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HASAN BASRI

Naima Sohaib

Muslim Heroes series No. 16



Translated by Asma Farooq



Copyright  2017 Naima Sohaib

Smashwords Edition



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Available in print at Dawah Books

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Translated from the Urdu book “Islami Tareekh ki Qabil-e-Fakhr Shakhsiat” by Naima Sohaib

Table of Contents

Title Page

Foreword

Introduction

Birth

Education

Public Recognition

Start of Tribulations in Hasan Basri’s Time

The Great Reformer

Countering the Trials of Materialism with Concern for the Hereafter

Identifying Moral Diseases or the Founder of Sufism

Condemnation of Extreme Behavior in Renunciation of Worldly Life

Resisting the People in Power – Proclamation of Truth and Seeking Repentance

Countering Ideological Trials and Discouraging Sectarian Divisions

Intense Propogation of Virtues and Ethics

Death

Virtues and Qualities

References

About the Author

About the Translator

Foreword

All praise is for Allah, the Lord of the worlds.

After the death of Umar bin Abdul Aziz, the fifth rightly guided caliph, the Umayyad rulers adopted a lifestyle of grandeur, luxury, pleasure and hypocrisy. This attitude started seeping into the lifestyles of the masses. There was a great danger that the Muslims would lose the values that had been instilled in them by Prophet Muhammad (SAW). At this point, Hasan Basri emerged as a beacon of light and hope in a dark era of moral and spiritual decadence. His close association with the companions of the Holy Prophet (SAW) had ingrained in him a deep fear of Allah and a sense of accountability in the Hereafter. He used his public speeches and sermons to reignite the true spirit of Islam into the masses.

Allah bestowed upon him such qualities that are rare to find in one individual. He had a profound knowledge of the Quran and Hadith combined with eloquence, wisdom, moral courage and a sense of justice. His dynamic personality makes him one of the great heroes of Islamic history.

May Allah reward Sohaib Umar for his help with the editing and formatting of this booklet and Naima Sohaib for inspiring and encouraging me to complete this translation.

Asma Farooq

Hasan Basri

The Great Scholar and Ascetic of Basra

Introduction

His name was Hasan and his kuniyat was Abu Saeed. Due to his lengthy stay in Basra, he acquired the title of Basri. Since he traded in jewels and gems, he was also known as Hasan Luluee (Hasan of pearls).

His father Yasar was born in a small town in Iraq called Maysan. He was a jeweler and an expert in his field. This is the time when Muslims were advancing swiftly, conquering one territory after another. After Basra, Maysan was also conquered and Yasar was brought as a prisoner of war to Madinah. Here, Yasar was handed over to the famous companion of the Holy Prophet (SAW) Zayd bin Thabit (RA). Under his influence Yasar converted to Islam. Impressed by his righteousness and piety, Zayd (RA) freed him and gave him some money so he could start earning his livelihood.

Yasar used this money to restart his jewelry business. When his financial status improved, he thought it was a suitable time to get married. A well-wisher suggested Khayra, a slave girl of Umm-e-Salma (Mother of the believers). Yasar took his advice and married Khayra in 20 A.H.

Birth

Hasan Basri was born in Madinah Munawwarah in 21 A.H. (642 A.D.) during the last part of Umar Farooq’s caliphate. At this time, the glorious and noble companions of the Prophet were still alive. After his birth, Yasar went to Umar (RA) and requested him to suggest a name for the newborn. The second caliph named him Hasan and supplicated for his well-being.

According to another source, his mother Khayra requested Umm-e-Salma (RA) to name the baby. Since he was a beautiful baby, she named him Hasan. His childhood was spent in Umm-e-Salma’s house who used to take care of him while Hasan’s mother Khayra was performing the household chores. Some traditions mention that Umm-e-Salma (RA) might have even suckled Hasan Basri. However, this is less likely due to her advanced age at that time. Due to the fact that he was brought up in the house of Umm-e-Salma (RA), Hasan would also freely visit the houses of the other wives of the Prophet (SAW). He would regularly attend the gatherings of the great companions. The early years of his childhood were well spent in the radiant environment of Madinah in the shade of the Prophet’s mosque. Hasan continued to frequent the houses of the wives of the Prophet (SAW) without any restriction until the caliphate of Usman (RA) – at that time his age was 14 or 15 years. He would sit in their company and derive immense benefit from their knowledge and piety.

Education

From an early age Hasan had an inclination towards religion. Like his parents, he was righteous and pious by nature. He managed to finish memorization of the Holy Quran when he was only twelve years old, partly due to the influence of the companions of the Prophet.

Whilst memorizing he would also ponder deeply over the verses of the Quran. To understand their interpretation and to hear their explanation in the Hadith of the Holy Prophet he would consult great companions like Usman, Ali, Abu Musa Ashaari, Abdullah bin Umar, Abdullah bin Abbas, Anas bin Malik, Jabir bin Abdullah and Imran bin Haseen (may Allah be pleased with all of them). According to Abu Bakr Al Hazlee: “He would study a Surah (chapter of the Quran) till he had complete understanding of the background and context in which it was revealed, its explanation and interpretation, and would then move on to the next one.” He would attend the gatherings of the companions of the Prophet as well as that of Taba’een (the next generation after the companions) to obtain the knowledge of Hadith. Hasan Basri benefited from Ammar bin Yasir (RA), Abu Hurairah (RA), Usman bin Abi al Aas and Muaaqil bin Sanan in this regard.

Apart from these fundamental fields of knowledge, he had a natural grasp over languages and few could match his eloquence, rhetoric and mastery of the Arabic language.

