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Al-Hasan al-Basri ( ‫ )الحسن البصري‬- Abu Sa'id al-Hasan ibn Abi-l-Hasan

Yasar al-Basri, (21 AH/642 – 110 AH/728), also known as Imam Hasan
al Basri rah., born 21 AH in Madinah during the reign of Sayyidina
Umar r.a, was a well-known Muslim theologian and scholar of Islam.
Al-Hasan ibn Abi al-Hasan Yasar Abu Sa'id al-Basri, al-Faqih, the great Imam of Basra,
leader of the ascetics and scholars of his time. The son of a freedwoman of Umm Salamah
r.anha (the Prophet's wife) and a freedman of Zayd ibn Thabit's r.a (Hasan Basri rah. parents
origin was Persian). Tradition says that Umm Salamah r.anha often nursed Hasan Barsi rah.
in his infancy.
His mother took him as a child to Sayyidina Umar r.a who supplicated for him with the
words: "O Allah! Make him wise in the Religion and beloved to people."
As a man he became known for his strict and encompassing embodiment of the Sunna of the
Prophet s.a.w, famous for his immense knowledge, piety and simple living (zuhd), fearless
remonstrances of the authorities, and power of attraction both in discourse and appearance.
Hasan Barsi rah. was considered by the Salaf to be one of the "Substitute-Saints" (al-Abdal).
Anas r.a narrated that the Prophet s.a.w said: "The earth will never lack forty men similar to
the Friend of the Merciful (Ibrahim, peace be upon him), and through them people receive
rain and are given help. None of them dies except Allah substitutes another in his place."
Qatada said: "We do not doubt that al-Hasan is one of them.
Before he was fourteen years old, he managed to memorize the Glorious Quran. He also
learnt reading, writing, and some mathematics. He heard many sayings of the Companions of
the Prophet s.a.w, according to Abu Zur'a, at the age of 14 years Hasan became the student of
Sayyidina Ali r.a. and he used to listen to Sayyidina Uthmaan Ibn `Affaan r.a whenever he
delivered the Friday sermon.

Moving to Basrah and seeking knowledge

When he was fifteen years old, Hasan Basri rah. moved to Basrah, Iraq in 36 A.H., 656 A.C.
He began learning jurisprudence, Hadeeth, and the Arabic language at the hands of a large
number of the companions of the Prophet s.a.w who were living in Basrah at that time. His
tutor for the recitation of the Glorious Quran was Hattaan Ibn `Abdullaah Ar-Riqashi while
his tutor for the methodology of delivering sermons, religious speeches, and recounting
religious tales, was Ibn Surayyi` At-Tameemi, the poet.
Delivering sermons and recounting religious tales appealed to Hasan Basri rah. and he took a
place in the mosque of Al-Basrah to teach people. Many story tellers back then tended to
exaggerate. They were all banned from telling religious tales in the mosque of Al-Basrah
except for Hasan Basri rah. who adopted a different methodology. He used to talk about the
life after death, reminding people of death, drawing their attention to the religious and moral
defects they may have, and how they could overcome them according to what he had learnt
from the Book of Allaah, the Sunnah of the Prophet s.a.w and the revered sahabah r.anhum.

Imam Hasan Basri rah. classes

Hasan Basri rah. had a large class in the mosque of Al-Basrah in which he taught people the
Prophetic Hadeeth, jurisprudence, the Glorious Quran, the Arabic language, and rhetoric. He
also conducted a special class in his house to teach people about asceticism and deliver
touching speeches.
Hasan Basri rah. was one of the most knowledgeable people on jurisprudence and the lawful
and unlawful acts. He loved the religion of Allaah and he was a pious man who used to refrain
from committing any illegal act. He adhered to the straight path in all his affairs. He
shouldered the responsibility of guiding and advising people to save his society from the
deviations and aberrations that were beginning to prevail. Hasan Basri rah. adopted the
doctrine of the companions. He was their student and he had the pleasure of accompanying
them. He was influenced by their methodology and he steered their course.
A beautiful tradition reported by Hasan Basri rah. on the authority of Anas Ibn Malek is the
following. He said: The Messenger of God peace be upon him used to give the Friday sermon
while standing near a piece of wood against which he would lean his back. When the number
of people increased in the mosque he said: Make a pulpit of two steps for me, which they did.
When the Prophet stood up to give the sermon on Friday the said piece of wood moaned as if
it expressed its feeling of missing the Messenger of God peace be upon him. Anas comments: I
was in the mosque and heard the piece moan. It continued to moan until the Prophet
descended to it and embraced it. Then it was silent. As a matter of fact, whenever Hasan Basri
rah. narrated this tradition he would cry and say: O slaves of God! A piece of wood misses the
Messenger of God! It is you who should do so.

