It is the Sunnah of Allah that He executes His will through some natural means, which only serves to strengthen the faith of those who examine these signs and ponder over them. History reveals that in Islam’s darkest times, this religion was safeguarded through beacons of light in the form of righteous individuals who upheld the true Islam. Adhering to the Sunnah of Muhammad ﷺ, they opposed injustice. They stood as pillars with their qualities of sacrifice, unflinching faith, morality, spiritual excellence, and intellect. We find that despite the attacks Muslims have faced, the Ummah always persevered and continued. By the will of Allah, it will continue to do so, as long as individuals hold fast to their Deen and follow the examples of those who suffered and triumphed before. The following article seeks to highlight one such individual, Hasan al-Basri (RH).
Hasan al-Basri (RH) was a Taabi’i, a person in the generation after the Sahabah. As a student of the Sahaba in Madina, Hasan al-Basri (RH) amassed knowledge of the Deen that spurred him into becoming a scholar of the highest caliber. An individual blessed with keen insight, he was disturbed by the hypocrisy of the Umayyad government and elite. Therefore, through his impassioned speech, he called for an end to the hypocrisy in Basra and a return to the straight path of Islam.
Hasan al-Basri (RH) became famous following the demise of Umar ibn Abdul Aziz, the great savior of the Umayyad Dynasty. It was through the guidance of Allah (SWT) that Umar ibn Abdul Aziz (RH) rose to become the Caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate. His reforms included returning unjustly confiscated lands, ending the abuse of the state treasury, and implementing a campaign to compile ahadith. The elite class of the Umayyads was negatively affected by Umar ibn Abdul Aziz. Following his death, the elite class began reshaping the policies of the Umayyads for personal gain as they did before.
Although there was an appearance of Islamic conduct within the government and the elite of society, many aspects of it were far from true adherence to the Deen. Unlike the Sahaba who actually embraced the Deen, these people took it for granted and made it into their plaything to abuse their power in the name of religion like many people do today. Because of the indulgence in power, politics, and wealth, the ruling classes of the Muslims seemed to revert to pagan practices and ignorance that preceded the advent of Islam. Societies are reflective of who their leaders are. If the leadership of a body engages in misconduct, the misconduct will become normalized throughout the society.
Early Years and the Importance of Companionship
Hasan al-Basri (RH) was born in the year 21 A.H or 642 C.E. His father was named Yasar and was a servant to Zayd ibn Thabit (RA). Zayd ibn Thabit (RA) was a scribe of the Prophet (SAW) and is primarily remembered as the Sahabah who compiled the chapters of the Quran in the order it is today. His mother was named Khayra and she was a maid in the home of Umm Salamah (RA), one of the wives of the Prophet (SAW). From the beginning of his life, Hasan al-Basri (RH) was blessed to experience his childhood in the Holy City of Madina where he learned the Deen from Umm Salamah (RA) and Zayd bin Thabit (RA) along with witnessing Islam in its most authentic form by interacting with many Companions of the Prophet (SAW). As a child, he was taken into the home of Umar (RA) who would remain the Khalifah for two years following the birth of Hasan al-Basri. It was Umar ibn al-Khattab (RA) who gave him the name Hasan, citing the beauty Allah (SWT) had bestowed on him.
Umar (RA) made the dua, “Give him a true understanding of the Deen and make him beloved by the people”.
قال عمر بن الخطاب رضي الله عنه:” اللهم فقِّهه في الدين، وحبِّبه إلى الناس” البداية والنهاية
When asked what his motivation was, Hasan al-Basri said it was the blessed company of the two years he was present in the Caliphate of Umar (RA).
عن الحسن ، قال لي الحجاج : ما أمدك يا حسن ؟ قلت : سنتان من خلافة عمر
سير اعلام النبلاء
Hasan al-Basri (RH) is an example of how the company we keep is our compass in a world of challenges and temptations. In his early life, he would absorb the knowledge of Zayd bin Thabit (RA), Umm Salamah (RA), and the other Companions of the Prophet (SAW). It is one thing to absorb the knowledge from books but another level to witness people who directly received the light of Islam from the Prophet (SAW). Witnessing how the Companions inculcated and practiced the teachings of the Prophet (SAW) is more potent than merely reading his Hadith. To interact with Companions of the Prophet (SAW) who continued to put their lives on the line to defend his message is more inspirational than simply knowing the tenets of belief.
