‘There are four principles that I have derived from four thousand narrations: Do not attach yourself to a woman, do not be disillusioned by wealth, do not let your stomach carry more than it can bear and only learn from knowledge that which will benefit you.’
[Abdullah b. Mubarak(R)]
With so many things that need re-iteration, I think there are definitely a few things I want to work on in this new year. ‘Abdullah ibn Mubarak (R)’s life history tells us that he was indeed someone who had it all in terms of Deen. And because of that he had it all in terms of Dunia, as well. Yes, we need to do more ‘Ibadah. Yes, we need to be become better Muslims. Whenever I need inspiration, the biography of ‘Abdullah b. Mubarak (R) is one of the go-to books for me!
Few lessons from the life of Ibn al Mubarak (R) that I want to inspire myself with this year:
(1) Spread everything beneficial from anyone. Seek benefit in everything.
- Ibn al-Mubarak didn’t restrict himself to recording statements from scholars only. Rather he would take whatever came to him if he found it to be of benefit, regardless of whether it came from the general masses, from those younger than him, or even from those upon a religion other than his! Al-Munawi mentions an account of when Ibn al-Mubarak’s son died, a Majoosi (Zoroastrian) came to pay his condolences saying, ‘The intelligent one must do today what the ignorant one will do after a week has passed (i.e. be patient).’ Ibn al-Mubarak said to those around him, ‘Write this down!’ [Faydh al-Qadir, by al-Munawi]. He saw the statement to be of some benefit and truth and so he didn’t allow it to pass him by. The people would question him saying, ‘How much do you intend to write?!’ And he would respond, ‘Perhaps it is a word of benefit which I have not written down before.’ [Taqaddumat al-Jarh wa al-Ta’dil].
(2) Aim to serve those who have knowledge.
- One of his teachers, ‘Isa ibn Yunus said, ‘Ibn al-Mubarak and I were once in the land of the Romans and due to the excessive service Ibn al-Mubarak paid me, I became shy – he would hold onto my riding animal and when we settled, he’d bring the Khabis dish to me (dish made of dates and fat) and feed me mouthfuls, all the while asking me about Hadith and in turn writing them down. So I said to him, ‘O Shaykh (because of his goodness towards me)… is it not time that you tired of this?’ He said to me, ‘And who can grow tired of this (i.e.knowledge)?’ [Taqaddumat al-Jarh wa al-Ta’dil]
- Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi mentions in his Tarikh Baghdad that ‘Ali ibn al-Fudhayl narrates: ‘I heard my father say to Ibn al-Mubarak, ‘You command us to be ascetic, content with little and spend on others but we see that you come with possessions (goods), so how is that?’ He said, ‘O Abu ‘Ali, I only do that to protect my face, honour myself (i.e. independency from others) and I use it to aid me in the obedience of my Lord.’ He said, ‘O Ibn al-Mubarak, and what can be better than that when it’s fulfilled?’ [Tarikh Baghdad]
- It is also reported from Muhammad ibn ‘Isa that he said: ‘Ibn al-Mubarak used to frequently go to Tarasus and settle in a small inn. There was a young man who would visit him often and assist him with his needs and also listen to hadith from him. One time ‘Abdullah (Ibn al-Mubarak) travelled there but he did not see him. He had to leave quickly with a group of people but when he returned he asked about the young man. They said he was jailed for not paying a debt of 10,000 dirhams. He asked to be shown the creditor, and (when they did) he paid out the 10,000 and took an oath from him (the creditor) that he would not inform anyone as long as he was alive. So he released the young man and departed by night. The young man then came to see Ibn al-Mubarak twice in the inn and he said, ‘O young man! Where were you? I have not seen you!’ He said, ‘O Abu Abdur-Rahman, I was jailed for debt.’ He said, ‘How was it settled then?’ He said, ‘A man came and settled the debt but I do not know him.’ He said, ‘Then praise Allah.’ And the young man did not know about this until Ibn al-Mubarak had passed away. [Tarikh Baghdad]
- Not only did Ibn al-Mubarak make efforts to leave home and seek ‘ilm, but he also strove to make sure that what he did collect of narrations and statements was authentic. One interesting incident which shows this exertion of his is when he departed Marw and travelled all the way to the city of Ray (a distance of 1000km approx.) in order to hear and record the statement of al-Hasan al-Basri narrated by Harun ibn al-Mughirah: ‘Do not purchase the love of a thousand men with the anger of one man.’ Harun said, ‘Ibn al-Mubarak came to me while on the saddle of his camel/horse and asked me about this narration so I narrated it to him. Then he said, ‘I have not saddled or prepared (my camel/horse) from Marw except for the sake of this narration.’ 16 This in turn begs the question: If this was his effort in seeking, collecting and authenticating a narration from a scholar such as al-Hasan al-Basri (rahimahullah), what then of his efforts when it came to the Prophetic narrations of the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam)?
