Purification of the Soul

Legacies from the Salaf: The Advice of Sufyan ath-Thawri

Sufyan ath-Thawri [1] - rahimahullah - wrote to 'Abbad ibn 'Abbad al-Khawwas al-Arsufi [2] - rahimahullah - saying:

To proceed: You are in a time which the Companions of the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam used to seek refuge from reaching, and they had the knowledge that we do not have, and they had precedence which we do not. So how is it for us, when we reach that, having little knowledge, little patience, few helpers upon what is good, corruption of the people and pollution of this world?! So take to the original state of affairs and cling to it. [4] I advise you to remain unknown, since this is the age for remaining anonymous (khumul). [5] And remain aloof and mix little with the people, since before, when the people met, they would benefit from each other. But today that has gone and your safety - in our view - lies in abandoning them. [6]

Beware of the Rulers. Beware of coming near to them and of mixing with them in any of the affairs. Beware of being deceived, so that it said to you: Intercede [for me], so that you help one oppressed, or repel an act of oppression - because that is from the deception of Iblis, which the wicked reciters have taken as a means to attain a favorable position. [7] It used to be said: Beware of the fitnah (trial) of the ignorant worshipper and the wicked scholar, because the trial of these two is indeed a trial for everyone put to trial.

If you find questions and need for fatwa, then take take advantage of it - but do not compete desirously for it. And beware of being like the one who loves that his saying is acted upon, or that his saying is publicised or listened to, and if that is abandoned, the effects of that are seen upon him. [8]

And beware of the love of leadership, since leadership may be more beloved to a man than gold and silver - but it is something difficult and obscure; and this will not be understood except by wise Scholars. [9] So seek after your lost soul and work with correct intention and know that there has come near to the people a matter which a person would be desirous of death.

Was-salam. [10]


1. He is Abu 'Abdullah Sufyan ibn Sa'id ibn Masruq ath-Thawri (97-161H). The appelation referring to Thawr ibn 'Abd-Manat; and not Thawr of Hamdan. One of the stores of knowledge and mountains or retention - and when the Ulama' (Scholars) are mentioned, then Sufyan is a dazzling star. His biography is famous and fills the books of Jarh wat-Ta'dil (validating and invalidating the narrators), history and Fiqh; and his life-story is well known.

[From the Editors: What follows is a very brief biography of Sufyan ath-Thawri, taken from Siyat A'lamun-Nubala of Adh-Dhahabi and Tahdhibut-Tahdhib of Al-Hafidh Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani:

His Shayukh include: Abu Ishaq as-Sabi'i, Al-A'mash, Sulayman at-Taymi, Ibrahim ibn Maysarah, Ibn 'Awn, Zaid ibn Aslam, 'Amr ibn Dinar, Ibn 'Ajlan, Ibn Al-Munkadir, Abu'z-Zubayr, Yahya ibn Sa'id al-Ansari ...

His Students include: Shu'bah, Al-Awza'i, Malik, 'Abdur-Rahman ibn Mahdi, Yahya ibn Sa'id al-Qattan, Ibn Al-Mubarak, Hafs ibn Ghiyath, 'Abdullah ibn Wahb, 'Abdur-Razzaq, Fudayl ibn 'Iyyad, Al-Walid ibn Muslim, Waki' ibn Al-Jarrah, Yazid ibn Harun, Abu Nu'aym and 'Ali ibn Al-Ja'd - who was the last reliable narrator to report from him.

Shu'bah, Ibn 'Uyaynah, Abu 'Asim, Ibn Ma'in and others said: "Sufyan is the chief of the Believers in hadith."

Ibn Al-Mubarak said: "I wrote from one thousand one hundred Shayukh and I did not write from anyone better than Sufyan," so a man said to him: O Abu 'Abdullah, you saw Sa'id ibn Jubayr and others, he said: "That was before. I did not say that I did not see anyone better than Sufyan."

Ibn Mahdi said: "Wahb used to give precedence to Sufyan's memory over that of Malik."

Ad-Duwari said: "I saw Yahya ibn Ma'in and he did not prefer anyone to Sufyan in his time - neither in Fiqh, Hadith, Zuhd or anything."

Ahmad ibn Hanbal said: "No one takes precedence over him in my heart."

An-Nasa'i said: "He is greater than for it to have to be said that he is reliable, and he is one of the Imams whom I hope is one of those whom Allah has made an Imam for the pious."

Ibn Abi Dhi'b said: "I have not seen anyone more like the Tabi'in than Sufyan."

Ibn Hibban said: "He was one of the foremost of the people in Fiqh, War' (piety) and precision."

Ibn 'Uyaynah said: "I have not seen a man knowing the lawful and prohibited better than Sufyan."

Ishaq ibn Rahawayh said: I heard 'Abdur-Rahman ibn Mahdi mention Sufyan, Shu'bah, Malik and Ibn Al-Mubarak and say: "The most knowledgeable of them was Sufyan."

Muhammad ibn Zunbur said: I heard Fudayl say: "By Allah! Sufyan was more knowledgeable than Abu Hanifah."

Bish al-Hafi said: "Ath-Thawri, to us, is the Imam of the people."

