New Islamic Directions

By Imam Zaid Shakir

Wisdom Pt. II

Posted in articles by Imam Zaid Shakir on 2007-07-28

[Updated daily]

51. Al-Hasan al-Basri used to say: “If Satan comes to one of you while he is praying and says, ‘You are dissimulating by lengthening your prayer,’ you should make your prayer even longer.” Note: What he means is that if you undertake an action for God with a good intention you should not leave it for the sake of people. Doing so is just as bad as undertaking it initially for the people’s sake. Al-Sha’rani explains in a subsequent comment that leaving an action for the sake of the people can also mean leaving it altogether or undertaking it half-heartedly if there is no one present to praise one’s devotion.
52. Fudayl b. ‘Iyad used to say: “Undertaking devotional acts for the sake of people is dissimulation, leaving an act for their sake is a form of idolatry.”
53. Bishr al-Hafi used to say: “It is inappropriate for the likes of us to manifest even an atom’s weight of our sincere voluntary devotional acts, so how about those acts we fear dissimulation in? For people like us, strict privacy is more appropriate for all of our voluntary devotional acts.”
54. Fudayl b. ‘Iyad used to say: “The best forms of knowledge and worship are those that are hidden from people.”
55. ‘Ikrima used to say: “I have seen no one more lacking in intellect than a person who undertakes a vile act and then wishes for people to attribute knowledge and righteousness to him. The hearts of the believers will eventually perceive his vile intention. His likeness is one who plants a field of thorns and wishes to harvest from them succulent dates.”
56. Qatada used to say: “When a religious scholar dissimulates with his knowledge and devotional acts God says to the Angels, peace upon them, ‘Look at this person! He does not fear me and I am the Mighty, The Compeller!’ ”
57.  When the Commander of the Faithful, Umar b. al-Khattab, may God be pleased with him, saw anyone bowing his head in an exaggerated manner during prayer he would smack the back of his neck with a cane and say: “Reverent humility is in the heart [not the neck].”
58. Abu Umama, may God be pleased with him, passed by a man prostrated in prayer and weeping. He said: “This would be fantastic if it were in your house where no one could see you.”
59. Yusuf b. Asbat used to say: “God revealed to one of the Prophets, peace upon them, Say to your people, ‘Hide your actions from others and I will manifest them.’ ”
60. Abu ‘Abdul Rahman al-Zahid used to condemn himself, saying in his discourses with God: “Who is worse than me? I treat your servants with trustworthiness in my public relationships, while I behave treacherously in my private relationship with you.”
61. Fudayl b. ‘Iyad used to say: “Whoever shows me a servant who weeps privately during his nightly devotions while fasting unannounced during the day, I will sincerely pray for him.”
62. Maymun b. Mihran was known to say: “Devotional acts undertaken in public without a sincere intention are like a manure-filled barn with elaborately decorated walls.”
63.  Fudayl b. ‘Iyad used say: “If the intention for knowledge is sincere, the associated actions would not be seen as being more virtuous than the intention itself. However, corrupt individuals do not seek knowledge in order to implement it. Rather, they use it as a net to harvest worldly benefit.”
64. Fudayl also used to say: “When you see a religious scholar or a monk pleased to be mentioned in a good light with the political authorities and otherworldly people you should know that he is a dissimulator.”
65. Sufyan b. ‘Uyayana was known to say: “If you see a student of sacred knowledge increasing in worldly desires as his knowledge increases, do not teach him, because you are only helping him to go to Hell.”
66. Salih al-Murriyy used to say: “Whoever claims sincerity in his quest for knowledge let him test himself whenever the common folk describe him as an ignoramus or a dissimulator. If he is comfortable with what they say then he is sincere. If he is disturbed by that then he actually is a dissimulator.”
67. He would also say: “Beware of the company of the worldly scholar, for he will cast you into tribulation with his flowery oration and his praise for knowledge and the scholars. However, he does not implement his knowledge in his own life.”
68. Fudayl b. ‘Iyad used to say: “One of the signs of dissimulators is that their knowledge resembles mountains, but their actions resemble particles.”
69. He would also say: “If a scholar implemented all he knew, h e would taste the bitterness of sacred knowledge, finding no pleasure with it. That is because every bit of sacred knowledge requires implementation. It is not appropriate for a scholar to be pleased with his knowledge until he crosses the bridge leading into Paradise.”
70. Sufyan al-Thawri used to say: “Seek sacred knowledge in order to implement it. Most people are mistaken in this regard. They think that they will be saved by their knowledge without acting on it. They have lost sight of the Qur’anic verses and prophetic traditions mentioning the punishment of those who fail to implement their knowledge.”
71. Dhul Nun al-Misri mentioned: “We used to know scholars that would renounce more and more of the world as their knowledge increased. Today we see their likes desiring more and more of the world as they gain knowledge. Their worldly possessions increase: clothes, food, houses, wives, carriages, servants, etc.”
72. Sufyan b. ‘Uyayana used to say: “How can a memorizer of the Qur’an be acting on it when he sleeps at night, does not fast during the day, and indulges in unlawful and questionable matters.”
73. Mansur b. al-Mu’tamir used to say to the religious scholars of his time: “You are not scholars rather you play around with knowledge. One of you hears something expounded on and then parrots it to the common folk. If you actually implemented your knowledge you would taste its bitterness. Your implementation of what you know would push you to such scrupulousness that you would not even find a loaf of bread you were comfortable eating [thinking that it might be purchased from unlawful earnings].”
