Being a Translation with notes


Kitab al-‘Ilm 



Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din






On the Evils of Knowledge and on Determining the Distinguishing Features of the Learned Men of the Hereafter and those of the Teachers of Falsehood.

We have already enumerated the excellence of knowledge and of the learned man, while concerning the teachers of falsehood several important strictures have been mentioned. These strictures have shown that the teachers of falsehood are the most severely punished of all men on the day of resurrection. It is therefore very important to ascertain what distinguishes the learned men of this world from the learned men of the hereafter. By the learned men of this world we mean the teachers of falsehood whose sole purpose in pursuing knowledge is to enjoy the luxuries of this life and to achieve power and position among its people. The Prophet said, “The most severely punished of all men on the day of resurrection will be the learned man whom Allah has not blessed with His knowledge;”1 and again, “No man will be learned unless he puts knowledge into practice.”2 The Prophet also said, “Knowledge is of two kinds: formal knowledge which does not go beyond verbal profession - it is the evidence of Allah against His people and according to it He would judge them, and genuine knowledge deep-rooted in the heart - this is the knowledge which is useful.”3 Muhammad also declared, “At the end of time there will be ignorant worshippers and corrupt learned men.” 4 He also said, “Acquire not knowledge in order to vie with the learned, dispute with and silence the insolent, and win favour and popularity among men, for whosoever would do this would be doomed to Hell-fire,”5 and again “Whoever would conceal his

1.      See supra; p. 1.

2.      Cf. al-Darirni, Intro. 29: 6.

3.      Ibid, 34:4.

4.      Cf. Hikyat al Awliya, Vol. II pp. 331-2

5.      Cf. ibn-Majah, Intro., 23:4-5


knowledge, would be bridled by Allah with a bit of fire.”1 The Prophet also said, “Others make me more afraid for your safety than the anti-Christ (al-dajjal).”On being asked whom he meant, he replied, “The false teachers.”2 He also said, “Whoever would increase in knowledge but would not increase in righteousness would increase Allah’s wrath upon him.”3 Jesus said, “How can you lead the night-travellers along the way when yourselves are perplexed.”4 These and other traditions show the gravity of the danger inherent in knowledge and reveal the fact that a learned man is faced with either eternal destruction or eternal happiness. They also show that man, by pursuing knowledge, is denied safety unless he attains happiness as well.

We find in history the same evidence. ‘Umar said, “The thing I fear most for the safety of this nation is the learned hypocrite.”5 ‘Umar was then asked how one could be both learned and hypocritical, to which he replied, “While his learning does not go beyond verbal knowledge, his heart remains untouched and his works betray no wisdom.” Al-Hasan al-Basri said, “Be not one of those who combine the knowledge of learned men and the brilliant ideas of the wise but conduct themselves the way of fools.”

A certain man addressed abu-Hurayrah saying, “I want to acquire knowledge but I fear I shall lose it.” Abu-Hurayrah replied, “To discard knowledge is just the same as losing it.” Ibraham ibn-‘Uyaynah6 was once asked, “Who is the man whose remorse will be the greatest?” Ibn-‘Uyaynah replied, “While life lasts it is the philanthropist who has extended his kindness to the ungrateful: but at death it will be the learned man who neglected to put his knowledge into practice.” Al-Khalil ibn-Ahmad said “There are four kinds of men: One is the man who knows, and knows that he knows – he is a learned man and therefore follow him. Another is the man who knows, but does not know that he knows - he is asleep, wake

1.      Cf. ibn-Majah, Intro. 24: I: abu-Dawud, IIm, 9.

2.      Cf. al-Tayalisi, No. 975.

3.      Cf. al-Darimi, Intro. 34: 25.

4.      Al-Ghazzali might have combined Luke VI: 39 and VII: 32 into one saying.

5.      Cf. Tayalisi, No. 975.

6.      C and B, ‘Uyaynah: SM. ‘Uthah, Unidentified.


him up. A third is the man who does not know, and knows that he does not know - he desires to learn, teach him. A fourth is the man who does not know, and does not know that he does not know - he is ignorant, reject him.” Sufyanal-Thawri said, “Knowledge summons works and, unless they respond, it departs.” Ibn-al-Mubarak said, “As long as a man continues to seek knowledge he remains learned; but the moment he thinks he has mastered all knowledge, he recedes into ignorance.” Al-Fudayl ibn-‘Iyad’ said, Three men do I pity: a mighty man who has fallen, a rich man who has become poor and a learned man who has become laughing stock for the world.” Al-Hasan al-Basri said, “The penalty which the learned men receive for seeking the world through works which belong to the hereafter is the death of their hearts.” In this connexion a certain poet has said:

Strange to me is he who barters good for evil;

Stranger still the one who trades his soul for pleasure;

But he who pays so dear a price as this, to rob

The earthly joys of others, he is strangest yet.

The Prophet, referring to the wicked learned man, said, “The learned man will suffer intense agonies of torture and, in order to increase his pain, will be made to go all around Hell, displaying himself to the people therein.’’2 Usamah ibn-Zayd3 related that he heard the Apostle of Allah say, “On the day of resurrection the learned man will be brought forward and thrown into the fires of Hell where, as a result, his bowels will gush out and he will be made to carry them round and round all over Hell in a manner similar to that of a donkey when it turns a mill-stone round and round. Then the people of Hell will ask him about the reasons of his torture and he will say, “I was wont to enjoin what is right upon others but failed to do it myself, and to forbid what is wrong and committed it myself.”4 The learned man will receive a twofold penalty for his sin because he trespassed

1.      A.H. 187/ A.D. 802; see ibn-Khallikan, Vol. II, pp. 157-9.

2.      Unidentified. Cf. next tradition.

3.      Ibn-Harithah (A.H. 54/A.D. 674); see ibn-Sa‘d, Vol. IV, pt. 1, pp. 43-51; Tadhib al-Asma pp. 147-50.

4.      Al-Bukhari, Bad’ al-Khalq, 10.


wilfully. For this reason Allah said, “Verily the hypocrites shall be in the lowest abyess of Fire.”1 This, He said, because they have denied Him after they have known Him. Allah also deems the Jews more wicked than the Christians although the former, unlike the latter, have not given Allah a son nor said that He was one of three gods. The Jews, however, have denied Allah despite their knowledge of Him. Allah said, “They know him even as they know their own children.”2 And again, “Yet when that of which they had knowledge came to them they believed not in it. The execration of Allah be on the unbelievers.” 3 In the course of the story of Bal‘am ibn-Ba’ura,4 Allah said, “Recite to them the story of him to whom We vouchsafed Our signs and followed them not, and Satan pursued him and he became one of the beguiled; he is, therefore, like unto the dog who lolls out his tongue, whether thou chase him away, or leave him alone.”5 Thus Bal’am was given the Book of Allah but gave himself instead to lust and was, therefore, likened to a dog. In other words whether or not he was given wisdom, he would go after lust.

Jesus said, “The teachers of falsehood are like unto a rock which has fallen into the source of the stream; it neither absorbs any water itself nor permits it to flow out and reach the plants; or like unto the pipes which lead into the cesspool: gypsum white on the outside while their interior is full of refuse and filth: or like unto sepulchres the exteriors of which are polished and clean but are within full of dead men’s bones.”6 These traditions and historical narratives show that the learned man of this world will occupy a more inferior position and will receive a more severe punishment than the ignorant man, while those who will succeed in attaining a seat in the neighbourhood of Allah are the learned men of the hereafter.

Characteristic of the learned men of the hereafter are the

1.      Surah, IV: 144.

2.      See Surahs, II; 141; VI: 20.

3.      Surah, II: 83.

4.      Balaam the son of Beor: Cf Num, 22, 23, 24.

5.      Surah, VII: 174-5.

6.      Cf. Matt. 23:4,27.



following. They should not seek this world through their knowledge because the least of the learned men should know the insignificance of this life as well as its sordidness, foulness, and abrupt end in contrast to the greatness of the hereafter, its permanence, the purity of its happiness, and the majesty of its dominion. They should know that this world and the hereafter are diametrically opposed to each other, as hostile as fellow-wives - the more you please the one the more you displease the other; or as the two scales of a balance - the lower the one falls the higher the other rises; or as the east and the west - the more you advance towards the one the farther away you go from the other; or as two glasses of water, the one is full while the other is empty - the more you pour out of the one into the other the less water is left in the first. Thus he who does not realize how insignificant and sordid is this world, how closely intermixed are its pains and pleasures, and how transient it is, is insane. Whether it be observation or experience, both testify to the same conclusion. How then could the person who has no brains be numbered among the learned men? Again, he who does not realize the greatness and the permanence of the hereafter, is an unbeliever lacking all faith. And how could the person who has no faith be learned? Anyone who does not realize that this world is diametrically opposed to the hereafter and that any attempt to reconcile the one with the other is an impossible undertaking, is a man ignorant of the laws of the prophets, and still worse he disbelieves the whole Qur‘an. How then could he be numbered among the company of the learned? Furthermore anyone who knows all this, yet does not give the hereafter priority over this world must be a prisoner of Satan. His lust has vanquished him and his wickedness has triumphed over him. How then could such a person be considered learned?

Among the traditions of David is the following which he related having received it from Allah. Said Allah, “The least thing I would do with the learned man who would neglect My love in favour of his lust is to deny him the pleasure of communion (munajah) with Me.” Addressing David again Allah said, “Ask not a learned man who hath been drunk with the love of this world, about Me lest he blocketh


the road of My love in thy face - such men are highway brigands who rob My people. O David! If thou findest one who seekest after Me, be thou unto him a servant. O David! Whoever leadeth a fleeing man back unto Me, the same I shall write down as a man of sound judgment; and whomsoever I write down as a man of sound judgment, him I shall never torment.” For this reason al-Hasan al-Basri said, “The penalty which the learned men receive for seeking the world through works which belong to the hereafter is the death of their hearts.” For the same reason Yahya ibn-Mu‘adh said, “Knowledge and wisdom will lose their glory if through them the world is sought.” Sa‘id ibn-al-Musayyab said, “If you see a learned man frequenting the houses of rulers you may conclude that he is a thief” Umar said, “If you see the learned cherishing this world, then entrust not your religion into his hands because everyone is captivated by what he loves.”

Malik ibn Dinar1 said, “I have read in one of the books of the ancients that Allah said, ‘The least thing I would do with the learned man who has given himself to the love of this world is to remove from his heart the pleasure of communion with Me’.”2

A certain man wrote to a brother of his saying, “You have been given knowledge; envelop not, therefore, the light of your knowledge with the darkness of sin lest you be left behind in darkness when the learned go forward with the light of their knowledge. Yahya bn-Mu‘adh al-Razi used to say to the learned men of this world, “Ye people of knowledge! Your palaces are Caesarian,3 your homes are like those of Chosroes,4 your doors are Tahirid,5 your footwear is like

1.           A.H. 131/A.D. 748-9; see Hikyat al-Awliya’, Vol. II. pp. 357-89; ibn-Khallikan. Vol. II, nn. 202-3.

2.           See supra.

3.           After Caesar (Ar. Qaysar), the generic name which the Arabs apply to the Byzantine emperors.

4.           Ar. Kisra, the generic name which the Arabs apply to Persian monarchs.

5.           Probably after Tahir ibn-al-Husayn dhu-al-Yaminayn (A.H. 207/A.D. 822) As vizir to al-Ma‘mun and as founder of the Tahirid dynasty in Khurasan, his doors were inaccessible. Cf. al-Baghdadi, Ta’rikh Baghdad, Vol. IX, p. 345. For his life see ibn-Khallikan, Vol. I, pp. 420-24; Ta’rikh Baghdad, Vol. IX, pp. 353-55.




that of Goliath,1 your coaches are like those of Qarun,2 your home utensils are Pharaonic, your sins are the same as those of the Jahiliyah days, and your beliefs are satanic; where then is the Muhammadan law?”

A poet said:

The shepherd keeps the sheep from harm and hurt;

Who then would keep them safe by day and night

If they who watch were wolves instead of men?

Said another:

Ye learned men of this city of favour,

What will cure salt which looses its flavour?

One of the gnostics was one asked, “Do you not think that he to whom transgression is attractive does not know Allah?” To which the gnostic replied, ‘I do not doubt that he who prefers this world to the hereafter, does not know Allah.” This latter thing is by far the worse. Furthermore you should not think that the giving up of wealth would qualify anyone to join the company of the learned men of the hereafter. Glory is more harmful than wealth. For this reason Bishr ibn-al-Harith3 related that a certain Bab4 once told him: “Whenever you hear a man say, ‘We were told,’ what he really means is, ‘Harken unto me’.” This same Bishr buried over ten5 baskets full of books used to say, “I have an urge to relate traditions but not until this urge subsides will I relate.” He also, as well as others besides him, said,

1.      Quranic Jalut, Surah 11, 250.

2.      One of the Quranic characters (Surahs XXVIII: 76-82, XXIX: 38, and LX: 25) Qarun has been identified with Korah of the Bible (Num, XVI). The Quranic legend is based upon the Talmudie tradition of Korah’s great wealth, and appears to be also confused with that of Crocsus. See al-Th‘alibi, Qisas al-Anbiya’, pp. 203-207: G.A. Barton. “Korah”, in The Jewish Encyclopaedia; D. B. MacDonald, “Karun”, in The Encyclopaedia of Islam.

3.      Known also as al-Hafi (A.H.227/A.D.842).See ibn-Khallikan,Vol. I,pp. 158-160; al-Baghdadi, Tarikh Baghdad, Vol. VII, pp. 67-80:

4.      Literally means “door”; a title given by dervishes to their great shaykhs.

5.      Cf. Tarikh Baghdad, Vol. VIII, p. 71,1,14, where the number is eighteen.



“If you felt an urge to relate traditions, resist it and keep quite; but if you feel no urge, go ahead and relate.” This is because the pleasure of the glory of imparting knowledge and of occupying the position of a guide is greater than all the joys of this world. Consequently whoever should give in to the urge of his lust for such glory, the same would be from the children of this world. Thus Sufyan al-Thawri said, “The temptation to recite a tradition is more insidious than that of family or wealth.” How then is it possible for people not to fear its temptation?

The chief of the Apostles was told, “And had We not stablished thee, thou hadst well nigh learned to them a little.”1 Sad Sahl,2 “All knowledge, except that which pertains to the hereafter, is of the earth earthly; and all work is in vain except it be sincere.” He also said, “All men are dead except the learned; all learned men are in a state of stupefaction except those who practise their knowledge; all those who practise their knowledge are conceited except those who are sincere; and those who are sincere are constantly afraid until they know their fate.”

Abu-Sulayman al-Darani3 said, “If a man should pursue the study of tradition or get married, or travel in search of a living, the same has placed his faith in this world.” (By the study of tradition al-Darani had in mind the study of singular chains of authorities of (the study of traditions which are of no use for the hereafter). Jesus said, “How could he who persists in the paths of this world while his destination is the hereafter, or he who seeks knowledge in order to show off and not for the sake of following its precepts, be counted among the learned?”4

Salih ibn-Kaysan al-Basri5 said, “One day I came upon the teachers while they were

praying Allah to save them from evil doers who are versed in the law.”