He moved from Madinah to Basra when he was around 15 or 16 years old. Even though he had learnt the skills of the jewelry trade from his father, his heart was inclined towards acquisition of knowledge and not towards worldly business. This zest for knowledge continued in Basra, which was at that time a center of Islamic sciences and knowledge. Basra’s grand mosque was alive with the study circles of the companions and the Taba’een. Here he found a great opportunity to quench his intellectual and spiritual thirst. He gained proficiency in different fields of Islamic knowledge especially Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). Within a short span of time, his intelligence, devotion and Allah’s special help enabled him to easily solve complex religious / jurisprudential issues. His intellect, knowledge and piety attracted people towards him.

Public Recognition

Since Hasan Basri frequently attended scholarly gatherings and kept the company of pious men, he was already known in these circles. As his scholarly capabilities became more apparent, Hasan Basri’s popularity amongst the masses increased as well. People would ask him questions related to Tafseer, Hadith and Fiqh. Before long, a time came that wherever he went a crowd would gather around him and he would do his best to fulfill all their needs. Allah had bestowed upon him a religious insight that very few are blessed with. Qatadah says, “I swear by Allah that I have not seen anyone with opinions as similar to Umar bin Khattab as Hasan Basri”. Rabi bin Anas says, “I frequently visited Hasan for ten years and every time I learnt something new from him.”

The number of people that started turning towards him for Tafseer of the Quran increased to an extent that he had to start regular lectures. He would exercise great caution in relating Ahadith of the Prophet (SAW). He would say: “If Allah had not taken a covenant from the scholars to share and spread knowledge I would never relate a Hadith in answering your questions.” This level of caution and fear of Allah only served to increase his popularity. People were not merely impressed with his knowledge; their trust in him increased when they saw the effect of this knowledge on his character and personality. He was highly committed in offering non-compulsory (Nafl) prayers, fasting regularly and following the Sunnah in his daily life. He would cry so much whilst reciting the Quran that his beard would become wet with his tears. His view regarding scholars and experts in Fiqh was that a scholar is actually one who fears Allah and is devoted to his Lord, does not care about people higher than him in status or financials, does not make fun of anyone who is lower in status than him and does not use the knowledge bestowed upon him by the Almighty to gain meager worldly benefits.

He felt uncomfortable with fame and excessive devotion of people towards him. He disliked it when anyone praised him but appreciated when someone supplicated for him. Once when he came out of the mosque there was no ride available for his journey back home. Someone offered him a ride and started walking with it whilst holding the leash of the animal. Out of respect for Hasan Basri, other people also joined in. When he saw this, he angrily said, “What is the matter with you people? If a Muslim does not keep a check on his inner self the sound of people’s footsteps is enough to destroy his heart.” It was this fear that made him constantly seek refuge from pride, hypocrisy and desire for fame.

Start of Tribulations in Hasan Basri’s Time

Hasan Basri had the opportunity to live through the reigns of the last two rightly guided caliphs – Usman (RA) and Ali (RA). Despite their different dispositions and character, the rightly guided caliphs had the same views and practices regarding piety, detachment from worldly temptations, worship, spirituality, knowledge and Jihad. People living in those times had great examples in the caliphs and worthy companions of the Prophet whom they could emulate to improve their own character and behavior. Due to the close proximity with the time of the Prophet (SAW), people were very concerned with saving themselves from hypocrisy, temptations and the trappings of this worldly life. However, this state of affairs did not last long.

The speed at which the political domination of Islam increased was much greater than the efforts made to transform the hearts and purify the souls of the people who came under the fold of Islam. The main reason behind this was that contrary to the Rightly Guided caliphs, the Umayyad kings indulged in hereditary politics in which character, piety, spirituality and knowledge were of much less value than lineage and ancestry. Another new development was that similar to monarchial systems, the ministers, aristocrats and courtiers would not dare express their honest views in front of the rulers. Instead, an army of sycophants would agree to everything they said. To the contrary, those who spoke their minds and stood up for the truth were sometimes punished. Political decisions were made to benefit the monarchs without much regard to Islamic laws. Religion and state started to be separated from each other, and this proved to be the starting point for the deterioration in high morals and spiritual ascension of the Muslims.

The Umayyad kings had a great zest for conquests and made significant progress in this area. However, they did not make a comprehensive policy for the religious training and education of the new Muslims that would effectively engrain the true teachings of Islam in their hearts. Many people converted to Islam impressed by the political and military dominance of the Muslims. However, due to a lack of proper guidance there was an increase in new religious beliefs, practices and innovations. No proper steps were taken to rectify this situation. Things were reaching a point where the beautiful building of Islam was in danger because the beliefs and values on which it stood were getting diluted.

Famous author Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi in his book ‘Tareekh-e-Daawat o Azeemat’ has analyzed the situation of the time in a comprehensive and succinct manner. He writes: “The situation was that a continuation of hereditary government (kingship) and an excess of wealth and success had given birth to hypocrisy and popularized the character and values of the wealthy and extravagant people of the previous nations. There was a general trend in society towards indulgence in luxury and pleasure. A life of faith and righteousness, which was a valuable asset of this Ummah, the secret of its strength and a precious legacy of the Prophet (SAW), was in danger at that time. There was a grave concern that the Ummah would become morally corrupt and spiritually hollow. Insensitivity, dejection, weakness of faith and apathy in one’s connection with Allah were increasing with great intensity. This was a disturbing situation. The government was not only oblivious and unconcerned with the protection and nurturing of Islamic values, its representatives were the real danger to this cause as their personal characters and mannerisms were actually stimulating this moral degradation. The level of faith, connection with Allah, devotion, reverence and repentance that the Prophet (SAW) had instilled in his followers (which only a prophet can do) were now on the decline. This depravation could not be compensated with the expansion of the empire’s borders and its great conquests. Once these merits are lost they are difficult to bring back into a society (history of the previous nations is a witness to this).

