Emulating the Righteous Scholars of Our Past
RasulAllah (saw) said:
“The scholars are the inheritors of the prophets.” [Abu Dawud & Al-Tirmidhi]
Although we have many inspiring examples and inspirational attributes we can look at and emulate in our long history of great scholars, in this article we will focus on three examples that demonstrate and exemplify the meaning of speaking the truth courageously and constantly.
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal
One of the great Imams from our history was Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (rh) who lived during the time of Al-Mu’tassem. Due to the openness with which Imam Ahmad used to speak the truth, he was imprisoned and tortured.
During one of these moments in prison, he was approached by his uncle who urged him to refrain from public opposition of the opinions held by Al-Mu’tassem. In response, Imam Ahmad replied with clarity and courage:
“If the scholar remains silent out of fear, and the one who does not know remains ignorant, how then will the truth ever be known?”
And his words truly are a clear fact when we reflect upon them. If those with knowledge of the truth do not share it courageously no matter what the cost, then how can those who are sincere but without knowledge of it learn about it and act righteously according to it?
Imam Abu Hanifah
Another example is that of the great Imam Abu Hanifah (rh), who lived under the leadership of Al-Mansoor. Imam Abu Hanifah was well known for his ability to speak openly regarding the truth, especially when speaking about the leadership of Al-Mansoor.
In the same manner as Imam Ahmad above, he found himself in prison as well. During one of these instances, his own mother came to him and cried, “O Nu’man (Abu Hanifah’s real name), this knowledge did not benefit you except in getting beaten and imprisoned, and this is enough for you to abandon it.”
Despite the great importance of obeying parents in Islam, Abu Haneefa demonstrated that serving Allah (swt) with courage and strength was of even greater importance. Thus, he answered,
“O mother, if I desired the world, I would have achieved that. But I wanted Allah (swt) to know that I safeguarded the knowledge I was given and did not submit myself with it to destruction.”
We can see from this example that courage is often required not only when facing rulers or the public, but also when facing our family members (including even our own parents). Imam Abu Hanifah (rh) knew to not only speak the truth, but also to respectfully help his mother towards what was better for her own Afterlife.
A third example worth pondering is that of Sufyan Al-Thawri (rh) who lived under the rule of Harun Al-Rashid. So staunch was Sufyan Al-Thawri (rh) in his accounting of Harun Al-Rashid’s decisions that upon receiving a letter from him, he refused to even touch the letter itself.
Instead he instructed one of his companions to turn the letter over and write on its back, beginning not with “To Ameer Al-Mu’mineen,” but rather with a very blunt “To Harun.”
The contents of the letter and the degree of accountability can be understood entirely in just a few words in his letter, where he said,
“You decided by yourself to deal with the money of the Muslims as you wished, so you are an oppressor, and I shall testify against you.”
Not only do we see a display of great courage against one of the most powerful in the world, but we also see how little room the Khaleefah was given to make errors.
Additionally, we see the distance at which Sufyan Al-Tharwi (rh) operated from what he believed was oppression. He demonstrated that oppression cannot be met with weakness, silence, or gentleness, but rather must be met with courage and the firmness of a mountain.
Lessons for us
Upon reflection, we should take the following three lessons for ourselves when it comes to emulating the righteous scholars of our past:
- The importance of speaking the truth, regardless of the consequences
- Speaking courageously is not only restricted to facing the dangers of the rulers, but facing the attacks and pressures of anyone, including even our own parents if necessary
- Oppression should be faced with strength and firmness, not with weakness or gentlenes
Consider the words of our beloved RasulAllah (saw) when he said:
“Do not let fear of people prevent you from speaking the truth when you see it must be spoken. Speaking the truth and doing what is right will never advance your Ajal (dying day) nor prevent Rizq (wealth).” [Ahmad, Ibn Hibban, Ibn Majah]
How often do we hold ourselves back from standing up with the courage to speak what we know is true, due to fearing the consequences of doing so to our material lives?
How often do we remain silent when faced with an aggressive or influential wrongdoer, due to fearing a loss of status or a loss of financial support?
Do we forget that the truthful have the support of Allah (swt)?
None has more right to speaking the truth clearly and with courage than the one who follows the Book of Allah (swt) and Sunnah of His Beloved Messenger (saw).
The scholars: The beacons of guidance
RasulAllah (saw) said:
“Truly, the scholars on the earth are like the stars in the sky – people are guided through them in the darkness of the land and sea; and if they are hidden, then the traveler will lose his way.” [Ahmad]
We do not need to become scholars to attain the reward of the scholars. If we emulate their righteous traits, then Allah (swt) may give us success and victory in not just our own struggles, but the struggles of our families, our communities, and our beloved Ummah.
RasulAllah (saw) said:
“The Fitnah of a man in his family, his wealth, and his neighbors are expiated through Salat, charity, and ordering the Ma’roof (good) and forbidding the Munkar (evil).” [Al-Bukhari}
This is the reward of speaking the truth, also known as: ordering the Ma’roof and forbidding the Munkar. When we do this, our sins are forgiven and our deeds are multiplied.
And the ultimate success for us in Jannah is only greater and longer lasting:
“But you prefer the worldly life, while the Afterlife is far better and more everlasting.” [87:16-17]
May Allah (swt) make us among those who speak the truth openly and constantly.
May Allah (swt) make us among those who stand for the truth courageously and with strength, and do not fear the blame of the blamers.
And may Allah (swt) make us follow the path of our righteous scholars – and above their path, the path of their master and teacher, the Messenger of Allah (saw) –leading into the eternal Jannah of Al-Firdous, and what a great destination that is.