1.      Surah, XVII: 76.

2.      Abu-Muhammad Sahl ibn-‘Abdullah ibn-Yunus al-Tustari (A.H. 283/A.D. 896): see ibn-Khallikan, Vol. I, p. 389.

3.      A.H. 234/A.D. 849-50; see ibn-Khallikan. Vol. I, pp. 494-95 Yaqut, Buldan, Vol. II, p. 536.

4.      Cf. Luke 9:62.

5.      A.H. 144 A.D. 761: see ibn-Qutaybah, p. 245; Tadhkirat al-Huffuz, Vol. I, p. 140.




Abu-Hurayrah related that the Apostle of Allah once said, “Whoever would seek knowledge with which men draw near to Allah and would use it to attain some earthly desire would not on the day of resurrection find his way to Paradise.”1 Allah also described the teachers of falsehood as those who would expend their knowledge in order to devour this world and described the learned men of the hereafter as humble and ascetic. Thus He said concerning the teachers of falsehood, “Moreover, when Allah entered into a covenant with those to whom the Scriptures were given, (and said), ‘Ye shall surely make it known to men and hide it not,’ they cast it behind their backs, and sold it for a sorry price! Vile is that which they purchase.’’2 And concerning the learned men of the hereafter Allah said, “Among the people of the Book are those who believe in Allah and in what hath been sent down to you and in what hath been sent down to them, humbling themselves before Him. They barter not His signs for a mean price. These! their recompense awaiteth them with their Lord.”3 One of the Fathers said, “On the last day the learned men will be judged with the prophets while the judges will be judged with the magistrates.” By judges is meant every jurist who intends to seek the world through his knowledge.

Abu-al-Darda’ related that he had heard the Prophet say, “Allah revealed to one of the prophets saying, ‘Say unto those who study jurisprudence for a purpose other than religion and to those who acquire knowledge for a purpose other than that of doing according to it, say unto them that they appear before people in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are raving wolves. Their tongues are sweeter than honey but their hearts are more bitter than colocynth. They act deceitfully against Me and scorn Me. Verily I shall confront them with temptations which would confound even the wise.”4

Al-Dahhak5 related on the authority of ibn-‘Abbas that the

1.      Ibn-. Majah; Intro., 23: 3.

2.      Surah III 184.

3.      Surah III: 198-99.

4.      Cf. Matt. 7: 15, 15: 8.

5.      Probably ibn-Sufyan. one of the Companions; see Tahdhib al-.Asma’ p. 321.


Apostle of Allah once said, ‘The learned men of this people are two. First, he whom Allah has given knowledge which in turn he freely placed at the disposal of his fellowmen, taking from them nothing in return and charging no price for it. He shall be blessed by the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, the beasts of the earth and by the guardian angels1 He will, on the day of resurrection, appear before Allah as a noble lord and will join the company of the apostles. Second, he whom Allah has given knowledge which he withheld from his fellow men, using it to enrich himself, the same will on the day of resurrection be bridled with a bit of fire while a crier will raise his voice among the crowds and say, ‘Behold this man, Allah gave him knowledge but he withheld it from his fellowmen and used it to enrich himself.’ He will continue to be tormented until all men are judged.”2 More drastic than this is what has been related concerning a certain man who was in the service of Moses and went around saying, “Moses, the friend of Allah, has told me,’ “Moses, the confidant of Allah, has told me,” “Moses the intimate of Allah, has told me” and so on until he became very wealthy. Then he disappeared and Moses began to inquire about him in an attempt to find him. Finally there came to Moses one day a man leading a pig with a black rope tied to its neck. As the man stood before Moses the latter said, “Knowest thou such and such a man?” To which the visitor replied, “Yes I do. He is this pig.” On seeing that Moses exclaimed, “O Allah! I beseech Thee to transform this creature into his former state in order that I may ask him why and how such a thing has come upon him.” But Allah declared unto Moses in a revelation saying, “Not even if thou callest upon Me by what Adam hath called would I grant thy request. Nevertheless I shall tell thee why I have brought this upon him. It is because he was wont to use religion to gain the world.”

Still more drastic than either is what is related on the authority of Mu‘adh ibn-Jabal who heard the Prophet say, “Among the afflictions of the learned man is to prefer talking to listening.

1.      Ar. al-Kiram al Katibun; cf supra, p. 87. They are also known as al-Hafazah.

2.      Cf. ibn-Majah, Intro. 24: 1.




Talking involves embellishments and accretions, and those given to it are not safe from error, while in silence is safety and wisdom.”

Among the learned are those who would guard their knowledge and dislike the idea of sharing it with others -these will occupy the first depth in Hell. There are others who are in the habit of regarding their knowledge as equivalent to power and position; and if they are ever contradicted or slighted they become infuriated - these will occupy the second depth in Hell. Others confine their knowledge to the circles of nobility and wealth and deem the poor classes unworthy of it - these will occupy the third depth in Hell. Others appoint themselves judges and hand down faulty opinions - these will occupy the fourth depth in Hell. Other learned men employ in their discourses Jewish and Christian arguments in order to make their erudition seem great - these will occupy the fifth depth in Hell. Others regard their knowledge as something virtuous and honourable and continually dwell on it before men-these will occupy the sixth depth in Hell. And finally there are the learned men who are the victims of vanity and conceit. Whenever they preach they upbraid, and whenever they are admonished they show resentment - these will occupy the seventh depth in Hell. Therefore O brother, observe silence, for through it you will overcome Satan. Do not laugh without cause and do not move without direction.

According to another tradition we are told, “Verily man may possess a reputation extending over East and West; but before Allah it would not amount to the weight of the wing of a mosquito.”

It has been related that a certain man from Khurasan who had attended one of the circles of al-Hasan al-Basr came back after the meeting with a bag containing five thousand dinars and ten garments of the finest silk and said, ‘O abu-Sa‘id, here is some pocket money and a change of clothes.” In answer al-Hasan said, “May Allah save thee. Gather up the money and thy garments for I have no need for either. Verily he who occupies a position like mine and will accept from people such things as thou has offered, will on the day of resurrection meet Allah in dishonour.”


It has also been related on the authority of Jabir1 that he heard the Apostle of Allah say, “Do not attend the circle of any learned man except him who would call upon you to relinquish five things in favour of five others, namely to relinquish doubt in favour of belief, hypocrisy in favour of sincerity, worldliness in favour of asceticism, pride in favour of humility, and enmity in favour of love.”

Allah said, “And (Qarun) went forth to his people in his pomp. Those who were greedy for this present life said, ‘Oh that we had the like of that which hath been bestowed upon Qarun! Truly he is possessed of great good fortune. But they to whom knowledge had been given said, ‘Woe to you! The reward of Allah is better for him who believeth’.”2Thus Allah identified the people of learning as those who prefer the hereafter to this world.

Another characteristic expected of learned men is that their works should not contradict their words. In fact they should not demand anything unless they are ready to be the first to do it. Thus Allah said, “Will ye enjoin what is right upon others, and forget yourselves?”3 And again, “Most hateful is it to Allah that ye say that which ye do not.”4 Allah said again in the story of Shu‘ayb,5 “I will not follow you in that which I myself forbid you.”6 And again, “But fear Allah and He will give you knowledge.”7 Allah also said, “Fear Allah and know...”8 and again, “Fear Allah and hearken....”9 Said Allah to Jesus, “O thou son of Mary! Warn thyself and when thou art warned, warn the people. Otherwise thou shouldst be ashamed of Me.” 10

The Apostle of Allah said, “The night I was carried to heaven, I passed by several people whose lips were being cut off with scissors of fire.

1.           Ibn-‘Abdulah al-Ansari, (A.H. 78/A.D. 697); see ibn-Qutaybah, pp. 156-57.

2.           Surah, XXVIII: 79-80.

3.           Surah, II: 41.

4.           Surah, LXI: 3

5.           One of the prophets mentioned in the Qur’an. See Surahs VII: 83,86, 88,90, see; XI: 85, 89, 93, 97: XXVI: 177; XXIX: 35.

6.           Surah, XI: 90.

7.           Surah, II: 282.

8.           Surah, II: 190.

9.           Surah, V: 107.

10.       Cf. Luke 4: 23.



On asking them who they were, replied, ‘We were learned men who were wont to enjoin good but do it not and to forbid evil but commit it ourselves”1 He also said, “The destruction of my people is brought about by a wicked learned man and an ignorant worshipper. The worst people are the wicked learned men and the best are the good learned men.”2

Al-Awza‘i3 once said, “The sarcophagi4 of the unbelievers complained to Allah of the stench of the corpses they contain. Thereupon Allah revealed unto them that the stench of the corpses of the teachers of falsehood would be worse.” Al-Fudayl ibn-’Iyad once said, “I have been informed that on the day of resurrection the wicked learned men will be brought to judgment before the idolators.” Abu-al-Darda’ said, “Woe once to him who doth not know, and woe seven times to him who doth know but doth not do accordingly.” Al-Sh‘bi also said, “On the day of resurrection a group from the people of Paradise will confront a group from the people of Hell and ask them, ‘What caused you to be thrown into Hell when we were admitted into Paradise through your instruction and teaching?’ To which the latter will reply, ‘We were wont to enjoin good but do it not and to forbid evil but commit it ourselves’.”

Hatim al-Asamm5 said, “No one on the day of resurrection would be more sorrowful than he who had taught men knowledge which they put in practice and which he himself neglected; consequently they were saved through him and he was doomed.” Malik ibn-Dinar said, “If the learned man does not do according to his knowledge, his words will fail to penetrate the hearts of his hearers just as the dew fails to soften the rocks.”

1.      Cf. Hikyat al-Awliya Vol. II, p. 387.

2.      Ibid., Vol. I, 242.

3.      ‘Abd-al-Rahman ibn-’Umar, founder of the Awza‘i system in Syria. He worked in

      Beirut and d. A.H. 157/A.D. 774. See ibn-Khallikan, Vol. I, pp. 492-93.

4.      Ar. nawawis pl. of nawas from Gr.

5.      A.H. 237/A.D. 851-52. See ibn-al-‘Imad al-Hanbali, Shadharat al-(Dhahab fi Akhbar man Dhahab (Cairo, 1350), Vol. II, p. 87; al-Sha‘rani, al-Tabaqat al-Kubra (Cairo, 1343), Vol. I, pp. 68-69.


The poet said:

Admonisher of men, thou wouldst be indicted when

Thou chidest them for that which thou thyself dost do;

Advice thou givest and then thyself the sin commit

And scoff the love of life while loving it more than they.

And another said:

If thou condemn a sin and then commit

The same transgression, shame upon thy head.

Ibrahim ibn-Adham’ said, “While in Makhah, I came across a stone on which was inscribed, “Turn me over and thou shalt have warning’. Thereupon I turned it over and lo and behold I found inscribed on it, ‘If thou actest not according to thy present knowledge, why then shouldst thou seek new knowledge’?” Ibn-al-Sammak2 once said, “Many are they who remind others of Allah while they themselves forget Him; who frighten others of Allah while they trespass against Him; who draw others near to Allah while they themselves are far from Him; who call others unto Allah while they themselves flee from Him; who read Allah’s Holy Books while they themselves deviate from His way!” lbraham ibn-Adham also said, “In speech we are always careful to use a language free of error, but when it comes to deeds we commit errors and fall short of the ideal set before us.” Al-Awza‘i said, “When boasting asserts itself, humility disappears.”

Makhul3 related that ‘Abd-al-Rahman ibn-Ghanam4 said, “Ten of the Companions of the Apostle of Allah told me, ‘As we were studying one day in the mosque of Quba5 the Apostle of Allah came

1.      A.H. 161/A.D. 778; see ibn-‘Asakir, Vol. II (Damascus,1330), pp. 167-96; al-Kutubi,

Fawat al-Wafayat (Bulaq, 1283), Vol. I, pp. 3-4.

2.      A.H. 183/A.D. 799. See ibn-Khallikan, Vol. II, pp. 296-97.

3.      Al-Shami. (A.H. 113/A.D. 731). See ibn-Qutaybah,p.230, ibn-Khallikan, Vol. II, pp. 585-86. He is also known as al-Dimashqi.

4.      A.H. 78/A.D. 697, see ibn-Sa‘d. Vol. VII, Pt. 2, p. 152; Tadhkirat al-Huffaz Vol. I, p. 48.

5.      A village two miles south-east of al-Madinah. Its mosque is celebrated in Islam and is said to have been the mosque of piety (al-taqwa).


upon us and said: You may study whatever you wish, but Allah will not reward you unless you do according to that knowledge’.”1 Jesus said, “The parable of him who acquires knowledge but does not accordingly, is like the parable of the woman who has secretly committed adultery and, on becoming pregnant, her sin becomes known. So it is with him who does not do according to his knowledge; on the day of resurrection he will be openly disgraced by Allah.” Mu’adh ibn-Jabal said, “Beware of the learned man’s error, which because of the exalted position of its perpetrator, is emulated by men.” ‘Umar said, “Through the error of a learned man a whole people may be led to error.” “Three things will bring about the end of time; one of these three is the error of the learned man.” Ibn-Mas’ud said, “There will come a time wherein the sweetness of hearts will become salty. At that time neither he who possesses knowledge nor he to whom it is imparted will reap any benefit therefrom. The hearts of the learned men will be like the saline land; the rains of heaven will fall upon it but fail to make it fresh.” This will take place when the hearts of learned men incline after the love of this world and give it preference over the hereafter. Then will Allah rob men of the springs of wisdom and will extinguish the lights of the true faith in their hearts. When you meet the learned among them he will protest before you his fear of Allah while trespassing and sin are evident in his deeds. How fat then are the tongues and how lean the hearts. Verily, by Allah - there is none but He - this would not have been so if the teachers had taught for the sake of Allah and the students had studied for His sake.”


The following is written in both the Bible and the Gospel, “Seek no new knowledge unless you have put into practice what you already know.” Hudhayfah2 said, “You are in a time wherein anyone who will neglect a tenth of his knowledge will surely perish; but the time will come wherein anyone who will put into practice a tenth of his knowledge, the same will be saved because the idle are numerous.”

1.      Hikyat al-Awliya, Vol. I, p. 236.

2.      Ibn-al-Yaman al-Sahabi (A.H. 36/A.D. 657). See ibn-Qutaybah, pp. 134-35



What is true of the learned men is true of the judges concerning whom the Prophet said, “There are three kinds of judges: One judges justly with knowledge; the same will inherit Paradise. Another judges unjustly whether or not he has knowledge; the same will roast in Hell fire. A third judges contrary to the ordinances of Allah; the same will also roast in Hell fire.”1 K‘ab2 said, “At the end of time there will be learned men who will urge people to abjure this world while they themselves renounce it not; they place the fear of Allah in the hearts of men while they themselves fear Him not; they forbid men to seek the favour of those in authority while they themselves curry favour with them; they prefer this world to the hereafter, slander everyone, associate with the rich and avoid the company of the poor, they are jealous of one another concerning knowledge and fight over it as women fight over the love of men; the anger of one of them is aroused if his companion would talk to another besides himself. Verily they are the enemies of the Merciful One.”

The Prophet said, “Verily Satan may bait you with knowledge.” When asked how would that be, Muhammad replied that Satan would say to you, “Seek ye knowledge and do nothing until ye master it.” Then will man continue to seek knowledge and defer action until he finally dies having done nothing.

Sirri al-Saqti said, “A certain man who was overzealous in mastering all esoteric knowledge suddenly withdrew from the world and devoted his life to worship. Thereupon I asked him why he had done so. To which he replied, “I saw in a dream someone say unto me, ‘How long will you persist in wasting knowledge?’ I replied, ‘Verily I shall study and preserve it.’ He said, ‘The preservation of knowledge lies in putting it into practice.’ Consequently I dropped seeking knowledge and bent myself on work and action.”