If this great reservoir of righteousness was not protected and the political and social forces were left unchecked then this Ummah would have also become like the previous nations – materialistic, self-indulgent and negligent of the hereafter. The biggest fear that the Prophet (SAW) had in his last days was that the Muslims would be totally taken over by this worldly life, which in turn would destroy them just like it destroyed the earlier nations. Just a few days before his death the Prophet (SAW) clearly said in his sermon: ‘I do not fear poverty and indigence for you. What I fear for you is that the world will shower down its affluence and luxuries on you as it did on the people before you, and you will also start competing amongst each other in this and it will destroy you like it destroyed those before you’.

Soon, the danger that the Prophet (SAW) had warned against manifested itself. Since Allah wanted to preserve this religion, a few sincere and fearless souls came to the forefront to counter this challenge. They used their unflinching faith, tender hearts, sermons, discourses and training to save millions from being swept away by this flood of materialism. They also played a vital role in slowing down the speed of this onslaught. They maintained the Ummah’s religious and spiritual principles and teachings, which were more important to preserve than its political and ancestral traditions. They filled a gap in the existence of the Ummah, which would prevent them from becoming a characterless, faithless and impassive group of people. The most prominent amongst the group of Taba’een and accomplished people who came forward to fight this trial were Saeed bin Jubair, Muhammad bin Sirin and Sha’abee. However, the real adversary to this danger and the flag-bearer of the spiritual movement is Hasan Basri (may Allah’s mercy be on him).”

The Great Reformer

Hasan Basri had to fight on numerous fronts. On one side was the increasing desire for this worldly life in comparison to the hereafter and on the other was the rapid replacement of sincerity with hypocrisy. In addition to this, the people in power were fanning mischief and evil. A fourth dimension was the springing up of new sects which were questioning the very foundations of faith. Among these the prominent ones were Qadriya, Jabriya and the Mutazilites. The trend of extremism in religion and lack of morality and character in others led the religious segment of the society in assuming themselves to be more pious and superior to others. This attitude brought with it the danger of pretension.

In these trying times, Allah chose Hasan Basri to stand up to these challenges. According to Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi: “Allah had gifted him with all the capabilities that were essential in those times to elevate the honor of Islam and make his call effective. His dynamic personality was captivating and engaging. He was highly accomplished and insightful in matters of religion, Tafseer of the Quran and Hadith sciences without which any effort for reformation was not possible. He had also spent a considerable time with the companions of the Holy Prophet (SAW) and it seemed that he had deeply observed and reflected on their way of life. He had a deep understanding of the changes taking place in the lives of the Muslims and in the Islamic society. He was completely aware of the various strata of the society at that time and their way of living. Like an expert doctor, he had knowledge of their qualities and their diseases. Together with all these attributes, he was also an articulate, eloquent and effective speaker. People would be highly influenced by his wise discourses. They found a cure for all their ailments in his words.”

Countering the Trials of Materialism with Concern for the Hereafter

Hasan Basri was observing the rapid rise of materialism in the Islamic society. He feared that if this was not controlled, a time may come in which apart from beliefs there would be no visible or substantive difference left between a Muslim and a non-Muslim society. These beliefs would be professed verbally and will adorn the books but would have no place in a person’s priorities and daily practices.

He started to regularly remind people in his sermons of the transitory nature of this world and the permanence of the hereafter. He was of the opinion that heedlessness caused by materialism had made the Muslims careless with regards to their character, morals, dealings with others and even their worship. On one occasion he mentioned the time of the blessed companions and said: “I have seen people who were more mindful in matters of Halal (permissible) than you are in matters of Haram (forbidden).” He would also say: “I have never seen a person who has desired this world and gained the hereafter. On the contrary, one who desires the hereafter also receives worldly gains.”

When a man questioned him regarding the hereafter as opposed to this worldly life, he said: “Listen! The example of this world and the hereafter is like that of the east and the west. Whichever end you are close to, the other will become that much further from you. Decide yourself which direction you want to be closer to. You ask me about this world; what can I say about its affairs? Its first part is struggle and hardship, and its end is death and decay. You will be held accountable for the permissible things in it and will have to face punishment for its forbidden things. Whoever becomes involved in its permissible things has been tested and whoever is deprived of them becomes unhappy.”

People would complain to Hasan Basri that their hearts had gone to sleep and that his advice did not affect them. He would respond: “I wish that they were asleep; we could have shaken them out of their slumber. But the reality is that they are dead. No matter how much you shake them, they will not wake up.” He then said: “How unfortunate! People have been destroyed by their desires and wishful plans. There are verbal claims but no sign of action. There is knowledge but no patience (to fulfill its demands). There is faith but it is devoid of conviction. People are in great numbers but intellect is rare. There is great commotion of people but not one person with whom the heart connects. People entered (the faith) and then left. They learnt everything and then denied it. First they forbade something and then later made it permissible.”

When people enquired about the reality of religion, he described the state of majority of the masses in these words: “What is your faith? Just something to relish? If someone asked you whether you believed in the day of reckoning, one gets the answer in the affirmative, with swear upon the Lord of the day of recompense.” Then he compared this kind of faith and belief to the faith of Allah’s righteous servants and said: “I swear by Allah that there is none worthy of worship except him. These servants of Allah proved truthful and steadfast (in their speech and faith). They practiced what they preached. However, you are only occupied with your vain desires. People! Beware of these desires because Allah does not bestow anything from this world or the hereafter on the basis of mere desires.”

