The sayings gathered here, entitled Wisdom, are extracted from, Alerting The Self Deceived, a book written by the great Islamic scholar and mystic, Abdul Wahhab ash-Sha’rani, d. 973 AH/ 1565 AD. In this book Ash-Sha’rani gathers the aphorisms of the early pious scholars of the Islamic tradition as part of an effort to demonstrate to his contemporaries the lofty religious and human character of their spiritual ancestors. In writing this book, Ash-Sha’rani hoped to encourage the sincere seekers of spiritual excellence to redouble their efforts by reflecting on the way of their righteous predecessors, just as he intended to expose as fraudulent those who claimed to be spiritual guides, but were themselves far removed from the path trod by the luminaries whose words he highlights in the book.
By making these sayings available to the English-speaking public, we intend to encourage the Muslim to reflect on the great spiritual legacy bequeathed to us by our righteous forebears, and to begin to live that legacy, while simultaneously encouraging the non-Muslim to look beyond the propagandistic rhetoric that presents Islam as an empty purveyor of irrational violence. These sayings should help all to understand that Islam is a great world religion that has left a deep and indelible, beautifying mark on human history.
Imam Zaid Shakir
Part One: Sincerity in Religious Acts.
1. Wahb b. Munabbih would say: “Whoever seeks worldly advancement through his religious acts, God will invert his heart and record him amongst the people destined for Hell.”
2. Al-Hasan al-Basri relates that Jesus, Peace upon Him, said: “Whoever endeavors to implements his religious knowledge is a true friend of God.”
3. Sufyan b. Tahwri used to say: “My mother advised me: ‘My son! Only seek religious knowledge if you intend to implement it. Otherwise, it will be a source of torment for you on the Day of Resurrection.’ ”
4. Dhun-Nun al-Misri was asked: “When does the servant know that he is sincere in religion?” He replied: “When he asserts himself to the fullest in worship while desiring to gain no esteem with the people because of that.”
5. Muhammad b. al-Munkadir used to say: “I love to see the brothers being at their very best during the night [in humble devotion] for surely that is nobler than being at ones very best during the day. The reason for this is that during the day one is seen by people while during the night one is seen by the Lord of the Worlds.”
6. It was once asked of Yunus b. Ubayd: “Have you seen anyone worship like Hasan al-Basri?” He replied: “I have not seen anyone speak as he spoke, so how could I see anyone worship as he did? His sermons would cause hearts to weep; the sermons of others do not even move eyes to tears.”
7. Yahya b. Mu’adh was asked: “When will a servant be considered sincere?” He answered: “When his character becomes like that of a suckling babe. It does not care if it is praised or condemned.”
8. Fudail b. ‘Iyad used to say: “As long as a person consciously seeks acceptability from people, he will not be safe from insincerity in his religion.”
9. Abu Iyas al-Antaki was known to say: “Whoever strives for sincerity in his outward actions, while his heart is concerned about what people think of him, is seeking the impossible. This is so because sincerity is the life-giving water of the heart and dissimulation kills it.”
10. Yusuf b. Asbat used to say: “I have never sincerely reviewed my religious actions except that I found myself guilty of dissimulation.”
11. Al-Hasan al-Basri used to say: “Whoever rebukes himself in the presence of others has in fact engaged in an act of praise.”
12. Ibn Sammak used to say: “If one guilty of dissimulation in his religious knowledge and actions were to inform people of his true motivations they would hate him and consider him a fool.”
13. Ibrahim b. Adham would say: “Do not ask your brother about his fast. For were he to say, ‘I am fasting,’ his soul would be pleased with that. On the other hand, were he to say, ‘I am not fasting,’ his soul would be saddened by that. Each response is an indication of dissimulation. That is a source of disgrace for the questioned and a means whereby the questioner can know his brother’s concealed imperfections.”
14. ‘Abdullah b. al-Mubarak used to say: “A man will be circumambulating the Ka’ba while dissimulating before the people of Khurasan.” It was said: “How could that be?” He rejoined: “He is pleased if the people back in Khurasan are saying, ‘So and so is in Mecca right now circumambulating the Ka’ba or pacing between Safa and Marwa. Cheers to him!’ ”
15. Fudail b. ‘Iyad would say: “We encountered people who would dissimulate in their religious acts. Now they dissimulate with actions they have not even performed.”