1.      Al-Tirmidhi, al-Ahkam, 1; ibn-Majah, al-Ahkam, 3.

2.      AI Ahbar (A.H. 32/A.D. 652-3). See ibn-Qutaybah, p. 219; M. Schmitz, art. “K’ab al-Ahbar” in Encyclopaedia of Islam.


Ibn-Mas’ud said, “Knowledge is not the prolific retention of tradition, but rather the fear of Allah.”1


Al-Hasan al-Basri said, “You may study whatever you wish, but Allah will not reward you unless you do according to that knowledge. Verily the concern of the insolent is the retention of tradition and that of the learned men is wisdom.” Malik ibn-Anas said, “Verily the seeking of knowledge as well as the imparting of it is good, provided the intentions are also good. Above all seek your daily provision of knowledge and let nothing else interfere.” Ibn-Mas‘ud said, “The Qur’an was revealed in order that men may direct their lives according to its teaching. But instead you have made the study of it your life work. There will also come a time when some will attempt to modify it - these are not the worthy among you”. The learned man who does not do according to his knowledge is like a sick man who prescribes treatment for others, or like a hungry and half starved man who works out delicious menus of food but cannot taste them. Describing a similar thing Allah said, “But woe be unto you for what ye utter (of Allah)”.2 And according to a tradition the Prophet said, “Of the dangers which threaten my people I fear nothing except the error of the learned man and a hypocrite discussing the Qur’an.”3

Another characteristic expected of the learned man is that he be concerned with the acquisition of knowledge, useful in the hereafter and conducive to good work (ta’at). He should avoid those branches of knowledge which are of little use and which lend themselves to disputation and argument: Thus he who shuns the science of practical religion and takes to disputation is like a sick man suffering from many diseases who meets a clever physician, and despite the fact that the time is precious and limited, he wastes it in inquiring about the properties of drugs and medicines and about the curiosities of the medical profession and neglects the all important question of his own affliction. This certainly is the limit of insolence.

1.      Hikyat al-Awilya, Vol. I, p.131.

2.      Surah XXI: 18.

3.      Cf. al-Darimi, Intro., 23.


It has been related that a certain man came to the Apostle of Allah and said, “Teach me some of the strange facts of knowledge.” To which the Apostle replied, “What hast thou done with the beginning of knowledge?” “But what is the beginning of knowledge?” the man retorted. The Prophet replied, “Hast thou known the exalted Lord?” “Yes”, said the man. “And what hast thou done for Him?” “Oh well,” replied the man. “And has thou know what death is?” added the Prophet. “Yes”, replied the man. “And what hast thou prepared for it?” inquired the Prophet, “Oh well,” protested the man. Thereupon the Prophet said, “Go thou first and do these things and then come and we shall teach thee some of the strange facts of knowledge.”

The knowledge acquired should be like that which Hatim al-Asamm, the disciple of Shaqiq al-Balkhi1 learned from his teacher. Thus it is said that Shaqiq once asked Hatim how long he had been in his company. Hatim replied, “Thirty-three years.” Shaqiq then said, “And what have you learnt during this period?” “Eight things,” replied Hatim. Thereupon Shaqiq exclaimed, “Verily we are Allah’s and unto Him is our return. I have spent my life trying to teach you but you have learnt only eight things!” Hatim replied, “Frankly I have learnt nothing else and I do not like to lie about it,” Shaqiq then said, “Well, out with these things and let me hear them.” Hatim then said, “I looked around and beheld that every man has something or someone whom he loves and with whom he remains until the hour of death arrives, at which time they part. Consequently I made charity the object of my love so that when the hour of death arrives the object of my love accompanies me to the grave.” “Thou hast done well, Hatim,” said Shaqiq, “let us now hear the second thing thou hast learnt.” Hatim replied, “I have pondered over the words of Allah when he said, “But as to him who shall have feared the majesty of the Lord, and shall have refrained his soul from lust, verily, Paradise - that shall be his dwelling place,’2 and have come

1.      According to ibn-Khallikan,Vol. I,p.404, Shaqiq, died in A.H. 153/A.D.770; while according to ibn-ul ‘Imad al-Hanbali, Shadharat al-Dhahab fi Akhbar man Dhahab (Cairo,1350), Vol. I, p. 341, he died in A.H. 194/A.D. 810.

2.      Surah, LXXIX: 40-11.



to know that the words of Allah are the truth. Consequently I have mortified myself and suppressed lust until my soul found its abode in the obedience of Allah. Thirdly, as I looked around the people I found that everyone treasures and exalts whatever valuable things he possesses. I then turned to the words of Allah, ‘All that ye possess passeth away but that which is with Allah abideth’,1 and began to give unto Allah whatever valuable things fell into my hands. Fourthly, as I looked around I saw that everyone places his trust in wealth, descent, honour, and lineage - things which on examination I found to be empty. I then pondered over the words of Allah, ‘Verily the most honourable of you in the sight of Allah is the most pious of you,’2 and immediately turned with all my soul to piety in order that I may become honourable before Allah.

“Fifth, I looked around and beheld these people slandering and cursing one another, all because of jealousy. Then I turned to the words of Allah, ‘It is We who distribute their subsistence among them in this world’s life,’3 and consequently I abjured jealousy and extended my love to all realizing that man’s lot is from Allah. As a result I dislike people no more.

“In the sixth place, I saw men oppress and fight one another. Whereupon I turned to the words of Allah, ‘Verily Satan is your foe; for a foe then hold him.’4 Accordingly I took Satan for a foe and ceased to hate people.

“The seventh thing I learnt was the following: As I looked around I saw that everyman was running after bread, and debasing himself and committing all manner of unlawful things in the effort to gain his end. Then I recalled the words of Allah, ‘There is no moving thing that moveth upon the face of the earth but its provision is from Me.’5 Realizing that I was one of those moving things whose provision is from Allah, I devoted myself to the things which are Allah’s, and entrusted my fate into His hands.

1.      Surah, XVI: 98.

2.      Surah, XLIX: 13.

3.      Surah, XLIII: 31.

4.      Surah, XXXV: 6.

5.      Surah, XI: 8.



“The eighth thing which I learnt was this: I looked around and found that every man has placed his trust in something created - one in his possessions and another in his wealth, a third in his profession and the fourth in his health. In short all created beings placed their faith in things which are like themselves created. I then turned to the words of Allah, ‘And to him who putteth his trust in Him will Allah be all-sufficient,’1 and from that moment on I placed my trust in Allah, verily He is all-sufficient.”

Then Shaqiq said, “O Hatim, may Allah prosper thee. Verily I have examined the Pentateuch, the Gospels, the Psalms, and the great Qur’an and found that all goodness and religion centre around these eight things; whoever would practise them would conform to the teachings of these four books.”

No one bothers about the acquisition of this type of knowledge or even acknowledges its existence except the learned men of the hereafter; while the learned men of this world apply themselves to those branches of knowledge which help to gain for them wealth and position, neglecting all the knowledge which Allah sent the Prophets with to impart in this world.

Al-Dahhak ibn-Muzahim2 once said, “When I was young the learned men used to teach one another piety, but nowadays they learn nothing but scholastic wrangling (kalam).”

Another characteristic expected of the learned man is that he be not disposed to indulgence in his food and drink, and luxury in his dress, furniture, and housing. Rather he should prefer economy in all things, emulating thereby the blessed Fathers. He should be more readily satisfied with the least of everything, and the closer he draws to penury the closer he draws to Allah and the greater will his rank be among the learned men of the hereafter. This is attested by the story related about Ibrahim al-Khawwas3 who was a friend of Hatim al- Asamm Said Ibrahim

1.      Surah, LXV: 3.

2.      A.H. 102/A.D. 720-21; see ibn-Qutaybah, p. 232.

3.      A.H. 291/A.D. 904; see al-Baghdadi, Tarikh Baghdad, Vol. VI, pp. 7-10; al-Sha‘rani, Vol. I, pp. 83-84.


“Once upon a time I and three hundred and twenty pilgrims arrived at al-Rayy in the company of Hatim. We were all headed to Makkah for the pilgrimage. The men had their woollen cloaks but lacked both provisions and provision bags. On arriving at al-Rayy we came upon a merchant of abstemious habits who loved the poor and therefore offered us shelter and food for the night. In the morning our host asked Hatim whether or not he had anything to do because he wanted to call on a certain sick jurist in the town. Hatim replied ‘Visiting the sick is meritorious, and hearkening unto the learned is a form of worship. I shall therefore accompany you.’ The sick jurist was Muhammad ibn Muqatil,1 the judge of al-Rayy. As they arrived at the gate of his mansion they beheld a great and imposing palace. This made Hatim wonder and say (to himself), ‘Such a palace is the property of a learned man!’ On being admitted they entered the palace and lo, they were in the midst of an imposing wide, and spacious house with luxurious curtains and draperies. But Hatim still wondered. They then stepped into the hall in which the patient lay on a soft mattress. Over his head stood a lad waving a fan. While Hatim remained standing the merchant sat down beside ibn-Muqatil and inquired about his condition. Noticing that Hatim was still standing, ibn-Muqatil motioned him to take a seat but Hatim declined. Ibn-Muqatil then inquired whether or not Hatim wanted anything done for him, to which Hatim replied, ‘Yes I wish to ask you a question.’ ‘Ask’, said ibn-Muqatil. Hatim replied, ‘Sit up that I may ask thee.’ Ibn Muqatil sat up and Hatim proceeded to ask him saying, ‘From where did you get your learning?’ ‘From trustworthy reporters who related their knowledge to me directly,’ said ibn-Muqatil. ‘And wherefrom did they get theirs?’ asked Hatim. ‘From the Companions of the Apostle of Allah,’ replied ibn-Muqatil. ‘And wherefrom did the Companions get theirs?’ asked Hatim. ‘From the Apostle of Allah,’ replied ibn-Muqatil. ‘And the Apostle?’ inquired Hatim. ‘From Gabriel who got his from Allah,’ replied ibn-Muqatil.

‘Tell me then,’ said Hatim, ‘in that which Gabriel received from Allah and transmitted to the Apostle who in turn passed it on to his

1. Unidentified.


Companions who conveyed it to trustworthy reporters who in turn gave it to you, did you hear of any learned men who advanced in worth before Allah because he led a life of luxury in his house and because his wealth exceeded that of a prince?’ ‘No’, said ibn-Muqatil. ‘What have you learnt then from those trustworthy reporters?’ asked Hatim. To this ibn Muqatil replied, ‘I have learnt that he who renounces this world and seeks the next, showing love to the poor and preparing for the hereafter, will be favoured by Allah.’ Hatim then exclaimed, ‘The example of whom have you followed, that of the Prophet and his Companions and their virtuous followers or that of Pharaoh1 and Namrud 2, the first to employ gypsum and bricks in masonry? You teachers of falsehood, the ignorant man who is rabidly desirous of the pleasures of this world would see you and those of your kind and would say to himself that if the learned men lead such a life, there is no reason why he should not do the same.’ Having said this, Hatim left, and ibn-Muqatil’s sickness became more acute. The details of the incident soon spread among the people of al-Rayy and they informed Hatim that al-Tanafisi3 in Qazwin was more extravagant. Hearing this Hatim proceeded to Qazwin and on his arrival, called on al-Tanafisi and addressed him saying, ‘May Allah have mercy upon you, Sir; I am a non-Arab (a’jami) who wishes you would teach me the elements of my religion and the commencement of my prayer, namely, how to perform the ceremonial of ablution preparatory to worship.’ Al-Tanafisi rose up (to demonstrate the ceremonial) while Hatim watched. Al-Tanafisi performed the ablution applying water thrice to those parts of his body which, according to the ritual, should be washed, and told Hatim to perform the ceremonial in the same way. Hatim then said, ‘Could you please stay where you are until I perform the ceremonial before you and thus

1.      Cf Surahs XXVII: 38, LX: 38; see also al-Tabari, Jami’ al Bayan (Cairo 1323-30), Vols. XX, p. 49, XXIV, p. 43, where Pharaoh is said to have been the first to use mortar and brick in masonry.

2.      Al-Tabari, Vol. 1, pp. 217,219,220,252-65,319-25; al-Tha‘alibi, pp. 68-70; Bernard Heller, art. “Namrud” in Encyclopaedia of Islam.

3.      Probably abu-‘Abdullah Muhammad ibn-Ubayd ibn-abi-Umayyah, (A.H. 204/A.D. 819-20); see ibn-S’ad, Vol. VI, p. 277; Tadhkirat al-Huffaz, Vol. I,pp. 304-5.




be sure I have learnt it correctly?’ Thereupon al-Tanafisi moved aside and Hatim proceeded with his ablution. When he got to the washing of his arms up to the elbows he applied water four times. Al-Tanafisi who was watching protested saying, ‘You have been extravagant.’ ‘In what respect,’ inquired Hatim. ‘In washing your arms four times,’ was the reply. ‘Great Allah!’ exclaimed Hatim, ‘for the use of an extra handful of water you think I have been extravagant; but your indulgence in all this luxury you do not consider to be extravagance!’ Al-Tanafisi then realized that Hatim’s real purpose was to reprimand rather than to learn. He consequently locked himself up in his home and saw no one for forty days”

When later Hatim entered Baghdad, its inhabitants came to him and said, “O abu-‘Abd al-Rahman, you are a stammering non-Arab, yet no one ever talks to you without being silenced. Hatim replied, “Three characteristics enable me to overcome my adversary: I rejoice when he is right, grieve when he is wrong, and endeavour not to act foolishly towards him.” When Ahmad ibn-Hanbal heard this, he said, “Allah be praised; how great is the wisdom of this man! Come let us call on him.” When the company got to his house, ibn-Hanbal addressed him saying, “O abu-‘Abd-al-Rahman, what will insure salvation from this world?” Hatim replied, “You will not be saved until you possess four characteristics: Overlook men’s ignorance and spare them yours; give them from you substance and except nothing from theirs. Not unless you do these will you be saved.”

“He then proceeded to al-Madinah where he was welcomed by its inhabitants. Addressing them he said, ‘which city is this?’ They replied, ‘The city of the Apostle of Allah.’ He then asked, ‘Where is the palace of the Apostle of Allah so that I might go and worship in it?” ‘He had none,’ they replied, ‘all he had was a modest house half buried in the ground.’ Where then are the palaces of his Companions?’ ‘They had none either,’ was the reply, ‘all they had were modest houses half buried in the ground.’ Thereupon Hatim said, ‘Men, this, then, is the city of Pharaoh.’ Infuriated they brought him before the governor and said, ‘This foreigner says that this is the city of Pharaoh.’ The governor asked Hatim why he had said such a thing


and the latter replied, ‘Be patient with me please. I am a foreigner, a stranger in this city. When I arrived in it I inquired whose city it was and was told that it was the city of the Apostle of Allah. I then asked where his palace was? Hatim then recalled the whole story and in conclusion quoting the words of Allah, ‘Ye had in the Apostle of Allah a good example,’1 said, ‘Whose example have you then followed, that of the Apostle of Allah or that of Pharaoh, the first to employ gypsum and brick in masonry?’ Hearing that, they released him and let him alone.” This then is the story of Hatim al-Asamm. Other stories from the lives of the Fathers concerning their disregard for physical comforts and the use of ornaments will be related in due course.

The truth of the matter is that the use of permissible things for ornament is not unlawful although its practice develops a fondness for it which is hard to undo. Persistence in it is not possible except through practices which will inevitably lead to committing sins such as adulation, compromise, and hypocrisy as well as to other prohibited offenses. It is, therefore, wise to avoid these things because whoever indulges in the luxuries of this world would never be safe. Had safety been compatible with indulgence in luxury, the Prophet would not have been insistent on renouncing this world and all its pleasures even to the extent of taking off the embroidered shirt2 and removing the gold seal-ring whenever he delivered a sermon (khutbah),3 which thing will be discussed later.