(6) Sincerity through hiding one’s identity and being persistent on that.
- His words matched his actions for he was not one to keep back from engaging in the actual battle. Not only did he hold his post as a Murabit (guard), he also plunged into the heat of battle when the occasion called for it. Ibn Muthanna narrates that ‘Abdullah ibn Sinan said, ‘I was with Ibn al-Mubarak and Mu’tamir ibn Sulayman in Tarsus when the call to arms was made. So Ibn al-Mubarak came out along with the people. When the two ranks faced each other, a Roman emerged and requested a duel (one-on-one fight until death). So a man went out to him but the infidel overpowered him and killed him. He kept doing that until he killed six of the Muslims whereupon he began to boast and walk with pride in between the two ranks. He requested a duel but no-one went out to him. So Ibn al-Mubarak turned to me and said, ‘If I am killed, do such and such for me.’ And then he moved his horse and went out to the dueller. He fought him for a while and then killed him. He (Ibn al-Mubarak) requested another duel and so another infidel came out to him and he killed him too until he had killed six of the Romans. He requested a duel but it seemed like they all feared him!So he struck his horse and went between the two ranks, then he hid. We didn’t see anything when suddenly, he reappeared next to me exactly where he previously was and he said to me, ‘O ‘Abdullah, if you ever mention this to anyone whilst I am alive…’ – and he made a (stern/clear) statement after that. [Siyar A’lam al-Nubala]
And thus with humbleness did he struggle and fight. He was known to partake heavily in battles but when it came to the spoils being distributed after the battle ceased, he would be found missing! In Dhayl Jawahir al-Mudiyyah, it is mentioned that someone once asked him about this (disappearing at the time of spoil-exchange), and he simply replied, ‘The One for Whose Sake I fight, knows who I am.’
(7) ‘Ibadah must only increase with seeking knowledge and other good deeds. One must never feel safe!
- Despite ranking so high among his peers, this lofty status was never something that he displayed. He was known for his lengthy and regular prayers, his frequent recitation of Qur’an, and his humble and tender heart. He prolonged his stay in the mosque and kept himself to the worship of Allah `azza wa jall. ‘Abdah ibn Sulayman said, ‘When Ibn al-Mubarak prayed ‘Asr, he would come to Masjid al-Massisah and face the Qiblah (Makkah) in remembrance of Allah. He couldn’t speak to anyone until the sun had set.’ [Taqaddumat al-Jarh wa al-Ta’dil] Nu’aym ibn Hammad said, ‘I have never seen someone make more effort in ‘Ibadah (worship) than him.’ [Tadhkirat al-Huffadh]
- ‘Ali ibn al-Hasan ibn Shaqiq said, ‘I never saw anyone who recited as much as Ibn al-Mubarak, or as beautifully as him, or pray as much as him. He used to pray the whole night regardless of whether he was travelling or not and he used to recite the Qur’an with eloquence and melody. Indeed, he would only leave his Mahmal (place of sleep for the traveller) so that he may pray, and the people never knew.’ [Taqaddumat al-Jarh wa al-Ta’dil]
(8) Prefer solitude with knowledge over evil companionship.