16. Abu Ayyub as-Sakhtiyani used to say: “Among the forms of dissimulation with actions you have not performed is exalting yourself over others by mentioning the insightful speech and expressions of religious scholars. That which you are using to exalt yourself with is not the fruit of your effort, nor from your intellectual derivation.”
17. Ibrahim b. Adham used to say: “One who loves for people to speak good of him, [while unconcerned about how he stands with God], has attained neither true God Consciousness nor sincerity in religion.”
18. Ikrima was known to have said: “Constantly try to have a sincere intention, because dissimulation does not substitute for a good intention in religious acts.”
19. Al-Hasan al-Basri used to say: “People enter Heaven and Hell based on their actions. However, their perpetuity in either of those two abodes is based on their intentions.” Note: Actions are a necessary condition for entering Paradise. However, they are not sufficient. Ultimately, anyone’s entrance into Paradise will only occur due to the mercy of God.
20. Abu Dawud al-Tayyalisi used to say: “It is incumbent upon a scholar when he edits his compilation that he intends to assist the Religion, and not to be praised by his contemporaries for excellent writing.”
21. It is related that every act God accepts is great even if it is small, and every act He rejects is small even if it is great.
22. Fudail b. ‘Iyyad used to say: “If the truthful prophets such as Ishmael and Jesus, peace upon them, were asked about their truthfulness, how about liars like us?”
23. Imam ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, May God be pleased with him, used to say: “There are three indications of a dissimulator: He is lazy in his worship in private; he conveys his supererogatory prayers sitting when alone and standing when with others; and he increases his devotional acts when praised just as he decreases them when rebuked.”
24. Sufyan al-Thawri was known to have said: “Every devotional act I performed in front of others I did not consider of any consequence, because of the incapacity of people like us to have true sincerity towards God in the presence of others.”
25. Ibrahim al-Taymi used to dress like an ordinary man. Therefore, no one except his companions knew he was a scholar. He used to say: “A person sincere to God hides his good deeds as much as he hides his bad deeds.”
26. Sufyan al-Thawri used to say: “It is rare for a scholar who attracts a large crowd to his lessons not to become conceited.”
27. Al-Hasan al-Basri passed by Tawus as he was relating prophetic traditions to a large gathering in the Sacred Mosque. Al-Hasan drew near to him and whispered into his ear: “If you are proud to have attracted such a large audience you should get up and leave.” Tawus left immediately.
28. Sufyan al-Thawri would usually only allow three people to sit in his circle. One day he noticed that the circle had grown quite large. He stood up, shaken, and exclaimed: “We have been afflicted with pride! I swear by God! If the Commander of the Faithful, ‘Umar, had seen my likes seated in such a gathering he would have made me get up and leave, lamenting: ‘Your likes are not fit to teach.’ ” When Sufyan would sit to relate prophetic traditions, he would sit crossed-legged in a fearful state. If a cloud passed overhead he would remain silent until it went by, saying: “I feared that it might be full of stones which it would unleash against me.”
29. Abu Huraira, may God be pleased with him, used to say: “Were it not for a single verse in the Qur’an I would not have taught you. [That verse is] Surely those who conceal what we have revealed of truth and guidance after we have expounded it to people in the Scripture, they are cursed by God and cursed by all entitled to curse.” (2:159) When Sufyan al-Thawri ceased teaching prophetic tradition, Abu Huraira’s saying was related to him. He responded: “If I knew that even one student was seeking knowledge sincerely for the sake of God, I would go to his house to teach him, and not even burden him [to come to me].”
30. Hatim al-Asamm used to say: “No one sits to teach sacred knowledge in the mosque except one seeking worldly gain, or one ignorant of the tremendous responsibilities associated with that [station].”
31. Despite Ibn ‘Abbas’ vast knowledge, may God pleased with him and his father, he would say upon the conclusion of one his sessions of Qur’anic exegesis: “Let us conclude our gathering by collectively seeking God’s forgiveness.”
32. Shaddad b. Hakim used to say: “Whoever possesses the following three characteristics should instruct people; if not, then he should leave off teaching. He reminds people of God’s favors in order that they give thanks for them; he reminds them of their sins in order that they repent from them; and he reminds them of their enemy in order that they beware of him.”
