AL-HASAN AL-BASRI (d. 110)
by Dr. G.F. Haddad
Al-Hasan ibn Abi al-Hasan Yasar Abu Sa`id al-Basri (d. 110), al-Faqih, the great Imam of Basra, leader of the ascetics and scholars of his time. The son of a freedwoman of Umm Salama’s (the Prophet’s — Allah bless and greet him — wife) and a freedman of Zayd ibn Thabit’s (the Prophet’s — Allah bless and greet him — stepson). Umm Salama nursed him. His mother took him as a child to `Umar who supplicated for him with the words: “O Allah! Make him wise in the Religion and beloved to people.” As a man he became known for his strict and encompassing embodiment of the Sunna of the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him –, famous for his immense knowledge, austerity and asceticism, fearless remonstrances of the authorities, and power of attraction both in discourse and appearance. One of the early formal Sufis in both the general and the literal sense, he wore all his life a cloak of wool (suf).
Al-Hasan was considered by the Salaf to be one of the “Substitute-Saints” (al-Abdal). Anas ( narrated that the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him — said: “The earth will never lack forty men similar to the Friend of the Merciful [Ibrahim (as)], and through them people receive rain and are given help. None of them dies except Allah substitutes another in his place.” Qatada said: “We do not doubt that al-Hasan is one of them.”1
Al-Hasan is one of the great hadith masters and narrators of the Tabi`in, responsible for transmitting over 1,400 narrations in the Nine Books alone. The hadith masters have concluded that he did not narrate anything directly from Abu Hurayra2 but they disagree about his narration from `Ali ibn Abi Talib.3 Imam Ahmad considered that he did narrate from `Ali4 and al-Suyuti in Tashyid al-Haqiqa al-`Aliyya cites narrative chains of transmission proving al-Hasan’s direct narration from `Ali. `Abd al-Razzaq even narrates that `Ali ( once followed al-Hasan’s recommendation in a judicial case.5
The hadith master Abu Nu`aym al-Asfanahi mentions in his biographies of Sufis entitled Hilya al-Awliya’ (“The Adornment of the Saints”) that it is al-Hasan’s student `Abd al-Wahid ibn Zayd (d. 177) who was the first person to build a Sufi khaniqa or guest-house and school at Abadan on the present-day border of Iran with Iraq.6It was on the basis of al-Hasan and his students’ fame as Sufis that Ibn Taymiyya stated: “Tasawwuf’s place of origin is Basra” in his essay al-Sufiyya wa al-Fuqara‘.7 More accurately, Basra is chief among the places of renown for the formal development of the schools of self-discipline, asceticism, and self-purification which became known as tasawwuf, but whose principles are none other than the Qur’an and the Sunna.8
Al-Hasan used to swear by Allah that the true believer could not feel other than sadness in this world.9 He would say: “Our salt has disappeared; what good is left in us?”10 in commentary of the Prophet’s — Allah bless and greet him — hadith: “The likeness of my Companions is like salt in food. Food is not good without it.”11 Al-Hasan also said:
We laugh and yet – who knows? – perhaps Allah has looked at some of our works and said: “I will not accept anything from you.” Woe to you, son of Adam! Can you fight Allah? Whoever disobeys Allah is fighting Him. By Allah! I have met seventy veterans of Badr. Most of their garments were wool. Had you seen them you would have said they are crazy, and had they seen the best among you they would have said: “Those people will have no part in the Hereafter.” Had they seen the worst among you they would have said: “Those people do not believe in the Day of Reckoning.” I have seen people for whom this world was cheaper than the dust under their feet. I have seen people the like of whom would come home at night, not finding more than his own portion of food, and yet say: “I shall not put all of this into my belly. I shall certainly give some away for Allah’s sake.” Then he would give away some of his food in charity, even if he were more in need of it than its recipient.12
Imam al-Ghazzali relates al-Hasan’s words on the personal struggle against one’s lusts (jihad al-nafs) in the section of his Ihya‘ entitled Kitab Riyada al-Nafs wa Tahdhib al-Akhlaq wa Mu`alaja Amrad al-Qalb (“Book of the Training of the Ego, Disciplining of Manners, and Healing of the Heart’s Diseases”) that al-Hasan al-Basri said:
Two thoughts roam over the soul, one from Allah one from the enemy. Allah shows mercy on a servant who settles at the thought that comes from Him. He embraces the thought that comes from Allah, while he fights against the one from his enemy. To illustrate the heart’s mutual attraction betwen these two powers the Prophet said: “The heart of a believer lies between two fingers of the Merciful”13…. The fingers stand for upheaval and hesitation in the heart… If man follows the dictates of anger and appetite, the dominion of Satan appears in him through idle passions (hawa) and his heart becomes the nesting-place and container of shaytan, who feeds on hawa. If he does battle with his passions and does not let them dominate his ego (nafs), imitating in this the character of the angels, at that time his heart becomes the resting-place of angels and they alight upon it.