- Nu’aym ibn Hammad: ”Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak used to stay in his house a lot so it was said to him, ‘don’t you feel lonely?’ He said, ‘How can I feel lonely when I am with the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) and his Companions?’ In another narration, he said, ‘Am I on my own?! No, rather I am with the Prophets, the Righteous, the Wise ones; the Prophet and his Companions!’
(9) Be honest and truthful even if it’s challenging.
- One time, a hadith narrated by Habib ibn Khalid al-Maliki was mentioned to him and he said, ‘It is nothing (i.e. not reliable).’ It was said to him, ‘But he is a righteous Shaykh!’ He said, ‘Yes, he is righteous in everything except in this narration.’
- In one instance, whilst in Sham (Greater Syria), he was writing down ahadith when his pen broke. He borrowed a pen from someone but when he finished writing, he forgot to give it back and hence he put it into his pen-holder. He then travelled and returned back to Marw (Central Asia, present day Turkmenistan) when he recognised the pen and realised that it was still with him! Without any hesitation, he immediately prepared himself for travel again in order to return the pen to its owner all the way in Sham.
- Imam Ahmad said, ‘Allah did not raise him (in honour) except due to fear that he had (of Allah). The lands of Khurasan have not brought out anyone like Ibn al-Mubarak.’ [Al-Wara’ (pg. 73)]
It is narrated that he also said, ‘Those with deep insight never feel safe from four matters: A sin committed in the past which they don’t know what Allah `azza wa jall has done with it; and a lifespan which remains to unfold, they don’t know what lies in it of destruction; and a blessing given to the slave, which could perhaps be a curse and an allure or bait, and misguidance which has been beautified for a person such that he sees it as guidance; and a slip of the heart for a short moment wherein a person’s religion is seized away and he does not feel it.’
[Siyar A’lam al-Nubala]
Isma’il ibn Ibrahim al-Musaysi once saw al-Harith ibn ‘Atiyyah in a dream and he asked him (about his state). He said, ‘I have been forgiven.’ He then said, ‘And what about Ibn al-Mubarak?’ He said, ‘Bakh bakh! (an expression of surprise) He is in the ‘Illiyeen (Book of records for the righteous) who come to Allah twice every day.’ [Siyar A’lam al-Nubala]
Nay! Verily, the Record (writing of the deeds) of Al-Abrâr (the pious and righteous), is (preserved) in ‘Illiyyûn. (18)
And what will make you know what ‘Illiyyûn is? (19)
A Register inscribed. (20)
To which bear witness those nearest (to Allâh, i.e. the angels). (21)
Verily, Al-Abrâr (the pious who fear Allâh and avoid evil) will be in Delight (Paradise). (22)
On thrones, looking (at all things). (23)
You will recognise in their faces the brightness of delight. (24)
They will be given to drink of pure sealed wine. (25)
The last thereof (that wine) will be the smell of Musk, and for this let (all) those strive who want to strive (i.e. hasten earnestly to the obedience of Allâh). (26)
It (that wine) will be mixed with Tasnîm. (27)
A spring whereof drink those nearest to Allâh. (28)
[Excerpts collected From: ‘The Life of ‘Abdullah ibn Mubarak (R)’ , compiled by Farhia Yahya. Based on the book ‘Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak, al-Imam al-Qudwah’ By Muhammad ‘Uthman Jamal.]
May Allah SWT make us of those nearest to Him and let not this dunia distract us from His Remembrance this year and the upcoming years.Ameen.
And Allah SWT knows best.
Want to know about Ibn al Mubarak(R)’s amazing parents? Click here to read their fascinating story!