It has been related that Yahya ibn-Yazid al Nawfali4 once wrote to Malik ibn-Anas saying:

“In the name of Allah the Merciful the Compassionate. May His blessing be on His Apostle Muhammad.

From Yahya ibn-Yazid ibn-‘Abd-al-Malik to Malik ibn-Anas:

I have been informed that you wear fine clothes, eat choice

1.      Surah, XXXIII: 21.

2.      Ibn-Sa‘d, Vol. I, pt. 2, p. 152.

3.      Ibid, Vol. I, Pt. 2, pp. 160-61.

4.      A.H. 165/A.D. 781-82; see al-Sam‘ani, p. 571 a-b.




food, recline on comfortable couches, and station at your door chamberlains. At the same time you have assumed the seat of learning and men have come to you from every direction, selecting you as their imam and accepting your pronouncements as the final word. Fear then Allah and humble yourself. I have written to you this letter of advice. No one besides Allah has seen its contents. Peace be with you.”

Malik wrote back saying:

“In the name of Allah the Merciful the Compassionate. May His blessing be on

Muhammad, our Lord, and on His Companions.

From Malik ibn-Anas to Yahya ibn-Yazid:

The peace of Allah be upon you.

“I have received your letter which I accept as the token of your interest and sympathy, and as the evidence of your refined character. May Allah bless your piety and reward and prosper you for your advice. I seek the help of Allah; there is no strength nor power but in Him.

“As to your charge that we eat choice food, wear fine clothes, station chamberlains at our door, and recline on comfortable couches, may we state that at times we do all these but usually beg the forgiveness of Allah. May we, however, add that Allah said in His Book, ‘Say: What hath prohibited Allah’s goodly raiment, and the healthful viands which He hath provided for His servants?”1 Furthermore we know very well that abstinence from these things is better than indulgence in them. At any rate do not neglect us in the matter of writing and we shall not forget you. Peace be with you.” See, then, the sense of justice which Malik displayed: he admitted that to abstain from these things was better than indulgence in them, yet at the same time he handed down the opinion that they were permissible, and he was right in both. Thus it may be possible for men of the calibre of Malik, whose sense of justice enabled him to admit the fairness of such advice, to confine themselves to that which is

1.      Surah VII: 30.



permissible without either hypocrisy or deception and without overstepping their bounds and doing that which is reprehensible. But this is not possible for others, because to flirt with luxury in those things which are permissible is extremely dangerous. It is far removed from the fear of Allah which is the quality of the learned men of Allah. Characteristic of the fear of Allah, however, is to avoid all manner of risk.

Another characteristic expected of the learned man is that he keeps away from the magistrates and, as long as he can help it, not to come near them at all, and rather avoid their company despite any efforts on their part to seek him out, because the world is attractive and inviting while the power to dispense with its riches is in their hands. To associate with them, therefore, would necessarily involve the learned man in seeking their approval and winning their hearts, although they are unjust and unrighteous. It is, then, the duty of every religious man to censor them by exposing their tyranny and decrying their practices. For he who frequents their palaces will either seek their favour and consequently forget the blessings which Allah has bestowed upon him, or hold his peace and allow their misdeeds to go uncensored, thereby courting their favour. He may also undertake to justify their sins and improve their standing in order to gain their pleasure, which is the limit in perjury and falsehood. Or he may hope to share their luxury, which is downright lawlessness. (A discussion of what is permissible to accept from the riches of magistrates and what is not permissible, especially such things as jobs and rewards, will be taken up in the Book on the Lawful and the Unlawful). In short, their company is a source of evil and it is, therefore, necessary for the learned men of the hereafter to be careful and beware.

The Prophet said, “He who goeth out to the desert to live becometh hardy and he who devoteth himself to the chase becometh unmindful, while he who frequenteth the company of magistrates is led astray.1 And again, “Ye will have rulers some of whom ye will find out and then reject. He that rejecteth them will be acquitted and

1.      Al-Tirmidhi, Fitan, 69.


he that abhorreth them will be saved. But he that approveth of their ways and followeth their example will be rejected by Allah.” “Shall we then fight them?” the Prophet was asked. “No”, he replied, “not as long as they pray.”1

Sufyan al Thawri said, “There is in hell a valley which is not inhabited except by the Qur’an readers who frequent the palaces of the king.” Hudhayfah said, “Expose not yourselves to temptation!” He was then asked, “What temptation?” “The gates of the rulers,” he replied, “into which you enter giving your approval to their lies and praising them for virtues they do not possess.”

The Apostle of Allah also said, “As long as the learned men associate not with the rulers, they are the deputies of the Apostles of Allah over His servants. But when they associate with rulers they betray the Apostles. Beware, therefore, of them and avoid them.” (This tradition was related by Anas).

Al-A’mash was once told, “You have revived knowledge through your many disciples.” But he said, “Wait! One-third of these disciples pass away before its knowledge matures; another, which hangs around the gates of the rulers, is the worst of all men; while of the remainder only a few succeed.” For this reason S‘aid ibn-al-Musayyab said, “If you see a learned man frequent the houses of the rulers, beware of him because he is a thief.” Al-Awza’i said, “There is nothing more hateful to Allah than a learned man who frequents the house of a governor.

The Apostle of Allah also said, “The worst learned men frequent the houses of the rulers while the best rulers frequent the houses of the learned men.” Makhul al-Dimashqi said, “He who has studied the Qur’an and mastered the science of religion yet associates with rulers and flatters them for gain will wade through a sea of fire in the midst of hell and will cross in that flaming sea as many steps as he had taken in the company of rulers.”

1. AI-Tayalisi, No. 1595.


Samnun1 once said, “How stupid is the learned man who is continually sought for in his circle but is never found there; and when the caller inquires about his whereabouts he is said to be at the governor’s house.” He also said, “I often heard it said that whenever it is discovered that a learned man is fond of this world, people should immediately suspect the sincerity of his religion. Finally I began to do the same myself, so that henceforth I never called on a governor without taking myself to task for it on my leaving him; I usually found that I was to blame despite the face that, as you well know, I have always confronted him with rude and harsh words and repeatedly contradicted his wishes. Still more I had hoped to be spared altogether the humiliation of calling on him, although I have received nothing, not even a drink of water, from him.” Continuing, Samnun said, ‘Nevertheless the learned men of our time are even worse than the learned men of Israel: they tender the ruler cheap advice and tell him the thing which would please. Were they to remind him of his obligations and of the things wherein lies his salvation, he would have found them boring, and would have disliked their visits to him. Yet this would have been their own salvation before the Lord.”

Al-Hasan al-Basri said, “There lived before your time a man who had embraced Islam at a very early date and who had enjoyed the company of the Apostle.” (‘Abdullah ibn-al-Mubarak held that al-Hasan al-Basri had in mind S‘ad ibn abi-Waqqas). “He did not frequent the company of governors; on the contrary he avoided them altogether. And so one day his sons pointed out to him that men whose Islam was not as old as his and who, unlike himself, did not enjoy the company of the Prophet, frequent the company of governors, and asked him why he did not do the same. He replied and said, ‘O my sons! Shall I go and stand by a stinking corpse surrounded by men? By Allah! If I can help it I shall never join them.’ Then his sons said, ‘We shall then die of starvation, father.’ To which he replied, ‘I would rather starve to death as a believer than die as a fat hypocrite’.” Al-Hasan then remarked, ‘By Allah he beat them,

l.             Abu-al-Qasim Samnun ibn-Hamzah, died before A.H. 297/A.D. 909-10; see al-Baghdadi, Tarikh, Baghdad, Vol. IX, pp. 234-37.




because he had realized that beneath the sod, the flesh and the fat of the man rather than his beliefs, decay.” This implies that those who frequent the company of governors can never escape hypocrisy which is contrary to faith and beliefs.

Abu-Dharr once said to Salamah,1 “O Salamah, frequent not the company of rulers because you get nothing of their wealth without their robbing you of something better of your religion.” As a matter of fact this constitutes a great temptation which confronts learned men and places in the hand of Satan a terrible instrument which he can use against them, especially in the case of the learned man who has a pleasing voice and an attractive speech. Satan persists in whispering in his ear that through his preaching and visits to them he may be able to turn them away from injustice and to induce them to observe the dictates of the law, until finally the learned man imagines that his visits to governors are an integral part of religion. However, no sooner does he call on the governors than he begins to pay them compliments and flatter them with praise and eulogy, wherein lies the destruction of religion. Thus it is said that when the true learned men acquire knowledge they go to work accordingly and when they go to work they become absorbed in their work, and when they become absorbed in their work they lose their interest in this world, and when they lose interest in this world they seek the way of Allah, and when they seek the way of Allah they turn their back and flee from the world.

‘Umar ibn-‘Abd al-‘Aziz wrote to al Hasan saying, “Peace be upon you. Recommend to me some on whom I can call for aid to enforce the ordinances of Allah.” Al-hasan replied, “The people of religion will have nothing to do with you, and of the people of this world you will have none. Seek, therefore, the noble for they will not dishonour themselves by committing treason.” If it is the duty of the people of religion to stand aloof even from such a ruler as ‘Umar ibn-‘Abd-al-‘Aziz who was the greatest ascetic of his time, how then can it be fitting for them to seek and associate with other rulers?

1.      Ibn-al-Akwa’, (A.H. 74/A.D. 693-94): see ibn-Qutaybah, p. 615; ibn-Sa‘d, Vol. IV, Pt. 2, pp. 38.41.


The early learned men, such as al-Hasan al-Basri, a1-Thawri, ibn-al-Mubarak, al-Fuadayl,1 Ibrahim ibn-Adham, and Yusuf ibn-Asbat2, repeatedly censored the learned men of this world, both Makkans and Syrians, either for their fondness for this world or for associating with rulers.

Another characteristic expected of the learned man is that he not be impatient to give his opinion but on the contrary, whenever possible, think twice and be extremely careful. Only when he is asked about something which he knows to be explicity expressed in the Qur’an or tradition, or definitely accepted by catholic consent (ij‘ma’), or analogy (qiyas), should he give his opinion. But whenever he is confronted with something about which he has some doubt, he should say, “I do not know”. If he is asked about something on which he has formed an opinion through independent interpretation (ijtihad) and speculation (takhmin), he should be careful not to commit himself but refer the question to someone else who is more capable than himself. This is wisdom itself because the danger of undertaking independent interpretation is very great.

According to one tradition. “Knowledge comprises three parts: the expressed word of the Qur’an, the observed Usage of the Prophet, and finally a great deal which I do not know.”3 Al-Sh‘abi said. “I do not possess even the half of all knowledge.” Therefore the reward of him who will abstain from speech where he does not know out of respect to Allah will not be less than that of him who will speak where he knows, because to confess one’s ignorance is the most difficult thing for man to do. Yet this was the custom of the Companions and the Fathers. Thus whenever ibn-‘Umar was asked to give an opinion on anything he used to say, “Go unto the governor in whose hand are the affairs of men and place the responsibility upon him.” Ibn-Mas‘ud said. “He who would express an opinion on every

1.      Ibn-‘Iyad, (A.H. 187/A.D. 803); see ibn-Qutaybah, p. 256.

2.      Died after A.H. 190/A.D. 806; see al-Fihrist, p. 184; al-Sha‘rani, Vol. 1, pp. 52-53.

3.      Cf ibn-Majah, Intro. 8.



question put to him is truly mad.” And again, “The refuge of the learned man lies in the words ‘I do not know.’ Whenever he abandons this refuge he will be bested.” Ibrahim ibn-Adham said, “There is nothing more formidable to Satan than the learned man who, in both speech and silence, manifests his knowledge. Of him Satan would say, ‘Behold his silence is more formidable than his speech’.”

Someone, describing the abdal,1 said, “Only when gnawed by the pangs of hunger do they eat; only when overcome by lack of sleep do they rest; and only when the need for speech is imperative do they speak.” In other words they do not speak unless they are asked and even then they will not talk if they could find someone to answer for them. If it should become imperative for them to speak they will open their mouths and reply. They considered the practice of starting to speak before being asked a manifestation of a latent lust for flourish.

As ‘Ali and ‘Abdullah ibn-‘Abbas once passed by a man who was addressing a crowd they said, “This man is saying: ‘Know me O ye people.” Someone has said that to ask the true learned man a question is as difficult as the extraction of one of his molar teeth. lbn-‘Umar used to say, “Do you wish to use us as a bridge by which you could cross over to Hell?” Abu-Hafs al-Naysaburi2 once said, “The true learned man is he who, when asked a question, would hesitate to reply lest he be told on the day of resurrection, ‘From whence have

1.      Also budala’, sing. bidi, badal and Badil. A degree in the Sufi hierarchical order of saints, who, unknown to the masses, participate by means of their powerful influence in the preservation of the arrangement of the universe. Others hold that the abdal are certain righteous men of whom the world is never destitute; when one dies, Allah substitutes another in his place. They are seventy in number, forty of whom are in Syria and thirty in other countries. Still another group holds that they are substitutes for and successors of the prophets and are seven in number. Through them Allah takes care of the seven climates. They are respectively the successors of Abraham, Moses, Aaron, Idris (Enoch). Joseph, Jesus, and Adam. See T’arifat, p. 44; Dict. of Tech. Tetms. pp.164-48; I goldziher, art. “Abdal” in Encyclopaedia of Islam. Cf. also Kashf al-Mahjub, p. 214.

2.      ‘Umar ibn-Salim al-Haddad, (A.H. 270/A.D. 883-4); see al-Sha‘rani, Vol. I, 70-71.



you answered the questions (which were put to you)?’’’ Whenever he was asked a question, Ibrahim al-Taymi1 used to weep and say, “Is it because you could find no one else that you seek me?”

Abu al-‘Aliyah al-Riyahi,2 Ibrahim ibn-Adham, and Sufyan al-Thawri used to carry on discussions with two or three men or thereabout, but the moment the number increased beyond that they would stop their discussion and depart.

The Apostle once said, “I do not know whether ‘Uzayr3 was a prophet or not: nor whether Tubba4 was accused or not; nor do I know whether dhul-al-Qarnayn5 was a prophet or not.” And when he was asked about the best and worst spots on earth he replied that he did not know, and put the question to Gabriel on the latter’s next visit and Gabriel too declared that he did not know and had to wait until Allah made known to him that the best spots on earth were the mosques and the worst were the market-places.6

Ibn-‘Umar used to reply to one question out of every ten he was asked, while ibn-‘Abbas used to answer nine and decline to reply to the tenth. There were also, among the jurists, men who said, ‘We do not know’ more frequently than ‘We know’. Among these were

1.      Died in prison in A.H. 92/A.D. 710-11, when he was locked up by al-Hajjaj; see al-Fihrist,p. 183; ibn-Sa‘d, Vol. VI, pp. 199-200; al-Sha‘rani, Vol. I, pp. 35-26.

2.      Rufay’, (A.H. 90 A.D. 709); see ibn-Sa‘d, Vol. VI, Pt. I, pp. 81-85; iibn-Qutaybah, p. 231; al-Sha‘rani Vol. I, p. 30.

3.      Usually identified with Ezra the scribes. See Surah, IX: 30 Jami ‘al-Bayan, Vol. III, pp. 19-21, Vol. X, pp. 78-79; al-Tha‘alibi, pp. 329-333; Bernhard Heller art. “Uzair” in the Encyclopaedia of Islam.