The judge of Al-Basrah

Hasan Basri rah. used to frequently advise the rulers and governors and he never feared
anybody except Allah. He was especially well-known in the last years of the reign of the
Umayyad caliph, Mu`aawyah Ibn Abi Sufyaan r.a. Hasan Barsi rah. lived in Iraq when Al-
Hajjaaj Ibn Yoosuf Ath-Thaqafi was the ruler and Hasan Basri rah. used to severely criticize
Al-Hajjaaj's harsh policies.
Hasan Basri rah. was a close friend of the Rightly-Guided Umayyad Caliph, Umar Ibn Abdul-
`Azeez rah. who loved him very much and used to consult him in some affairs related to
administering the Muslim State. Hasan Basri rah. became the judge of Al-Basrah in 102 A.H.,
720 A.C. and performed this role on a voluntary basis.

The character and Capabilities of the Imam Hasan Basri rah.

Hasan Basri rah. had been gifted with noble virtues and brilliant capabilities essential to
make his exhortation for revival of Islãm. He was distinguished for his usual temperament,
friendly and considerate, winning and enchanting, on one hand. As also for his scholarship
and profound learning strengthened with good judgment and wisdom on the other.
In his knowledge of the Quran and Hadith he excelled all the learned men of his times. He
had the opportunity of being an associate of the Sahãbah r.anhum he was fully aware of the
deficiencies in practises that had crept in among the different sections of the society, and the
measures necessary to eradicate them. Whenever he lectured on the hereafter or described
the by gone days of the Sahabah r.anhum everyone was seen brimming with tears.
Hasan Basri rah. was considered to be an equally good elocutionist (to have an art of
speaking). On Hasan Basri rah. is encyclopaedic knowledge. Rabi ibn Anas r.a says that he
had the privilege of being closely associated with Hasan Basri rah. for ten years and almost
everyday he found something new not heard of earlier in the lectures of Hasan Basri rah.
Describing the scholarly achievement of Hasan Basri rah., Abu Hayyan at-Thauhidi rah.
quotes Thabit ibn Qurrah saying, “In his-learning and piety, forbearance and restrain,
frankness and large-heartedness, insight and good judgment he resembled a bright star. He
was always surrounded by students seeking instruction in different branches of knowledge.
He would be teaching Tafseer to one, Hadith to another, Fiqh to a third, explaining a Fatwa
(Legal opinion) to someone else and imparting instruction in the principles of Fiqh yet to
another while continuing his advises in the meantime for those who came to him for the
purpose.
His knowledge covered a wide area as vast as an ocean, or he was like a dazzling radiance of
light illuminating every soul around him. His heroic efforts to enjoin the good and to forbid
the wrong, his support of the righteous path before rulers and administrators could never be
forgotten.”
The reason why Hasan Basri’s rah. words carried weight with his audience was that he was
not simply a preacher but he also possessed a noble and supreme soul, whatever he said was
heart-stirring because it came from the depth of his heart, his speeches had a magnetism
which no other scholar or mentor of Kufa and Basra could attempt to surpass.
Abu Burdah said: "I have never seen a man who did not accompany the companions of the
Prophet s.a.w yet resembled them, like this scholar (meaning Al-Hasan)."
Abu Qataadah Al-`Adawi said: "Follow this scholar, for I have never seen a man who had
similar opinions to `Umar Ibn Al-Khattaab r.a except him." Abu Qataadah also said: "Al-
Hasan Al-Basri was one of the most knowledgeable people on the lawful and unlawful acts."
Humayd and Yoonus Ibn `Ubayd said: "We have never seen a man more decent and
courteous than Al-Hasan Al-Basri." They also said: "We have seen many jurists, but none was
more knowledgeable than Al-Hasan Al-Basri."
Ibn al-Jawzi wrote a 100-page book on al-Hasan's life and manners entitled Adab al-Shaykh
al-Hasan ibn Abi al-Hasan al-Basri. In his chapter on al-Hasan in his anthology of Muslim
saints entitled "The Portrait of Purity" (Sifat al-Safwa), he mentions a report that al-Hasan
left behind a white cloak (jubba) made of wool which he had worn exclusively of any other
for the past twenty years, winter and summer, and that when he died it was in a state of
immaculate beauty, cleanness, and quality.
Muath Ibn Muath says: I said to Al Ashaath: You have met Atta and you had questions to
ask why didn't you ask him? He said: I have never met anyone after al-Hasan al-Basree but
was small in my eyes. Hammam says: It is said that the earth will never be lacking in seven
men; through them people will get rain, and with their blessing they will be defended and I
hope that al-Hasan is one of them. A man asked Atta about reciting the Quran on the
funeral. He said: We never learnt or heard that it is recited upon. The man said: al-Hasan
says that we have to recite. Atta then said: Follow this, because al-Hasan is a great scholar.
Khaled Ibn Safwan was a close neighbour of al-Hasan al-Basree. Describing him once he
said: I never saw a man like him. His outward appearance is identical to his inner reality, his
words are identical to his deeds; if he enjoins what is right he is the first to do it, and when
he forbids what is wrong he is the farthest one from it. I found him never in need of other
people, but people were in need of him.
Abu Jaafar Al Razi says: I remained a student of al-Hasan for ten years during which I
always heard something new. Once al-Hasan described the effect of the Quran on the
believer. He said: Son of Adam! By God if you recite the Quran then believe in it then your
sadness will be long in this life, so will be your fear and your weeping. That is why one
contemporary of al-Hasan says: I never saw anyone who had such a long time of sadness as
al-Hasan al-Basri. Everytime I met him I thought he had a new misfortune.
Muhammad Ibn Saad says in his famous encyclopedia called Al Tabaqat that al-Hasan al-
Basree was all embracing in his knowledge, a real scholar of a high standard, one who excels
in jurisprudence, reliable as a source, trustworthy, a sincere worshipper, overflowing with
learning, outspoken, beautiful and handsome. He was also one of the bravest men. That is
why Ibn Burda says: No one is similar to the Companions of the Prophet as he was. Thus
Abu Qatada says: Keep close to this old man, for I have seen no one whose opinion is like
that of Umer as al-Hasan is. So Anas Ibn Malek says: Ask al-Hasan for he still remembers
while we forgot.

