Fruits for the Week

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Al-Hasan Al-Basri was born in Madinah. His beloved mother was a former bondswoman of Ummu Salamah the Prophet’s wife, and his father Yasar was a former bondsman to Zaid ibn Thabit, one of the scribes of Prophet Muhammad (saw). His real name was Al-Hasan ibn Yasar, but he is better known in history by the name Al-Hasan Al-Basri. He was indeed a very fortunate child, for though he was born after the death of Prophet Muhammad (saw). He was literally brought up in the Prophet’s household; he spent his childhood with his mother’s mistress Ummu Salamah, stayed in constant contact with the other widows of the Prophet, and was educated by their exemplary personalities and conduct and heard first hand reports about the Prophet (saw). 

Since Madinah then was still full of the former companions of Prophet Muhammad (saw) Hasan Al-Basri had the golden opportunity to learn about Islam and its teachings directly from those great students and companions of Muhammad (saw) including people like Uthman ibn Affan, Abdullah ibn Umar and Ali ibn Abi Talib (ra) whose personality and fluency left a special impression on his character.

At the age of fourteen his family moved to Basra in Iraq, whence he got the name of Al-Basri. Basra was then one of the major urban centres of culture in the Islamic empire, and it was full of the former companions of Prophet Muhammad (saw) who taught the principles and practices of Islam to the thirsty students and masses. Al-Hasan Al-Basri fully utilized the opportunity, spending all his time in the mosque, learning, especially at the hands of the well-known companion of the Prophet (saw), Abdullah ibn Mas’ud.

Since many people, rulers and masses were greatly influenced by the new wealth and prosperity that followed the expansion of the Muslim state East and Westward, they needed constant reminders of the dangers of over-indulgence in worldly affairs and luxury. He was one of such reminders. To him, truth had to be said even in the face of tyrants. For a righteous man of Allah like him should have no fear of anyone except his Creator and Master. An example of his daring personality is the incident between him and Al-Hajjaj who was a notorious, tyrannical government of Iraq. Al-Hajjaj built himself a big palace at Wasit, and he invited people to see it (to impress them).

The masses crowed the place, full of admiration of the palace. To him this was a golden opportunity to preach to people, warning them of the dangers of tyranny and indulgence in worldly gains. Naturally, Al-Hajjaj was not very happy with his doing. He swore to kill him. So he ordered some of his soldiers to fetch him. Upon entering, Al-Hasan Al-Basri walked with confidence towards Al-Hajjaj, muttering some prayers. Suddenly, the tyrant was awe-struck and almost unconsciously invited Al-Hasan to sit next to him with all humility and respect.

Then, he asked about some matters of religion, attentively listening to Al-Hasan’s answers, while everyone sat in a state of astonishment. Upon leaving, the guard of Al-Hajjaj, full of surprise at the sudden turn of the events, asked him:” When you entered and saw the sword ready you muttered a few words. What did you say?” Al-Hasan answered:” I prayed to Allah:” O my Master and Protector! Reverse the rage of Al-Hajjaj as You changed the fire into coolness and safety for Abraham.”   

Among the many memorable occasions of pious advice offered by Al-Hasan to rulers was his encounter with a great governor of Iraq and Persia, Umar ibn Hubaira. It is reported that Ibn Hubaira used to receive from the Chalip in Damascus orders which smelt of injustice. So he invited two religious scholars, including Al-Hasan, to seek their opinion and advice. Following are rough translations of Al-Hasan’s words of advice:” Ibn Hubaira! Fear Allah in dealing with Yazeed (the Caliph), and fear not Yazeed in your dealings with Allah. Remember that Allah can protect you from Yazeed, but Yazeed cannot protect you from Allah. A stern angel who never disobeys Allah will come to you taking you from your great and wide palace to the narrow grave, where you will find no Yazeed, but only your wrong actions with which you disobeyed the Lord and Master of Yazeed. Ibn Hubaira! If you are with Allah, He will protect you from the wrath of Yazeed ibn Abdul malik in this world and in the Hereafter. But if you are with Yazeed in defiance of Allah’s commandments, Allah will leave you to the mercy of Yazeed. Remember that one should never obey a creature whoever he might be in disobedience to the Creator.”  

It was with this type of words of wisdom that Al-Hasan spent his eighty years of pious and ascetic life teaching and preaching, not only to rulers and the masses of his time, but also to all readers of his wise saying at all times.

by Prof. Mahmoud Esmail Sieny