74. Rabi’a b. Khashram was known to say: “How could a religious scholar everdissimulate before people when he knows that is incompatible with true scholarship? How could he present himself before people with something he knows does not exist?”
75. Imam Nawawi would become deeply grieved if one of the political authorities happened to pass by and listen in on one of his lessons at the Ashrafiyya School or the Ummayad Mosque. If he knew in advance that one of the notables planned to attend a lesson, he would not teach that day. He would say: “One of the signs of a sincere person is he is as grieved by people viewing his good deeds as he is by their viewing his bad ones. Being pleased that one’s good deeds are viewed by others is a bad deed. In fact, dissimulation might be worse than actually sinning.”
76. Al-Hasan al-Basri used to say: “The scrupulousness of religious scholars is that they leave the pursuit of their carnal appetites. As for obvious sins, they leave those completely, fearing that the reverence they inspire will leave the hearts of the common folk.”
77. He would also say: “It has reached me that at the end of time a person would study an aspect of sacred knowledge just so it would not be lost. He would then suffer the consequences of not implementing it on the Day of Resurrection.” 
Al-Sha’rani notes: “This meaning is supported by the prophetic tradition, ‘Surely God will assist this religion through the actions of a profligate.’ ” Al-Bukhari
78. Abu Bakr b. ‘Abdullah al-Muzani used to say: “One of the signs of a dissimulator is that he sincerely encourages people to study and mentions the virtues of doing so. However, when someone seeks his advice concerning studying with one of his peers, he does not enthusiastically recommend him.”
79. ‘Abdullah b. al-Mubarak used to say: “The contemporary expert Qur’an chanters have been overwhelmed by unlawful earnings and their carnal appetites to such an extent that they are drowning in the lusts of their stomachs and private parts. They have taken their knowledge as a net to harvest the world with.”
80. Fudayl b. ‘Iyad used to say: “Were it not for a severe defect that has afflicted the scholars of Qur’an and Sunnah, they would have been the elect of the people. However, they have taken their knowledge as an occupation and as a source of livelihood, because of that they have been debased in both the heavenly and earthly dominions.”
81. Bishr al-Hafi used to say: “An intelligent person does not seek additional knowledge until he acts on everything he already knows. After that he learns something new in order to implement it.”
82. Al-Sha’bi used to say: “When you seek knowledge you should be crying. For everything you learn is a proof against you with your Lord.” He mentioned that when Bishr al-Hafi ceased relating prophetic tradition they said to him: “What will you say to your Lord on the Day of Resurrection?” He said: “I will say, ‘My Lord! You ordered me to be sincere [in teaching] and I did not find sincerity in myself.’ ”
83. Sufyan al-Thawri used to say: “If you see a student of knowledge seeking additional knowledge without acting on what he already knows, do not teach him, for knowledge is like a Handhala tree, the more you irrigate it, the bitterer it becomes.”
84. Bishr al-Hafi used to say: “We met scholars who would not teach anyone until the sincerity of the potential student was made clear after many years of observation.”
85. ‘Abdul-Rahman b. al-Qasim used to say: “I served Imam Malik for twenty years, eighteen of them were spent learning proper etiquette, and just two of them spent learning knowledge. I wished all of them were spent learning etiquette.”
86. Imam Malik used to say: “Knowledge is not to be found in possessing numerous narrations; rather it is found when its possessor implements it and uses it to gain Paradise.”
87. Imam al-Shafi’i used to say: “Imam Malik advised me, ‘O Muhammad! Make your actions like dough and your knowledge like salt.’ ”
Note: In other words, actions should be the most substantive aspect of our religious life.
88. Abdullah b. al-Mubarak used to say: “Whoever memorizes the Qur’an and then finds his heart inclining towards the world, he has taken the Qur’an as sport and play. When a memorizer of the Qur’an sins against his Lord the Qur’an calls out to him from his heart, ‘Where are my admonitions! Where are my warnings! [How could you sin] when every one of my letters is calling out, ‘Do not disobey your Lord!?’ ”
89. When Imam Ahmad saw a student of sacred knowledge failing to undertake the night prayer he would cease teaching him. Abu ‘Isma once spent the night with Imam Ahmad, who prepared him water for his nightly ablutions. Imam Ahmad came to him before the Dawn Prayer and found him sleeping and the water untouched. He woke him and asked him: “Why did you come here Abu ‘Isma?” He replied: “I came to take prophetic traditions from you.” Imam Ahmad exclaimed: “How can you seek prophetic tradition while you spend no part of the night in prayer! Return from whence you came.”
90. Imam al-Shafi’i used to say: “It is fitting that every scholar has some private devotional acts that are strictly between him and his Lord. That is because very little of publicly manifested knowledge or actions have any real benefit for a person’s success in the afterlife.”
91. Abu Hanifa was seen in a dream after his death. It was said to him: “How are you?” He responded: “God has forgiven me.” He was asked: “Because of your knowledge?” He replied: “That is far from the case. Knowledge has certain conditions and is accompanied by ruinations. Seldom does anyone escape them.”
92. Someone saw Junayd in a dream after his death. He asked him: “What has God done to you?” He replied: “The mystical interpretations and expressions [I used to utter] are all gone. The only thing benefiting me now is some units of prayer I used to undertake in the latter part of the night.”
93. Abu Sahl al-Sa’luki was seen in a dream after his death. He was asked: What has your knowledge done for you?” He answered: “I have found every involved bit of religious knowledge to be like dust scattered into the wind. The only thing related to my knowledge of any benefit now is the answers to some questions the common folk used to ask me.”