On another occasion expressing his disapproval of worldly life he said: “Sadly, we have committed many injustices against ourselves. We have weakened our faith and our worldly desires and greed have strengthened our bodies. Our character has fallen into decay but our clothes and bedding are new. There is one amongst us who lies around enjoying himself and heedlessly usurps the wealth of others.” Then he said: “Your food is from stolen money and your demanding service from others is slavery. You demand something sweet after eating savory food. After a cold drink, you drink something hot. You want to eat moist dates after dry dates. When your stomach hurts and you feel like throwing up you raise a commotion in the house to bring you something to help digest the food. O ignorant soul! By Allah, you will not be able to digest anything but your faith. Look O fool, where is your neighbor and what state is he in? Where is the hungry orphan of your society? Where is the needy man who keeps looking towards you? Where are the people that Allah ordered you to take care of? I wish you knew that you were nothing but a digit in a number. With each sunrise, your life decreases by one day.”

Hasan Basri identified the human emotions of sadness and sorrow as one of the signs of detachment from worldly life. How can someone – who knows for sure that everything including himself will end and is uncertain as to what his own fate will be – remain happy and complacent? He will be without any doubt concerned about what lies ahead for him. Hasan Basri’s own state was such that fear of Allah and His accountability on the Day of Judgment would keep him awake in the night. According to Yunus bin Ubayd: “When Hasan came from somewhere it seemed as if he had just buried a close relative. Whilst sitting he used to look like a prisoner who has been given the death sentence and when he mentioned hell it seemed that it was made only for him.”

The hereafter was frequently mentioned in his gatherings. Hasan Basri would say: “A believer wakes up sorrowful and reaches the evening in the same condition. A handful of dates and some water should be sufficient for him to survive in this world just like it is enough for a baby goat.” Regarding the remembrance of the hereafter and disinterest in this worldly life he would say: “If you recite the Quran and also believe in it then your distress in this world should be lengthy, your fear intense and you should call out to your Creator with great persistence.”

Hasan Basri would also say, “I saw a lot of companions of the Prophet whose clothes would be simple and inexpensive. If you saw them, you would consider them crazy. If they saw the virtuous amongst you they would surely think that they had no good in them. And if they saw the wrongdoers amongst you, they would say that they have no faith in the Day of Judgment. I swear by Allah that I have also seen such people who would value this world even less than the dirt under their feet. And I have also seen people that would embark upon a journey with minimal provision and would say regarding this provision that I will not consume all of it but will give some in charity. Therefore, he would give charity out of this minimal provision even though the donor would be in more need than the one receiving it.”

Anyone who saw Hasan Basri could easily determine the condition of his heart. He would be in a state of distress due to his intense fear of Allah. His tears would constantly flow whilst reading the Quran. He disliked it when people indulged in useless and vain talk. He considered excessive laughter and jokes harmful for the heart. He used to say: “A believer’s laughter is a result of a negligent heart. Too much laughter deadens the heart.”

In his sermons he would say that the love of wealth and desire for luxuries was a major factor in bringing about weakness of faith. His words did seem bitter, as they were a reflection of the truth, but people knew that his analysis of their spiritual ailments was accurate. Therefore, they continued to attend his sermons in great numbers. His articulation and sincerity in speech influenced the lives of thousands. A majority of the masses started regarding him as a messiah who would cleanse them of their spiritual and moral diseases and strengthen their faith.

Hasan Basri …. Identifying the Moral Diseases of the Muslim Ummah or the Founder of Sufism

Hasan Basri was regarded as the founder of Sufism in the later period of Muslim history. The spiritual chain of Tasawwuf or Sufism started being connected to Ali (RA) through Hasan Basri. Even though only Allah knows the reality, this claim does not seem to be true. Firstly, according to the experts in Hadith sciences there is no historical evidence of Hasan Basri gaining any spiritual guidance from Ali (RA). Moreover, he himself never claimed to teach any field of knowledge that was not taught to the Muslims before. In fact, he always tried to connect people with the Quran and Sunnah and was against any practice that was contrary to the way of the Prophet (SAW). However, he was ascetic by nature, worshipped ardently and was extremely concerned about purifying the inner self. He had the foresight to know that the thirst for worldly knowledge in Muslims was compromising their concern for their spiritual well-being.

A large number of Muslims – then and now – do make an effort to avoid the forbidden things but squander their Halal wealth on useless activities. They are careless about the hereafter and the need to prepare for life after death. Observing their daily routine, it seems as if they are not completely aware of the purpose of life. They are using their time, resources and skills to improve their worldly life instead of the hereafter. They have increased the scope of permissible needs and wants to a point where they are comfortable in putting all their efforts in useless activities. If they are reminded, they say with great conviction that it is permissible and there is no harm in enjoying Halal material pleasures. The fact is that over-indulgence in the permissible things of this worldly life is called extravagance which is prohibited in Islam.

Hasan Basri observed that people had fallen prey to their desires and had failed to understand and recognize the trappings of the devil. Therefore, like every great reformer he apprised people of the diseases of the society and identified the factors that caused them. He understood the pulse of his time. If he tried to cure the diseases of the heart through his sermons it was not his own innovation but he only tried to follow in the footsteps of the Prophet (SAW) and his companions. He would say to people: “Follow the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW); by Allah, he stayed away from a life of luxury. Large utensils were never used in his house in the morning or evening. He would never close the doors of his house on anyone, neither did he put guards outside his door. The Prophet (SAW) would not mind sitting on bare ground and having his meal there on a piece of cloth. He would wear coarse clothing and felt no shame in it. He would ride a donkey and if the need arose, he would offer someone else to ride with him too. After finishing his meals he would lick his fingers.”