4.      The royal title of the kings of the second Himyarite Kingdom (ca. A.D. 300-525, interrupted only by the first Abyssinian period, A.D. 340-78) that has survived in Muslim literature.

5.      Alexander the Great. Mentioned in Surah XVII: 82, 85, 93, where he s invested with a divine commission for the extirpation of impiety and idolatry. Later legend makes him a prophet. See Jami’ al-Bayan, Vol. XVI, PP. 7-12; al-Tha‘alibi, pp. 345-56; E. Mittwoch, art. “Dhu‘l-karnain” in the Encyclopaedia of Islam.

6.      Muslim, Masajid, 288.



Sufyan al-Thawri, Malik ibn-Anas, Ahmad ibn-Hanbal, al-Fudayl ibn-‘Iyad, and Bishr ibn-al-Harith.

‘Abd-al-Rahman ibn-abi-Layla1 once said that he had met in the Madinah Mosque one hundred and twenty of the Companions of the Apostle of Allah, not one of whom, on being asked a question or invited to express an opinion, would answer but would rather have one of his colleagues spare him the responsibility. And according to another report it was usual for each one of them, on being asked a question, to refer it to his colleague who in turn would do the same, and so on, until it had gone all around the Companions and had finally come back to the first.

It has been related that one of the refugees of the mosque vestibule (Ashab al-Suffah)2 was given a roasted head of a calf, although he was in a dire need for food he would not touch it but passed it on to one of his colleagues who in turn passed it on to another, and so on, until it had finally come back to the first refugee. See, then, how things have become now very different among the learned men. Thus the repulsive things have now become desirable and the desirable, no longer sought.

Attesting to the value of caution in undertaking the responsibility of giving judgment and expressing legal opinions is the authentic tradition which says, “People will not be judged except by three: a governor, a deputy, and an intruder.” Someone has related that the Companions used to decline four things: the imamate, legacies


1.           A.H. 83/A.D. 702; ibn-Sa‘d, Vol. VII, pp. 74-7; ibn- Khallikan, Vol. I, p. 492.

2.           Better known as Ahl al-Suf fah. Among the believing Makkans who had accompanied the Prophet on his migration to al-Madinah and among those who came from other places, there were some who were destitute, without means or shelter. They, therefore, encamped under suffah (the northern part of the mosque which was covered with a roof but had open sides). Here they lived and were provided with food and clothing by the community and were called the guests of Islam (adyaf al-Islam). In later times they became highly venerated See Hikyat al Awliya ; Vol. I, p. 337, Vol. II, p. 39; Reckendorf, art. “Ahl al-Suffa” in the Encyclopaedia of Islam.



(wasiyah), deposits (wadi ‘yah), and the handing down of legal opinions (fatwa or futya). Another said, that among jurists, the quickest to hand down a legal opinion is the least learned among them, and the most reluctant is the most religious.

The activities of the Companions and their followers (al-tabi‘un) were confined to five things: reading the Qur’an, building mosques, glorifying (dhikr) Allah, enjoining good, and forbidding evil because of what they heard the Prophet say concerning the son of Adam, namely that, with the exception of three things, all that he says will be held against him. These three are: to enjoin good, to forbid evil, and to glorify Allah. Said Allah, “In most of their secret talk is nothing good; but only in his who enjoineth almsgiving, or that which is right, or concord among men.”1

A certain learned man saw, in his sleep, one of the speculative jurists (ashab al-ra‘y) of al-Kufah and asked him, “What do you now think of your opinions and theories?” Thereupon the speculative jurist turned his face in agony and said, “We have neither found it worthwhile nor have we liked its outcome.” Describing such men abu-Hasan2 said, “Any one of them would readily express his opinion on problems which would have induced ‘Umar ibn-al-Khattab to summon all the men who took part in the battle of Badr for consultation.” Except under compelling circumstance silence continued to be the practice of the learned. We are told in our tradition, “If ye see a man given to silence and asceticism seek him because he teacheth wisdom.”

It has also been said that the learned men are either ordinary men who hand down legal opinions and are the close friends of rulers or distinguished learned men who are well versed in theology and the works of the heart and spend their lives in the solitude of oratories (zawaya)3 throughout the world.

1.      Surah, IV: 114.

2.      Ibn-Hasan in B and C, but more correctly abu-Hasin ‘Uthman ibn-‘Asim ibn-Hasin. (A.H. 128/ A.D. 745-46); see ibn-S‘ad, Vol. VI, p. 224.

3.      Sing, zawiyah.




It was customary to liken Ahmad ibn-Hanbal to the Tigris from the water of which everyone drew, and Bishr ibn-al-Harith to a covered well of fresh water visited by a single person at a time. It was also the custom to describe a certain individual as a learned man, another as one who disputes (mutakallim), a third as given to more disputation (kalam), and a fourth as given more to work (‘amal). Abu-Sulayman (al-Darani) once said, “Knowledge is closer to silence than to loquacity.” It was also said, “When knowledge increases loquacity decreases, but when the latter increases the former decreases.”

Salman (al-Farisi)1 once wrote to abu-al-Darda’, to whom he had been united by the Prophet in the ties of brotherhood,2 saying, “O my brother! I have been told that you have been practising medicine and treating patients. Now if thou be really a physician, speak, for in that would be assurance and healing. But if thou be only a practitioner, for Allah’s sake, do not kill any Muslim.” Henceforth abu-al-Darda gave no more medical advice. Whenever Anas was asked anything he used to say, “Ask our master, al-Hasan.”3 And whenever men would inquire of ibn-‘Abbas it was his custom to say, “Ask Jabir ibn-Zayd”,4 while ibn-‘Umar would say, “Ask Sa‘id ibn-al-Musayyab.”

It has been related that a certain Companion recited twenty traditions in the presence of al-Hasan al-Basri. He was then asked to explain them but he demurred and said that he had nothing to add. Thereupon al-Hasan proceeded to explain them one by one and all were amazed at his excellent commentary and erudition. Equally amazed, the Companion reached down and picked up a handful of pebbles and throwing them at the company exclaimed, “How dare you ask me about learning when you have this great authority in your midst?”

1.           A close Companion of the Prophet. The date of his death uncertain but is generally placed toward the end of A.H. 35/A.D. 556. See ibn-Sa‘d, Vol. IV Pt.1, pp. 53-67.

2.           See al-Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 64.         

3.           Al-Basri.

4.           Al-Azdi, (A.H. 103/A.D. 721-22); see ibn-Sa‘d, Vol. VII, Pt.1., pp.130-33.



Another characteristic expected of the learned man is that he devotes the greatest part of his attention to esoteric knowledge, the observation (muraqabah) of the heart, the path of the hereafter and how to journey thereon, as well as to an abiding faith in finding that path through self-mortification (mujahadah) and observation. For self-mortification leads to contemplation (mushahadah), and through the intricate details of the sciences of the heart fountains of wisdom will gush forth. Books and formal education are of little help in this field because the wisdom which passes all understanding is only achieved through self-mortification, observation and watching, the active fulfilment of outward and inward duties, coming before Allah (julus) in solitude (khalwah) and bringing the heart before His presence (hudur) through pure reflection (fikr) and sole devotion to Him. This is the key of illumination (ilham) and the fountainhead of revelation (kashf). For while many a student has persisted in his studies but was unable to go beyond the words he had heard, many have confined their attention in their studies to what was important and were active in works, and bent on the observation of their hearts; consequently Allah has blessed them with wisdom which passes all understanding. For this reason the Prophet said, “He who would act according to his knowledge would be rewarded by Allah with further knowledge.” It was also said in one of the books of the ancients, “O children of Israel! Say not that knowledge is in the heavens; who then will bring it down to earth? Nor say that it is in the mighty deeps of the earth; who then will bring up to heaven? Nor say that it is beyond the seas: who then will bring it across the waves? Verily knowledge is in your hearts. Follow, therefore, before me in the manner of the angels (ruhaniyun) and adopt the ways of the saints (siddiqun). Then will I pour of My knowledge into your hearts until they overflow with wisdom.”


Sahl-ibn-‘Abdullah al-Tustari once said, “The learned men, the worshippers, and the ascetics departed from this life with their hearts closed; only the hearts of the saints and the martyrs were opened.” He quoted the words of Allah when He said, “And with Him




are the keys of the secret things; none knoweth them but He.”1 And had it not been for the fact that the enlightenment of the heart of him who has a heart with the inner light determines the esoteric knowledge (‘ilm al-zahir) the Prophet would not have said, “Consult thy heart whenever they should recommend something to thee and give thee a dispensation to do it.” Then he said on the authority of his Allah, “The servant will continue to draw near unto Me with supererogatory works and meritorious deeds (nawafil) until he wins My favour, at which time I shall be his ears and his eyes.”2 Many are the subtle meanings of the mysteries of the Qur’an which dawn upon the hearts of those who have devoted themselves to invocation (dhikr) and reflection (fikr), but are not found in the books of commentary and remain unknown to the best commentators. Yet when such meanings are revealed to the watchful devotee (murid) and are then brought to the attention of commentators they would deem them good and would realize that they are the outcome of the workings of a pure heart and the gracious blessings of Allah on the high mind which aspires to Him. Similarly the science of revelation (mukashafah) and the secrets of the science of practical religion (mu ‘amalah) as well as the subtleties of the passing thoughts (khawatir) of the heart are, each and every one of them, seas the depths of which are too great to be sounded and can be traversed by seekers only to the extent to which each of them has been given the power and the ability to do good. Describing such men, ‘Ali, in the course of a long conversation, said, “The hearts are like vessels; the best among them is that which can hold the most of good. Men are of three kinds: divine (rabbani) learned men, seekers of knowledge for the hope of salvation, and rude ruffians who follow every cry and are swayed by every passing wind. They follow not the light of knowledge and stand not on its firm foundation. Verily knowledge is better than wealth; for while you guard wealth, it is knowledge which guards over you. Knowledge increases by spending while wealth diminishes therewith. Knowledge is a religion worthy of acceptance. Through it man is assured of the ability to live in accordance with the will of Allah in this life and of kindly words from his fellowmen after his death. Knowledge governs while wealth is governed.

1.      Surah VI: 59.

2.      Al-Bukhari, Riqaq, 38.

With the loss of wealth its value vanishes and its hoarders are dead even while they live. On the other hand the learned men will live as long as time shall last.” Taking a deep breath and pointing to his breast, ‘Ali said, “Herein is abundant knowledge, but I can find no one to carry it on. Instead I find seekers who I cannot trust; they exploit religion for worldly gain, employ the gifts of Allah for fastening their yoke on His saints (awliya), and exalt themselves therewith over His people. I find men who follow the righteous but, for the least matter, become the victims of doubt and scepticism. They have neither understanding nor insight. I find gluttons guilty of indulgence, easily led in the ways of lust. I find men lured by the desire to amass wealth and hoard it, who follow their appetite and have closer resemblance to grazing cattle than to human beings. On my Allah! Thus will knowledge perish when its people die. But the world will not be destitute of men who will champion the cause of Allah, some openly in public while others secretly for fear of persecution, lest the proofs and evidence of existence be nullified. How many are they and where are they to be found? Such men boast of the smallest number but in worth they are the greatest. They have no equals among men; their strength lies in their heart. Through them Allah will preserve the proofs of His existence until they entrust His testament to their successors or plant its seeds in the hearts of their fellow-saints. With their knowledge they attacked the basic problem and arrived at the core of the truth, penetrating what the pampered have deemed inaccessible and delighting in what the foolish have feared. They go through this life with bodies, the spirits of which look for heaven. They are the saints of Allah among His people, His trustees and deputies on earth, and the missionaries (du‘ah) who summon men to His religion.” He then wept and said, “Oh how much I long to see them!” What he mentioned at the end is the description of the learned men of the hereafter, the greater part of whose knowledge is obtained through works and continued self-mortification.

Another characteristic of the learned man is that he should be greatly concerned with the strengthening of his faith (yaqin) which is the mainspring of religion. Said the Apostle of Allah, “Faith is belief in its entirety.” Acquiring the science of faith is, therefore, indispensable. By this I mean its rudiments which, when acquired, wi11 open its path for the heart. For this reason the Prophet said, “Acquire faith.” This means that you should associate with those who have faith, receiving from them the science of faith, and persisting in following their example so that your faith may wex strong as has theirs. Furthermore a little faith is better than much work. Thus when the Prophet was consulted concerning a man of much faith and many sins and another who was steadfast in worship but had little faith, he said, “There is none without sin. But anyone who is intelligent by nature and also has faith will not suffer from sin, because whenever he sins he will repent and ask forgiveness. He will then be forgiven and left enough virtue wherewith he will enter Paradise.” For this reason the Prophet said, “Verily among the things of which you have been given the least, are faith and patience. Whoever has been given his share of these two would not care what he had missed of night prayer and day fasting.” In the testament of Luqman to his son we read, “O my son! Work is not possible except through faith. Man does not accomplish except in proportion to his faith, and does not fail except when it wanes.” Yahya ibn-Mu‘adh said, “Monotheism (tawhid) brings forth light and polytheism (shirk), fire. The light of monotheism will wipe out the offences of the monotheism more completely than the fire of polytheism will wipe out the good deeds of the polytheists.” By the light of monotheism, Yahya meant faith. Allah also referred to those who have faith in several places in the Qur’an and pointed out that through faith they receive His blessings and the happiness of the hereafter.

You may say, “What, then, is the meaning of faith (yaqin), its strength, and its weakness, since it should first be understood before it can be sought and studied?” Then you should know that the word (yaqin) is a homonymous term which two different groups of people apply to two distinct meanings.

To the philosophers (huzzar) and scholastic theologians (muttakallimun) the terms yaqin signifies lack of doubt (i.e. certainty). The readiness of the person to believe a thing falls into four states:


The first is where the evidence for believing and disbelieving is even; it is described by doubt. Thus when you are asked whether or not Allah is going to punish a certain person whose manner of life is not known to you, are not prepared to affirm or deny either for both are equally possible. Such a state is called doubt (shak).

The second state is where you are more inclined to accept one position while realizing that the contrary is possible. But this possibility does not prevent you from giving preference to the former. For example you may be asked whether a certain person whom you know for righteousness and piety will be punished or not if when he dies he is still the same? Because of his evident righteousness you are more inclined to believe that he will not be punished. Nevertheless you admit the possibility that something which requires punishment may have been concealed in his secret life. This admission equals the inclination but does not rule out the possibility that it is the more likely. Such a state is described by the term conjecture (zann).

The third state obtains when one is inclined to believe a thing so earnestly that he is taken up by it to such an extent that nothing else seems possible to him and if such a thing ever comes to his mind, he will refuse to believe it. He does not do this because of any definite knowledge; for if he would only examine more carefully the first two states, namely that of doubt and conjecture, he would more readily admit other possibilities. Such a state is described as a belief approaching certainty (i’tiqad muqarib li-l yaqin), which is similar to the belief of the common folk in all legal matters (shar‘i ‘at), i.e. they accept as fact that which is simply hearsay. Thus every group is certain of the authenticity of its own system (madhhab) and the infallibility of its own imam or leader. Should any one member of these groups be reminded of the possibility that his imam might be mistaken he would resent it very much and refuse to admit.

