of all people to me and I wanted to have sexual relations with her but she refused. Later she had a hard time in a famine year and she came to me and I gave her one-hundred-and-twenty Dinars on the condition that she would not resist my desire, and she agreed. When I was about to fulfill my desire, she said: It is illegal for you to outrage my chastity except by legitimate marriage. So, I thought it a sin to have sexual intercourse with her and left her though she was the dearest of all the people to me, and also I left the gold I had given her. O Allah! If I did that for Your Sake only, please relieve us from the present calamity.’ So, the rock shifted a little more but still they could not get out from there.”
The Prophet added, “Then the third man said, ‘O Allah! I employed few laborers and I paid them their wages with the exception of one man who did not take his wages and went away. I invested his wages and I got much property thereby. (Then after some time) he came and said to me: O Allah’s slave! Pay me my wages. I said to him: All the camels, cows, sheep and slaves you see, are yours. He said: O Allah’s slave! Don’t mock at me. I said: I am not mocking at you. So, he took all the herd and drove them away and left nothing. O Allah! If I did that for Your Sake only, please relieve us from the present suffering.’ So, that rock shifted completely and they got out walking.” [Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Volume No. 3, Hadeeth No. 472]
Narrated Ibn Umar: Allah’s Messenger (salallahu alaihi wasallam) said, “While three persons were traveling, they were overtaken by rain and they took shelter in a cave in a mountain. A big rock fell from the mountain over the mouth of the cave and blocked it. They said to each other. ‘Think of such good (righteous) deeds which, you did for Allah’s sake only, and invoke Allah by giving reference to those deeds so that Allah may relieve you from your difficulty.
One of them said, ‘O Allah! I had my parents who were very old and I had small children for whose sake I used to work as a shepherd. When I returned to them at night and milked (the sheep), I used to start giving the milk to my parents first before giving to my children. And one day I went far away in search of a grazing place (for my sheep), and didn’t return home till late at night and found that my parents had slept. I milked (my livestock) as usual and brought the milk vessel and stood at their heads, and I disliked to wake them up from their sleep, and I also disliked to give the milk to my children before my parents though my children were crying (from hunger) at my feet. So this state of mine and theirs continued till the day dawned. (O Allah!) If you considered that I had done that only for seeking Your pleasure, then please let there be an opening through which we can see the sky.’ So Allah made for them an opening through which they could see the sky.
Then the second person said, ‘O Allah! I had a she-cousin whom I loved as much as a passionate man love a woman. I tried to seduce her but she refused till I paid her one-hundred Dinars So I worked hard till I collected one hundred Dinars and went to her with that But when I sat in between her legs (to have sexual intercourse with her), she said, ‘O Allah’s slave! Be afraid of Allah ! Do not deflower me except legally (by marriage contract). So I left her O Allah! If you considered that I had done that only for seeking Your pleasure then please let the rock move a little to have a (wider) opening.’So Allah shifted that rock to make the opening wider for them.
And the last (third) person said ‘O Allah ! I employed a laborer for wages equal to a Faraq (a certain measure: of rice, and when he had finished his job he demanded his wages, but when I presented his due to him, he gave it up and refused to take it. Then I kept on sowing that rice for him (several times) till managed to buy with the price of the yield, some cows and their shepherd Later on the laborer came to me an said. ‘(O Allah’s slave!) Be afraid o Allah, and do not be unjust to me an give me my due.’ I said (to him). ‘Go and take those cows and their shepherd. So he took them and went away. (So, O Allah!) If You considered that I had done that for seeking Your pleasure, then please remove the remaining part of the rock.’ And so Allah released them (from their difficulty).” [Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Volume No. 8, Hadeeth No. 5]
Here’s a lecture that talks about this story:
The Three that went to the Cave by Navaid Aziz
Here’s another lecture which discusses the main point of the story i.e the permissibility of asking Allah by one’s good deeds:
Asking Allah Through Your Good Deeds by Muhammad Al-Jibaaly