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From the Lives of the Noble Ones: On Praiseworthy Trials

caught-in-the-storm-1024x724We continue our reading into the words and insights left to us by Imam Shams al-Din al-Dhahabi – accomplished scholar, copious writer and committed traditionalist – as per his celebrated hagiography of Islam’s scholars, sages and other personalities, Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala:

When Great Minds Think Alike: After recording the words of Ishaq b. Rahuwayah: ‘If al-Thawri, al-Awza‘i and Malik agree upon any matter, it is sunnah,‘ Imam al-Dhahabi comments:

‘Rather the sunnah is what the Prophet, upon whom be peace, made so, or the Rightly-Guided Caliphs after him. As regards consensus (ijma‘), it is whatever the scholars of this ummah, both past and present, have unanimously concurred upon: [including] a consensus which is probable (zanni) or tacit (sukuti). Whosoever diverges from such a consensus, among the Successors (tabi‘un) or their followers – due to stances arrived at via independent legal judgement (ijtihad) – it is tolerated from him alone.

As for those who disagree with the three aforementioned senior scholars, then this is not considered to be opposing the consensus, nor the Sunnah. All that Ishaq intended was that if they concur upon any given matter, then it is most probably correct. Just as we say today that it is almost impossible to find the truth to be outside of whatever the Four Mujtahid Imams concurred upon. We say this whilst at the same time admitting that their agreement on an issue doesn’t constitute a consensus of the ummah: though we are wary of stating, in an issue on which they agree, that the truth is otherwise.’1

The Praiseworthy Trial: While describing the ordeal endured by Imam Malik in which he was severely beaten so much so that ‘his arm was wrenched out of its socket and an enormous wrong had been perpetrated against him. Yet, by God, Malik didn’t cease to be held in high esteem,’ al-Dhahabi wrote:

‘This is the result of a praiseworthy trial which only serves to raise a person’s rank and esteem in the sight of believers. Whatever the case, it is what our own hands earn; yet God pardons much. “Whoever God intends to show goodness to, He tries him through ordeals.”2 The Prophet, peace be upon him, further stated: “Everything decreed for the believer is good for him.”3 God, exalted is He, said: We shall try you until We know those of you who strive and those who are patient. [47:31] The following words were revealed by God about the battle of Uhud: When disaster befell you after you had inflicted losses twice as heavy, you exclaimed: “How did this happen?” Say: “It was from yourselves.” [3:165] God also said: Whatever misfortune befalls you, it is what your own hands have earned, and He pardons much. [42:30]

Thus a believer, when he is tried, shows patient, takes admonition, seeks forgiveness of God and does not busy himself in blaming the one who mistreated him. For God’s judgement is just. Instead, he should thank God that his faith remains intact, realising that worldly punishment is both lighter and better for him.’4

A Falcon Among Fledglings: Imam al-Shafi‘i remarked: ‘People are all dependents of Abu Hanifah in jurisprudence (fiqh).’ After citing these words, Imam al-Dhahabi says:

‘Leadership in fiqh, along with its minutiae, is undeniable for this Imam. It is a matter about which there is no doubt: Intellects cannot be sound at all / If daytime needs a proof. His life would require two separate volumes to depict – God be pleased with him and have mercy on him. He died as a martyr in the year 150H, at the age of seventy, after being poisoned. A huge dome has been built over him in Baghdad, and a magnificent tomb; though God knows best.’5

1. Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 7:116-7.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.5645.

3. Muslim, no.2999.

4. Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala, 8:80-1.

5. ibid., 6:403.

Yearning for the Prophet ﷺ

Madina596x1024The Prophet said, peace be upon him: ‘Among those of my nation (ummah) that most fervently love me will be a people who shall come after me, and who would give up their family and property in exchange for being able to see me.’1

The lady ‘A’ishah related: A man came to the Prophet, peace be upon him, saying: “O God’s Messenger, I love you more than myself, my wife and children. When I am at home and remember you, I cannot wait to come and gaze at you. Though when I remember my death and your death, I know that when you enter Paradise, you will be raised-up with the Prophets. But even if I enter Paradise, I am afraid I will never see you.’ The Prophet, peace be upon him, did not answer him until the following was sent down to him: Whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger, they are with those whom Allah has favoured, of the Prophets, the highest saints, the martyrs and the righteous. They are the best of company. [4:69]’2

Less than half a century later, the successor (tabi‘i), ‘Abidah al-Salmani, was once told that: We have in our possession a strand of hair of the Prophet, peace be upon him, by way of Anas b. Malik. To this he said: ‘That I possess a lock of his hair is more beloved to me than all the gold and silver on the face of the earth.’3