Qabisah said: "I have not sat in a sitting along with Sufyan except that I remembered death. I have not seen anyone who remembered death more than him."

It was said to Sufyan ath-Thawri: For how long will you continue to seek Hadith? He said: "And what is better than Hadith that I should prefer it? Hadith is the best of the knowledge of the world."

'Abdur-Rahman ibn Mahdi related: I heard Sufyan say: "Never has a hadith reached me from Allah's Messenger sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, except that I would act upon it even a single time." Here ends the Editor's inclusion]

His biography can be found in Tahdhibul-Kamal (11/54), At-Tabaqatul-Kubra (6/371), Tarikh Baghdad (9/151) and Siyar A'lamun-Nubala (7/229). Abu Nu'aym al-Asbahani has written a delightful and complete biography of him in Hilyatul-Awliya (6/356 - 7/144) - the likes of which I have not seen.

The text and explanation of this wasiyyah (advice / legacy) has been taken from the book: Min Wasayus-Salaf (pp.19-25) by Shaykh Salim al-Hilali - hafidhahullah.

2. He is Abu 'Utbah 'Abbad ibn 'Abbad ibn Khawwas al-Arsufi ash-Shami. One of the nobles of Sham (region of Syria, Jordan and Palestine); and their worshippers. Declared reliable by Yahya ibn Ma'in, Ya'qub ibn Sufyan al-Fasawi and others. His biography is found in Tarikh ad-Darimi (no. 495), Al-Ma'rifah wa't-Tarikh (2/43) of Al-Fawasi and also Hilyatul-Awliya (8/281-282).

3. This pure saying is inherited from the Companions of the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam - from whom it is very widely reported that person must do Ittiba' (follow the narrations from the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam and his Companions) and cling to the old way, as is reported authentically from Ibn Mas'ud - radiallahu 'anhu: "Follow and do not innovate - it is enough for you [and every innovation is misguidance]."

Reported by Waki' in Az-Zuhd (no. 315) and through him Ahmad in Az-Zuhd (p. 202), Ad-Darimi in the introduction of his Sunan (1/69) and others. It is Sahih due to its supporting chains and the addition in brackets is from Ahmad and At-Tabarani in Al-Kabir (9/154) and is also Sahih.

5. The khamil is the one who is hidden, the one who is not mentioned or known. This is a sign of taqwa (piety) and goodness, since the sincere ones do not cease to be fearful of riya (ostentation). Therefore, they strive hard to hide this from the people and turn their eyes away from their righteous actions; and strive to hide them harder than the people and turn their eyes away from their righteous actions; and strive to hide them harder than the people strive in their wickedness - hoping for sincerity in their actions - so that Allah may reward them for their sincerity on the Day of Resurrection. And the people of good did not intend fame, nor seek it, nor that which leads to it - and if granted by Allah - they flee from it and prefer not to be known. Since it leads to conceit and then destroys the fame.

Imam Muslim in his Sahih (18/10) and Al-Baghawi in Sharh as-Sunnah (15/21-22) both relate that 'Amir ibn Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas said: Sa'ad was looking after his sheep and camels, so his son, 'Umar, came to him. When Sa'ad saw him he said: I seek refuge in Allah from the evil of this rider. So when he came to him, he said: O father! Are you satisfied with being a desert-dwelling 'Arab amongst your sheep and camels, whilst the people are arguing about who is to rule in Al-Madinah? Sa'ad hit 'Umar on the chest and said: Shut-up! For I have heard the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam say: "Indeed Allah loves the pious, self-contented and hidden servant."

So what Sufyan intended by saying: "This is the age for remaining anonymous," is that one should hide their good actions from people - not that one should become lazy and apathetic. The proof for this is from considering two matters; Firstly: It is established from the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam that he said: "A strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than a weak believer." Secondly: It is established that the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam would seek refuge with Allah from laziness and slothfulness.

6. What he means by 'uzlah (remaining aloof) is mixing little with the people - since there will still be some benefit to be gained from each other. So, he does not mean that you should avoid the people altogether, since if the du'at (the callers to Allah and his Din) do that - then when will the ignorant learn, the confused ones be guided and the one who oppresses himself desist! There is no doubt that the one who mixes with the people and patiently bears their harms has a great reward.

7. Ibn Al-Jawzi (d. 597H) - rahimahullah - says in Talbis Iblis (p. 121-122):

"From the deception of Iblis upon the Scholars, is their mixing with the Rulers and flattering them and abandon censuring them when able to do so. And perhaps they find allowance for them where really there is no allowance, in order to attain a worldly goal - and threefold corruption comes about through this:

Firstly: The Ruler - he says: If it were not correct, then the Scholar would have censured me - and how can I not be correct - and he eats from my wealth?

Secondly: The common person says: There is no harm with this Ruler, nor his wealth, nor his actions, because the Scholar does not criticise him.

Thirdly: The Scholar - because he corrupts his Din through that. Iblis may deceive them into entering upon the Ruler saying: We enter in order to intercede for a Muslim. This deception is uncovered by the fact that if a different person entered to intercede - the Scholar would not be pleased with that; and perhaps speak ill of him - since he wishes to be alone in the Ruler's attention.