The fourth state is that of definite knowledge (m‘arifah haqiqiyah) resulting from evidence which leaves no place for doubt or any possibility of doubt. When doubt or any possibility of doubt are ruled out of the state of certainty (yaqin) obtains. As an example


of this state we may cite the following: When a wise man is asked, “Is there anything eternal (qadim) in existence (wujud)?” he will not be able to affirm or deny the question instantly because the eternal is not perceived by the senses (ghayer mahsus) unlike, for example, the sun and moon which are so perceived. Furthermore the fact that something eternal exists is not axiomatic in the same way as the fact that two is greater than one is axiomatic; rather it is like the fact that the origination (huduth) of anything originated (hadith) is impossible without a cause (sabab), which is also axiomatic but in a different way. It is therefore the duty of the mind to hesitate to accept spontaneously and intuitively the existence of the eternal. But there are some who may hear these things and on such authority accept them without question, and continue to believe them. This is the belief (i‘tiqad) which coincides with the state of all the common folk.

There are others who believe only through evidence. These are told that if nothing eternal exists then all existing things are originated; and if all existing things are originated then they are originated without a cause, or some of them are so originated, all of which is impossible and what leads to the impossible is itself impossible. Therefore, out of sheer necessity, the mind is compelled to believe in the existence of something eternal. For there are only three positions: that all existing things are eternal; that all are originated; that some are eternal and some are originated. If all are eternal the question will have been answered since all are held to the eternal. But if all are originated we shall have to accept the impossible, namely origination without a cause. Consequently the third and first positions are established. Every kind of knowledge thus obtained is called certainty (yaqin), whether it has been obtained through reasoning (nazir) such as that above; or through the mind instinctively, as the impossibility of any originated existence without a cause; or through tradition, as the knowledge that Makkah exists; or through experimentation, such as our knowledge that cooked scammony is a laxative; or through some evidence, as we have already stated. Both the philosophers and the scholastic theologians require the lack of doubt before they use this term. Every part of knowledge which is free from doubt is called certainty (yaqin). Consequently certainty is


never described with weakness because there are no degrees in the negation of doubt.


           The second application of the term (yaqin) is that of the jurists and the Sufis as well as most of the learned men. In it, no attention is paid to either conjecture or doubt but rather to the fact that it takes hold of and prevails over the mind so that it is something said that so and so does not believe in death, although there is no doubt in it, and another has a strong faith that his livelihood is incoming, although it is quite possible that it will never accrue. Thus whenever the soul inclines to the acceptance of anything which prevails over the heart and takes hold of it, and as a result becomes the ruler and dispenser of the soul either by urging it to action or by forbidding therefrom, such a thing is called faith (yaqin).


           Undoubtedly all men agree concerning the certainty of death and entertain not the slightest doubt regarding its imminence. Yet there are some among them who heed not its approach nor prepare for its advent as though they were not sure of it. Some, on the other hand, are so obsessed by the fear of death that they have directed all their attention towards preparation for it, leaving thereby no room for anything else. Such a state is described as strength of faith. For this reason someone has said, “I have seen nothing so certain and at the same time so completely unheeded as death.” In accordance with this terminology faith (yaqin) may be described as either strength or weakness.


When we said that it was for the learned men of the hereafter to expend their efforts in the strengthening of the yaqin we had in mind both meanings, namely the negation of doubt (i.e. certainty and the giving of full power and control to the yaqin over the soul until it becomes the dominant ruler over it and sole dispenser of affairs (i.e. faith).

When you understand this, you will perceive what we mean when we shall say that yaqin may be described in three different fashions, as to strength and weakness, greatness and littleness, and finally clearness and vagueness.


As to strength and weakness they are applied to the second technical meaning of yaqin, (namely faith), in so far as faith prevails over and takes hold of the heart. The degrees of faith in respect to strength and weakness are unlimited, and the extent to which people will prepare for death varies in accordance with the extent to which their faith may differ in regard to these same terms (namely, strength and weakness).

The existence of varying degrees of clearness and vagueness within the first technical use of the term yaqin, (namely certainty), cannot be denied. They exist in the first state, i.e. doubt, as well as in the second, i.e. conjecture. In neither of these could their existence be denied. Nor could the existence of these varying degrees of clearness and vagueness be denied even where doubt has been dispelled. For example you can readily understand that there is a difference between your belief in the existence of Makkah and that of Fadak,1 or between your acceptance of the historicity of Moses and that of Joshua (Yusha),2 although you do not really doubt either because the authority for both is tradition. Yet the one is clearer and more vivid in your mind than the other, because its evidence is greater since more historians have mentioned it.

The same thing is true of the philosopher (nazir) in connexion with any theory arrived at through deduction; because what he surmises through the evidence of one proof is not as clear in his mind as that which he establishes through the evidence of several proofs, although both are equal in the negation of doubt. This, however, is sometimes denied by the scholastic theologian who draws his knowledge from books and hearsay sources and does not take into consideration what he already knows regarding the variations in those states.

As to littleness and greatness they relate to the appurtenances (muta‘alliqat) of the yaqin. For example a person’s knowledge may

1.      A small village about six miles north of Madinah. It figured in early Muslim history. See Yaqut, Buldan, Vol. III, pp. 855-58.

2.      Not mentioned by name in the Qur‘an but it is held that Surah, XVIII: 59 refers to him.




be described as greater than that of another which means that his learning is greater. For this reason the learned man may be very well versed in all the contents of the law or in only a part of it.

If you then say that you have understood yaqin, its strength and weakness, greatness and littleness, and clearness and vagueness in both its meanings as the negation of doubt and as the taking hold of the heart, and ask what its appurtenance comprise, what the means whereby it is secured are, and how it can be sought (because unless you know how and where to seek it you cannot secure it), then you should know that what the prophets handed down belongs in its entirety to the means whereby the yaqin is secured. For yaqin represents a specific knowledge while its appurtenances are the bits of information which are contained in the law, and there is no hope of ever counting them. Nevertheless I shall point out some which constitute the major appurtenance.

One of these is the belief in the unity of Allah (al-tawhid). It is acknowledged that all things have come from Allah, the Cause of all causes (musabbib al-asbab), paying no attention to the secondary causes (wasai’t) and acknowledging that they are all subject to the will of Allah and have no will of their own. He who believes this has yaqin. If, over and above his belief, all possibilities of doubt are removed from his heart, then he possesses yaqin of the first meaning (i.e. certainty). But if, over and above his belief, a power will prevail over his heart which will remove from it all anger provoked by the secondary causes when they fail him, or gratitude to them when they serve him, and will make him regard these secondary causes merely as instruments in the hand of Allah in the same way as the pen in the hand of the benefactor when he signs his name, as well as the hand itself, is an instrument for no one will be grateful to either the pen of the hand, or be angry at them, rather he will acknowledge them as two instruments subject to the will of their master, two mediums through which the will was enforced, then he will possess yaqin of the second meaning, i.e faith.

The second yaqin is the nobler of the two and is the fruit of the


first as well as its life and value. Thus whenever man will examine the sun, moon, and stars as well as the inanimate plants, animals, and all things created, and realize that they are subject to the will of Allah in the same way as the pen is in the hand of the scribe, and that the eternal power is the source of all, the power of dependence, contentment, and resignation will prevail over his heart and he will possess yaqin, becoming free of anger, rancour, envy, and ill-temper. This is one of the doors which leads to the yaqin.

Another is confidence that Allah will guarantee to all their livelihood according to His word when He said, “There is no moving thing that moveth upon the face of the earth but its provision is from Me,”1 and faith that each individual will receive his portion. It also involves a belief that whatever has been preordained will befall the individual. Whenever this belief prevails over his heart, he will maintain his integrity while seeking a living, and neither his stint nor his greed will increase. Above all he will not regret anything which he missed. Furthermore this kind of faith (yaqin) has fostered several good works (ta‘at) and praiseworthy habits.

Another is to have one’s heart possessed by the idea that “whosoever shall wrought an atom’s weight of good shall behold it, and whosoever shall have wrought an atom’s weight of evil shall behold it.”2 In other words it is to believe in reward (thawab) and punishment (‘iqab) so that one might realize that the relation of the acts of worship to reward is like that of bread to satiety, and sin stands in relation to punishment as poison and venomous vipers stand in relation to death. So just as men, in order to satisfy their hunger, strive to obtain bread and store it, whether its quantity is small or large, so must they strive to fulfil all acts of worship, whether they be few or many. Similarly just as men avoid poisons regardless of the quantity, so must they avoid all sins, the few and the many as well as the minor and the major.

The yaqin of the first meaning, (i.e. certainty) is found among all believers while that of the second meaning, (i.e. faith), is

1. Surah, XI: 8.                                                 2. Surah, XCIX: 7-8.


characteristic of the favourites of Allah (al-muqarrabun). The fruits of this faith (yaqin) are genuine observation (muraqabah) of the heart in its moments of groping (harakat), tranquillity (saknat), and passing thoughts (khatarat), as well as extreme emphasis on piety and determined resolve to avoid all evils. The stronger the faith the stronger the resolution and the stronger the effort.

Another is the belief that Allah is constantly watching you, knowing all the cogitations of your conscience and the hidden meditation of your inward thoughts and reflections. This is accepted by every believer who possesses a yaqin according to the first meaning, namely certainty, or the negation of doubt; but its second meaning which is the one we have in mind, namely faith, is very scarce and is characteristic of the saints. Its fruit is to make man in his solitude as cultured and refined under all conditions as a man in audience with an exalted king. He fixes his eyes on the king and sits before him in silence, maintaining a polite appearance in all his doings and carefully restraining himself from the slightest thing which may violate etiquette. There will be no disparity between his inward thoughts and his outward deeds because he will realize that Allah watches his inner life just as men watch his outward behaviour. Consequently his effort to develop and purify his inner life in order to make it acceptable before the encompassing eyes of Allah should be greater than his effort to make his outward behaviour agreeable to men. This state of faith (yaqin) breeds modesty, fear, meekness, lowliness, submission, and obedience as well as other praiseworthy qualities; while these qualities are conducive to many superior good works (ta’at).

In every one of these examples the yaqin is like the tree; these qualities of the heart are like the branches which shoot out from it; and the good works and acts which result from these qualities are like the fruits and blossoms which sprout out from the branches. The yaqin, then, is the origin and the foundation, and has more kinds and variations than we have already mentioned. These we shall discuss in the Quarter on the Saving Matters of Life. For the present what we have already mentioned is enough.



Another characteristic expected of the learned man is that he be sorrowful, meek, pensive, and silent. The signs of the fear of Allah should be evident in his appearance, clothes, life, movements, and poise as well as in his speech and silence. No one will ever view him without being reminded of Allah. His face will reveal his works for the eyes of the righteous one reflect his soul. The marks of the learned men of the hereafter, too, are recognized in their faces1 which reflect traquility (sakinah), lowliness, and modesty. Thus it has been said, “Allah has not fitted a man with a garment better than submission with tranquility. It is the garment of the Prophets and the mark of the virtuous and the saints and the learned.” On the other hand to chatter and prate and to indulge in excessive laughter as well as temper and flippancy are all the outcome of a life of smugness and ease in which man becomes unmindful of Allah’s terrible punishment and great wrath. It is the practice of the children of this world who have forgotten Allah rather than that of the learned men, because, as al-Tustari said, “The learned men are of three kinds. The first kind are those who know the commandments of Allah but not the Days of Allah (ayyam Allah);2 they are the judges who rule what is lawful and what is unlawful. This knowledge does not develop fear. The second kind are those who know Allah but not His Days; they are the ordinary believers. The third kind of learned men are those who know Allah as well as His commandments and Days; they are the saints in whose hearts fear and humility prevail.” By the Days of Allah al-Tustari meant the unknown punishments which Allah inflicted and His hidden blessings which He bestowed upon the preceding ages, and which He will also visit upon the succeeding generations. Hence anyone whose knowledge encompasses this, his fear of Allah would increase and his humility would grow.

Hadrat ‘Umar once said, “Acquire knowledge and develop thereby poise, dignity, and tolerance. Humble yourselves before your teachers and let your students do the same before you. And be not

1.      Cf Surah, XLVII: 29.

2.      The Days of Allah (ayyam Allah) are the epiphanies by which He reveals His perfection. See Dict of Tech. Terms, p.1545.


arrogant in your learning lest your knowledge encourage ignorance.” It is also said, “Allah has not given any of His servants knowledge without giving him tolerance, humility, good nature, and kindliness as well.” Of such is the useful knowledge.

We also read in history that, “He to whom Allah gives knowledge, asceticism, humility, and good-nature is foremost among the pious.” And in tradition we read, “Verily there are among my people men who rejoice openly at the extent of the mercy of Allah and weep in secret for fear of His punishment. They live on the earth but their hearts are in heaven; they themselves are in this world but their minds are focussed on the hereafter. They live in tranquillity and draw near unto Allah through the means (wasa’il)1 of His grace.” Al-Hasan al Basri said, “Tolerance is the vizier of knowledge, kindliness its father, and humility its garment.”

Bishr ibn-al-Harith said, “He who seeks position through knowledge and approaches Allah while his heart is full of hatred, will be detested in heaven and in earth.” It is mentioned in the Books of Israel (al-Isra‘i liyat) that a certain wise man had composed three hundred and sixty works on wisdom and thus earned the sobriquet al hakim (the wise). Thereupon Allah revealed to the Prophet of Israel at that time saying, “Speak unto such and such a person and tell him, ‘Thus said the Lord: You have filled the earth with twaddle but you have not mentioned me in a single word: therefore I accept nothing of it.” On being so informed, the wise man repented and, abjuring his twaddle, mixed with the common folk and roamed the streets befriending all the children of Israel, and humbled himself. Then Allah revealed to the Prophet saying, “Tell him, now you have gained my favour.”

Al-Awza‘i related that Bilal ibn-S‘ad2 used to say, “Whenever you see a policeman you invoke the protection of Allah

1.      Sing, wasilah, mentioned in Surahs V: 39 and XVII: 59. Cf. Jami‘al-Bayan, Vol. VI, pp. 146-47.

2.      Died during the reign of Hisham I,(A.H.105-125/A.D.724-43).See ibn-Sa‘d, Vol. VII, Pt. 2,p.166; also ibn-Asakir, Vol. III, pp. 315-8, where his name appears as Bilal ibn-Sa‘id.



against him, but when you see the learned man of this world who curry favour with all people and hanker after position, you do not detest them although of the two the latter are the more detestable.” It has also been related that the Apostle of Allah was once asked, “Which works are the best?” He replied, “To avoid evil and persist in the praise of Allah.” He was then asked, “Who are the best companions?” To which he replied, “A companion who will help when you ask for aid, and will remember you when you forget to ask.” “Who, then, is the worst companion?” was the next question. To which he replied, “A companion who will not remember you if you do not remind him and will not help you when you ask for help.” He was then asked, “And who is the most learned man?” The Prophet replied, “He who fears Allah the most.” “Tell us, then,” they said, “who are the best among us in order that we might sit at their feet?” The Prophet replied, “Those who would remind you of Allah whenever they are seen.” They then asked, “And who are the worst?” To which Muhammad (S.A.W.) said, “Thy forgiveness, O Allah my Lord!” But they said, “Tell us, O Apostle of Allah.” He then said, “The learned men when they become corrupt.”1 The Apostle also said, “Those who have been most apprehensive in this world will, on the day of resurrection, be the most secure, while those who have wept most will laugh most, and those who have been saddest will be the happiest.”