Hasan Basri would try to make people understand that Allah does not mind them to eat and drink but they should not be extravagant, as Allah does not like excess in anything. There is no harm in enjoying the blessings of Allah. In fact, if one is truly grateful it is a source of blessing. However, if these blessings are used only to fulfill vain desires of one’s body then they will surely be a cause of retribution on the Day of Judgment. He used to advise people to be concerned about the purification of their souls and not to be heedless in this matter. The Prophet (SAW) himself supplicated to Allah in the following words: “O Allah, grant my soul its piety and purify it, for You are the best to purify it. You are its protector and guardian” (Muslim).

Hasan Basri gave beneficial and practical advice in this regard: “Perfection in spiritual development comes from four things: to eat less, to speak less, to reduce mingling with people and to sleep less. Nothing is more rebellious in this world than one’s self. Therefore, if a person is overwhelmed by fear and reverence of Allah, then this is a good sign as this feeling will overpower the self and in turn will subdue a person’s desires and prevent human weaknesses from surfacing.” He was also of the opinion that excessive speech is harmful for purification of the self. He would say, “A wise man’s tongue is behind his heart. When he wants to say something, he consults his heart. If his heart allows him he says it, otherwise he refrains from opening his mouth. On the other hand, an ignorant person’s heart is at the tip of his tongue. He does not consult it, and just utters whatever words come on his tongue.”

Hasan Basri would try to stop people from over-indulgence in eating and drinking. He disapproved of excessive laughter and jokes and would say that even if a Muslim has free time he should busy himself in the remembrance of Allah as he will be held accountable for every moment of his life. Therefore, a person should abstain from anything that could lead to heedlessness.

Condemnation of Extreme Behavior in Renunciation of Worldly Life

The rise of materialism in that era led to concern amongst a few other sincere men to focus on eradicating this malady. Amongst them one group transgressed the limits of moderation and started shunning worldly pleasures altogether. These people would leave urban areas, wear thick woolen garments and do extreme spiritual exercises. When this monastic way of life started seeping into the Muslim society, Hasan Basri came forward to strictly forbid this way of life. He felt that these people had started assuming themselves better than others. Their arrogance and self-righteousness made them consider other Muslims as inferior and materialistic. Hasan Basri explained that piety is not just having an external appearance of a saint and making verbal claims of renouncing this worldly life. In fact, the essence of piety is deeds done with sincerity and devoid of any pretense.

Whilst speaking about the saints clad in thick garments he said that those claiming piety have in reality pride and arrogance concealed in the depths of their hearts, even though their attire shows modesty and simplicity. These blanket-clad men are more conceited than the ones in expensive cloaks. On another occasion, he said that humility is not just verbally condemning the self but actually believing that others are better than one’s own self. To publicly condemn and reproach oneself in front of others amounts, in reality, to exalting one’s own ego as such a person wants others to presume that he is righteous.

Hasan Basri knew that even though materialism was destroying the character and morals of the Muslims, extremist behaviors in worship and complete rejection of worldly life were no less harmful. Therefore, he would instruct people to avoid extremism and exaggeration in purification of the self and renunciation of worldly pleasures. He himself would occasionally wear fine clothes and following the tradition of the Holy Prophet (SAW) would sometimes wear a Yemeni cape and robe of good quality.

One day a young man came to him expressing his desire to become a devotee and ascetic. Hasan Basri advised him to continue striving hard to earn a Halal livelihood and at the same time engage in worship as per his ability and capacity. Thus, Hasan Basri made it clear to the people that one should hold on to the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW) and adopt a moderate way of life. Giving up that which is lawful (either to show off or in reality), withdrawing from worldly life completely, viewing oneself as pious and deeming others inferior are such deeds that do not help fulfill the real purpose of piety. In fact, these things work to the contrary.

Many people following the ascetic path relinquish worldly life to save themselves from its apparent trials but get entangled in the trappings of the devil in their inner selves and go astray. Hasan Basri (who was considered the leader of Sufis and master of spirituality) had already identified these dangers. Sadly, in later times many leading figures of Sufism conveniently used Hasan Basri’s personality to support their point of view but did not follow his instructions to follow the Shari’ah and in particular stick to the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW). They also did not heed his condemnation of leaving the moderate path in purifying one’s self. Similar to other religions, a certain group among Muslims also took only what suited them from the teachings of prominent personalities. Not only this, it became a widespread practice to relate fabricated and false stories in their name. The truth is that if these sincere personalities could come back to this world they would disassociate themselves from many of the practices of their devotees and expose the lies of those claiming to follow them.

Resisting the People in Power…Proclamation of the Truth and Seeking Repentance

There was great political instability at the time of Hasan Basri. The policies and behavior of the Umayyad rulers did not conform to the inherent nature of Islam and consistently violated the rules of equity and justice. The religious segment of the society would be distressed to see the limits to which the leaders would go to alter the very nature and destroy the image of the religion – the same religion for whose glorification the Prophet (SAW) and his companions gave great sacrifices. Almost all prominent scholars of the time fulfilled their duty of proclaiming the truth. There were also some armed encounters with the rulers but they proved to be unsuccessful.

Hasan Basri’s stance regarding this situation was that he stayed away from political movements and attempts to topple the government by force. There were several attempts of political change during the Umayyad regime. People would ask him why he did not come out and help change the prevalent conditions. He would reply, “If people remain patient when tested by their rulers it will not be long before Allah takes them out of this difficulty. However, those who are quick to take out their swords and start relying on them, by Allah, this never bring out positive results.” He used to say, “Conditions should not be changed with swords but through repentance.” When people would ask him to approach the elite class and enjoin good and forbid them from evil, he would say: “A believer should not degrade his self. The swords of the rulers of our time have surpassed our tongues. When we talk to them they answer us back with their swords.”