Al-Sha’rani then says: “So search your soul my brother, examining your religious knowledge and actions.  You should weep for yourself if you find them accompanied by the sort of dissimulation that these noble, sincere scholars cautioned against. And all Praise is for God, the Lord of the worlds.”

He then mentions: “Among their character traits is their boycotting their brother if they found him mingling with the political authorities and coming in and out of their doors without a necessity or interest that is countenanced by the Divine Law. Such an interest would be [going there to] command the good and forbid the wrong, or similar actions. This is consistent with the prophetic tradition: There is a valley in Hell known as Habhab. God has prepared it as the abode of oppressors, and scholars who put on false airs before tyrannical political authorities [to gain their favor]. One day the governor of Basra said to Malik b. Dinar, ‘Do you know what has enabled you to speak so gruffly to us and has rendered us incapable of responding to you? It is your lack of craving for any favor from us, and the detachment of your heart from anything we possess.’ ”
94. One day Muhammad b. Wasi’, while wearing a woolen cloak, entered a room occupied by Qutayba b. Muslim. Qutayba said to him: “What has led you to wear a woolen cloak?” Muhammad fell silent. Qutayba said: “It is not appropriate for me to speak on your behalf.” Muhammad then said: “If I had mentioned that worldly abstinence has led me to wear it I would have praised myself. If I had mentioned that my poverty has forced me to don it I would have complained against my Lord—[hence, my silence].”
95. Fudayl b. ‘Iyad used to say: “I swear to God! If Harun al-Rashid had asked permission to visit me I would not have granted it to him, unless I was forced to do so. So how about those so-called Sufis who go to visit him?!”
96. Muhammad b. Ibrahim, the Governor of Mecca, went to greet Sufyan al-Thawri while he was circumambulating the Ka’ba. Sufyan said to him: “What do you want with this greeting? If you want me to know that you are circumambulating the Ka’ba that is obvious, now you can leave.”
97. Fudayl b. ‘Iyad mentioned: “It is only fitting that the likes of ‘Umar b. Al-Khattab, may God be pleased with him, visit the political authorities and keep their company. As for the likes of us, it is not appropriate that we visit them because of our inability to confront them with sincere advice, and to reject their oppressive and tyrannical practices and excesses such as silk furniture and curtains, etc.”
98. One day, an assembly was speaking in the presence of Mu’awiya. Al-Ahnaf b. Qays was present. However, he was silent. Mu’awiya said to him: “What is wrong Ahnaf, why aren’t you speaking?” Ahnaf answered: “I fear Allah were I to lie; and I fear you if I were to speak truthfully. Therefore, I considered silence the most appropriate course of action.”
Al-Sha’rani mentions: “Covenants were taken on our behalf to emulate their exemplary character. Among those laudable traits was their effort to leave all manifestations of hypocrisy, to such an extent that their private and public deeds were totally consistent. This way, there would be no deed they did that would be a source of disgrace for them in the hereafter.”
99. Among the advice conveyed by Khadir, peace upon him, to ‘Umar b ‘Abdul ‘Aziz when the latter met him in Madina, was the following: “O ‘Umar! Beware of being a saint publicly and a profligate privately. Anyone whose private and public acts are inconsistent is a hypocrite, and the hypocrites will be in the lowest levels of the hellfire.” Hearing this, ‘Umar wept until his beard was moistened by his tears.
Al-Sha’rani mentions the following prophetic tradition: “At the end of time there will be people who seek worldly advantages at the expense of their religion. They will be as soft as wool, and their speech will be sweeter than honey. However, they will have the hearts of wolves. God will say to them: “Have you been deceived concerning Me, or have you been so emboldened to behave this treacherously against Me? I swear will cast them into a tribulation that will dumbfound the most forbearing of them.”
100. Al-Mahlab b. Abi Safra used to say: “I hate a person whose speech is more virtuous than his actions.”