In one of his sermons Hadrat ‘Ali said, “My conscience is pledged to Allah although I am a leader. Verily the crops of no one will wither if they were planted with piety, and the roots of no tree will thirst if it were raised with righteousness. The most ignorant man is he who has picked up haphazardly tidbits of knowledge which carried him into the darkness of sin, yet despite this and despite the fact that he has not spent a single day in study, he has been called learned by disreputable and evil men. He would go after quantity not knowing that little knowledge of the right kind is better than a great deal of it which diverts man from Allah. He would drink, as it were, from stagnant and stale waters and engage in diverse activities but to no

1.      Unidentified.


avail. Then he would sit down to teach men and to explain to them what is obscure. If, however, he would be confronted with a weighty problem he would hand down a wordy and redundant opinion which, rather than remove all ambiguity, would entangle the inquirer in a mess of confusion similar to a cobweb, and would so baffle him as to make it impossible for him to determine whether the man is right or wrong. He is rooted in ignorance and is the victim of diabolical madness. He will not decline to answer that which he does not know and thus avoid error, nor will he strive to gain a strong hold on knowledge that through its mastery he may prosper. Through his ignorance blood is shed, and through his juridical opinions unlawful adultery is rendered lawful. He is not capable of dispensing with the problems which have been submitted to him and is not equal to the task which has been delegated to his care. On such men should fall the worst punishment; they should bewail and lament their fate while they yet live.”

Hadrat ‘Ali also said, “Hold fast to knowledge when you hear it, and mix it not with jesting lest it be rejected.” One of the Fathers said, ‘Whenever man jests, his knowledge is impaired.’ It was also said, “When the teacher is so fortunate as to possess patience, humility, and good nature, the student’s lot will be perfect; similarly whenever the student possesses intelligence, good manners, and keen understanding the teacher will have nothing more to desire.” In short the qualities which the Qur’an mentions are indispensable to the learned men of the hereafter because they should study the Qur’an in order to go about doing good and not to occupy positions of power and prestige. Ibn ‘Umar said, “For a short period of time it was customary for us to be instructed in the elements of faith before the Qur’an. Whenever a Surah was revealed we would learn the lawful things it enjoined and the unlawful things it forbade, its commandments and its prohibitions, as well as those things at which we had to stop. But I have also seen men who master the text of the Qur’an before learning the elements of faith. They would read the Qur’an from beginning to end; yet they would not know what it commands and what it prohibits, nor those things at which one should stop. They


would handle these things and toss them about as though they were the most inferior dates in quality.” A similar meaning is expressed in another tradition which reads, “As Companions of the Apostle of Allah we were instructed in the elements of faith before the Qur’an; but there shall come after you people who will master the text of the Qur’an before the elements of faith; they will observe the rules of its reading according to the different dialects (huruf), but will ignore its precepts and commandments. They will say, “We read the Qur’an; who could read it better than we? We have knowledge of it; who has better knowledge of it than we? This shall be their share.” According to another version, “Those men are the most wicked among this people.”

It has been said that five qualities inferred from five verses in the Book of Allah are characteristic of the learned men of the hereafter. These qualities are fear of Allah, humility, modesty, good nature, and preference of the hereafter over this world, which is asceticism.

Fear is based on the words of Allah when He said, “Such only of His servants as are possessed of knowledge fear Allah.”1 Humility finds its authority in the words of Allah when He said, “Humbling themselves before Allah, they barter not His signs for a mean price.”2 Modesty finds its support in the following words of Allah, “And lower thy wing to the believers.”3 Good nature is inferred from the words of Allah when He said, “Of the mercy of Allah thou hast spoken to them in gentle terms.”4 Asceticism has its foundation in the words of Allah when He said, “But they to whom knowledge had been given said, ‘Woe to you! The reward of Allah is better for him who believeth and worketh righteousness!”5

When the Apostle of Allah recited the verse, “And whom Allah shall please to guide, that man’s breast shall be open to Islam,”6 he was asked what it meant and he replied, “When the light is cast into the heart the latter receives it gladly.” He was then asked,

1.  Surah, XXXV: 25.                                    2. Surah, III : 198.

3. Surah, XV: 88.                               4. Surah,III :153.

5. Surah, XXVIII : 80.                                    6. Surah, VI : 125.



 “Has that any signs?” To which he replied, “Yes. The renunciation of this world of vanity and delusion, the repair to the hereafter, and the preparation for death before it arrives.”

Another characteristic of the learned man is to have most of his study and research directed towards the science of practical religion (‘ilm al a’mal), especially such influences as would lead to its corruption, perplex the hearts, stir up doubts and provoke evil, for the basic idea of religion is to eschew evil. For this reason it was said:


Evil have I known though not 

           For evil’s sake but to avoid

Its toils; and he who knows it not

   Will surely be ensnared thereby.

The practical works are within reach of all, and the best of these works is to persist in the praise of Allah in thought and word. The difficult part, however, is to determine what things will corrupt practical religion and what things will confuse it. These things are many and its parts are numerous, while a detailed discussion of it is inevitably long. But the need for it is very great, because through these corrupting and confusing influences disaster overtakes the travellers along the path of the hereafter.

The learned men of this world, rather than attending to the problems of their day, pursue the strangest hair-splitting in judicial decisions and cases. They take special pains in formulating hypothetical cases which will probably never take place. But if some of these cases should ever take place, they will not occur in their own experiences but in those of others, in which event there will be many capable of handling them. These pressing problems which they have neglected continue to haunt them night and day, troubling their thoughts and minds, and perturb them in their actions. Thus how far removed from happiness is he who neglects pressing and intimate concerns in favour of the unnecessary concerns, of others, preferring to gain thereby the approval and the plaudits of men rather than those of Allah. Still worse, the reprobates of this world call such a person a superior man, a thorough scholar, and a versatile learned man. But



his reward from Allah is that, in this world, he will gain nothing from men’s approval of him. On the contrary, misfortunes will overshadow his happiness, and finally he will stand on the day of resurrection bankrupt, and will be filled with regret when he views the gains of the doers of good and the success of those who have won Allah’s favour. Truly this is “the complete ruin”, (which is spoken of in the Qur’an)

Al-Hasan al-Basri said, “It is agreed that the man whose words bear the greatest resemblance to those of the Prophets and whose way of life is closest to that of the Companions is he whose words are for the greater part concerned with inward thoughts, the influences which corrupt works and perplex minds as well as with the hidden and unknown qualities which characterize the appetites of the soul.”

Al-Hasan was also told, “O Abu-Sa‘id! You utter words which are never heard from others besides yourself. Whence did you get them?” He replied, “From Hudhayfah ibn-al-Yaman.” Hudhayfah was then asked, “We see that you utter words which are never heard from any of the Companions besides you. Whence did you get them?” Thereupon he replied, “From the Apostle of Allah who favoured me therewith. While others querried him about good, I querried him about evil for fear of falling therein. As to good, I realize that its knowledge will not escape me.”2 At another time the Apostle said “I have come to realize that he who knows not evil knows not good.” And according to another version, “People were wont to ask the Apostle saying, ‘O Apostle of Allah! What is the reward of him who does such and such a thing?’ and would query him regarding meritorious deeds. But I used to ask him saying, ‘O Apostle of Allah! What would corrupt such and such a thing?” When the Apostle of Allah saw that I was continually asking him about the bane of good works, he favoured me with the special knowledge.”

1.      Cf. Surahs XXII: II, XXXIX: 17.

2.      Cf Surah II: 7, XXXIII; 47, LVII: 13. These refer to the “hypocrities”of al-Madinah who professed to follow Muhammad (S.A.W.) but opposed him secretly.


Hudhayfah was also specially favoured with the knowledge of the hypocrites (al-munafiqun), and was unique in his acquaintance with the science and causes of hypocrisy and the subtleties of temptations. For that reason Hadrat ‘Umar and ‘Usman as well as the elders of the Companions used to query him about the ordinary and particular temptations. It was also customary for him to be asked about the hypocrites, and he would tell how many of them were still alive, but would not reveal their names. Hadrat ‘Umar used to ask his advice as to whether he could see in him any traces of hypocrisy, but Hudhayfah always declared him free of that affliction. Furthermore, whenever ‘Umar was invited to officiate at a funeral he would first look around and see whether Hudhayfah was present among the mourners, and if he were he would proceed with the service; otherwise he would refrain. Hudhayfah was also called the man with the inner feeling (sahib al-sirr). Thus to take care of the stations and states of the heart has always been the concern of all the learned men of the hereafter, because it is the heart which endeavours to draw near to Allah. Yet this branch of knowledge has now become unknown and forgotten to the extent that whenever a learned man would address himself to any part of it, he would be considered odd and unusual, and his efforts would be branded as the embellishments of preachers. How far and different from that are the researches which men now carry in the niceties of dialectics and argumentation! The poet was right when he said:


Many are the roads, but truth is a single path,

And those who tread this way are few;
They pass unrecognized, their goal unknown,

While slowly and steadily they press along.

Men do not know for what they were created,

                      And most of them fail to see the path of truth.

In short, most men incline toward the line of least resistance and pursue what is most agreeable to their nature, because truth is better, its discovery difficult, its attainment hard, and its road rough, especially as it pertains to the knowledge of the qualities of the heart and to its purification from blameworthy traits. It is a continual


source of torment to the spirit; he who pursues it is like the person who takes his medicine and bears its bitterness in the hope of being cured, or like the man who fasts throughout his life and suffers all the rigors involved in order to enjoy breaking his fast after death. Yet when was this path ever popular or attractive? For this reason there were in al-Basrah one hundred and twenty speakers engaged in preaching and warning, but of those engaged in the science of religion (‘ilm al yaqin), the study of the states of the heart and the qualities of the inner self, there were only six,1 among whom were al-Tustari, al-Subayhi,2 and ‘Abd-al Rahim.3 To the former there always flocked a great and numberless crowd, while to the latter only a small group which seldom exceeded ten usually came. Valuable and precious things are not fit except for the elite, and what is placed at the disposal of the mob is cheap.

Another characteristic of the learned man is that he should rely in his studies on his insight and understanding which enlighten his heart, rather than on manuscripts and books, or the blind acceptance of what he hears from others. Only the lawgiver, in what he has ordered and said and the Companions, whose deeds testify that they received their knowledge from the Prophet, should be emulated. Then when the lawgiver is emulated through the acceptance of his words and deeds, care should be taken to understand their significance (sirr). The follower performs an act simply because the lawgiver did it. But the lawgiver did not perform the act except for some particular significance inherent in it. For this reason the follower should diligently endeavour to determine the significance of those deeds and words, because if he is satisfied with the mere retention of what he hears he is a vessel of information and not a learned man. For this, reason it was customary to describe a person who was given to the mere retention of information in his memory, without ever thing to

1.      Six in B, three in other copies.

2.      Unidentified.

3.      ‘Abd-al-Rahman according to B: unidentified. Al-Ghazzali took these names, just as he had taken a great deal of the contents of the Ihya’ from the Qut-al-Qutub of Abu-Talib al-Makki. see Qut-al-Qutub (Cairo,1351), Vol. II, p. 32.



familiarize himself with its significance and wisdom, as one of the vessels of information. But he who would remove the veil from his heart and would allow it to be flooded with the light of guidance would himself become a leader to be emulated, and therefore should not blindly follow the example of others. With this in mind ibn-‘Abbas said, “There is no one except the Prophet whose knowledge is not sometimes followed and sometimes rejected.” Thus although ibn-‘Abbas had received his knowledge of jurisprudence from Zayd ibn-Thabit and had studied the Qur’an reading at the feet of Ubayy ibn-K‘ab,1 he later contradicted both in jurisprudence and Qur’an reading, respectively.

One of the Fathers said, “Whatever is handed down to us on the authority of the Apostle of Allah we accept willingly, but what we receive on the authority of the Companions we may accept and we may reject. It is, however, a different story when we consider what we receive from the followers (al-tabi’un), because they were men like ourselves. The superiority of the Companions lie in the fact that they witnessed the circumstances under which the Prophet had lived, and their hearts were endued with the means of perception. Consequently their first hand knowledge of these circumstances and their ability to perceive and understand led them to that which is right in a manner beyond description. The light of prophecy shone upon them to a degree sufficient to guard them, for the most part, from error.

Furthermore if dependence on heresay is unsatisfactory imitation, dependence on books and compositions are worse, because they are a recent novelty, none of which existed during the time of the Companions and the early days of the followers (al-tabi’un). These books were all composed after the year 120 of the Hijrah (A.D. 738) after the death of all the Companions and most of the followers, and after the passing away of Sa‘id ibn-al-Musayyab (A.H. 94/A.D. 713),

1.      Famous Qur’an reader (ca. A.H. 32/A.D. 652-3). See ibn-Qutayba pp. 131-2; al-Fihrist, p. 27, Shams-al-Din al-Jazari, Ghayat al-Nihayah fi Tabaqat al-Qurra’, ed. Gotthelf Bergstrasser (Cairo, 1933); Vol. I, pp. 31-2.



al-Hasan al-Basri (A.H. 110/A.D. 728), and the most illustrious of the followers. In fact, the early Muslims disliked books of traditions and disdained composition for fear that people would become dependent on those works and thereby neglect to commit their contents to memory and fail to read the Qur’an, meditate over its meaning and remember its commands. On the contrary they said, “Commit to memory as we have committed.” For the same reason Abu-Bakr as well as several of the Companions disliked the idea of committing the Qur’an in writing in the form of a book saying, “How shall we do what the Prophets did not do?” Fearing the dependence of the people on the written copies of the Qur’an, the Companions first decided to leave the Qur’an uncommitted to writing and have the people learn it from one another through oral transmission so that they might have no other worry or concern. Later, however, Hadrat ‘Umar and the other Companions, apprehensive of human weakness and laziness and fearful that disagreements concerning a word or an ambiguous (mutashabih) reading might arise, and having no authoritative origin to consult, advised that it should be committed to writing. Thereupon Abu-Bakr gave his consent and had the Qur’an collected into one volume. Nevertheless, Ahmad ibn-Hanbal was critical of Malik for compiling al-Muwatta and used to say, “He originated an innovation by doing what the Companions did not do.”

It has been said that the first person in Islam ever to compose anything was ibn-Jurayj1 who wrote a book on history (al-athar) and the dialects of Qur’an (huruf al-tafasir) which he based on what he had heard from Mujahid,2 ‘Ata, and the companion of ibn-‘Abbas at Makkah. Then came the work of Ma‘mar ibn-Rashid al-San‘ani3 which was a compilation of traditions embodying the customs of the Prophet. This was followed by the Muwatta of Malik and the Jami  (corpus) of Sufyan al-Thawri. During the fourth century (of the

1.       Abu-a’-Walid ‘Abd-al-Malik ibn-‘Abi-al-‘Aziz (A.H. I50/A.D. 767). See ibn-Qutaybah,p.246; al-Fihrist, p. 216; ibn-Khallikan, Vol. I, pp. 512-13.

2.       lbn-Jabr al-Makki al-Makhzumi (A.H. 101/A.D. 722-23). See ibn-Sa‘d, Vol. V, pp. 343-4.

3.       A.H. 153/A.D. 770. See ibn-Qtaybah, p. 252. al-Fihrist, p. 94, Tahdhib al-Asma, pp. 569-70.


Hijrah1), however, works on scholastic theology (kalam) appeared while people engaged more and more in argumentation and refutation. They developed a liking for debate and inclined to anecdotes and to their use in preaching. Consequently the science of religion (‘ilm al-yaqin) began to disappear and the science of the heart, research into the qualities of the soul, and the study of the stratagem of the devil became rare and unknown. All but the very few ignored them. Then it became the custom to call the arguing scholastic and the story-teller, who embellished his words with rhymed prose, learned. This was primarily because laymen made up their audience, laymen who could not distinguish true knowledge from that which is false, while the acts of the Companions and their learning were concealed from them and, therefore, they were unable to refute these men with them. These men, as a result, continued to enjoy the title ‘learned’ and the inheriting of such appellatives went on. At the same time the science of the hereafter became forgotten, and the difference between knowledge and disputation no longer known except to a select few who were still able to say, whenever they were told that one person was more learned than another, that the former was more teamed while the other was given to mere distinguishing between knowledge and the ability to dispute and argue. Thus did the science of religion wane during those early centuries; but how about its condition at the present time? Things have come to a point where anyone who would dare show his disapproval of the present state of affairs would run the risk of being called insane. It is therefore better for man to mind his own business and to hold his peace.