What is the lesson here? It is not to toss out learning. Indeed, Hasan al-Basri (RH) absorbed the knowledge of his teachers in Madina. The lesson here is to learn in the company of those who are knowledgeable and righteous in their character. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of being in the company of the Sahabah, but we can always do something about improving our company. It is imperative that we ask ourselves, what sort of people do we keep in our midst?
The Messenger of Allah (S) informed us that the best companions are those whose appearance reminds us of Allah, whose speech increases our knowledge of Deen, and whose actions exemplify consciousness of the hereafter (Musnad ‘Abd bin Hameed).
عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ ، قَالَ : قِيلَ : يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ، أَيُّ جُلَسَائِنَا خَيْرٌ ؟ قَالَ : " مَنْ ذَكَّرَكُمْ بِاللَّهِ رُؤْيتَهُ ، وَزَادَ فِي عِلْمِكُمْ مَنْطِقَهُ ، وَذَكَّرَكُمْ بِالآخِرَةِ عَمَلُهُ
Hasan al-Basri’s (RH) success was molded by the Companions who were his teachers and role models.
In approximately 657 C.E., he and his family moved to Basra, Iraq and it was there that Hasan al-Basri (RH) rose to become a Savior of Islam. Hasan al-Basri had keen insight into the issues that plagued the Muslim Ummah of the time. He is remembered for his mastery of oration so much that his speaking ability was said to surpass any scholar or preacher in the Hijaz or Levant. His oratory ability is very important to reflect on because its origins went beyond fancy talk.
The things that are deep within our heart and soul manifest into our outward appearance and speech.
Hasan al-Basri (RH) said, “Iman is not outer decoration, nor mere hope. Rather, it is what settles in the heart and what is affirmed by actions”.
قال الحسن: "إن الإيمان ليس بالتحلِّي ولا بالتمنِّي، إن الإيمان ما وقر في القلب وصدَّقه العملُ"؛
المصنف؛ لابن أبي شيبة
If our hearts and souls are corrupted with obsession in the material world and that which is haram, then our actions will lead to detrimental consequences in the Akhirah and will most likely deprive us of contentment in the Dunya. However, when your heart and soul attaches itself to Allah (SWT) and his Messenger Muhammad (SAW), then our outward appearance will emanate the light of Islam. Hasan al-Basri’s reverence for the Deen gave his speech a mystic effect that would awaken spiritually dead hearts. This was because his own heart and soul amplified his speech and the effect it had. When Hasan al-Basri (RH) spoke, he spoke from the love that stirred his heart, and when your heart loves Allah (SWT), you shine. Hasan al-Basri spoke with such power and love that Imam al-Ghazali (RH) stated that Hasan al-Basri’s conduct, speech, and appearance were most resembling of the Prophet (SAW).
The Importance of Knowledge
There were a number of characteristics that Hasan al-Basri would carry from childhood onward. The first is that he was able to strike a rare balance between his celebrity status in Basra while maintaining an ardent commitment to Islamic knowledge.
Today, we talk as though we are scholars of the highest caliber but we have not undergone the appropriate amount of time in our study of the Deen. On the other hand, there may be those of us who have an understanding of the Deen but struggle in imparting it to others. Hasan al-Basri (RH) was able to reconcile both, surpassing in knowledge above all scholars of his time while commanding large audiences and love of the people.
It was Hasan al-Basri (RH) who called people back to the way of the Prophet (SAW). He asserted that a majority of the people in Basra did not carry Islam in their hearts nor did they inculcate it into their outward character. He went out into the streets of Basra and criticized the hypocrisy of the Caliph more vigorously than any other scholar of the time. How did he do so? He effectively verbalized the practical reminders students of knowledge needed to invigorate their spiritual state. These reminders emphasized that wealth and power mean little in the Akhirah if not utilized in accordance with what Allah (SWT) has permitted in the Dunya. He reminded the people that they will experience a Day of Judgement and an eternity based on what Allah (SWT) has decreed for them based on what they earned and did in this world. Allah (SWT) has prescribed a day for judgment and this life to adhere to the message of his beloved Prophet (SAW).
Hasan al-Basri (RH) is reported to have said, “When love of this world enters the heart, the fear of the Hereafter exits from it”.