When Ibne Ash’as decided to stand up against Hajjaj bin Yusuf, he managed to get the support of a few Tab’aeen (generation following the companions of the Prophet). People pressurized Hasan Basri to join them but he left as soon as he got a chance. When people enquired about his views on joining them, he said, “Don’t take sides with either of the parties.” A Syrian man came forward and asked “Not even the side of the Amir-ul-Momineen (leader of the Muslims)?” Hasan Basri pushed back his hand and said, “Yes! Not even the Amir-ul-Momineen.”

Hasan Basri’s dealings with the rulers were such that he avoided any kind of altercation with them but if the situation demanded it, he did not hesitate in stating the truth. When Hajjaj built his palace in Basra, scores of people flocked to see it. Hasan Basri was upset when he saw that its grandeur and beauty had become the talk of the town. He said: “O people! Among the abominable people who built great structures to glorify their worldly life is the Pharaoh of Egypt. He built a skyscraper whose floors were above the clouds. Allah made him sink in the depths of the ocean and destroyed his palace with a flash of lightning. I wish Hajjaj knew that the dwellers of the heavens dislike him and the ones on the earth are deceiving him.” Whilst he was saying this, a well-wisher interrupted: “Stop! Stop! Abu Saeed.” Hasan Basri replied,” Allah has taken an oath from the people of knowledge to state the truth clearly and to never breach this trust.” Then he left.

Hajjaj was furious when he found out about this incident and said, “A son of a slave came and said all this about our palace and you all just listened to him?” He then sent for Hasan Basri who was brought before him in chains. Everyone present was terror stricken as they knew the outcome of the dialogue that was about to take place. As per routine, Hajjaj’s executioners were ready to act with their hands on their swords. However, the strange thing that happened was that Hajjaj called Hasan Basri close to himself, enquired about a few scholarly issues and then respectfully let him leave. When he came out people asked him how all this happened. It was no less than a miracle to escape safe and sound from Hajjaj’s cruelty and injustice. Hasan Basri replied, “I just kept muttering under my breath ‘O Guardian of blessings and my shelter in difficulty! Turn this torture of Hajjaj into peace and blessings for me just like you made the fire a place of peace and security for Ibrahim (AS).”

Hajjaj bin Yusuf used to consider himself superior to others because of his knowledge, power and linguistic ability. Once during a conversation with Khalid bin Safwan, Hajjaj enquired: “In your opinion who is the real leader of Basra right now?” Khalid, who was a devoted fan of Hasan Basri, replied without any hesitation: “Hasan Basri.” Surprised, Hajjaj exclaimed: “But Hasan is the son of slaves.” Ibne Safwan responded: “Deep insight is required to understand the true meaning of leadership. The truth is that Hasan is the real leader of Basra. Don’t you see that everyone, young and old, is dependent on him regarding matters of faith? Everyone in Basra quotes him and seems eager to listen to his advice. People are anxious to get to his gatherings and attend his sermons day and night in order to learn something from him.” On hearing this Hajjaj was compelled to say: “By Allah! This is what you call real leadership.”

The ruling class held Hasan Basri in high regard as he did not engage in direct conflict with them but when the need arose he always stood up for the truth. Yazid bin Abdulmalik appointed Omar bin Habeerah as the governor of Khorasan and Iraq during his rule. Some of the commands of Yazid were cruel and tyrannical and clashed with the Shari’ah. Omar was worried that if he implemented these orders he might be held accountable by Allah whilst on the other hand he had taken oath to carry out the orders of the caliph. He decided to seek the advice of Hasan Basri and Imam Sha’abee regarding this issue. Imam Sha’abee advised him to act wisely and avoid unnecessary arguments. When Hasan Basri remained silent, Omar turned towards him and requested him for an answer. He said: “O Ibne Habeerah! Fear Allah regarding Yazid and do not fear that Yazid can cause you any harm. Remember that Allah will protect you from the evil of Yazid but Yazid will not be able to save you from the punishment of Allah. Remember that very soon Allah will send an angel to you who will bring you down from your throne and throw you in to the confines of your grave. At that time, nothing will save you except your deeds. Allah has created government for the help and assistance of His people. So do not use this authority to be unjust to His creation. O son of Habeerah! Understand this clearly that there is no obedience to any creation if it involves disobedience to the Creator.”

Tears were flowing from Omar bin Habeerah’s eyes whilst Hasan Basri was giving him this advice. He then kissed Hasan Basri’s hands and respectfully bade him farewell. When Imam Sha’abee came out he said to the people: “My advice to Ibne Habeerah was based on prudence and practicality while Hasan’s advice kept Allah’s will in mind, truly worthy of a scholar. Allah distanced me from Ibne Habeerah while his respect and regard for Hasan became even greater than before.”

Similarly, once he saw a few people who were specialists in recitation of the Holy Quran waiting to see the governor. Hasan Basri angrily told them: “What are you eagerly waiting here for? Get up and leave. By Allah, if you stay distant from the worldly life of these privileged people then they will be more interested in matters of faith. And if you try to be a part of their world they will start losing interest in religion.”

During his caliphate, Umar bin Abdul Aziz would regularly seek Hasan Basri’s advice. Once he wrote to Hasan Basri asking him for a piece of advice that would benefit him in everything he did. He wrote back: “Remember! If Allah’s help and assistance is with you then you should remain calm and have no fear. If He does not help you, then you should not have expectations from anyone. The only way of attaining Allah’s pleasure is to strictly follow his commandments and to avoid the style and mannerisms characteristic of kingship.”

Countering Ideological Trials and Discouraging Sectarian Divisions

After the death of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) until the caliphate of Ali (RA) there was no division in the Ummah regarding religious beliefs and philosophy. Ali (RA) fought the Kharijites when they tried to propagate their specific beliefs and views. They remained a small faction and the Ummah as a whole was not drawn towards them. During the Umayyad dynasty not only political issues increased in frequency and intensity, ideological and philosophical controversies also gained momentum.