A measure of the extent of Hasan al-Basri’s extreme godwariness and scrupulosity (wara`) is given by his following statement, also quoted by Ghazzali: “Forgetfulness and hope are two mighty blessings upon the progeny of Adam; but for them, the Muslims would not walk in the streets.”14
Al-Hasan interpreted the verse “Nay, both His hands are spread wide, and He bestows as He wills” (5:64) to refer to Allah’s kindness and goodness.15 Similarly, he interpreted Allah’s qadam to mean “those whom He has sent forth” (qaddamahum) in the hadith of the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him –:
Hellfire will keep asking: “Is there more?” until the Lord of Might places His qadam (lit. “foot”) in it. Then it will say: “Enough! Enough!” (qatt qatt) and gather up all its parts together. There will still remain room in Paradise until Allah originates a creation which He will place in the remainder of Paradise.16
Concerning the hadith of the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him: “More people shall enter Paradise through the intercession of a certain man from my Community than there are people in the tribes of Rabi`a and Mudar,” al-Hasan said: “That is Uways al-Qarani.”17
On the verse “If you love Allah, follow me, and Allah will love you” (3:31) al-Hasan said: “Whoever knows his Lord loves Him, and whoever knows the world does without it.”18
Al-Qurtubi relates, in his commentary on the verse “A multi-colored drink issues from their bellies, in it there is healing for people” (16:69), that al-Hasan disliked to use medicine other than made with honey or milk.
About the memorizers of Qur’an al-Hasan said:
The reciters of Qur’an are three types. The first type take the Qur’an as a merchandise by which to earn their bread; the second type uphold its letters and lose its laws, aggrandizing themselves over the people of their country, and seeking gain through it from the rulers. There are many memorizers of Qur’an that belong to that type. May Allah not increase them. Finally, the third type have sought the healing of the Qur’an and placed it on the sickness of their hearts, fleeing with it to their places of prayer, wrapping themselves in it. Those have felt fear and put on the garment of sadness. Those are the ones for whose sake Allah sends rain and victory over the enemies. By Allah! That kind of memorizer of Qur’an is more rare than red sulphur.19
Ibn al-Jawzi wrote a 100-page book on al-Hasan’s life and manners entitled Adab al-Shaykh al-Hasan ibn Abi al-Hasan al-Basri. In his chapter on al-Hasan in his compendium of Muslim saints entitled “The Portrait of Purity” (Sifa al-Safwa), he mentions a report that al-Hasan left behind a white cloak (jubba) made of wool which he had worn exclusively of any other for the past twenty years, winter and summer, and that when he died it was in a state of immaculate beauty, cleanness, and quality.20 Among al-Hasan’s sayings: “If you are of a coarse character, then acquire gentleness (tahallam); and if you are not learned, then learn (ta`allam); a person seldom imitates a certain group without becoming one of them.”21
Imam al-Suyuti recounted in one of his fatwas entitled al-Minha fi al-Sibha (“The Profit In Dhikr-Beads”) the story of `Ikrima, who asked his teacher `Umar al-Maliki about dhikr-beads. The latter replied that he had also asked his teacher al-Hasan al-Basri about it and was told: “Something we have used at the beginning of the road we are not desirous to leave at the end. I love to remember Allah with my heart, my hand, and my tongue.” Al-Suyuti comments: “And how should it be otherwise, when the dhikr-beads remind one of Allah Most High, and a person seldom sees dhikr-beads except he remembers Allah, which is among the greatest of its benefits.”22