عَنِ الْحَسَنِ، أَنَّهُ كَانَ يَقُولُ: مَنْ أَحَبَّ الدُّنْيَا وَسَرَّتْهُ ذَهَبَ خَوْفُ الْآخِرَةِ مِنْ قَلْبِهِ، وَمَا مِنْ عَبْدِ يَزْدَادُ عِلْمًا وَيَزْدَادُ عَلَى الدُّنْيَا حِرْصًا، إِلَّا ازْدَادَ إِلَى اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ بُغْضًا، وَازْدَادَ مِنَ اللَّهِ بُعْدًا
These reminders are reality and they could have been conveyed by any number of individuals or several books. It was the sincerity of Hasan al-Basri (RH) that shocked the hearts of the heedless. His condemnation of the injustices in society was so loud and powerful in rhetoric that it was difficult to not be swayed by his sermons. People would attend one of his sermons and walk away from it a changed person. How many people he swayed is obviously unclear, but one thing we are sure of is that the people of Basra and the Ummah at large reformed. If it were not for the passionate effort of Hasan al-Basri, the center of the Khalifah would have continued to deteriorate and the Ummah may not have had the resolve to carry the message of Islam to us.
The Story of the Thief
Rarely do we find individuals who are so renowned by the public, yet still so humble and steadfast upon the path of righteousness. This is why many individuals such as Hasan al-Basri (RH), Salahuddin Ayubi (RH), and other important figures in Islam are so revered. Popularity and status are corruptible to a person’s relationship with Allah (SWT). Individuals are smitten by the pleasures of the material world and neglect their relationship with Allah (SWT). However, we know that chasing the material gains of this world is an illusion. We always want more and more, eventually, the appetite for the material world becomes insatiable. When an individual loves Allah (SWT) to the degrees of Hasan al-Basri (RH) and others, not only does that individual make a concerted effort to avoid the illusions of the Dunya, but they reach a point where a concerted effort to avoid the illusions is unnecessary. They have trained their nafs (or ego) to the point where their desires have become congruent with the commandments of Allah (SWT).
Deep into the night, Hasan al-Basri (RH) was praying the Tahajjud prayer. Despite hearing the sounds of an individual in his home, he proceeded to complete his prayer. After, he turned to see a man who declared himself a thief. The thief repeatedly demanded that Hasan al-Basri (RH) give him something of value. Hasan al-Basri (RH) responded that he did not have anything of material value to give but the thief was insistent. Surprisingly, Hasan al-Basri (RH) offered the one thing he did have to offer. He told the thief to make wudu and pray two rakat of Tahajjud with him. Hasan al-Basri (RH) asked the man if he got something, the thief said yes. He said that the two rakat he was able to pray was a means of peace and reflection, and this momentary reconnection with Allah (SWT) is what jolted him to make tawbah and amend his ways.
Hasan al-Basri (RH) had nothing that many people would expect from someone with celebrity status. He had no excessive wealth or items; he had so little, in fact, that a thief could not even find something worthy to steal. This is the self-discipline of those who strive for Allah (SWT), they force themselves not to be concerned with material value so that they may focus on Allah (SWT). Those who love Allah (SWT) do not want to stop feeling close to Him and they will go to extraordinary lengths in order to prove themselves worthy of being Friends of Allah (SWT).
The story with the thief also illustrates how to deal with others. Hasan al-Basri (RH) was known for his incredible oratory skills. Yet, he did not lecture or criticize the thief. Rather, He asked the thief to pray two rakat with him. Not every individual can be spurred into practicing or improving their iman through a lecture or conference. Some people, especially those who are struggling the most, need a friend who will take their hand and guide them. Can that process be grueling and take a long time? Perhaps, but for an individual to have some clarity and closeness with Allah (SWT) it is worth the effort and patience.
Hasan al-Basri (RH) passed away at the age of 86 in 728 C.E. Once, Basra was riddled with hypocrisy and corruption. After the efforts of Hasan al-Basri (RH), a significant portion of the elite was reformed and the Deen was revived. All of Basra had shown up to Hasan al-Basri’s (RH) Janaza and no one was in the central masjid of Basra for Asr. The life of Hasan al-Basri (RH) teaches us how companionship forms great individuals, how self-discipline is key in remaining true to Allah (SWT), that knowledge is a prerequisite to calling people to Islam, how to treat others who are struggling with their Iman, and so much more. We look to the life of Hasan al-Basri (RH) to guide us to become people who are on the straight path, grounded in knowledge, and can effectively bring people to Islam. We look to his life in order for us to find better company and teachers that can take us by the hands when we fall, rise up, and do the same for others.