Conduct of the Salaf with their contemporaries: Respect and honour

By Mawlānā Ḥabīb al-Raḥmān Khān Sherwānī
Translated by Mawlānā Muammad Mahomedy

Mawlānā Muammad Qamaruz Zamān Allāhābādī in his biography of his shaykh, Mawlānā Shāh Waīyullāh entitled Tadhkirah Muli al-ʼUmmah has included an entire part on the relationship and bond that existed between Mawlānā Shāh Waīyullāh and his contemporary ‛ulamā’ and mashāykh. In the introduction to this part Mawlānā Shāh Waīyullāh writes concerning the benefits of writing on this:

The first benefit of this is that the merits and achievements of our elders will come to the fore. Secondly, there is a famous saying which goes:

اَلْمُعَاصَرَةُ سَبَبُ الْمُنَافَرَةِ

Contemporariness is a cause of mutual dissent.

However, the attributes and qualities of our elders clearly demonstrate how they used to respect each other and how one would acknowledge the excellent qualities of the other.

Obviously, our immediate elders strictly followed the ways of our earlier elders. Based on their honesty and sincerity, they were very open-hearted and magnanimous in this regard. They would relate the merits of their contemporaries without hesitation and look up to them with approval.

Mawlānā Shāh Waīyullāh then quotes on this subject from Tadhkirah ‛Ulamā’-e-Salaf of Mawlānā Ḥabīb al-Raḥmān Khān Sherwānī:

What can be a greater form of acknowledgement of the merits and attributes of one’s contemporaries than publicly announcing that they are more knowledgeable and perfect than one’s own self and to acknowledge one’s own worthlessness before their greatness!? When one is faced with a problem, he presents it to them and requests them to solve it for him. And if they criticize one’s writings, he thanks them and makes du‛ā’ in their favour.

On one occasion, Imām Sha‛bī rahimahullāh, a very senior Tābi‛ī, was explaining the battles which took place during the blessed era of Rasūlullāh sallallāhu ‛alayhi wa sallam. Hadrat Ibn ‛Umar radiyallāhu ‛anhu happened to pass by. On hearing the Imām’s explanation, Hadrat Ibn ‛Umar radiyallāhu ‛anhu remarked: “I personally saw the people about whom he is speaking. But I can say that he knows more than me about the battles.”

Hadrat Imām Bāqir rahimahullāh said: “There is no one in the world who knows the rules and regulations of hajj better than ‛Atā.”

Hadrat Imām Zayn al-‛Ābidīn rahimahullāh used to go to one of his students, Zayd ibn Aslam, and sit in his company. When some people expressed their surprise, he said: “A person obviously sits in the company of the one from whom he derives Dīnī benefit.”

Ibn Is-hāq Isfahānī rahimahullāh went to Basra with the intention of studying Hadīth under the Muhaddithūn (Hadīth scholars) of that city. They all said to him: “Don’t you have ‛Abbās ibn Yazīd in your city?” He replied: “Yes.” They said: “How can you come to us when you have such a personality in your midst?”

It becomes clear from the above that let alone individuals, groups of people of those blessed eras were bent on the truth, and sound education had purified their temperaments equally.

Imām Nāfi‛ abstained from issuing fatāwā as long as Hadrat Sālim ibn ‛Abdullāh was alive. When any person came to Hadrat Sa‛īd ibn al-Musayyib for a fatwa, he would say: “Go to Sulaymān ibn Yasār and ask him because he is the most learned scholar at present.”

Someone asked Hadrat Qāsim (ibn Muhammad ibn Abū Bakr radiyallāhu ‛anhu): “Who is more knowledgeable, you or Sālim (ibn ‛Abdullāh ibn ‛Umar radiyallāhu ‛anhu)?” He replied: “This rank is enjoyed by Sālim.”

When Hadrat ‛Abdullāh ibn Mas‛ūd radiyallāhu ‛anhu needed to know anything with regard to the Arabic language, he would consult Zirr ibn Hubaysh.

Qābūs asked his father: “When there were Sahābah radiyallāhu ‛anhum present, what was the reason for you to constantly go to ‛Alqamah (a Tābi‛ī)?” He replied: “I noticed some Sahābah radiyallāhu ‛anhum going to ‛Alqamah and asking him the rulings on certain issues.”

When Hadrat Hasan Basrī rahimahullāh used to be faced with a complex issue, he would write to Hadrat Sa‛īd ibn al-Musayyib and ask him for an answer.

Imām Ahmad rahimahullāh was faced with a difficulty in the field of Hadīth. He wrote a letter to his contemporary, Ibn Mandah, in Nīshāpūr and obtained a solution from him.

Quite often, Hadrat Ibn ‛Umar radiyallāhu ‛anhu would hold the reins of the horse of Imām Mujāhid (a Tābi‛ī).

Ash-hab ibn ‛Abd al-‛Azīz rahimahullāh relates: “I saw Imām Abū Hanīfah rahimahullāh sitting before Imām Mālik rahimahullāh just as a junior would sit before his senior.” Imām A‛zam Abū Hanīfah rahimahullāh was thirteen years older than Imām Mālik rahimahullāh and also above him in rank. So after relating this incident, Imām Dhahabī rahimahullāh writes: “We can gauge the excellent character and humility of Imām Abū Hanīfah rahimahullāh from this incident. The fact of the matter is that these excellent qualities were the reasons for their greatness.”

Tadhkirah ‛Ulamā’-e-Salaf, p. 78-82 as quoted in Tadhkirah Muli al-ʼUmmah (English translation), p. 285-288

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