Ibn Muflih mentioned that al-Hasan categorized the act of kissing the Muslim scholar’s hand as “obedience to Allah” (ta`a).23
In the book he devoted to the sayings and the deeds of Sufis, Rawda al-Muhibbin wa Nuzha al-Mushtaqin (“The Garden of the Lovers and Excursion of the Passionate”), Ibn al-Qayyim relates:
A group of women went out on the day of `Eid and went about looking at people. They were asked: “Who is the most handsome person you have seen today?” They replied: “It is a shaykh wearing a black turban.” They meant al-Hasan al-Basri.24
Ibn Jahbal al-Kilabi al-Halabi wrote:
Whenever al-Hasan al-Basri spoke on the science of tawhid, he would begin by taking out of his gathering all those that were not fit to hear. May Allah have mercy on the Salaf! They did not speak about doctrine except with the Ahl al-Sunna among them – for the Sunna is the basis of the verifying authorities – and they withheld any such discourse from newcomers. They said: “Newcomers see things for the first time and are barely starting on their way. They have no prior experience and no firm foothold in these matters – even if they are seventy years old. Sahl [ibn `Abd Allah al-Tustari] said – may Allah be well-pleased with him: “Do not acquaint newcomers with the secrets before they become firmly settled in their belief that the God is One and that the subject of monotheism is Unique, Everlasting, and transcends modality and place. Thoughts cannot encompass Him nor can hearts conceive of Him in terms of `how’.”25
One of the most remarkable hadiths al-Bukhari narrated in his Sahih is from al-Hasan al-Basri, from Anas, from the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him — who related that after Allah allows him to intercede for the dwellers of the Fire, Allah shall say: “By My Power, by My Majesty, by My Supremacy, and by My Greatness! I shall take out of the fire whoever said: la ilaha illallah.“26
Narrated by al-Tabarani in al-Awsat.
As stated by Ibn Hajar in Tahdhib al-Tahdhib (2:231), al-Dhahabi in Mizan al-I`tidal (1:527), and Ibn Abi Hatim in al-Marasil (p. 43). See also al-Hakim’s chapter on the mudallisun in Ma`rifa `Ulum al-Hadith. Cf. al-Tirmidhi: “Al-Hasan did not narrate anything from Abu Hurayra according to Ayyub [al-Sikhtyani], Yunus ibn `Ubayd, and `Ali ibn Zayd.” Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan, book of Zuhd, remarks on the hadith “Who shall take from me these words and then put them into practice or teach whoever will put them into practice? Guard yourself from all prohibited matters, and you shall be the most worshipful of people; be content with whatever Allah has allotted you and you shall be the richest of people; treat your neighbor with utmost kindness and you shall be a Believer; love for people whatever you love for yourselv and you shall be a Muslim; do not laugh much for much laughter extinguishes the heart.” Narrated from Abu Hurayra by al-Tirmidhi (gharib) and Ahmad in his Musnadwith a chain containing Abu Tariq who is unknown.
“Al-Hasan did not hear anything directly from `Ali… nor from Abu Hurayra.” Narrated from Yahya ibn Ma`in by al-Dhahabi in the Siyar (Arna’ut ed. 4:566). Cf. Ibn Hajar, Ta`rif Ahl al-Taqdis (p. 56 #40). See also al-Sakhawi’s words in his Maqasid, in the entry khirqa.
Ibn Abi Ya`la, Tabaqat al-Hanabila (1:192): “My father (al-Qadi Abu Ya`la) narrated to me in writing: `Isa ibn Muhammad ibn `Ali narrated to us: I heard `Abd Allah ibn Muhammad (Imam Abu al-Qasim al-Baghawi) say: I heard Abu `Abd Allah Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Hanbal say: `al-Hasan did narrate (qad rawa) from `Ali ibn Abi Talib.’” This is confirmed by Ibn Hajar in Tahdhib al-Tahdhib(2:231).
As narrated by `Abd al-Razzaq in his Musannaf (7:412). Cf. Muhammad R. al-Qal`aji, Mawsu`a Fiqh al-Hasan al-Basri (1:21).