By R.A. L. on August 3, 2007 at 12:10am

Dear Imam Zaid, Thank you for these translations, they are indeed profound lessons. However some of them appear (in this brief form) quite difficult to follow. For myself, there is constant doubt in all my attempts to practice and spread the deen, at times I am almost paralysed with doubt and feel useless. Though we should be as scrupulous in our Deen as possible and also strive for improvement, should we also not believe that Allah's Mercy precedes His Wrath (mentioned in the Quran and hadith). Not to take away from these wise aphorisms, but a few of them seem to be very stringent and seem to be directed towards scholars and not common folk, like myself. Jazakallahukhair for taking the time to read my comment. Rashid Abdul Lateef

By anon on August 8, 2007 at 11:06am

Alhamdulillah, these teachings are very relevant, very important and very timely. Thank you for bridging the gap between us and some of our classical scholarly heritage. InshaAllah, these translations will be published in a book that is widely available to all. There are too many scholars today who have misled others in dire ways. These aphorisms should serve as a litmus test for many of them. Harshness towards common Muslims, particularly women, is also not the way of our Prophet (saw) or of our quality scholars. Scholars, alims, maulvis, mukkadams etc have a grave responsibility because their words and actions have serious consequences on all who follow them and take them to be well-intentioned, compassionate, wise and knowledgable people. Unfortunately, many are not and do not encourage people to use their own faculties. Some are also too proud to admit that they are not knowledgeable enough to assist or offer advice in certain situations, instead causing further turmoil and fitnah. No scholar can be taken as infallible no matter who they are. Not all Muslims realize that we too have a duty to question and use our rationale because Islam is a religion of logic and reasoning.

By Imam Zaid Shakir on August 16, 2007 at 6:40pm

As-Salaam 'Alaikum Rashid, May Allah reward you. You should not feel overwhemed by these aphorisms. This section concerning our intentions is designed to make us search our intention and seek to purify them, and not to overwhelm us with guilt or doubt. Allah's Mercy is indeed expansive and we should always hope for it. However, we also work to understand that his wrath is also real and we do everything in our power to avoid it. Hence, the believer endeavors to strike a balance between hoping for God's Mercy and fearing His Wrath. Other sections of the text delve into this matter from a different angle that will inspire more hope, so please try to cintinue following the book as the various sections progress. Also, most of these first sections are more immediately relevant for the scholars. May God have mercy on you and bless you with a great share of inner peace. Imam Zaid Shakir 8/16/07

By zaynab on September 2, 2007 at 10:21am

Thank you for answering that question. I had the same feelings when I first read this and then saw your answer. I think alot of it is doubts and low self-esteem as we do not always get the right or clear guidance and sometimes contradicting gudiance. Shaytan also works by making us doubt what we should be doing and the point of it all sometimes. Your dua to the questioner is something we all need greatly. Jazakallah

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