So entering upon the Ruler involves great danger, since the intention may be good when you first enter, but then may be changed by their honouring you, or bestowing things upon you, or by having ambitions and by not being able to avoid flattering them and leaving-off censuring them. Sufyan ath-Thawri used to say: 'I do not fear from their debasing me, but I fear from their being generous towards me so that my heart inclines towards them.' "

And Al-Hafidh Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (d. 795H) says in Sharh Hadith Ma Dhi'ban (p. 53):

"Many of the Salaf used to forbid entering upon the Kings in order to command them with what is good and forbid them from what is evil also. From those that forbade them were: 'Umar ibn 'Abdul-'Aziz, Ibn Al-Mubarak, Ath-Thawri and others. Ibn Al-Mubarak said: 'And with us, the one who orders and forbids is not the one who enters upon them and orders and forbids, but rather the one who orders and forbids is the one who keeps away from them.' And that is for fear of trials for the one who enters upon them since a person when far away maybe deceived into thinking that he will order and forbid them and be stern with them - but when he sees them face to face, his soul inclines towards them, since love of nobility is hidden in the soul. Therefore he flatters them and is lenient with them and perhaps he inclines towards them and comes to love them, especially if they treat him kindly and generously and he accepts that from them. And this happened to 'Abdullah ibn Tawus with a certain ruler, in the presence of his father Tawus, so Tawus rebuked him for that. And Sufyan Ath-Thawri wrote to 'Abbad ibn 'Abbad and in his letter was: And beware of the rulers ... "

Ibn 'Abdul-Barr (d. 463H) - the Scholar of Andulus - says in Jami' Bayan al-'Ilm (1/185-186), ending the chapter in which he mentioned the Salaf's hatred of entering upon the kings and rulers:

"And the meaning of this chapter is with regard to the wicked oppressive ruler. However, as for the just and noble of them, then entering upon him, seeing him and helping him to do good is one of the best of good deeds. Do you not see that 'Umar ibn 'Abdul-'Aziz was accompanied by the great Scholar such as 'Urwah ibn Az-Zubayr and his level; and Ibn Shihab az-Zuhri and his level. And Ibn Shihab used to enter upon the ruler 'Abdul-Malik and his sons after him. And from those who used to enter upon the ruler were: Ash-Sha'bi, Qabisah, Ibn Dhu'ayb, Raja' ibn Haywat al-Kindi, Abu'l-Miqdam - who was a noble scholar, Al-Hasan, Abu'z-Zinad, Malik ibn Anas, Al-Awza'i, Ash-Shafi'i and others too many to mention. So if the Scholar enters upon the ruler - now and again when there is a need - and he says what is good and speaks with his knowledge, then that is good and a means of Allah's pleasure until the Day he meets Him. But these sittings are usually a trial; and being safe therefrom is abandoning what is in them."

I say: Indeed they have spoken the truth, done well and have advised sincerely - rahimahumullah - because they were like the unclothed preachers who are not disbelieved - and how could they be anything else after they had heard the saying of Allah's Messenger, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam: "He who comes to to the ruler is put to trial." Reported by Abu Dawud (no. 2859), At-Tirmidhi (no. 2256), An-Nasa'i (7/195-196), Ahmad (1/357) and others from Abu Musa al-Ash'ari - and it is Sahih due to supporting narrations.

8. This is riya (showing-off and ostentation). I have explained its causes, how it approaches, its types and its cure, in my book called Ar-Riya.

9. Ibn 'Abdul-Barr wrote in Jami' Bayan al-'Ilm (l/143-144) some lines on this:

"Love of leadership is a poison which destroys this life,
And makes love a war for its lovers,
It cuts both throats and ties of relationship,
So that no character nor Din remains.

He who obtains leadership while ignorant or before wisdom,
Then you will not see him except as an enemy to the rightful,
He desires and envies a people and be is lesser than them,
Competing thereby with the enemies of the Prophets."

So refer to what he wrote in this chapter, for it is of great value, and if a student of knowledge were to travel for one month seeking it - then he would be fortunate.

10. Reported by Abu Nu'aym in Hilyah (6/376-377) and Ibn Rajab mentioned a portion of it in Sharh Hadith Ma Dhi'ban (pp. 53-54) and Adh-Dhahabi reported it in the biography of Sufyan in Siyar A'lam an-Nubala, and it is a famous testament possessed by the Scholars.

Al-Hafidh Al-Mizzi - rahimahullah - says in Tahdbib al-Kamal (14/143) in his biography of 'Abbad ibn 'Abbad: "And he was one of the noble ones of Sham and their worshippers, and Sufyan ath-Thawri wrote the famous letter to him, being a testament, and mention of manners, wisdoms, examples and admonitions."

(s) Al-Ibaanah Magazine Issue No.1, Dhu'l-Qa'dah 1415H / April 1995


Be Mindful O Mankind!

A fool is one who is blind to what is wrong (evil), though he has insight into what is good.
- Al-Awza'i (d. 157H), may Allah have mercy upon him