Fearlessness of Imam Hasan Basri rah.

Hasan Basri rah. was as much distinguished for his moral courage and un-flattered pursuit
of justice as he was in the field of scholarship and delivering public speeches. He opposed the
then caliph, Yazid ibn Abdul Malik, in his presence when once someone asked Hasan Basri
rah. to express his opinion about the two rebellions, Yazid ibn al-Muhallab and Ibn al-
Ash’ath. Hasan Basri rah. replied, “Don’t be a party to either group”. A Syrian, springing
upon his feet, repeated the question. “And not even to the Amir-ul-Mu’meneen?” Hasan
Basri rah. replied angrily “Yes, not even to the Amir-ul-Mu’meneen .”

Death of Imam Hasan Basri rah.

The immaculate sincerity, outstanding piety and moral and spiritual excellence of Hasan
Basri rah. had earned the affection of everyone in Basra.When he passed away in 110 (AH),
on 5th Rajjab on a Friday at the age of 89, the entire population of Basra attended his
funeral which took place on Friday, so that for the first time in the history of Basra the Juma
Masjid of the city remained empty at the hour of the Asr prayer.
Before his death, he stated that the following should be written down in his will:
" This is what Al-Hasan Ibn Abi Al-Hasan believes: He testifies that none is worthy of being
worshiped but Allaah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allaah. Whoever sincerely
believes in this upon his death will enter Paradise."
Younus says: When death approached al-Hasan he began to say: We are for God and to Him
we will return. When he repeated this his son said: My father you make us sad for your sake.
Have you seen anything around you which you don't like? al-Hasan said: It is only myself
nothing is more heavy for me than it is.
Hassan Ibn Hisham says: We were with Muhammad Ibn Seereen on Thursday evening when
a man told him about the death of al-Hasan al-Basree. He was so sad that he kept silent and
the colour of his face was changed. He lived after al-Hasan for one hundred days only. May
God be pleased with both.