Another characteristic expected of the learned man is that he be extremely careful not to be swayed by novelties and innovations (muhdathat) despite the fact that all might agree to follow them, or be deceived by the universal acceptance gained by innovations which have sprung up since the days of the Companions. On the contrary he should be diligent in studying the conditions under which the Companions lived as well as their lives and works. He should find out to what most of them were given, whether they devoted themselves

1.      A.D. 913-1010.



to teaching, writing, debate, law, government, guardianship of mortmain properties (awqaf), execution of wills (wasaya), devouring the substance of orphans, keeping the company of rulers, and currying favour with them or rather spent their lives in fear, sorrow (huzn), reflection (tafakkur), self-mortification, observation of the outward conduct and the inner self, abstinence from both minor and major sins, determination to ascertain the hidden appetites of the soul and the stratagem of the Devil and the like in the esoteric sciences.

You should know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the most learned people of the time and those who are closest to the truth are those who resemble the Companions the most and who are best acquainted with the way of the early Muslims, because it were they who transmitted to us our faith and religion. For this reason, to the charge that he had contradicted some one by his actions, Hadrat ‘Ali replied, “The best of us are those who are most persistent in following this faith.” Therefore no one should mind contradicting the people of his day when he agrees with contemporaries of the Apostle of Allah. Furthermore men are apt to rationalize whatever they may be doing because of an instinctive disposition to do that thing, and their flesh does not allow them to admit that therein lies their loss of Paradise. Consequently they claimed that there was no access to Paradise except in the doing of it. For this reason al-Hasan al-Basri, said, “Two innovations have appeared in Islam: A man of bad judgment who holds that Paradise will be the reward only for those who see eye to eye with him, and a man of luxury and extravagance who worships this world; it is the source of all his dissatisfactions and the fountainhead of all his pleasures; he seeks nothing besides. Reject, therefore, these two for they are doomed to Hell fire. The average man finds himself hounded by a sybarite who beckons him to the luxuries of this world on the one hand, and by a faddist (sahib hawa) who calls him to follow his whim on the other hand: but Allah has saved him from both. Aspiring to be like the righteous fathers he inquires about their deeds and follows in their footsteps. thus qualifying himself for a great reward. Be, therefore, likewise.”


A tradition has been related on the authority, of ibn-Mas‘ud


with its chain of authorities going back to the Prophet (musnad), and according to another version stopping short of the Prophet (mawquf), that the Prophet said, “Of all things, two are best: the word (kalam) and faith (huda). The best word is the word of Allah (kalam Allah), and the best faith is the faith of the Apostle of Allah. And beware of innovations because of all things, they are the worst. And every innovation is a heresy, while every heresy is a sin. Verily the end will not be delayed lest you harden your hearts. Verily whatever was ordained is now impending, and whatever was not ordained will not occur.”1

In the course of his sermon, the Apostle of Allah said, “Blessed is he whose concern for his own faults keeps him from meddling with the faults of others, lives on money which he obtained without sin, associates with the learned and the wise, and shuns the people of wickedness and vice. Blessed is he who humbles himself, whose nature has been refined and whose heart has been reformed, who avoids inflicting evil upon men. Blessed is he who acts in accordance with his knowledge, who gives away the surplus of his substance and who withholds whatever is superfluous when he speaks, who lives within the law and does not overstep its bounds by introducing innovations.”

Ibn-Mas‘ud used to say, “At the end of time good faith is better than much work.” And again, “You are now in a time wherein the best among you is he who is quick in the execution of affairs, but you will come upon a time wherein the best will be the cautious and deliberative, because of the abundance of misleading things.” Truly he spoke the truth because any one who does not at the present time stop and think, but follows the crowd and does what they have done, will perish as they have perished.

Hudhayfah said, “Strange as it may seem, accepted practices of today are the taboos of a day gone by, and the taboos of today are the accepted practices of a day yet to come. As long as you know the truth and your learned men belittle it not, you will continue to

1.      Ibn-Majah, Intro., 7:2.




prosper.” Truly he spoke the truth, because most of the accepted practices of the present time were taboos during the days of the Companions. Thus among the accepted practices of our time are decorating and furnishing the mosques, and expending great sums of money on their ornate construction and fine rugs which were then considered innovations. These were introduced by the pilgrims, since the early Muslims seldom placed anything on the ground during prayer. Similarly disputation and debate are among the most honoured disciples of the day and are numbered among the best meritorious works (qarubat); nevertheless they were among the taboos at the time of the Companions. The same is true of the chanting (talhin) of the Qur’an and the call for prayer, going to excess in matters of cleanliness and being over fastidious in matters of ceremonial purity, ruling clothes unclean on petty and far-fetched grounds, and, at the same time, being lax in ruling foods lawful and unlawful as well as many other like things.

Ibn-Mas‘ud said the truth when he declared, “You are now in a time wherein passion is harnessed by knowledge, but there will come a time wherein passion will have priority over knowledge.” Ahmad ibn-Hanbal used to say, “They have discarded knowledge and followed strange things. How little is their learning! Verily Allah is our help.” Malik ibn-Anas said, “In times gone by people were not in the habit of looking into things as they do nowadays, nor did the learned men ever say that such a thing was lawful (halal) and the other unlawful (haram). But I have heard them say that one thing was desirable (mustahab) and the other undesirable (makruh). In other words they used to consider the degree to which one thing was desirable and the other undesirable, while the question of unlawfulness never arose, because the sinfulness of the unlawful was evident and clear.

Hisham ibn-‘Urwah1 used to say, “Do not ask the people of this day what innovations they have originated, because they have prepared an answer for that; rather ask them concerning the usage of

1.      Ibn-al-Zubayr (A.H. 146/A.D. 763). See ibn-Khallikan, Vol. III, pp. 132-4.


the Prophet for they are ignorant of it.” It was also the custom of Abu-Sulayman al-Darani to say, “No one who had been inspired with something good should attempt to carry it out until he finds its confirmation in the traditions of the Companions. Let him then give praise unto Allah for He has approved his intentions.” This he said, because every innovation, before its inception, strikes the ear and takes hold of the heart and cause it to deem error as truth. To conceal that, man summons the testimony of tradition to his aid. For this reason, when Marwan1 introduced the pulpit (minbar) into the sanctuary (al-musalla)2 at the time of the feast service,3 Abu Sa‘id al-Khudri4 approached him saying, “O Marwan! What is this innovation?” Marwan replied, “This is not an innovation. On the contrary this is better than the practice you advocate because the crowd has become very big, and I desire to have my voice reach all of them.” But Abu-Sa‘id objected saying, “By Allah you will never do anything better than the things I know and advocate. By Allah I shall not follow you in prayer today.” Abu-Sa‘id disapproved of the action of Marwan because the Apostle of Allah used to lean, during the sermon of the feast and the prayer for rain (al-istisqa), against a bow or a cane but not against a pulpit.5 Thus we read in the famous tradition, “Whoever will introduce an alien element into our religion, the same is an evil man.”6 In another tradition we have, “The execration of Allah and all the angels is upon him who will deceive my people.” It was then asked, “O Apostle of Allah! Who will deceive

1.      Fourth Umayyad caliph (A.H. 64-5/A.D. 683-5).

2.      A place of prayer outside the town and mainly in cemeteries. Following the Prophet it was customary to hold the service of the two feasts (al-idayn), namely al-Fitr and al-Adha, in such musallas. See al-Bukhari, al-‘idayn: 6.

3.      Either al-Fitr or al-Adha. The pulpit, as a part of the equipment of the mosque goes back to Muhammad (S.A.W.) himself who raised such a pulpit in A.H. 7/A.D. 628-9; see ibn-Sa‘d, Vol.II, Pt. 2, pp. 9-13. For the innovation of Marwan, see al-Bukhari, al-‘idayn: 6.

4.      Sa‘d ibn-Malik ibn-Sinan (A.H. 74/A.D. 693-4). See ibn-Qutaybah p. 136; Tahdhib al-Asma’, pp. 723-4.

5.      Cf. al-Bukhari, Istisqa’ : 1, 7, 18; Muslim, Istisqa’ : 1-3: abu-Dawud, istisqa’ : 7; ibn-Majah, Salah, 86:5.

6.      Cf. abu-Dawud, al-Sunnah: 5.



your people?” The Apostle replied, “He who will introduce an innovation and will lead men to follow it.”1 The Apostle also said, “Verily Allah had an angel who cries out daily saying, ‘He who violates the sunnah of the Apostle of Allah will not enjoy the benefit of his intercession’.”2 The relation of him who transgresses against religion by introducing into it innovations contrary to the sunnah to him who commits an offence is like that of him who rebels against the king and attempts to destroy his government to him who disobeys the sovereign in one particular service. The offence of the latter may be pardoned but not that of the former.

One of the learned men said, “To ignore what the Fathers have discussed is insolence, and to discuss what they have ignored is ostentatious.” Another learned man said, “Truth is not a light matter: He who oversteps its bounds, transgresses; he who falls short of it, fails; and he who aligns himself with it, is satisfied.” The Prophet said, “Follow the middle position to which the high is levelled down and the low is levelled up.” lbn-‘Abbas said, “Error is sweet to the hearts of its followers.”

Allah said, “Quit those who make their religion a sport and a pastime.”3 And again, “Shall he, the evil of whose deeds are so tricked out to him that he deemeth them good, be treated like him who seeth things aright?4 Thus everything which has been introduced since the time of the Companions, beyond the demands of need or necessity, is nothing but sport and pastime

It has been related that the Devil (Iblis)5 sent his soldiers out at the time of the Companions, but they returned to him distressed. Thereupon he asked them what the matter was, to which they replied, “We have never seen the like of these men; we cannot make any headway against them and they have worn us out.” The Devil then said, “Verily you will not be able to overcome them, because they accompanied their Prophet and witnessed the revelation of their Allah. But there will come after them another group against whom you will

1. Unidentified.            2. Unidentified.

3. Surah, VI: 69.             4. Surah, XXXV: 9.

5. From Gr. Six Boyos.


prevail.” When the followers (al-tabi‘un) came along the Devil sent his soldiers out again among them, but they returned to him disappointed and said, “We have not seen anybody more amazing than these men. We trap them into one sin after another but at the end of the day they begin to beseech the forgiveness of Allah and He answers their prayers and changes theirs sins into good works.” The Devil replied, “You will never prevail over these men because of the integrity of their belief in the unity of Allah and their obedience to the sunnah of their Prophet. But after them will come others who will delight your hearts. You will play with them as you wish, and will lead them by the reins of their passions as you please. If they will ask for forgiveness of Allah He will not grant their request; nor will they repent so that Allah might change their sins into good works.”

And so after the first century (of the Hijrah) there came another group of men among whom the Devil kindled passions, and so tricked out to them their innovations that they deemed them lawful, and set them up as their religion. They neither asked the forgiveness of Allah nor repented from their sins. Consequently their enemies prevailed over them and led them anywhere they desired.

The question may be asked, how did the person who related this know what the Devil had said especially since no one has seen the Devil or talked with him? Then you shall know that those whose hearts have been sanctified have the secrets of heaven made known to them either by inspiration (ilham) which dawns upon them from where they know not, or by actual vision (al-ru‘ya al-sadiqah) in their sleep, or in their wakefulness, which unfolds to them the mysteries through the contemplation of types (amthilah), just as in sleep. This is the highest rank, and is one of the high ranks of prophecy, just as actual vision is one part of forty-six parts of prophecy.

Beware, therefore, lest your share of this knowledge be the denial of whatever falls beyond the limits of your own finite mind, because therein the proud and boastful learned men who claim that they have encompassed all intellectual knowledge have met their doom.




In fact ignorance is better than a mind which calls for the denial of such things to the saints of Allah. For he who denies the saints such things is of necessity compelled to deny and reject the Prophets and will, therefore, be completely outside the pale of religion. In this connexion one of the gnostics (‘arif un) said, “Verily the abdal have vanished from the earth and have concealed themselves from the world, because they cannot stand the sight of the learned men of the time who in the opinion of the abdal are ignorant of Allah, but in their own opinion and in the opinion of the ignorant are deemed learned.”

Sahl al-Tustari said, “Indeed one of the greatest sins is to be unaware of ignorance.” To watch the life of the crowd and hear the words of the foolish are easier (to the abdal) than all the babel of the so-called learned.

Furthermore no words of any learned man who has pursued this world should be heeded; on the contrary whatever such a man would say should be questioned, because every man would pursue what appeals to him and would reject whatever does not agree with his desire. For this reason Allah said, “Obey not the man whose heart We have made careless of the remembrance of Us, who followeth his lusts, and whose ways are unbridled.”1 The trespassing laymen are happier than those who are ignorant of the path of religion but believe that they are learned. For the trespassing layman admits his shortcomings, asks Allah for His forgiveness, and repents of his sins, while the ignorant man who regards himself learned addresses himself to those branches of knowledge which will serve him as means whereby he will be able to gain this world through the path of religion. He neither repents of his sin nor asks the forgiveness of Allah, rather he persists in his sin until death. And since that prevails on most men, except those who have been rendered infallible by Allah, so that all hope of reforming them has disappeared, the safest thing for the cautious man of religion is to seek seclusion (‘uzlah) and solitude (infirad). This will be discussed in the Book on Seclusion.

1. Surah, XVIII: 27.


For this reason Yusuf ibn-Asbat wrote to Hudhayfah al-Mar‘ashi1, “What do you think of one who has not yet been able to find anyone to join with him in the praise of Allah who is not a criminal and companionship with him is sin?” In others words Yusuf ibn-Abas was not able to find any congenial company; and he was right, because the company of people is never free of backbiting and gossip or the necessity of overlooking evil. The best that the learned man can do is either to benefit others by his knowledge or to benefit himself by the knowledge of others. Had this poor man but realized that it was not possible for him to impart any benefit without its being tainted with the blemishes of hypocrisy and the desire of wealth and position, he would have known that the receiver of his benefit is bent on making it a means for gaining this world and an instrument for evil. In that case he would be his aid and accomplice, an auxiliary who would provide him with his tools and instruments. He would be like the merchant who would supply the brigands with their swords. For knowledge is like the sword, its proper use is in the service of good as the proper use of the sword is in the execution of raids (ghazw). Consequently no merchant is justified in selling his swords to men from whose conditions he can tell that they will employ his merchandise to carry out their highway robberies.

These, then, are twelve of the characteristics of the learned men of the hereafter, each one of which represents several of the qualities of the early learned men. Be, therefore, one of two things: either a man who possesses these qualities, or a man who, while acknowledging them admits his failure to live up to them. But never be the third: one of neither possesses these qualities nor admits his failure. Otherwise you will confuse yourself and regard religion only as a means of securing the luxuries of this world, and will liken the lives of the wicked to those of the versatile learned men. Your ignorance and rebellion will land you into the midst of those who are doomed to destruction and despair. We seek refuge in Allah against the deceit of Satan through which many have perished, and we ask to Allah to vouchsafe that we become one of those who are not deceived by this world, nor moved to deny Allah because of their conceit.


1.      A.H. 207/A.D.822; see al–Sha‘rani. Vol I, p.53.





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