33. Ibn Wahb was known to say: “I asked Imam Malik about Al-Rasikheen bil-‘Ilm, who are they?” He said: “They are the scholars who implement their knowledge, and there is nothing mightier than knowledge for it allows its possessor to rule over kings.”
34. Ibn Mubarak was asked: “Who do you consider the real people?” He replied, “The sincere scholars who implement their knowledge.” He was then asked: “Who are the kings?” He responded: “Those whose hearts are detached from the world.” It was then inquired: “Who are the riff raff?” He answered: “Those who sell their knowledge, devotional acts, and religion for worldly benefit.”
35. Al-Hasan al-Basri used to say: “The scholars are the lights of their respective ages. Each scholar is a lamp of his age by which people seek illumination. Were it not for the true scholars people would become like animals.”
36. Sufyan al-Thawri would also say: “Knowledge is enlivened by active search and sincere implementation, and it dies through neglecting these two things.”
37. ‘Ikrima used to say: “Do not teach those who will not pay the price of knowledge.” It was said: “What is that price?” He said: “That the scholar places it with one who will implement it.” Note: In other words a willingness to implement what one learns is the price of knowledge.”
38. Al-Sha’bi used to say: “Among the etiquette of the true scholars is that when they learn something they implement it. At that point, implementation preoccupies them from the people. When they are preoccupied from the people they are sought after. When they are sought after they flee away fearing that they might be cast into tribulation.”
39. It is related by prophetic tradition: “The most severely punished person on the Day of Resurrection will be a scholar who did not benefit from his knowledge.” And, “A time will come when the devout people in a particular place will be ignorant, and their scholars will be corrupt.” Tabarani
40. Al-Hasan al-Basri used to say: “Do not be like one who studies like a scholar but acts like a fool.”
41. Ibrahim b. ‘Utba used to say: “The most remorseful person on the Day of Resurrection will be a scholar who used his knowledge to arrogate himself over the common folk.”
42. The Commander of the Faithful, ‘Umar b. al-Khattab, was known to say: “The thing I fear most for this Muslim community is a scholar who manifests knowledge on his tongue but has ignorance in his heart.”
43. Sufyan al-Thawri used to say: “Knowledge will cry out to action [to join it]. If it answers all is well. If it does not knowledge departs.”
44. ‘Abdullah b. al-Mubarak used to say: “A person will continue to be a scholar as long as he thinks that there is someone in his land more knowledgeable than he. If he thinks he is the most knowledgeable of all he has displayed his ignorance.”
45. Yahya b. Mu’adh usd to say: “When a scholar chases the world his nobility vanishes.”
46. Al-Hasan al-Basri used to say: “The punishment of the scholars is in the death of their hearts, and the death of their hearts occurs when they use devotional acts for worldly gain. Such actions draw them close to people obsessed with the world.”
47. Al-Makhul used to say: “One who learns the Qur’an, gains religious knowledge, and then goes to the house of the political authorities without a pressing need, sinks ever deeper into Hell with each step he takes.”
48. The Commander of the Faithful, ‘Umar b. al-Khattab, used to say: “If you see a scholar who loves the world be suspicious of his religious integrity, for every lover will devote himself to that which he loves.”
49. Ibrahim al-Taymi used to say: “I never measured my action against my speech except that I found my actions to be liars.”
50. Ibrahim b. Adham used to say: “We speak impeccable Arabic, we never make a grammatical error. However, our actions are constantly errant, we are never impeccable [in our intentions].”
End of Part One
Thank you for these noble reminders and teachings. I hope that you and our other scholars can continue to translate these classical books of the past as well as writethe teachings of Islam in your contemporary words. I do have one question. Why is it tariqas are named after certain scholars. Is this not attaching their name to their teachings and receiving accolades and praise for their transmission of knowledge from the people?
I look forward to your updates regularly as you continue translating these wise lessons from the great scholars in our heritage. Many of these names are not familiar to me, and I hope that through your works, we all have the opportunity to reinvigorate the lessons and teachings they left us. Thank you for continuing their traditions. May God give you success. H.R. Karachi, Pakistan
Imam Zaid,Thank you very much.May Allah(swt) bless you.
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