Some advise from Imam Hassan Basri rah:

- "Son of Adam, you are no more than a few days. Whenever a day passes, a part of you has
gone."
- "Son of Adam, never please anybody if this entails the Wrath of Allaah. Never obey anybody
if this entails disobedience to Allaah. Never thank anybody for something which Allaah
granted you. Never blame anybody for something which Allaah did not grant you. Allaah
created people and they steer the course pre-determined for them. Whoever thinks that extra
care and interest will increase his provisions, let him try such extra care and interest in
increasing his life span, changing his color, or increasing the size of his limbs and build!"
- Hasan Basri rah. comparing the moral condition of his own times with that of the Sahabah
r.anhum, he observes: “Dignified in the company of their friends, praising Allah when they
were left alone, content with the lawful gains, grateful when ease of means, resigned when in
distress, remembering Almighty Allah among the idle and craving the grace of Allah. When
among the pious, such were the companions of the Prophet s.a.w their associates and their
friends. No matter what position they occupied in life, they were held in high esteem by their
companions and when they passed away, their spirit took flight to the blessed companionship
on high as the most celebrated souls. O Muslims, those (Sahabah r.anhum) were your
righteous ancestors, but when you deviated from their right path, Almighty Allah too withheld
his blessings from you.”

- " Woe to you, son of Adam! Can you fight Allah? Whoever disobeys Allah is fighting Him.
By Allah! I have met seventy veterans of Badr. Most of their garments were wool. Had you
seen them you would have said they are crazy, and had they seen the best among you they
would have said: "Those people will have no part in the Hereafter." Had they seen the worst
among you they would have said: "Those people do not believe in the Day of Reckoning." I
have seen people for whom this world was cheaper than the dust under their feet. I have seen
people the like of whom would come home at night, not finding more than his own portion of
food, and yet say: "I shall not put all of this into my belly. I shall certainly give some away for
the sake of Allah." Then he would give away some of his food in charity, even if he were more
in need of it than its recipient.

- Imam al-Ghazzali relates al-Hasan's words on the personal struggle against one's lusts
(jihad al-nafs) in the section of his Ihya' entitled Kitab Riyada al-Nafs wa Tahdhib al-Akhlaq
wa Mu'alaja Amrad al-Qalb ("Book of the Training of the Ego, Disciplining of Manners, and
Healing of the Heart's Diseases") that al-Hasan al-Basri said: Two thoughts roam over the
soul, one from Allah one from the enemy. Allah shows mercy on a servant who settles at the
thought that comes from Him. He embraces the thought that comes from Allah, while he
fights against the one from his enemy. To illustrate the heart's mutual attraction betwen these
two powers the Prophet said: "The heart of a believer lies between two fingers of the
Merciful".... The fingers stand for upheaval and hesitation in the heart... If man follows the
dictates of anger and appetite, the dominion of Satan appears in him through idle passions
(hawa) and his heart becomes the nesting-place and container of shaytan, who feeds on hawa.
If he does battle with his passions and does not let them dominate his ego (nafs), imitating in
this the character of the angels, at that time his heart becomes the resting-place of angels and
they alight upon it.

- About the memorizers of Qur'an al-Hasan said: The reciters of Qur'an are three types. The
first type take the Qur'an as a merchandise by which to earn their bread; the second type
uphold its letters and lose its laws, aggrandizing themselves over the people of their country,
and seeking gain through it from the rulers. There are many memorizers of Qur'an that
belong to that type. May Allah not increase them. Finally, the third type have sought the
healing of the Qur'an and placed it on the sickness of their hearts, fleeing with it to their
places of prayer, wrapping themselves in it. Those have felt fear and put on the garment of
sadness. Those are the ones for whose sake Allah sends rain and victory over the enemies. By
Allah! That kind of memorizer of Qur'an is more rare than red sulphur.

- "If you are of a coarse character, then acquire gentleness (tahallam); and if you are not
learned, then learn (ta'allam); a person seldom imitates a certain group without becoming one
of them" and "Those who feel the least necessity for the wise person of knowledge are usually
his immediate family."