To this lover’s sigh, Imam al-Dhahabi went on to passionately say: ‘This utterance of ‘Abidah is a benchmark for perfect love, which is his preferring a strand of prophetic hair to all the gold and silver that people may possess. This statement from this Imam was said fifty years after the Prophet, upon whom be peace. So what should we say in our time if we were to ever find a lock of his hair reliably confirmed, or a thong from his sandal, or some of his nail clippings, or shards of a cup from whence he drank? If a wealthy person were to spend the greater part of his wealth in acquiring any of these things, would you think him a spendthrift or foolish? Never! So spend what you have in visiting his Mosque which he built with his own hands; and send salutations on him at his Chamber in his City; and cherish the sight of Uhud, and love it as your Prophet, peace be upon him, loved it; and revive yourself by spending time in his Garden where he sat. For you shall not be a true believer until this master becomes more beloved to you than even yourself, your children, your wealth, and the whole of humanity.’4

In his extensive biographical notice on Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal, al-Dhahabi feels the need to take-up the subject matter again; but this time with a degree of what may be described as “a lover’s ire”. He writes:

‘‘Abd Allah b. Ahmad said: “I saw my father take a strand of hair of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and put it to his lips and kiss it. I believe I saw him place it over his eyes too. He also dipped it into some water and drank the water, seeking a cure thereby. I saw him take the Prophet’s bowl, peace be upon him, rinse it in water and then drink from it. I saw him drinking Zamzam water seeking a cure thereby, wiping his hands and his face with it.” I say: Where is the extremist critic of Imam Ahmad now? For it is authentically confirmed from ‘Abd Allah that he once asked his father about those that touch the pommel of the Prophet’s pulpit, peace be upon him, and touch the Prophet’s chamber. He said: “I see no problem in it.” So may God protect us and you from the views of the Khawarij and from innovations.’5

Nor is it just human souls that yearn for the Prophet, upon whom be peace. In a well-known and mass-transmitted (mutawatir) hadith, we are told that the Prophet, peace be upon him, initially delivered his Friday sermons while leaning against the stump of a date-palm tree. When a pulpit was made for him, however, he addressed the people from that. It was during the first sermon from the pulpit that the tree stump wept at being seperated from the Prophet, peace be upon. ‘So the Prophet, peace be upon him, came to it and put his hand on it, whereupon it calmed down.’6 In other version, the Prophet, peace be upon him, remarked: ‘It weeps at the rememberance of what it has lost.’7 Another wording states: ‘Had he not put his arms around it and embraced it, it would have continued to grieve until the Day of Resurrection.’8

Let us end with a remark made by a peerless scholar and leading pietist of early Islam: al-Hasan al-Basri. Whenever he related the hadith about the tree stump, he too would weep and would say: ‘O servants of God! The stump of the date-palm tree wept for the Messenger of God, out of a longing to be with him. You should have a greater yearning to meet him.’9

So for this, let lovers pine and yearners weep!

1. Muslim, no.2832.

2. Abu Nu‘aym, Hilyat al-Awliya’, 8:125;. Shaykh Ahmad Shakir declared it to be sahih in ‘Umdat al-Tafsir ‘ani’l-Hafiz Ibn Kathir (Mansurah: Dar al-Wafa, 2005), 1:537.

3. Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 4:42.

4. ibid., 4:42.

5. ibid., 11:212. Touching or kissing the Prophet’s blessed grave is not the authoritative (mu‘tamad) view in the Hanbali madhhab. The relied upon view is that it is preferred not to do so. Al-Mardawi, whose significance will not be lost on those familiar with the Hanbali school and its authoritative references, quotes Imam Ahmad as saying: ‘The people of knowledge never used to touch it.’ He then states: ‘It is preferred not to touch the grave according to the soundest view of the school.’ Al-Insaf fi Ma‘rifat al-Rajihi min al-Khilaf (Beirut: Dar al-Ihya al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1957), 4:53. Ibn Qudamah, al-Mughni (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1998), 5:468, stipulated: ‘It is preferred not to touch the walls of the Prophet’s grave, peace be upon him, nor to kiss it. Ahmad said: I do not know this.’ As for the view that permits touching the grave, it is recorded in Ibn Muflih, al-Mubdi‘ (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1980), 2:281; and Mar‘i b. Yusuf, Ghayat al-Muntaha (Riyadh: al-Mu’assasah al-Sa‘idiyyah, n.d.), 1:259.

6. Ibn Majah, no.1414; al-Tirmidhi, no.3627, who said it is hasan sahih.

7. Al-Bukhari, no.917.

8. Ibn Majah, no.1415, and it is sahih. Consult: al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1991), no.2174.

9. Cited in Qadi ‘Iyad, al-Shifa’ (Damascus: Maktabah al-Ghazali, 2000), 371; Dhahabi, Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala, 4:570.

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