The practice of using religion for one’s own convenience started when a group of brave Muslims decided to raise their voices against the injustices of the rulers. When the ruling class was questioned about their actions, they would cite evidence from Islam, saying that don’t you remember that everything happens with Allah’s will? He is the one who does everything and that His will is included in everything we do. The people behind spreading this line of argument were mainly the close aides and advisors of the king. Based on this weak argument they wanted to keep avenues open for oppression and injustices committed by the kings. This new school of thought regarding divine predestination was given the name ‘Jabriya’. When Hasan Basri would be asked to give his opinion regarding this strange and peculiar logic given by the kings and their cohorts in defense of murdering and looting of Muslims that it is all Allah’s will, he would clearly state that these enemies of Allah are lying and that under no circumstances is it permissible to blame one’s own bad deeds on predestination.

Contrary to these beliefs, another group adopted the opinion that man, not Allah, is the creator of whatever good or bad is done by him. They went to the other extreme in their views and started arguing about the issue of predestination. People gave this group the name ‘Qadriya’. One of the followers of this sect by the name of Ma’abad Jahni came to Hasan Basri and kept pressing him to give evidence in favor of his point of view and against the Jabriya sect. His incessant questions angered Hasan Basri and he said “Aaitazal anna” meaning leave us alone and go from here. This person later on became the founder of Mu’tazilah school of thought.

Hasan Basri would try to correct these new beliefs and sects and warn people regarding them in his sermons and lectures. However, he was against cutting off people with different viewpoints from the Ummah, as this would create greater chances of dissension and separation. People from all schools of thought would visit him. He did not consider it incorrect to keep friendly relations with them, as this was necessary for their reformation. Hasan Basri thought it would be even more difficult to correct them if ties were completely cut off. Some sects, especially Qadriya, took advantage of this approach and started portraying him as a supporter of their beliefs. The reality of the matter was that he did not support the wrong views of Jabriya and at the same time did not become a part of the Qadriya movement. He always refrained from adopting an attitude of hatred and prejudice when associating with different kinds of people and groups.

Intense Propagation of Virtues and Ethics

Hasan Basri’s sermons did not focus merely on detachment from worldly life. He would frequently talk about moral excellence attained because of strong faith. On one occasion, he said, “A believer’s greatest attribute is his strong faith. He should be one with strong beliefs and conviction. He should have forbearance whilst gaining knowledge and this forbearance should beautify his knowledge. A believer should be intelligent and soft spoken. If he is poor, his outlook and self-control should conceal his poverty and deprivation. If he is wealthy, then he should not leave the path of moderation. When spending he should be sympathetic towards people and generous and forgiving towards the distressed; bighearted and liberal when giving people their rights; tireless and resolute in establishing justice and should never wrong anyone even if he disliked them.

He should not exceed the boundaries of Shari’ah in support of someone he loves. He should not be a faultfinder, neither should he be sarcastic nor the one to point fingers at others. He should not slander or taunt others and should stay away from non-beneficial things. He should not have any interest in vain pastimes and should not be a talebearer. He should not chase what is not his and not refuse what is obligated on him. He should not be excessively apologetic and should not rejoice at the suffering of others. Sins and disobedience of others should not give him pleasure. He should be focused in his prayers and adopt humility and submission while worshipping. He should find pleasure in his prayers. His speech should be therapeutic, his patience purely for Allah and his silence contemplation and reflection.

A true believer is one who wants to keep the company of scholars for the sake of acquiring knowledge. He keeps silent to safeguard himself from sins and speaks in order to earn reward. He feels happy after doing good deeds and seeks forgiveness after a mistake. If anyone hurts him, he forgives and resolves issues. If someone mistreats him he responds with wisdom and restraint. He exercises patience in the face of oppression and injustice. He seeks refuge only in Allah. He wants only His help. A believer stays dignified in gatherings, grateful in solitude, content with his provision in this world, full of gratitude in times of ease, self-restrained during trials and tribulations. He remembers Allah when around those who have forgotten Him and when he is in the company of those who remember Him, he seeks Allah’s forgiveness instead of deeming himself superior to others. This was actually the greatness of the glorious companions of the Prophet (SAW). They manifested these attributes according to their rank and status. During their time in this world they exhibited this excellence and left this world in the same manner.”

On another occasion whilst mentioning the companions of the Holy Prophet (SAW), Hasan Basri said: “The honorable companions were sincere, upright and possessed outstanding dispositions. Their speech matched their actions. Their food and drink was from Halal and pure. They obeyed the commands of Allah with fear and humility. Whatever they gave and whatever they withheld was for the sake of the truth. They gave no consideration to hunger and thirst endured in the path of Allah. Their bodies were weak but their hearts were strong. They never feared the displeasure of people while seeking the pleasure of Allah. They faced injustice with stoicism and never crossed limits when angry. They never rebelled against the commandments of the Quran, even one bit. Their tongues were busy with the remembrance of Allah at all times. If they were told that Islam needed their help, they were willing to sacrifice their lives for it. They would shower their wealth when approached for material support for Allah’s cause. Nothing would stop them from doing good deeds. Their worldly spending was insignificant because very little would be enough for them and they would be content with it.”

The outcome of Hasan Basri’s reformatory sermons was that people’s attention was drawn towards the moral, intellectual and spiritual diseases and trials that arose after the companions departed from this world. When people attended his gatherings and heard Hasan Basri relate the stories of the companions they would feel remorse at their own state of affairs and would start worrying about ways to rectify their mistakes.

Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi in his book, ‘Tareekh-e-Daawat o Azeemat’ mentions this endeavor in the following words: “He spent a lengthy period of sixty years in preaching religion and reformation. Nobody can even fathom how many people understood true Islam and enhanced their faith during this period.” Awam bin Khoshab states that in sixty years Hasan did the work that the prophets (before the end of prophet-hood) would do for their nations.

Death

Hasan Basri had turned eighty-nine and old age had made him weak and feeble. He entrusted his students with his work and went into seclusion so he could spend most of his time in worship. He would refrain from mingling with people and would only come out to attend the obligatory prayers. Gradually, his weakness increased to the extent that he did not even have the strength to go to the mosque.

Instead of getting better, his condition slowly deteriorated to the point where there was no hope for survival. At this point, he asked for a scribe and made him write, “Hasan testifies that there is only one Allah and that Muhammad (SAW) is His messenger.” On the same day, first of Rajab 110 A.H. on a Thursday, his soul departed from his body. The news of his death immediately spread across the city. Two great experts in Hadith sciences Imam Ayub and Imam Hameed ul Taweel prepared his body for burial. His funeral prayer was held after the Friday prayer at Jamia Masjid in Basra. This is the same mosque where he spent his entire life, first as a student, then a scholar and later as a preacher. There were so many people at the funeral that it seemed the whole of Basra had come out to mourn him. Multitudes followed his funeral to his last destination and it felt as if the city of Basra had emptied out into the graveyard. This was an acknowledgment from the people of the great services of this honorable and virtuous man.

Virtues and Qualities

Imam Hasan was blessed abundantly in terms of inner and outer beauty. His dignified and awe-inspiring personality made him stand out in a crowd. The real reason behind his immense popularity amongst the masses was his coveted character. Khalid bin Safwan narrates that he met Muslimah bin Abdul Malik in Heerah. During their meeting, Muslimah specifically asked him about Hasan Basri, as he was his neighbor and friend. Khalid replied, “He is the kind of person whose inner self is the same as his outer self and his speech matches his actions. In other words, there is no inconsistency or contradiction between his inner and outer self and his speech and action. When he instructs someone to do a good deed, he himself practices it more than anyone else. When he forbids people from an evil action, he himself stays away from it the most. I always found him unconcerned with what people possessed, that is, he had no desire for what they had. However, I saw that the people were all in need of his knowledge and were seekers of the treasure he had.” Muslimah interjected: “Please stop now. This is enough. How can a nation go astray when it has a person like Hasan in its midst?”

This was the reality of Hasan Basri’s life. He showed a lack of interest in what people possessed. He did not need people’s wealth, respect, fame and praise. He did not encourage people who came to him and expressed their reverence. Once a man visited him and wanted to gift him a bagful of Dinars. At first, he declined politely but when he insisted, Hasan Basri said: “My friend, do you think that these few coins are the reward for a recluse’s abstinence? Do you want to give this as a payment for my worship, spiritual labor and teaching? This wealth is a mere deception of this world. When you learn to reject it, you will no more be in need of any guidance. Go and ponder over my words. It will prove beneficial for you.”

He always maintained this attitude towards wealth and worldly gains. At one point, the government started a scheme for distributing property amongst the people. His son expressed his desire to take advantage of this opportunity. Hasan Basri said to him: “Be quiet! I wouldn’t like a basket full of mud (property) to be in between my two scales (on the Day of Judgment).”

Hasan Basri had an intense dislike for showing off and hypocrisy. He realized that the political rise of the Muslims had led to the formation of a group that had not whole-heartedly accepted Islam. The reason for this was that they did not have the moral courage to disassociate themselves from the Muslims due to the dominance of Islam. Their psychological state, wrongful actions, moral weakness and love for this world was in no way less than that of a disbeliever.

Hasan Basri was highly dejected by the fact that not only were these people among the well-to-do in the society but they were also actively involved in running the affairs of the government. He would say: “Glory be to Allah. What kind of hypocrites have gained control over this Ummah who are extremely selfish.” He would comment on their carefree attitude, “A believer remains the most fearful despite doing his best with people. Even if he spends equivalent to a mountain in charity, he is not content and wonders how he will achieve salvation. The more he progresses in good deeds, the more his fear increases. On the other hand, a hypocrite presumes that the multitude of people who he has gathered with him by giving them worldly favors will seek forgiveness for him when he dies. Therefore, he is forgetful of his deeds and relies merely on his desires and expectations.”

People would ask him in amazement if hypocrites were still to be found amongst them. On one such occasion, he said, “If the hypocrites left Basra it would be very difficult for you to entertain yourself in the city.” This meant that the environment created by the people who were neglectful of their afterlife held great attraction for the people who followed their desires.

He always stayed away from ostentation. He considered it a branch of hypocrisy and consistently warned people in his sermons about it. Once, one of his followers wanted to accompany him on Hajj. He told him in a straight forward manner: “Kindly excuse me. I have no problem in going with you. However, I want to go alone in front of Allah. Also, when we travel together it is possible that during this long journey we will be exposed to each other’s shortcomings. In these conditions, how will it be possible to maintain focus on our worship?”

He preferred solitude during worship and meditation. He disliked revealing the feelings of his heart and his spiritual state. Once, Imam Sha’abee expressed his desire to meet him. Hasan Basri sent back a message saying that he could visit him any time. When he reached Hasan Basri’s house, he was told that he was alone inside. Imam Sha’abee asked his companion to come with him as he did not have the courage to go inside alone. When they both entered, they saw Hasan Basri standing facing the Qibla, lamenting the conditions of human beings and was in a strange trance like state. On seeing this, Imam Sha’abee came back and said, “Right now, the Sheikh is in some other world.”


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