- Mubarak Ibn Faddalah says: I heard Hasan Basri rah. say the following: Death has shown
the reality of this worldly life. It did not leave any happiness for those who are wise.

- Thabet quotes Hasan Basri rah. as saying: The laughter of a believer is a sign of the
inadvertence of his heart.

- Talha Ibn Sabeeh says: Hasan Basri rah.said: A believer believes in what God has said. He is
the best of men in his deeds, but he fears God most, so that if he spends the size of a mountain
of money, he would not be sure of his reward until he sees this with his own eyes. The more
righteous and charitable the believer is, the more afraid of God he becomes. While the
hypocirte says: Men are too many, I shall be forgiven. There is no harm on me. Thus he acts
badly, but wishes many things from God.

The Sunnah is Wisdom


Our Lord! Send amongst them a Messenger of their own, who shall recite unto them Your
verses and instruct them in the Book (this Qur`an) and Al-Hikmah (wisdom) and sanctify
them. Verily! You are the All-Mighty, the All-Wise.” [Al-Baqarah 2:129]
And remember (O members of the Prophet’s family) that which is recited in your houses of
the Verses of Allah and Al-Hikmah. [Al-Ahzab 33:34]
It is reported that Hasan Basri rah. said, “Al-Kitab is the Quran, and Al-Hikmah is the
Sunnah.”
It is also reported that Qatadah – Allah have mercy on him said, “And [he will] teach them
The Book and Al-Hikmah, i.e. the Sunnah.”
(Ibn Battah, Al-Ibanah Al-Kubra Vol.1 p98; and Al-Tabari in his Tafsir)

The World in Three Days


It is reported from Hasan Basri rah. that he said:
The life of this world is made up of three days: yesterday has gone with all that was done;
tomorrow, you may never reach; but today is for you so do what you should do today.
(Al-Bayhaqi, Al-Zuhd Al-Kabir p197)

Until the Heart is sealed


Explanation of the verse:
Nay, but their hearts were covered over by what (sins) they earned. [Al-Mutaffifîn: 14]
Hasan Basri rah. said, “It is because of doing one sin after another, until the heart becomes
blind and dies.”
Qatadah also said, “It is because of doing one sin after another, one sin after another, until the
heart dies and becomes black.”
Ibn Zayd said, “Their sins overcome their hearts until no good can get through to them.”
Mujahid explained, “They used to consider the heart like a hand: when a person sins, his
heart starts to scrunch up,” and he folded his little finger, “and when he does another sin,” he
folded the next finger and continued until he had his fist clenched. “Then a seal is placed over
it, and they used to say that this is the ‘covering’.”
(Al-Tabari in his Tafsir, Surah Al-Mutaffifin)

Which life to Pursue?


It is reported that Hasan Basri rah. often used to say, “O youth! Seek the hereafter, for we
often see people pursuing the hereafter and finding it as well as the dunya (worldly wellbeing),
but we have never seen anyone pursue the dunya and gain the hereafter as well as the dunya.”
(Al-Bayhaqi, Al-Zuhd Al-Kabir, article 12)

A Comfortable Life
It is reported that ‘Umar b. Abd Al-‘Aziz once wrote to Hasan Basri rah. to get a brief
exhortation from him, so Al-Hasan wrote back , “The dunya distracts and preoccupies the
heart and body, but al-zuhd (asceticism, not giving importance to worldly things) gives rest to
the heart and body. Verily, Allah will ask us about the halal things we enjoyed, so what about
the haram!”
(Al-Bayhaqi, Al-Zuhd Al-Kabir, article 26)

A Realistic Faith
Hasan Basri rah. said:
Faith (iman) is not by embellishment or wishful thinking, but it is what settles in the heart and
is verified through your works. Whoever says good but does not do good will have his words
compared to his deeds by Allah. Whoever says good and does good will have his words raised
by his deeds. This is because Allah ‘azza wa jalla said:
To Him ascends the good word, and the righteous deed raises it. [Surah Al-Fatir: 10]
(Ibn Battah in Al-Ibanah Al-Kubra Vol. 3 p120, and Al-Khatib Al-Baghdadi in Iqtida’ Al-’Ilm
Al-’Amal no.56)