Abu Nu`aym, Hilya al-Awliya’(6:155).
Ibn Taymiyya, al-Tasawwuf in Majmu`a al-Fatawa al-Kubra(11:16).
See the large section on tasawwufin Shaykh Hisham Kabbani’s Encyclopedia.
Narrated from Shumayt, `Abbad ibn Hisham, Hazm ibn Abi Hazm, and others by Abu Nu`aym in the Hilya(2:133).
In Nasim al-Riyad(3:469).
Mathalu ashabi ka mathali al-milhi fi al-ta`am…
Narrated from `Alqama ibn Marthad by Abu Nu`aym in Hilya al-Awliya’(1985 ed. 2:134).
Narrated from ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Amr by Muslim, from Anas by al-Tirmidhi (hasan sahîh), and from al-Nawwas ibn Sam’an by Ahmad, al-Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban in his Sahih, al-Hakim, and others, all with sound chains. Al-Hakim declared the hadith sound and al-Dhahabi concurred. The continuation of the hadith states that the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him — used to say: “O Transformer of hearts! Make firm our hearts in Your Religion,” and that he also said: “And the balance is in the Merciful’s hand, He elevates a people while he abases others, and so until the Day of Resurrection.”
In al-Ghazzali, trans. T.J. Winter, The Remembrance of Death (p. 18).
In Ibn al-Jawzi, Daf` Shubah al-Tahsbih(Saqqaf ed. p. 115).
Narrated from Anas by Bukhari and Muslim. Al-Khattabi said: “The meaning of qadam here is possibly a reference to those whom Allah has created of old or `sent forth’ for the Fire in order to complete the number of its inhabitants. Everything that is `sent forth’ is a qadam, in the same way that the verbal noun of demolishing (hadama) is a hadm or ruin, and that of seizing (qabada) is qabd or a seizure. Likewise Allah said: “They have a sure foundation (qadam sidq) with their Lord” (10:2) with reference to the good works which they have sent forth. This explanation has been transmitted to us from al-Hasan al-Basri. It is supported by the Prophet’s saying in the aforementioned hadith: `As for Paradise, Allah will create for it a special creation.’ Both meanings (i.e. respectively pertaining to the Fire and Paradise) are in agreement with the sense that Paradise and hellfire will be provided with an additional number of dwellers to complete their respective numbers, at which point they will be full.” Al-Khattabi, Ma`alim al-Sunan (Hims ed. 5:95). Cf. Ibn al-Jawzi, Daf` Shubah al-Tahsbih(Saqqaf ed. p. 15).
Narrated by Imam Ahmad in al-Zuhd(Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-`Ilmiyya, 1993 p. 416, 414).
In al-Qari’s commentary on al-Ghazzali’s Ihya’entitled Sharh `Ayn al-`Ilm wa Zayn al-Hilm (2:354-355).
In Al-Qasim ibn Sallam, Fada’il al-Qur’an(p. 60 #4).
Ibn al-Jawzi, Sifa al-Safwa(2/4:10 #570).
Al-Najm al-Razi relates it from al-`Askari on the authority of Humayd al-Tawil as stated by al-`Ajluni in Kashf al-Khafa(#2436).
Al-Suyuti, al-Hawi li al-Fatawa. Cf. section on dhikr-beads in al-Shawkani’s Nayl al-Awtar (2:316-317) and Shaykh Zakariyya al-Kandihlawi’s Hayat al-Sahaba. Al-Albani’s astounding claim that whoever carries dhikr-beads in his hand to remember Allah is misguided and innovating was refuted in Mahmud Sa`id’s Wusul al-Tahani bi Ithbat Sunniyya al-Sibha wa al-Radd `ala al-Albani(“The Alighting of Mutual Benefit and the Confirmation that Dhikr-Beads are a Sunna in Refutation of Albani”).
Ibn Muflih al-Hanbali, al-Adab al-Shar`iyya(2:271).
Ibn al-Qayyim, Rawda al-Muhibbin(p. 225).
Ibn Jahbal, al-Radd `ala Man Qala bi al-Jiha(Refutation of Ibn Taymiyya) §12.
Al-Bukhari, Sahih, book of Tawhid.
Blessings and peace on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions.
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